Monday, June 6, 2011

I'm Gonna Miss Us

The Three Best Reasons To Be A Teacher: June, July, August. – Anonymous

I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. or Ms. Anonymous who wrote the blurb above. I doubt very much if that person was a teacher of little kids. (It was probably the same Anonymous who penned Those who can - do. Those who can’t – teach.) Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy some time to catch up on some of the things I put off during the school year. For one thing, I don’t seem to be able to read as much as I should during the year. The list of chores stacks up like cordwood. I could never sleep in much, but at least in the summertime I don’t have to get up at 5 AM. I don’t get the chance to really read the news as much as I would like on weekdays during the school year. That newspaper on the early morning porch with a cup of strong coffee instead of coffee in the car with a shot of NPR is not quite the same. So I do enjoy the summer break.

But that last day of the school year is not something I really look forward to. Saying goodbye to my little best friends is never easy. The way we teach at my school is very personal. The curriculum – the stuff of teaching – is critical, but is all about relationships. In this occupation, you spend 180 school days building relationships. The end comes quickly, but when you teach little ones the growth is amazing. Being there to help arrange conversations, set up demonstrations and investigations, to read and write and share strategies along with 22 other learners is a pretty cool way to spend the day. When that comes to a close in the spring (Friday was our last day with kids), it is a sudden shift in life. But that is my rhythm. It has been for 32 years now. My life is measured far more by school years than birthdays or calendar years.

You try to prepare for the last week of school, then the last day, then the last hour. You try to keep it light, but productive, busy but personal. The kids are antsy. How could they not be? You have to keep things moving ahead or it turns into indoor recess. But at times it feels like you are just riding a rocket and you are doing well to steer it in a reasonable direction.

All emotions are increased during those last few days. When we laugh, we laugh harder than usual. When things are upsetting, there are more tears. At least my class will be together again next year in grade 3. That is the beauty of The Center for Inquiry. We get to stay with our students for two years. And the kids get to stay together from Kindergarten to grade 5. So our last day on Friday was just the end of second grade. In a couple months we’ll be together again. It’s all good.

During that last week of school we reminisce a lot. Someone will spot a picture book I read aloud when we first met and ask that I read it again. We sing songs we learned together back in the old days – long ago last August or September. We talk about our student teachers and big events from the year.

It was almost exactly a year ago, when the kids were just finishing first grade with my good friend Jennifer as their teacher. Brandon, a future student, came up to me with something in his hand. He had this excited grin on his face. He handed me a ziplock bag with something inside. “Thanks,” I said. “What’s this?”

I knelt down and there was a tiny dead bird inside. It was a male ruby throated hummingbird. “We found this in my garage,” he said shyly. “I heard you like things like this.”

“I do,” I said, feeling a little odd that my penchant for examining dead animals was part of my reputation. “Thanks for sharing this with me. It’s a beauty.” I gave it back and he walked away looking a little dejected.

The next day he sought me out again and handed me the bird-in-a-bag. “This is for you,” he said. “You can keep it.”

“I tell you what,” I said. “Let’s put this in Miss Tameka’s freezer. We’ll bury it in the fall and dig it up in a couple months and see if we can reconstruct the skeleton.”

That’s just what we did. One of the first projects in the fall was to bury that tiny frozen bird in a mesh bag; the kind you buy oranges in. We left it there for a couple months and then excavated it. During that last week of school, we sifted through that soil and found as many bones as we could. After separating out the bones we looked closely at a Zoobook about hummingbirds and glued those tiny, fragile bones down in some semblance of order. We arranged that skeleton to look as if the bird was flying.

Almost a year to the day after I first accepted that odd gift from that tiny little stranger, we completed our work on the bird skeleton and displayed it on the wall with the other skeletons I had assembled with classes in years past. It seemed to be just right. There was a funny little full circle of that gift being buried then resurrected and then becoming part of the permanent artifacts of the classroom. Now we had become the very best of friends.

A couple days earlier, when we had about a week left, Allie from our class said, sort of out of the blue as we were all coming in hot and dusty from a game of dodge ball on the recess field, “I know we’ll have a good summer, but I am going to miss us.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know. Us - the class. I am going to miss us all being together.” And I did know. And I do know. I’ve only been away from us for a couple days. No more than every weekend. But the thought of Monday morning rolling around and not being together for a couple of months, makes me miss us.


Chris Hass said...

I agree with your take on summer. I do look forward to a more relaxed schedule and even staying up a bit later but it's far from the three best things about teaching. It felt weird on Monday to not go to school. I was a bit restless, not knowing what to do with myself. I entered into last summer really exhausted and in need of a rest. This summer is just the opposite. I'd rather have a couple of weeks to hang out with everyone and then get back. I really think I'd prefer a year-round schedule with three week breaks every quarter rather than this looooong one.

That's a classic line, "I'm going to miss us." I'm missing "us" as well and scrambling to put together some summer book clubs in hopes of drawing a handful of kiddos away from the pool and the tube for an afternoon or two. We'll see how that goes.

Meesh Hays said...

The hardest part of teaching fifth graders is watching them go away. I wish I had the control to tell the folks at the middle school to leave certain ones of them together. Better still, I wish our district would let me jump around schools and loop five-six with my little friends!

It's neat, thought, to see the groups that remain friends as their years progress. It's wonderful that on the last day of school they'd truly rather sit in a circle and say nice memories and see-ya than play Bingo like others are doing. They reach a point where they can say, "You know, at the beginning of the year, I didn't like you, and now I have no idea why I didn't! I just didn't know you." Ah. THAT is what we do.

I do believe a year-round schedule would suit me well - 9 hard-core instructional weeks on, a week to rest, a week to figure out what direction to take next with the little people, and back to it. Well, I say that, but I am with you on the rhythm of our lives, measured in school years. By the time August arrives, I am so anxious to see my new friends!

You wouldn't believe the piles of to-deal-with in my house right now that I look at periodically and say, "Summer is coming; you can wait until then." And they DO. I hope upon hope that I can get them all cleared to their proper locations before school begins again.

Maybe one day we who teach will find balance and not need summer to refresh and attack piles and sit by the fire with beers as often as we might need. Nah. Who am I kidding?

The best thing about living in your attendance zone is getting to see everyone at the pool and the Walmart and just about everywhere! So, I am out about this morning, hoping to bump into some of the "us" I miss!

Emily Whitecotton said...

Us-ness is the becoming one of my best reasons to be a teacher. I absolutely disagree with anonymous as well. We would not be who we are without one another. This is another reason why I think it is so ridiculous to think that I could tell a 5th grade teacher much of anything about a kid that would do them any good for the coming year. The kid will respond to the "us-ness" around them. There is so much more life in a real classroom than the thin "community" that prescriptively develops in the pages of that red Morning Meeting book. There really isn't a way to capture it any other way than in stories shared together. Even if they never get to read them, I think that your kids are lucky to have a teacher who sees, is willing to capture, and understands the value of those moments that develop us-ness.

Summer for me also means more reading, more guitar, and less scurrying. I think I get better at teaching by not doing it for a bit. I think that a break sometimes lets things reorganize in my head in a way that helps me to use them more effectively.

So, here's to summer and missage!