“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Teacher's Good-Bye

I am an English teacher. At least, that's what I am today. In less that two weeks, I'll be a stay-at-home mom again. Not just because of summer vacation, but stretching into next year. I have the gift of being home with my kids again. There's nothing greater I can think of. I can't wait for it to begin. Trips to the zoo. Vacations during the school year (oh, yeah, you BETCHA). Never missing a concert or a play or the Mother's Day Tea. If I have to, I'm telling you, I will follow my middle child around ALL FREAKING DAY if that's what it takes for him to remember his freaking homework. I bet he'll work a little harder at it if I do that.


At this very moment, I watch my students take their final exam for my class. I know that I've prepared them. But I also know the strengths and weaknesses of each person in this room. Connor is brilliant. He's probably going to be a doctor, but he's hard on himself because writing takes him time. How unfair that his success right now is being measured by a time limit. He's better than that and I know it. Jake, who sits in front of me right now, just plain hates reading. I don't take that personally - no one is going to make me love math. But in this moment there is a great kid who is good at sports and loves science and he feels less than.

Grace. Grace was my hidden poet this year. Out of nowhere she called me over during writing workshop and as she began to tell me what she could not find the words to write - that she'd lost someone she loved to cancer and how unfair it was - we both teared up. She wrote it all in a poem then, and it was beautiful.

I could go on about all of them, as well as the students that are taking exams in different homerooms, but all it does is make me realize why I both love and hate being a teacher. I make it my job to know every kid by the end of the year. No one can escape me! If they aren't participating or try to hide their face as I move through the room, we take a class period and I turn my room into a talk show in which they are the special guest. And likewise, I make sure they know all about me. It's the only way I feel I can reach them and help them learn.

The problem is, once I know them, I can't help what comes next. I love them. I think I'm describing the plague of every good teacher. Because June comes, and I have to send them off. They forget all about the posters I made to help them remember how to say "AWkward" correctly and how to stop repeating themselves in their essays. They go to the next English teacher next year and, it pains me to know, it's like they've never taken an English class in their lives.

But I remember.

Worse, I kind of automatically dislike my new team of students just because they aren't my last team. That's not very fair, and it doesn't last, but it's how it is. I run around on my free time and check in with the eighth grade teachers to make sure my weakest or most troubled former students aren't lost or overlooked.

This morning, I think I really embarrassed myself in front of my coworkers because I ran around to every room where my students were testing and I made them jump and down - just to make sure they were awake. I told them I KNOW they are prepared, and shouted that I love them. Weird, I know.

It's just an exam. It's just seventh grade. So many of them will become hairdressers or mechanics or plumbers - people we need and whose jobs are necessary and important and require very little of what I've taught them. But I gave them so much of myself, and if they fail, well...then I've failed. And that's not something I'm OK with.

I work in a good school. No. A great school. It has nothing to do with programs or Common Core or statistical rankings...it's because of the people. The teachers are dedicated and the administrators care about everyone in the building. I will miss this in the fall when everyone brings in the New Year. But I have another job to do that matters just a bit more.

I just hope that these 125 go out in the world and make it better. They have so many unique gifts. I hope they remember that it's their differences that matter most, not the way they conform. I hope they choose kindness. Maybe they won't love reading or write great essays, but I hope they are good and happy.

I'm ridiculous. This afternoon I will go home and Max will wrap his awesome little arms around me and say, "I misseded you sooooo much." Noah will worm his way next to me on the couch and nearly break my arm forcing a snuggle. Joey will dance and sing through the house; you know, just getting from point A to point B. It will be wonderful. But there will be footprints on my heart always from the other children I can't help but love.