Learner's Permit

My little sister got her learner’s permit last week. The night she got it, she drove me to Sonic. Nervous glee oozed from her as she approached a stoplight. “Jeni,” she said, “This is my first stoplight!” I congratulated her as we passed under it. The glee returned as she went over her first speed bump.

Seeing this reminded me of the past year, the year of firsts. I had that same ooze as my sister when I walked into my first classroom, went to my first recess, the first time I walked students down the hall, when I got straight A’s for the first time, when wrote my first lesson plan, and gave my first lesson. Each time I accomplished something for the first time, I felt like I conquered the world. Every accomplishment reminded me of how far I’ve come.

Two years ago, I stared at the education degree plan and thought that there was no way I was ever going to get into the program. My GPA was atrocious, my financial aid was revoked due to bad grades, and my boss believed that going to school would affect my commitment to the company. Then, by some miracle, I got a second chance. My fiancé agreed that I needed to quit my job to pursue my dream of being a teacher. Six months later, I started my journey and never looked back.

This fall, I’m going into my senior year of college. I’ve heard that a senior year exists, but hadn’t seen any concrete evidence. As the weeks of summer pass, I have to remind myself that this really is happening. I am going to be a student teacher next year whether or not I’m ready for it.

Look out world, here I come (with training wheels)!

Family Trees

Substitute teaching has made me realize that I love kindergarten. It's my absolute favorite grade to sub for, and I can never get enough of it. This week, I've been able to sub for my favorite kindergarten class twice. I call them my chickadees.

On Wednesday, they learned about family trees. According to one student, "A family tree is a tree of family!" I made my family tree and shared it with them. They were absolutely amazed that I had a family. Their excitement grew with each relative, especially when I wrote their name under the picture. When I told them that my fiance's name is Mike, a few hands shot up and asked if it was like Michael Jackson. I laughed and said yes. After I had my entire family on there, I decided to add my dog. This had to be the most amazing thing they had seen all day. You have a dog? No way. They were very excited to find out that they were going to make their own family tree.

As they worked on their family trees, I had a lot of questions about grandparents. My usual response was, "Well, does your mom/dad have a mom/dad?" The light bulb came on, and they quickly started drawing. However, one question caught me off guard. This little boy, who never fails to make me smile, raised his hand. "Ms. Bridges," he asked with a look of deep concern on his face, "Where do I put my step-hamster?" I had to think for a second before I repeated his question. "You have a step-hamster?" "Yes," he replied, "He only lives with me sometimes." I nodded and told him that he should find a special place to include his step-hamster on his family tree. He looked so relieved.

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. -Ogden Nash

Is This What Passion Feels Like?


When I first thought about being a teacher, I kept hearing that it was what I need. Passion, and a drive to do whatever it takes to help a student succeed. To be honest, this notion scared me to death.

One of my friends recently found her passion through hooping. My friends and I were huddled around a computer watching a video of this girl just rocking out with a hula hoop. We were stunned and suddenly found ourselves rushing to the hardware store to make hoops of our very own. She and I would meet at the park after work to try to figure out how to do the tricks we saw in the video. Eventually I stopped hooping, but she kept going. She found something in her life that made her truly happy.

Seeing the journey that she has been on for the past year and a half has been amazing. While watching her life change in front of me, it made me wonder if I’ve ever been passionate about anything before. Sure I’ve loved doing things, but have I ever loved something so much that I could never imagine myself doing anything else?

I wondered this even as I entered my first semester of education classes. Everyone around me seemed so sure that they were going to teach forever. I was still figuring out if this was right for me.

All of this changed when I stepped into the second grade classroom I was observing for the first time this semester. In the days and weeks leading up to this, I was scared I wasn’t going to like it. I was so worried that teaching wasn’t what I was supposed to do. Once the shared reading was finished, I was invited to walk around and talk to the students in the class. One pair asked me to listen to them read aloud. As they read a poem about the seasons to me, I started feeling something that I have never felt before.

This feeling continued to grow as I continued to interact with these students for the next few weeks. The finale of my time with the second graders was teaching them my first lesson over the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree. As I told the story, I saw the light bulbs come on one by one like the stars do every night. Before you know it, you’re surrounded.
Earlier this month, I subbed for the first time in a kindergarten classroom. The day before, I was a nervous wreck. Questions and doubts swirled around my head. However, once I started morning meeting, that feeling returned to me. This time it was so strong that it was almost overwhelming.

It was a feeling that let me know that there is no other place for me to be, my budding passion. It’s what drives me to do my very best in school and take in all of the information that I can. Right now my mind is like a kindergartner. I am just learning the basics, but at the same time I am soaking so much in. It will make me a better learner. It will make be a better teacher. It will make me a better me.

I am a teacher, it is becoming my passion.

I'm a teacher, when I least expect to be.

On Sunday, I was shopping at my favorite used bookstore to pick up a few books for my children’s literature class. Sunday was one of those grubby sweatshirt days.

While perusing a shelf of picture books, I felt a tug on my sweatshirt. Looking up at me was a little girl with big brown eyes. She looked like she had something very important to tell me. I smiled and asked her if she needed any help, and what came out of her mouth took me by surprise.

“Can you help me find a chapter book?” she asked me while fidgeting with her pinky. Finding the books for my class suddenly didn’t seem so important. My friendly grin turned into an excitement-filled smile. A kid was asking me of all people to help me find her a book. What was next, the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol? I asked her what grade she was in, and she told me first grade.

Frog and Toad was the first thought to pop into my head.. Before I could even start to dig through the large bookshelf of early readers, my eyes came across a book that was noticeably thicker than the others. I pulled it out and was delighted to discover that it was a collection of Frog and Toad stories.

While thumbing through each of the books, I asked her what she did on her spring break. She said, “Well I read a few books, but mostly I just hung out. I needed the break.” I nodded. Life’s rough for a first grader. After finding a few, I talked about each of the stories. As I was describing the ever lovable Mudge, I noticed that she kept eyeing the collection. She picked it up and started looking through it and her eyes lit up just like mine did.

To make sure that Frog and Toad wouldn’t frustrate her, I asked her to read the first couple of pages for me. She read it beautifully, and with expression. There were a few words she had trouble with such as “Blah,” Toad’s catchphrase. It felt like I was hearing my own student read for the first time, a feeling that’s impossible to describe.

I gave her that book, and a few others that I thought would be good choices. She skipped away and fanned out the books for her dad as if she were holding a deck of cards for a card trick. He asked her which one she would like and she dropped all of the rest and held the collection as high as she could. The little girl looked back at me with a look and smile of satisfaction.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself, and explain that the book she picked was a collection of short stories that I knew she could handle. Reading a big book like that made her feel big, and built her confidence. Dad seemed thankful for the help.

I went to pay for my books when I felt another tug on my sweatshirt. The little girl looked up at me again hugging her book against her chest. “Thank you for helping me find my book! I can’t wait to get home and read it!” I couldn’t help but beam. I told her, “You’re excited about reading and that’s what’s most important to me.”

Helping this little girl helped me discover two very important things:
1.My brain must have a “teacher mode” that I didn’t know existed. While talking to this little girl, I basically did a quick reading assessment, I previewed the text with her and determined that Frog and Toad are probably on a high instructional or low independent level for her. Perfect for independent reading at home.
2. I am a teacher when I least expect it, even while wearing an old sweatshirt on a cold Sunday afternoon.

I'm a Teacher, I'm Magic

This semester, I'm taking a class where I go into classrooms of varying grade levels to observe classrooms and teachers in action. My classmates and I have been encouraged by our professors and our mentor teachers to walk around the room, interact with the students and assist when necessary. Right now, I'm observing a fifth grade class.

During the time I was there, the class was working in their TAKS workbook. They were to read a passage in their books about the English settlers, and answer the questions using reading strategies to find what the question was asking. These included context clues, finding the main idea, etc. While the class was working independently, I decided that I would be more comfortable circulating around the room so I could see what the students were doing and figure out how the strategies were being used. This is when I get to know the students as well. Time to practice my teacher look.

As I was doing this, I noticed that there was one boy who was making noises and distracting everyone at his table. Remembering that the closer a teacher is to a student, the more likely the student will get back on task, I moseyed over to his desk. When he saw me, he immediately raised his hand. I asked him if he had a question.

He said, “Can I slap myself in the face?” Bewildered, I asked why he would want to do that. He responded, “I'm really tired, and I need to wake myself up.” I told him that slapping himself would not be a good idea, and reminded him that he needed to get back to work.

A few minutes pass, and I decide to check on him. I notice that his workbook is closed and he's giggling with the boy next to him. The teacher wrote the student's name on each TAKS workbook. I glance down, figure out the boy's name and decide to make a move. The two girls at their table looked at me with that look of desperation, the one that said, “Please shut him up, I'm really trying to do my work!” I smiled at them and decided to check on a few more students before coming back.

After talking to a girl across the room about the book she was secretly trying to read, it was time to make my move. He was talking to his neighbor about Lord knows what. “Willy*,” I said, “Have you finished answering all of your questions already? Wow, that was fast” Willy whipped around with a look of absolute shock on his face. “H...how did you know my name?” his voice wavered.

“I'm a teacher...I'm magic,” I replied with a coy smile as I walked over to the other side of the room to help another student.

The road to becoming a teacher is fill of twists, turns, and near insanity.