My Foot is in the Door: My First Day at Andrew Jackson Language Academy

Today was my first full day at Andrew Jackson Language Academy. What an experience! While I have spent many hours in different classrooms across grade levels, this was different. If you ask any veteran teacher they will tell you that this is normal. Of course your student teaching experience is unique. Unlike any other experience you have previously had, no matter how many hours you may have accumulated. This is absolutely true. Today was different than any other day I have spent in school. Today was the start of my professional teaching career.

As I hopped on the Red Line headed south towards the Loop my heart was pounding: “When is the next ‘L’ train due to arrive? Am I on the correct side of the tracks? What stop am I supposed to get off at again?” All of these questions raced in my head. After successfully navigating the first leg of my commute, (South on the Red Line towards the Dan Ryan and hopping off at Jackson for a quick transfer to the Blue Line), my focus shifted towards the day ahead. Again, my mind was restless; “What will my cooperating teacher be like? What is her teaching style? How will the kids receive another personality, let alone another teacher, in their classroom community?”

Again, if you ask any veteran teacher to recall their own first day of student teaching you will hear a similar story. As Andrew Jackson Language Academy (AJLA) came into my view from my subway seat, it hit me. I suddenly knew why today was so much different than any other day in the classroom: The 32 third-grade students who I would greet at 8:30 am this morning would eventually become my sole priority. I would be responsible for their learning. I would be their teacher. Unlike the other placements I have had in the past, I wouldn’t leave during the day. I wouldn’t just teach a single subject for a few hours then leave to go to class. I would stay. All day. I would dedicate my entire professional life to them. “I would be their teacher.” To me, this was a profound realization.

What a statement. “I would be their teacher.”

This emotional momentum carried me through my brief walk from the Racine Blue Line station to the front door of AJLA. Walking through the front doors my thoughts were similar, “This would be my school.” If a camera crew had been following my up until this point in my commute, I would love to watch the replay of this exact moment. Undoubtedly, my posture changed and I stood tall with an apparent sense of pride.

Andrew Jackson Language Academy is a warm and welcoming community. The school clerk was the first to greet us and her enthusiasm was matched by others I met in the building, including my cooperating teacher. Ms. Nelson led me to room 206 and gave me a brief lay of the land. Before I knew it, the firsts bells had rang and it was time to meet the class. My heartbeat pulsed again, pounding in my chest. The anticipation was intense but quickly washed away after seeing a mix of smiling and frowning faces. (Hopefully they were frowning because of the cold and not my choice in dress shirt-tie combination) I was also met with the occasional, “who are you?” expression on a student’s face. Nothing I hadn’t experience before, but unlike anything I had encountered. As each student came into my view I thought to myself, “I wonder what your name is? What is your greatest passion in school? What makes you tick?” I also made a strong statement after every student had passed by and I hopped onto the back of the line, “I’m going to try my best to unlock the answers to these questions over the course of the next few months.” I smiled as we headed back into the school.
The rest of the day flew by. There was an opportunity to introduce myself at the beginning of the day and then we were back into the swing of things. CPS, or any other school district for that matter, does not include time into the day for student teachers to spill their excitement onto their students, there is work to be done. Young minds are under construction.

The morning began with writing, spelling and reading. Students were in and out of their seats and engaging in a variety of learning environments. Opportunities for individual, partner, and whole-class learning occurred. There was also an extensive amount of time allotted for students to read silently to themselves. Students read books of their own choosing at their grade level (Determined using Fountas and Pinnell graded/leveled passages). However, as students were silently reading they were also engaging in their “See Plans.” As they engage with a text, they use their See Plan to help guide their thinking. These sheets also helped students with their comprehension of the material.

After what seemed to be 30 minutes, students were off to lunch and so were we. Finally, a chance to catch my breath. Even though I didn’t necessarily realize I was in need of one.

After 45 minutes, we started again.

The afternoon began with a 10 minute “Break Time.” During this time, students could do a number of things: Catch up on old work, use the restrooms, read, or write. I observed almost every single student utilizing the time to their advantage, making the most of their break to refocus and prepare for the next few hours.

Once break was over the students worked on math and social studies before departing for their different world language time. This part of the day was the most intriguing to me coming into my experience. I had done research on AJLA prior to my arrival in Chicago and was interested in working in a language academy. Over the course of a given week, students engage in language study Tuesday through Friday. The language courses themselves are taught by fluent and/or native speakers. There are a total of 5 languages offered at AJLA: Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, and Japanese.

Once students returned from their language instruction, it was time to head home. After a short burst of energy and chaos, it was quiet. The day was over. I had survived.

The overall experience can be described using a variety of words that include the base/root of “fantastic.” (And yes, we did touch on base/root words today during spelling. Thanks for asking!) Anyways, my day was fantastically exciting, fantastically terrifying, and fantastically fast-paced. Bottom line: My foot is in the door. I am nowhere near being recognized as the full-time teacher in the eyes of my 32 students and rightfully so. Today I was just some kid who walked in off the street with a purple and blue checked shirt and tie who smiled and knelt down a lot. But that is exactly where I need to be.

Part of the beauty of an elementary classroom is that it is a community. The students share a special relationship with each other as well as with their teacher(s). This strong community is not formed over the course of a day or even a week. While some students may be quick to accept me into their community, other may shy away for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I may never be fully welcomed by a student or two the entire semester. But that is a long way off. And for now, my foot is in the door.

While I don’t anticipate writing this much after everyday, I do believe it is important to process my thoughts after the first day of teaching. What an excellent opportunity for reflection and growth. I hope to continue to blog over the course of the upcoming semester to keep you up-to-date on my experiences in and out of the classroom.

Passing 290 on my way to Andre Jackson Language Academy.
Passing 290 on my way to Andrew Jackson Language Academy.

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