Each week in the series Diary of a First-Year Teacher, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.
Friday, May 10 was the last day before the big state test. To lift students’ spirits after many tiring days of review and practice exams, my principal called for a day of celebration.
Teachers were told not to plan anything for that day, as it would be filled with school-wide activities. I asked what time the program would start so I could plan accordingly, but all I got from my principal was that there would be an announcement when we needed to head to the gym.
By this point in the year, I knew this meant I needed to just roll with it. After an admittedly ambiguous and frustrating two hours of puttering around our classrooms waiting for the announcement, my class finally made our way down the hall to the gym for the state test pep rally.
Once the rally began, I realized we were all a part of something pretty special.
My principal began by calling out the students who had scored advanced (the top score) on their most recent formal practice test. These third and fourth graders were greeted at the podium with an extravagant certificate and a high five from our district’s director of curriculum.
She went on to give certificates to every third through sixth grader who had earned proficient (the next highest score) on any subject on their most recent practice test. The student response was incredible. I felt like I was back in my high school gym at the homecoming football pep rally.
There were hoops, hollers, and squeals for each kid. So much so that I occasionally looked to the door expecting Justin Bieber to have just walked in. Alas, no tween heartthrob, simply kids getting pumped about their peers doing well in school.
This would be a cool thing to see anywhere. However, in my community, it is especially heartwarming. In our town, the only positive moments of fame I’ve seen is the occasional sports star.
Typically, fame in the Delta is much more devastating. For youth, it often comes with crime, violence, and incarceration. So seeing the new generation of this small town on their feet celebrating academic success made me rise to my feet and rejoice the culture our school has built this year.
With the energy high, my principal let the kids loose to enjoy a field day of activities. In typical fashion, the rain was pounding outside, so the day of outdoor fun was relocated to our stuffy gym.
Our teaching staff was put in charge of the carnival games. I was to lead the medicine ball toss. Like most of the staff, I was not exactly sure what my expectations were.
I began the activity trying to herd the kids into a line to chuck a six-pound ball to a partner. I quickly realized this was the worst job. I ran back and forth protecting kindergartners from sixth-grade tosses until another teacher came over and showed the kids how to stand back to back and pass the ball. Like so many times this year, it was once again a rookie mistake. Although this significantly improved the afternoon, the rest of the day was not without fights to break up and pandemonium to contain.
Yet, the chaos of the day was totally worth it. It may have caused the young teaching staff to grow a few early gray hairs, but the experience was truly invaluable to the students.
I don’t always see eye to eye with my principal, and her management sometimes seems disorganized and problematic to me, but I realized Friday that this was one of those days where beauty came out of chaos.
That Friday ended up being one of the best moments my school had all year.