In the quiet time before the bell rings, thirty computers chime the first movement of a complex symphony as they awaken. I enjoy their song while I walk around the lab, preparing the computers, and myself, for the day. In a brief half an hour, the students will begin to roll in, ready to go, so I take some time to brew a pot of tea, review my schedule, and organize my thoughts. Working with kids, in any capacity, is a job that keeps you on your toes.
As a General Education Paraprofessional and School Technology Representative, my job includes teaching specials [known to some as "electives" or "enrichments"] for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, running several reading intervention groups, updating the school website, and a myriad of other responsibilities. I wear almost as many hats as a British royal and have to be prepared at any moment for a costume change. This job is challenging, tiring, and endlessly gratifying.
Of the almost eight years I have worked at Park Hill Elementary, I spent most of that time in special education, working one-on-one with a special needs student or helping teach small groups of students with speech/language learning disabilities. I have had the privilege to work with many different teachers in all grade levels. Every year, I would find myself saying definitively, “This is the best grade, the best teacher, and the best age of students.” And every year, I was right. I got just as much, if not more, out of the education as the kids. Fractions, once the bane of my childhood existence, suddenly made perfect sense. Going through elementary school as an adult was beneficial in ways I never would have expected and something I would argue that all adults should be able to experience.
Much of my focus this year is on a technology-based reading intervention. Students come to my lab to play computer games that boost working memory, phonemic awareness, and comprehension. We start each session with about five minutes of physical exercise. Most of the kids think this is purely a fun time to jump around, especially when I encourage them to play air guitar like they’re giving a concert to 20,000 fans. They like the opportunity to get their wiggles out while I appreciate how the movement helps activate the learning center of their brains.
While they play their games, I watch them focus intently on the screen in front of them. The sound of their exclamations of pride when they beat their high scores or mutterings of frustration when they choose incorrectly is the next movement of my daily opus. It’s fascinating to watch their gears turn as they process information. My room is one more place for them to expand their brains and their working knowledge of language and technology.
I wish I could say I always wanted to be a teacher, but in truth, my career in education happened almost by accident. At age 10, I wanted to be a truck driver. Nothing seemed cooler to me than driving all over the country listening to music. When I was 12, I was completely invested in becoming a fashion designer. By the time I graduated high school, it was film directing that held my attention. In college, I studied event management. Through everything I did, I loved the creative process of taking on a challenge and finding an innovative solution, but hadn’t yet found the outlet that would satisfy me in the long-term. Though my focus changed over the years, one constant was my work with children. I babysat, tutored, and acted as a nanny from the time I was 11 years old. Even so, it never occurred to me to seek a job in education. Then one day, the family I nannied for during the summers asked if I would take a temporary job at Park Hill Elementary to work with their younger child. That was it. I simply fell in love with the students, the staff, and the work of encouraging children.
Still today, it feels like a blessing to do the work I do. Every day, I am able to use my creativity in different ways to bring something new to the kids and watch them take those lessons to heart. In addition to the curriculum, I share my love of words with the students. We discuss their power and how satisfying it is to choose just the right one. I share my experience with them; how my love of learning helped me as a student, despite my dislike of early mornings and a certain disregard for assignment deadlines. I remember vividly what it feels like to be a kid, which helps me relate to them in very real way.
One of my students last year was having a difficult time at the beginning of the school year [because he was new to the school.] He was an extremely bright student, but struggled with speaking aloud, even in situations where he was comfortable. The trouble had progressed to the point where he was acting out in school and eventually began refusing to get out of his mom’s car in the morning. His anxiety had become a brick wall to his education. When I realized he was missing his friends from the previous year, and wasn’t sure of his place in the new class, it was a huge breakthrough. The simple act of having someone understanding his feelings changed his entire demeanor.
That connection with my students is what drives me to continue this work. I still have not developed a fondness for those hours before the sun is truly awake. But those few moments of groggy grumpiness are worth it to watch a kid discover something new or accomplish something they never thought they could. It takes kindness, dedication, and an extra helping of patience to work with children, but every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to change a child’s future. And each one of those children has made a bigger impact on my life than I can hope to make on theirs.
Because of them, I have been inspired to pursue writing professionally, as well. I realized I can’t urge the students to reach for the stars if I don’t venture out on that scary limb myself. They provide endless fodder for my imagination, and the purest praise to keep me going. And I know without them, I wouldn’t have been able to embrace my dream. If I hadn’t chosen to take what I thought was a temporary job after college, I might never have realized my true potential. This is the best gift I can offer to them. No matter what your passion is, follow it wherever it leads. You may be surprised where you end up!
This post was written by Corey Kennan, a Paraprofessional who wears many hats at Park Hill Elementary in Denver. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.