Today, I was talking with one of my coworkers about getting through graduate school while working. To make a long conversation short: there is nothing fun about going to graduate school while you are teaching. I should know because I have done it before and I am doing it now. The reason I am completing my second master’s in ELL (the first one was in special education) is because I am desperate to learn what will help my student population.
So many of my students are both in special education classes and come from a bilingual home. I often feel like I am ill-equipped to be their teacher because I am not bilingual. For this reason, I trudge off to graduate school every Wednesday at a nearby university. I am trying to better myself as an educator.
However, I have been to graduate school before. The story seems all too familiar.
I didn't go to my graduate school graduation from teacher's college. I didn't pay the $60 to rent the black cloak or the powder blue cowl. I didn't get tickets to the event for my family. I didn't sit shoulder to shoulder with my classmates. I didn't listen to the keynote speaker, hear my name called, walk across the stage or accept my diploma from some renowned faculty member of the university.
I had made this promise before. In fact, I threatened absence from every graduation I had ever earned the right to attend. Eighth grade, high school, undergrad — each event was met with a similar sense of dread. I thought about how quickly it was all over and I was handed an alumni collection envelope so that I might donate to the school which had just, moments before, reminded me that I was on my own.
This time, I just couldn't face the pomp and circumstance of it all. I had earned every bit of this frustration. I had jumped through every flaming hoop the university had ever put before me. I had saved copies of every document and every form as proof of completion. I powered through my education classes as a night-school student like a restless insomniac, living only for watered-down cafeteria coffee and packets of peanut M&Ms. I had read every book, written every assignment, listened to every lecture, taken notes on every topic, and passed every content exam required of me. I had completed every hour of classroom observation, a semester's worth of practice teaching and penned a final thesis project. I did everything they asked me to do.
I had done everything except become a teacher.
What I didn't learn from any of my many education classes was any of the actual processes of being a teacher. I learned about how wholly awesome/incredible/prominent my professors were, about the work they may have done once upon a time with children. I learned about their perspective on current issues in education from their university-sized ivory tower. (I say this with some exception, of course; there were a handful of professors that more than earned their right to be teachers of teachers.) I learned what the authors of my textbooks had to say about development, disability, education, best practice, state standards and teaching…blah, blah, blah…I'm sure this list makes you feel like I did: useless, bogged-down, bored.
All of this — none of this — prepared me for the job of being a teacher. And yet, I am about to embark on a journey which will hopefully bring me across the thresholds of many school professionals, some of which would like to hire me to do something I am so completely and not completely qualified to do.
In short, I didn't attend my graduation from teacher's college because I am ready to be a teacher in spite of my education to become one. I am ready because it is what I was built to do. Part of being ready, though, is recognizing when you need help. I am hoping that my current classes will help me steer the teaching of my unique population in a positive light. I hope to keep you posted on the progress of this issue throughout the school year.