Posted in Random Thoughts, relationships, Teaching, Uncategorized

Another Year Come and Gone

It’s been a while since I sat down to write about things. This year has been a roller coaster for me emotionally, and it has been rather hard for me to think of it all and put it all down on digital paper, as it were.

I don’t know that there weill be any rhyme or reason to the blog I am going to post. I’m not sure if it will make any sense, other than to me, and I think I’m okay with that. I don’t believe that I will ever be a famous blogger. I won’t make a ton of money pouring my heart out to strangers about the things that matter to me most. And I am okay with that.

Anywho.

We had graduation yesterday evening. It was the second class of students that I have seen all the way from their freshman year to their senior year. Chances are it will be the last class of students that I will have that will do that. That in and of itself is enough to cause me emotional distress. If there is one thing that I have loved in my life more than being a mother, it is knowing that I have been trusted with the care of other people’s children. Even for a few months out of the year, I am blessed to be a part of these kids’ lives, and I get to watch them grow and transform.  And nothing has been as satisfying as watching my kids grow from lanky, awkard freshemen, to more awkward seniors.

One of my students burst into tears as we waited for graduation to start. I pulled him close and gave him a hug, reminding him that this was not the end for any of us. In some way, I think that those were the words that I most needed to hear, and so I shared them with him.

He had much to overcome this year. He battled with some internal demons only to come out of them on the other side, hopefully happier and healthier for it.  I like to think that I have done the same.

It doesn’t really matter what I teach next year. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get to call these kiddos my own. It doesn’t matter if I gain the ire of an administrator or a parent for a few moments. Because I know, that deep down, I have made a difference.

Each year, I have my senior kids write a letter, talking about where they think that they have grown and changed. Inevitably, it becomes a letter to me about what they have learned in my class and how much they are going to miss me.

The words they left me with this year brought me to tears. And yet, they are happy ones. They will serve as a reminder in the days, weeks, months, and years to come that I was here and I made a difference.

And so, Class of 2017, I want to thank you. Thank you for going on this journey with me. Thank you for letting me inch a small part of myself into your lives. Thank you for touching my life in ways that I never thought possible. I am so very proud of each and every one of you. I know that you will go far and do great things.

Maybe one day you’ll actually help me open my bookstore. How cool would that be?

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Posted in Random Thoughts

Within these Walls

Often I think about the impact that a teacher makes on her classroom.  I think I’ve written about it more than once.

It’s hard to express what happens to your heart as a teacher.  What happens with every group of students that enters your classroom. About the joy and love that you feel for them. About the guilt that you may feel when you finally decide that you may need to take a step back and try something else.

As a freshman, I remember her sitting there in the back corner of the class, obviously troubled.  Who was I to kid? They were all troubled in their own little ways.  But that day, she seemed more out of tune than any other. Another of my students went to her and they talked in hushed whispers about whatever it was that was going on in her life. As class ended, I saw her place a razor blade in the other girl’s hand, taken from concealment in her pencil pouch. I didn’t embarass her with her obvious shame. I went and told the counselor.  They committed her for a day or two, and when she came back, she thanked me.  Thanked me for caring enough to say something, for making her parents notice, even just for a moment.

***

I was standing in the hallway, watching the traffic jam of students that spread like the tentacles of an amoeba. All of a sudden, she raced around the corner, tears in her eyes, and she looked at me and asked simply, “Can I please just have a hug?”  I wrapped my arms around her, and she cried, never telling me what it was that had caused her tears.  I didn’t need to know.  And she didn’t need to talk about it.  She just needed someone to hold her so that she didn’t feel so alone with her tears.

***

It was two years after she had graduated.  She came back to visit, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  She loved everything about the college she was attending.  It had never been better. But then she stopped and looked at me seriously.  “I don’t think I ever told you how glad I was to have you as a teacher.  How much you helped me through that first year.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and I found my own composure cracking. “You may not have known it, but you were the best teacher I ever had.” I cried there in front of her, and she cried too, and we laughed through the tears at the rediculousness of it all.

***

He had graduated the year before.  I hadn’t taught him in four years, but I remember his freshman year well.  The one day when the girl said something to set him off.  Anger flared in his eyes, this man trapped in a boy’s body.  He yelled and railed against whatever invisible daemon he was fighting, fist meeting the metal of my filing cabinet one, two, three times, leaving knuckle dents that still grace its surface twelve years later.  I was scared for him, scared for us.  The year ended, and I never knew what had happened to him to make him so full of emotion.  But talking with another teacher I learned that he was living in shelters, bouncing from one place to the next.  His constant companions were rats and mice and hunger.  He never knew where he was going to end up next or where his next meal would come from.  I see his smiling face in my Facebook feed, a member of the military, all traces of that life seemingly gone from him, save for the small glint in his eye that speaks of things from that other time.

They run together sometimes, the stories that have come and go from the lips and fingers of my students.  One student in jail because he murdered someone.  Other students lost along the way.  One shot at gunpoint.  A few married with kids.  Some still struggling to make ends meet. Others flourishing.  And I know that maybe in some way, they all remember me just a little.  I remember them.  I may not remember a name, but a face and a story, that will always be there.

And so if I walk away from this classroom, find that choices have taken me someplace else, I will take those memories with me.  A stack of drawings given freely.  The Christmas picture of my class and me, hugging and smiling.  The video of my seniors presenting songs and skits, some not appreciated nearly enough.  And I will look at them. And I will smile.  And I will try to remember, that I made a difference. Even if just for a moment.

Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized

And So It Goes

Normally I try to keep my posts about work upbeat and happy. I’m afraid this isn’t one of those posts.

Let me preface this story by saying that I absolutely love what I do. I may not have always thought it was the best, and there are days that I’d much rather be at home with my son than with a raving mad bunch of teenagers. But, all in all, it is a worthwhile job. One that I find rather fulfilling.

That being said, I think it may be time for a change. Maybe it wasn’t the time I was ready for, but perhaps it is the time that a higher power thinks I need. Time will tell.

I began teaching the fall after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in English. I actually had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree until I ran into my high school French teacher. She told me of a program that the local school system had that would send you to some classes over the summer, put you in the classroom in the fall, and eventually give you a free Master’s degree. I didn’t have anything else to do, and kismet lead me down this path. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So I applied, and was accepted. Looking back, part of me feels that it was probably a little bit because of my own teachers. My former French teacher was one of the mentors. My former calculus teacher, she was the lady in charge. If I had been someone else, I may not have gotten in at all. But they knew me, and I ended up joining the program, a bit more on track with a plan for my future.

I can’t say that my first year of teaching was anything but difficult. Not having any student teaching made the work even more complicated, but I persevered. Sure, my evaluations weren’t the greatest, but I was still learning, and I had a strong desire to learn. I wanted to get my whole body wet, not just my feet, and I ended up probably taking on more than I should have. I taught 9th grade English, both average and honors classes. One of my average classes was a collaborative class, which means that I had a large number of students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, and that didn’t make the job any easier.

I remember having two kids almost get into a fight in my room that year. I remember being scared as the boy instead attacked one of my filing cabinets with his fist. The dents in that cabinet are still there, as is my memory of that student. There was much to learn about his situation in later years, and it still amazes me to this day that he was able to accomplish so much with his life. He’s currently in the military, and I keep up with him from time to time on facebook.

The next three years, I worked on my Master’s degree curriculum at night, and finished that degree work. My salary went up, and my responsibilities at work changed. I moved from 9th grade to 10th, and with the new curriculum came new challenges. But each year was more rewarding than the last. My students sometimes “hated” me, I always loved them, and we more or less ended the school years on a positive note. I had a few elective classes thrown in there as well, which helped to break up the monotony.

But then, in the 2011-2012 school year, I was thrown for a loop. I remember getting a phone call the Monday before I needed to be back at work…basically two full weeks before students were to show up. I wasn’t going to be teaching 9th grade, nor was I going to be teaching my 10th grade classes, or my electives. Instead, I was going to be teaching Creative Writing. Four sections of it. Each one different. The woman who had taught those classes the year before retired, and it was now my duty to take the program over from her.

I was scared. I scrambled that entire time I was back at work. I wondered what I was going to do. I had no idea how to teach Creative Writing. In fact, during my degree work, I had never even taken a class on Creative Writing. I had no idea what I was doing. On top of it all, the woman who retired left next to nothing to help me, and when I reached out, I got the minimum help back.

My classes that year were a struggle. I had three classes which had only known the other woman as their teacher. One class was completely new, but a vast majority of them had no interest in writing whatsoever. There were plenty of days that I went home crying that first year. I struggled to make it work, I worried that my teaching career was going to be over so soon. But struggle through I did, and I made it out the other side.

Years passed, and I finally got the hang of it all. I love my program more than anything else that I have ever done as an educator. I feel as if I finally make a difference. My students come back and tell me about the impact I have had on their lives. I see my same students every year…it’s no longer an “unknown” filled with fear. My classes are my home away from home, and they are my little school family. Before I had my own son, these kids were my children, my babies. It’s so much more than I ever thought it could be.

And that’s where it goes, itsn’t it? You get comfortable. You feel that you are finally doing the thing you are supposed to be doing, and then things get shaken up.

Last week, I was told that the classe that I had grown to love, were no longer going to be mine. I hadn’t done a good enough job with recruiting new students to the program, so a new teacher would be taking it over in my stead. Someone who has ideas. Someone who is good with PR.

And I broke down.

I knew that it wasn’t going to be a good meeting as soon as I got the email. I was a bundle of nerves, planning for the worst. And the worst wasn’t far from what happened.

No, I still get to teach, but I will be back to my old classes, teaching English once again. The students that I’ve grown to know and love won’t be my babies anymore. They’ll be with someone else while I watch from the sidelines.

And it hurts so much. And it scares me.

Because I believe, in some part, about fate. Perhaps I got too comfortable. Perhaps I loved something a little too much. And now, it is being torn from my arms.

Whither shall I go from here? I don’t know. Will I stay? Will I teach somewhere else, do something new? Perhaps I will find something else to take the burden of this memory from me.

Whatever I do, I will carry my love for this program with me every day. I will continue to seek out my former students. Continue to make the connections that were ever so important to me. And I will remember what it was like to once love what you do with ever fibre of your being.

I will miss all of my babies. I will mourn over my loss. But I will remember that it is never the end. The road keeps going ever onward. And I will keep on trudging along.

Posted in relationships, Teaching

Back to Work

Hey everyone! I apologize for the seemingly ridiculously long hiatus. I figured that I deserved to spend the summer with my son, and boy, was it amazing. He has grown so much in the past several months, and now more than ever am I convinced that being a mom was always something that I should be.

Now, however, I am back to the old heave ho, teaching my students once more. This year I have my four Creative Writing classes, but I also have College and Career Prep. This class is more or less a class to teach kids how to apply for colleges, and if they choose not to go that route, how to be an adult. My goal is to make the class interesting and relevant.

It’s funny, because one of the students in that class got into a pretty in depth conversation with me. We were having a study hall period, and the student asked me about having a house. She didn’t know that most people take out a home loan and have to pay on a mortgage for 30+ years.

How is it that we are trying to prepare high school students to be able to go out into the world, and they don’t even know things like that? I have seniors who have asked me to show them how to fill out a college application because they don’t know how to do that…and they’re supposed to go to college next fall. They don’t know how to fill out W-4s when they get jobs. They don’t know how to fill out a job application. They don’t know how much a car costs or what a livable wage even is.

So I’m going to try to teach them some of those skills. It boggles my mind that we try to make sure that they can regurgitate answers on a test, but we don’t make sure that they can do things that they will absolutely need to know later in life. No one is going to fill out loan paperwork for them. No one is going to do their taxes for them for free. They’re going to have to figure it out on their own, and even then, I think a lot of them will get it wrong.

In saying that, I pose a question to my readers. Is there anything that you felt that should have been taught in high school that wasn’t? Any sort of skill that is invaluable as an adult that you had to learn on your own through trial and error? I’m interested in seeing what you all think. Perhaps I can take some of those suggestions and put them into my curriculum.  Thanks for reading!

~Aly