As I walked into the classroom on Monday morning, I looked outside. Our room has two windows that face the street, and as we’re on the second floor, the big maple tree outside meets us halfway. The classroom walls are stark white, and they’re speckled with student work, but the room can feel a bit sparse. On this particular Monday morning, our maple tree was the color of sunflowers. Deep yellows and spots of warm orange greeted me, like hands waving in the air, adorned with citrus-colored gloves.
I did not teach this week. I merely observed. I observed all my students and how far they’ve come in the past 12 weeks, and I observed their future.
I saw students running down the hallways of a high school next year.
I saw prom dates and football games and theatre productions.
I saw break-ups, fist fights, screaming matches, and tears.
I saw hugs, hand-holding, kisses, high fives, and fists in the air.
I didn’t see grades. I didn’t see standardized tests. I didn’t see honor roll.
And I didn’t see teachers.
I didn’t see myself in the future. I didn’t see what I would accomplish. I saw what these kids will do.
When I walked into this school 12 weeks ago, I wasn’t myself. I was quiet, reserved, and unsure of how to approach the students. Now, I can barely contain my enthusiasm everyday, and the students know I’m a loud and crazy teacher. I have learned more about teaching during this experience than all the time I spent in graduate school. These 12 weeks have been more invaluable to me than any time I’ve spent inside a classroom up to this point.
I brought in cookies for the students last week on Friday to celebrate my last full week with them. They knew coming to class on Monday that we’d only be working together until Wednesday. It doesn’t help that there isn’t any school on Thursday and Friday, so we only had three days.
On Monday, my students worked on a theme study project we’d given them the week before. They read folktales, traditional literature, and Dr. Seuss books to obtain the theme within and cite evidence to prove this theme. Most of the students really seem to understand just what theme is now and will hopefully be able to use this information throughout the year and high school. They will eventually work on more complex texts, but determining theme is a pretty simple formula once you know how to do so.
For the second half of class, the students worked on their Lesson 9 vocabulary roots. It’s pretty interesting that almost all of their roots are based in Latin and Greek. I explained to them weeks ago how important Latin is to the English language, despite it being a dead language. I’m not sure they understood what a “dead language” meant, but maybe they’ll remember I said it when they’re sitting in some AP English class.
At 12:35, my cooperating teacher and I were calmly eating lunch when a motherfucking earthquake hit us. We don’t get earthquakes in Chicago. I was born and raised here, and I’ve never experienced anything like that.
I took it as a sign that the school didn’t want me to leave. The ground shook with sadness over my soon-to-be departure.
I went home Monday afternoon after our weekly student council meeting feeling off-balance and melancholy. I laid down at 5pm, just to get a few minutes rest.
I woke up at 8pm. Apparently emotional days take a lot out of you (LIKE I DIDN’T KNOW THAT BUT THANKS).
Tuesday was a pretty simple day. The students took a literature assessment during the first half and watched a PBS special on the hidden political messages of Dr. Seuss during the second half. I went through the day in a daze. I knew that Wednesday would be my last day, but I wasn’t…I don’t know, I wasn’t there yet. I shouted “See y’all tomorrow, have an awesome day!” like I do everyday. But I couldn’t say it on Wednesday. So I relished in saying it Tuesday, putting effort and love into every syllable. Did they notice? I’m not sure.
I met with the principal on Tuesday to talk about where to go from here. He gave me some wonderful advice and offered to help me write a cover letter and polish my resume. He also offered to take my resume to neighboring principals.
I was this happy.
I went home Tuesday feeling more emotional than Monday. My mom bought me a big pink cake to celebrate my last night as a student teacher. The cake was too sugary but it was delicious.
As I was trotting off to bed, my mom guilted me in her mom way to watch The Heat with her. UGH I didn’t want to, I just wanted to go to bed and cry a little.
But it was fucking hilarious. I don’t know many people who are as naturally funny as Melissa McCarthy.
I woke up on Wednesday morning tired, stiff, and nervous.
I was actually nervous. I had butterflies floating around my stomach.
I’d been at this school for 12 weeks, I could handle this.
It was pouring rain. I shuffled upstairs and brushed the raindrops out of my hair, but I stopped mid-brush when I looked at my desk.
There was a card too.
The card read:
“It’s been great working with you.
I’ve learned a lot from you and enjoyed sharing books and ideas.
Enjoy some time off and, hopefully, I’ll see you at school soon.
Good luck and best wishes,
I started crying immediately.
This was going to be a long day.
My cooperating teacher came in about 15 minutes later, after I’d finished writing a message on the board to my students. I thanked her for the card and the cake, and she responded in a way that left me speechless.
“I didn’t bring the cake. M did.”
“M” is one of my students. She’s hardworking, funny, kind, and popular. She and I have worked really well together, but I had no idea she was going to bring me a cake.
She got to school 30 minutes early to bring me this.
The day was laid out pretty straightforward. For the first half of class, we’d be taking a practice EXPLORE test. This test determines where they will be placed their freshman year of high school. There’s a lot of pressure riding on this exam, so I gave them some test-taking tips and tried to keep them calm.
The second half of class, we went down to the library for the book fair.
I had wicked mad flashbacks of going down to this exact library for the elementary school book fair 18 years prior.
I bought two books.
This will be great if I ever teach Shakespeare at a high school level.
At the end of each period (there were four today, because Wednesday has a weird schedule), I said goodbye to my students.
It was remarkable to watch how they reacted. Some, like “M”, were genuinely upset to see me go and wanted me to stay. They hugged me and made me promise to stay in touch and come visit. I told them I’d hopefully be a sub at this school very soon.
Some students were kind and said goodbye but seemed to want to move on with their day.
And one or two students didn’t seem to care at all.
I guess that’s how it is at any job. There’s a fair mix of people who you’ve bonded with, made a slight connection to, and missed each other’s perspectives entirely.
But it feels different as a teacher. It’s my job to connect to each student.
I didn’t beat myself up about it too much, though. One of the students who didn’t care that I was leaving is a student with behavioral issues and was suspended just the week prior. He doesn’t get along with any of the teachers and frequently makes it a point to tell me that my lessons are “stupid” and “pointless”.
It’s funny, in grad school it seemed like we were supposed to love and cherish every student. After this experience, I’ve learned that it’s just not possible. As a teacher, I will always give each student my best effort and help them to the best of my abilities. But, that doesn’t mean I have to like them.
When I first realized that, I thought I was a bad person. Then I realized that it just made me a person.
those students who did attach to me, who I did touch…those students were the ones I’ll always remember.
I wasn’t going to be there Monday to watch these students grow. And, the growth I’d seen in just 12 weeks floored me. I wanted to be there for the rest of it.
My cooperating teacher gave me a huge hug and thanked me (SHE thanked ME) for all I’d done. I bumbled on about how wonderful this had been, and she told me that as soon as I applied to be a sub, she was going to take a vacation and only request me.
I was the happiest, once again.
I couldn’t get through the day without crying, but as I was walking to my car at the end of the day, the tears didn’t stop. If anyone had looked closely, they probably would have thought I’d been fired or a family member had died.
But, they weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of love and fulfillment.
I will admit it, this entire experience has made me feel wonderful about myself. But, in a way, it had to. If I’d left this experience feeling unhappy with my performance or unsure of myself as an educator, I wouldn’t want to keep teaching.
I’ve talked to one of my best friends, who is a nurse, about the importance of humor and pride. If you can’t get through high-stress, difficult jobs like ours without feeling good, you’ll never make it.
I have so much more to write. I have so many more ideas to get down, so many more questions to be answered.
But, it’s Saturday, and I’d like to go outside.
I leave you with what I wrote on the board for my students. My goodbye.