After graduating I was hired to teach second grade. I was so excited that I went in a week early and set up my classroom. I cleaned every inch of the room, organized everything just so, put up meaningful bulletin boards, created lesson plans and first day activities. I was eager to begin on this new career. I quickly bonded with my seventeen students and we were off and running, no problems. On the third day my administrator stopped in to tell me that the enrollment numbers were off and he needed to move me to a kindergarten classroom. I was mortified. My new room was a filthy hole, full of abused manipulatives and nasty furniture. The other kindergarten teachers were allowed to select students to be moved out of their overcrowded classes to form my class. Guess which ones they picked.
I learned some important lessons that year. I used a reward system in my classroom to coerce the little ones into cooperating. At the end of the week if a student still had most of their stars they got to go to the treasure box. It was such a struggle. Most of the time these kids looked at me with little blank faces. I don't think they understood anything I was saying. One student in particular was so underdeveloped socially that he reminded me of a feral animal. John was the tallest child in the class. He was also the thinest. His eyes always conveyed fright. He wasn't clean nor fully potty trained. After weeks of struggling just to get him to follow simple commands, John finally made it to the treasure box. He walked up quickly when his name was called, and without hesitation selected a Little Debbie oatmeal cake that I had tossed in after passing out snacks that day. It was a moment of clarity for me. John was hungry and I had been so busy dealing with classroom procedures and lessons that I hadn't noticed. I made sure John got a toy from the treasure box that day and that he had extra food in my class. This was probably the most important day of my professional development.