Written by: Dallas Woodburn, Day-by-Day Masterpiece.com
Home from work, I flopped onto my bed without even taking off my shoes. “Oh my gosh!” I sighed into the phone to my parents. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so exhausted.”
It was summer, and I was teaching a weeklong writing and public speaking class through the local Parks & Recreation Department. When I signed up to teach the class, I didn’t know what age group I would be assigned. And then, when I learned my assignment, I wasn’t worried.
Kindergarten. How hard could it be? We would read picture books, sing songs, draw some pictures. Golden.
The first day, I realized the extent of my misconception. I was given a “classroom” at the community center with rows of tables and chairs, and a single portable whiteboard. My supplies? Lined paper and a plastic baggie of half-broken crayons. Parents dropped off their precious bundles of joy at 9am with lunchboxes, and returned to pick them up at 3pm. The hours between were entirely up to me.
Playing games and singing songs and drawing pictures was well and good. It lasted me the first 45 minutes. The problem was, the kids got bored so quickly and didn’t have the stamina to focus on something for long. I tried to jump between activities to keep them interested, but there were only so many things to rotate between. I didn’t have any of the supplies for a typical kindergarten classroom—none of the games, the books, the learning toys. I didn’t even have a bathroom in my classroom!
I quickly learned why kindergarten classrooms have bathrooms. Whenever one of my students had to use the bathroom, I wasn’t about to let them venture down the hall to the public restroom alone. But I also wasn’t about to tell a kindergartener to “hold it” and risk an accident. So our entire class would trek together to the restroom. I made everyone go in and “try, please, even if you don’t feel like you have to go, just try”—but, inevitably, I would take them outside to the grassy field at lunch to run around and play tag, and a wiggly student would come up to me after three minutes and say, “Miss Dallas, I have to go potty.” So then I’d wrangle up everyone from the middle of their games (not a pleasant task) and we’d all march inside to the public restroom, then back out to the field again.
It was a long week.
The kids were adorable, and sweet, and I did feel like I taught them some new things over the course of the week. They told me they had fun and were sad to say goodbye when the week was over, which warmed my heart. But I promised myself: “Never again. I’m never teaching kindergarten in those bare-bones circumstances again.” I preferred teaching writing and public speaking to older students, when I felt like we could actually dig into the material.
At the end of the week, one of the mothers pulled me aside and asked if I might be able to give her son private lessons once the school year began. He was going into first grade, and she wanted to make sure his writing was up-to-par. Both she and her husband were still learning English, having moved to the U.S. from China, and she already felt like her son’s English was better than her own, so she could not help him.
“Sure,” I told her, even though her son had been one of my squirrelier students. “Email me in the fall and we’ll work out a schedule.” Part of me thought she wouldn’t actually follow up.
But she did. And, once the school year rolled around, I began giving him individual lessons once a week. He was much more focused one-on-one, for just an hour at a time, and his improvement in writing was phenomenal. Before long, I was bringing him worksheets way above his grade level. His mother was thrilled with his progress and asked me if I had any time in my schedule to do more one-on-one lessons. “My friend is interested,” she explained. “Her son is four years older than mine.”
I told her that would be great, and soon I was also working with a fourth-grader across town once a week. After a few months, that mother recommended me to one of her friends. And so on, and so on. Now, nearly three years later, my business as an individual writing teacher has grown to a dozen students—all referrals. Half of those students can be traced directly back to the mother of that kindergartener (who is still my student, and is now preparing to enter third grade in the fall! Time flies. Soon, his younger sister—who was a baby when I first met her—will begin taking lessons with me too!)
I was thinking the other day about this domino chain of students, and it made me feel so grateful for that exhausting week I spent teaching kindergarteners a few summers back. I never would have guessed all the amazing opportunities and connections that would stem from that single week. All of the weariness, frustration and uncertainty I felt at the time was more than worth the eventual payoff.
A challenging experience might appear to be a knot that you are working and struggling to untangle. But what if it is actually a seed? Perhaps you can water that challenging experience with determination and optimism, and a flower will one day grow out of that tough soil and bloom in beautiful ways you never expected.
Meet the Author: Dallas Woodburn
Dallas Woodburn is a novelist, editor, writing coach, and teacher living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her amazing husband and windowsill succulent garden. She blogs about simple, joyful living at Day-by-Day Masterpiece. A passionate advocate of young writers, she is also the founder of Write On! Books; learn more at www.writeonbooks.org.
All Photo Credits For This Article: Dallas Woodburn
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Keep Smiling — Love, Candace