Friday, May 23, 2008

On Being a Teacher

Today my 10th year of teaching came to a close. In the past ten years, I have taught more than a thousand students. It's hard to believe I have been teaching that long. I still feel like I am a young 22 year old teacher just starting out. Instead I am an old veteran, no longer wearing rose colored glasses. The past ten years have been a fun and sometimes wild ride. Some years have been challenging, bringing struggles at every turn. Other years have been absolutely wonderful, bringing me joy. Most years are a combination of each.

Teaching is more than a job to me. Each year, over one hundred students enter my classroom. Some will delight me, some will annoy me, and some will challenge me. But each year, those children become like family to me. Each year, some students will ask me if I will miss them, while others will ask me if I will be glad they are gone. The truth is, I always miss my students. That last day of school each year is bitter sweet. While I am glad the year is over for many reasons (a big one that I get to be a mom full time for a few months), I am so sad my students are moving on. Students don't realize the way many teachers see their students. When those kids enter my classroom, they become mine. They become my students and I care about them deeply. Not only do I care about their academic success, but I care about them individually. I worry about them through the year. That doesn't stop when they leave my classroom. They take a piece of me with them when they leave.

It's true. My students really take a piece of me with them when they leave. I often find myself wondering how they are doing, what they are doing, how life is treating them. One of my greatest joys is when I run into a former student and they run up and say hi, ask about me, and tell me about their lives. I get sad when a former student acts like they don't know or remember me, because usually, I remember them.

Today I said goodbye to one of my favorite classes of eighth grade. Out of the ten classes I have taught, this group rates up among my top three favorite classes ever. Tonight, my favorite group of students ever graduated from high school. Out of that top three, this group rates #1.

The graduating group came to me 5 years ago. I didn't yet have children, but I had finally found some peace in my infertility. I had the peace that some how, some day, I would have kids. In the meantime, while I waited, I threw myself into teaching. This group of students came in and we immediately bonded. I saw so much beauty, promise, and hope in this class. Part way through the year, I noticed these students didn't see the same beauty in themselves. So I did an activity to help them see their own beauty. And that activity bonded us like no other. From then on, these students were my children and I was their adopted mom.

Our closeness didn't end at the end of that year. Many were student aides for me the next year. Many come to my house or my classroom to visit. It's not unusual, especially in the summer, for a group of them to show up at my door with a pizza, raid my fridge for drinks, and sit around and chat for awhile. They showed up just last week, wanting one last reunion before they graduated. They have played many, many pranks on me over the years. I've tried to get them back, but they always win.

Tonight they graduated. I wanted more than anything to be there with them. I planned and planned on being there. And then Mark had to work tonight. And then Easton got sick. And it rained (ceremony is supposed to be outside). And Camden is a 3 year old who doesn't sit well. And the graduation is during dinner time. With all those things combining, I knew it would be patently unfair to my children to drag them to the graduation with all those factors in play. I am so sad I cannot be there tonight. I have been torn all night, rethinking the decision to stay home, and coming to the conclusion again that it is best for my children to stay home.

I am so sad to see these students leave - both the group from this year and my graduating seniors. Our school does a fun tradition every year when the students leave. The teachers and staff get the noisiest things we can find. This year it was bull horns, whistles, and clapping hands. We get out there with our noise makers and make as much noise as we can while the students load on the buses. Then, before the buses leave, all the bus drivers lay on their horns and don't let go. You have more than 20 buses with horns blaring and an entire junior high staff making tons of noise. It's a huge, raucous, fun time. Then one by one, the buses pull out. Each year this tradition brings me so much joy because it's such a fun send off. But each year I find myself with tears in my eyes as another group of students leave. This year, tears rolled down my face. I am losing two of my favorite classes ever. While I am so excited for them and their futures, I am so sad to see them go.

My hope is the future will be kind to them. May they find joy and peace in the journey of their lives. May they carry the knowledge that this teacher, this one person, will always love and care about them. May they always find a soft place to land.

For my students of this year, carry on your educational journey. Make wise choices. Live life to the fullest.

To my graduating students - Kyle (Matt), Jeff, Megan, Britli, Brittany, Justin, and too many others to name - you carry my heart with you. I love you as much as I do my own kids. Don't forget to invite me to all those mission farewells, weddings, baby showers, and everything else. Life gets harder as an adult, but so much more rewarding. I hope you find more happiness and joy than you can ever imagine.


Unknown said...


I still need to go through the rest of your blogs, but I'm glad you quickly brought this one to my attention.

Tears rolled down my face and I read the paragraph about us, your favorite class ever. And you know what? You need to be rewarded too, for being our best teacher ever. I supposed that's what all the pranks and showing up with pizza to make you look like the apartment complex pedophile were all about.

It's going to be a long journey, but NO MATTER WHAT, we will all remember you and carry that piece of you in our hearts like a treasure we can't live without. You have touched each of our lives and not being able to make it to the grad-ceremoney was such a small thing compared to what you've already done and given us.

The summer isn't over yet, and you should expect many more pizza parties to come. Especially now that you are a full time mom again.


Anonymous said...

Aw Man! You had to go and make me cry. :) Great post. Man, I miss reading you. I need to do it more.

Company EIGHT said...

That's amazing. All of your students have been so lucky to have you. I still keep in touch with my 8th grade English teacher--she's one of my favorite people, even though she duct-taped my mouth shut because I talked too much. :)

Really great post.

Unknown said...

I am so thankful for teachers like you. Teachers who care, love, and do their best to uplift as well as teach our children. Thank you!

P.S. We don't have a name for our unborn baby yet. I think boy names are much harder to come up with than girl names!

Paranoid said...

Wow, I hope that M is lucky enough to have a teacher like you someday (preferably 12 or so of them). Your post made me cry.

JW Moxie said...

Wow! I could have written much of this post myself. I am also an 8th grade teacher (Literature). Next year is my tenth year teaching, but I have been working in the school system to one degree or another since I graduated high school. Like you, I have many students that I carry in my heart. I've been to high school and college graduations, weddings, and baby showers of former students. It's such an honor when these "kids" that you taught years ago come back to see you and include you in their lives beyond the classroom walls.

Many kudos to you, fellow educator!

I came here via NaComLeavMo!

Jennifer said...

I always wanted to be an English teacher and still hope to one day. I some how found my way into the field of pr/marketing and journalism, which I love, but I've always had a passion to teach others. Hopefully one day.

Thanks you for all that you do, teaching the future generation.

Melzie said...

It's my 10th also, well, 9th, because of a year off- but still. The difference now though is that I went from 2nd grade to high school. We still have 2 weeks, and graduation is Sunday. So many thoughts...

Enjoy your summer!!!

Rebel With.A.Cause said...

Wow, I can tell you are an amazing teacher!! I had to giggle a little when I saw where you are from, I lived there, actually met and married Clark there, and moved to the east coast from there. I miss it so much!! I erally loved your last two posts, very insightful, and raw!! Hugs!!

Resplendentquetzal said...

Congratulations on making it through another year.
I truly admire anyone who teaches. I too have my degree and taught for 3 years. I quit when my son came home and I found myself spending more time in a classroom at home.

Again, thank you for what you do fro your students!

Jamie said...

You sound like such an amazing teacher and your kids are so lucky to have you!

I had two teachers who were so special to me - my first grade teacher and my drama teacher I had all through high school. It is amazing to think of all the things they did to develop and shape me as a person.

Bravo to you!!


Kim said...

Great post! NCLM

Anonymous said...

Here from NCLM - what a moving post, it had tears in my eyes! I teach highschool, and while I bond a bit differently w/ my students because I don't have them all day, every day, I can relate to so many of the feelings you have here. I enjoy facebook as a way to find out what some of my former students are up to.

I feel that teaching is a passion for you, a mission almost, and that you enrich these kids' lives as they enrich your own. It can be a career that takes so much out of you at times, and it gives so much back too! I am so glad you followed your life mission to teach these wonderful young people.


Anonymous said...

Ps. DH is interviewing for a job in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I was wondering if you are willing to answer a few questions - if he gets this job, we'd be relocating from Canada so I'd have to get to know another country as well as new city, state, etc. I was wondering about the public education system (I understand in the US, it's good in some States but not so good in others), and also about opportunities for getting educated in a different language. In Canada, English & French are our 2 official languages and I'd really like our kids to have some education in French. I think Montessori could be an option but I don't know if there are any others. If you are comfortable with answerng these types of questions, please email me or stop by my blog. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Like you, this was my 10th year of teaching...I've taught 5th, 4th, 5 years of special education in a self-contained ASD classroom, and 3 years of full day Kindergarten. This was the best class I have had to date and it was really hard watching them go. Yes, I'll see them again in the halls at school next year, but I will forever miss this bunch. Just a really kind, fun, and smart bunch of 5 and 6 year olds. I have seem them all grow so much - that's the beauty of teaching Kindergarten. You just see so much progress and excitement for learning. I worry about my class next year because it has some seriously big shoes to fill and am afraid that I have had that once in a career class and that it's all going to be downhill from here. Here's hoping it's not. :) Enjoy your summer.