The Things They Don’t Tell You

 This year, I was honored to serve as a Mentor Teacher to a Student Teacher. It was exciting to see her growth, and to be able to help her discover some of the “hidden” aspects of teaching in an elementary classroom. Here are a few that will either make you chuckle… or make you happy you are no  longer spending eight to ten hours a day in an elementary classroom.

1. Slime. A high-viscosity, non-Newtonian fluid. Intended as an introduction to polymer chemistry… it also has its own website. Once they get their hands on this sticky, slippery, self-healing fluid, there’s no chance you will get them to pay any attention to getting their work done. Lesson Learned? Work before Slime. Always.

2. Collaboration. Be sure to cultivate relationships with the Cafeteria Ladies. They can provide you, with only a week’s warning, with empty soda bottles to build 25 two stage rockets. They received a thank you note for drinking just over 50 Mountain Dews. If you know Mountain Dew… you know why they got little sleep for those ten days or so.

3. Tyrannosaurus Rex (aka “Rexy”) Learn seven different ways, all using recycled materials, to help pre-kindergarteners develop their fine motor skills while participating in a week-long unit on fossils and dinosaurs. Note to self: pre-cut the dino shapes.  Stock up on Elmer’s glue and tissue paper squares. Next year? Put down newspaper first.

3. Bulletin Boards. Actual full-time teachers have no time to make clever bulletin boards and tend to put one up and leave it up as long as possible.  Student teachers, on the other hand, love bulletin boards and take great pride in incorporating clever 3-d elements with student-colored birds. 

4. Hands-On Math Lessons are always exciting. Making a pictograph? Go outside and tally how many birds are nesting, singing, eating, and flying. Come back in and… spend 20 minutes removing wood-ticks from children’s shoes, socks, pants, shirts and hair. Count the wood-ticks (97) and create an ad-hoc lesson on the difference between insects and arachnids.

5. Legos. Always have Legos in your classroom. If nothing else, you can use them for rainy-day indoor recess. Assume that you’ll want to spray-and-stir with Lysol disinfectant every day during “Covid season” which lasts… oh, going on three years now. Note to self- buy stock in Lysol disinfectant spray.

6. Carry tissues. This is a picture of “Senior Walk,” where the high school seniors who will graduate this weekend put on their caps and gowns and walk down the hall of the elementary wing. Elementary students and teachers line the hall and “high-five,” “fist-bump” or cheer these almost-graduates who, just a few short years ago, were learning to read, write, and do math in this very same tiwahe or family-group. Teachers inevitably cry some “happy tears” as they reflect on the real reasons teachers teach. Littles are in awe of Bigs. Bigs sometimes sneak in a few tears themselves, remembering how far away adulthood once seemed and how close it sits right now.