Teaching Has Two Sides

It's tough and wonderful

It is only nine weeks into Rosa Aguilar’s teaching career, but she has already learned two valuable lessons:

* Teaching is tough.

* Teaching is wonderful.

Rosa, 24, observes, coaxes, disciplines, consoles, laughs with, listens to, and — most importantly — teaches 29 bilingual first-graders at Modesto’s Fairview Elementary School. It is her first teaching assignment.

The first lesson:

It is Thursday afternoon at 2:55 — 15 minutes till school’s out.

The 6-year-olds are a little rambunctious. They take turns tugging at Rosa’s navy blue dress pants. They yell “teacher, teacher.” They refuse to sit completely still for more than 3.4 seconds.

Rosa smiles through it all, and continues to pass back the day’s art project
— black paint splotches on white paper that look like a Rorschach test, but are really the result of first-graders’ blowing paint through a straw.

“They were a little wild today at the end,” Rosa said. “Some days it’s like that, especially right before time to go home.”

The second lesson:

It is Thursday afternoon at 3:11 — one minute after school.

One of her students gives her a hug. Another holds her hand as Rosa walks her to the waiting school bus. All the children say, “Bye, Mrs. Aguilar.”

Rosa returns to the classroom to finish up the day’s work.

“I love working with the children,” she says. “Even when things are not going the way you want, they smile; they come up and hug you. It makes you want to keep on.

“It is everything I had hoped for.”

But it has not necessarily been everything she expected.

“There have been some surprises,” she said. “Paper work. That was a surprise. I knew there would be paper work, but I didn’t realize it would be this much.”

And there was another, more pleasant, surprise.

“I am surprised how fast the children are picking up English and Spanish,” she said. “I have had English-speaking parents tell me they are shocked that their children are learning Spanish so quickly.”

The toughest part, she said, has been getting everything organized and planned.

“With a bilingual class,” she said, “it’s pretty difficult because you are planning everything in two languages. It’s like having two ongoing programs.”

Parents, she said, are a mixed bag. Some have been encouraging, while others have presented challenges.

“But for every parent that has been a challenge,” she said, “there has been 10 parents who have been encouraging.”

Parents will be on Rosa’s mind — front and center — in two weeks.

“I have my first conferences,” she said. “I’m not sure what to expect. Some will be a breeze, others, well …”

She stopped, smiled and rolled her eyes.

There will be 29 conferences.

“I started with 32 children,” she said. “Then 33, then back to 32. Now, it’s down to 29, but I heard I’ll be getting another.”

The number of rabbits, on the other hand, has remained constant — one.

Back in the classroom, Rosa gazes at the white bunny that sits in a cage.

“The children voted on his name,” she says. “I didn’t realize first-graders even knew how to vote. They nominated names and then voted.”

The winner?

“Michelangelo,” she says. “I think Donatello was second.”

No, they are not teaching art history in first grade. As any educated 6-year-old knows, Michelangelo and Donatello are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Welcome to first grade — tough and wonderful.

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