Still Experiencing Firsts in my Twenty-First Year as a Teacher

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried hummus.” I said to my class of 11 high school students with special needs.

One person raised her hand. I showed the class some images of hummus using the smart board projector and asked if they had ever seen hummus. A few of them nodded. Even though hummus is a regular part of my diet, I was not surprised by the results of my survey questions to the class.

“Well,” I said “Today, as part of our study of Saudi Arabia, we are going to make homemade hummus.”

I gathered the students around the table in the back of the room while I showed them the cans of chick peas, jar of tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and olive oil. On student asked if she could have hers without the “beans” because she doesn’t like them. I explained that they were the main part of hummus. One student asked why we were using peanut butter when another student was allergic. I explained that it was tahini and let them smell it so they’d recognize it as something different. After examining all of the ingredients, we measured, and pureed.

“Well,” I said pointing to the tan colored mush we had made, “This is it! This is hummus. Lets cut the pita bread into quarters and dish up the hummus for everyone to try.”

I asked a few students to cut the bread and spoon the hummus onto plates and we all sat down to try the hummus. You are probably wondering how many of them actually tried it and the answer is all of them! You see, since I did this activity sometime in February, they were used to new, unusual things by then and willing to at least try. Two students decided quickly that they didn’t like it, but most of the other students inhaled it and came back for seconds.

It has been a year of firsts for many of the students. In addition to trying hummus, some the other notable firsts for them include using a sewing machine to make a class quilt and collaboratively writing an alphabet book for younger students on Math vocabulary. I feel honored to provide these opportunities for students, especially since over the past two years, I’ve experienced so many of my own firsts and know how exciting it can be.

I never imagined that in my twenty-first year of teaching, I’d still be experiencing some things for the first time. For starters, two years ago, I left a position and school I had taught in my 15 years. Last year, I taught resource and consult at the high school level. This year, I have a self contained high school class of students with intellectual disabilities. The last two years have given me numerous opportunities to grow and expand my experiences as a teacher.

As I said, this is the first year I have had a self contained class at the high school level with students with intellectual disabilities. In the beginning of the year, I wondered about curriculum and reaching students with such significant and varied needs. But of course, after a week or so, I realized that teaching this type of class requires the same skills I’ve practiced in my many other positions; set expectations, connect with students, be excited about curriculum, and give it my best, even if its not perfect. Starting something new this year has not overwhelmed me as I thought it might. Instead, I feel energized by new ideas and things to learn.

Another first I’ve had in the last year or so has been the Math tutoring I’ve been doing after school. I’ve always loved Math; the problem solving, the black and white of it, and the satisfication of getting the answer. But, as a teacher, I’ve heard numerous times from adults and students that math is hard and they just don’t get it; they can’t do math. This year, I am tutoring 6 students in Math from 3rd through 9th grade. What I love about the Math tutoring is that little by little, I’ve seen the math anxious kids feel more confident and comfortable with math. One student, who in the beginning of the year, started each problem by asking me, “should I…” now often completes a problem before I have finished working it out! To be fair, he has a newer and faster calculator!

Perhaps the most surprising first I’ve had over the past year, is that I’ve started to write about teaching. I have a book in the works, this blog, lots of stories to tell. Changing jobs two years ago ignited in me the need to reflect on who I am as a teacher and what my responsibilities are to my students, myself and my colleagues. I’ve realized how much joy I find in teaching; in giving kids opportunities to try new things, in watching their confidence grow and in constantly learning new things myself.

I feel such happiness as a teacher that for the first time, I’ve realized how important it is for me to spread positivity about teaching. I won’t debate that teaching is difficult; there are constraints and pressures from every direction, a lot of curriculum to cover and students with difficult issues to manage. But, if we can focus on the magic that can happen in something as simple as giving students a chance to try hummus for the first time, all of the other stuff can feel less daunting. There is a first time for everything and I intend to give and receive as many first experiences as possible for as long as I remain a teacher.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Melissa Kozlowski Fredericks

Melissa has been teaching for over 20 years! She recently started writing as a way to share the joy she feels in teaching despite its obstacles and challenges.