Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 23 2011

Last Monday.

This was an excellent day. I woke up at 5am to plan my last real “lesson” of sixth grade. For some classes, it included a 20-minute description of the “Survivor” game I participated in on Saturday with some other TFA-ers. Telling the story to fifth period was the best: perfect suspense, perfect responses from them as I explained grabbing erasers from freezing water with my toes, pulling out plastic toys from a bowl of pudding with just my teeth, and losing in the second to last round against two allied teachers (“We know that word from social studies!”).

Just typing that gives me new hope for next year. My kids are story-tellers, specifically fifth period. I agree with the semi-stereotype I’ve heard in literature, the lean that the south is full of story-tellers, oral histories passed down. On lazy porches over iced tea. The culture here is full of story-telling. Realizing this now makes me sad about this year… fifth period triumphed with hilarious and well-delivered Do Nows. They were constantly explaining the petty arguments between their “children” (most students in that class have been deemed a mom, dad, or sibling of the other students in the class), the excitement of chasing squirrels, or (honestly, and this one was a full page of tiny handwriting) the dichotomy of farts. Always delivered with a verbal precision that left the class in hysterics.

I cannot wait for summer. I am jumping out of my skin after such an amazing weekend, but good Lord once I am with these children I will wish I could be a permanent aunt. I will miss their wide smiles and uncontained hissing of “yessss” when they get 3′s and 4′s on their essays. I will miss their timid white smiles that sometimes peek out of teary cheeks if I can say the right joke at the right time. I will miss their absolute determination in telling me I need to eat some chicken, that “No, Miss L, you are NOT 42! …are you?” after I lie about my age for the umpteenth time, or their immediate pleading for me to “LEAVE YOUR HAIR LIKE THAT” when it touches my shoulders for a fraction of a second before I attempt to redo a messy ponytail.

Today I told fourth period in a whisper, “Class: Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. You have three days until you never have me as a teacher again!” With other classes this caused a joyous uproar that was mockingly self-stopped with a “… oh, I mean, awwww man!” But fourth period. The period full of students that first semester literally threw rocks at me, that constantly sneered and followed through on their threats of “I’m gonna call my momma and she’s gonna come up here,” that left me in tears countless days, that went to the principal with lies to get me fired… when I said this the impact was enough to make my breath stop.

Eyes went wide. Justin’s eyebrows went up with a, “Miss L, no!” Arielle’s glare threw darts at me as she chucked her pencil across the room (at least out of the way of other students), Riquell said with a quiet forcefulness heard even from the back row, “Miss L, Imma cry.”

The love I have for my students, particularly fourth period, is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I cannot fathom the emotional turmoil it must be to become a parent, because that attachment I have to these 120 children that I hardly even know is so, so deep. I wish I could climb into their lives and place my hands on their shoulders for the next six years. Just get them to high school. Just mold them while they’re still a little malleable. I want them to come to my house and drink tea. I want to read out loud to them and teach them games. I want to give them hugs and actually have the time to listen when they are going through hell. I want to be everyone’s big sister.

Sigh. But the most, the best I can be, is their Language teacher. I hope at least a few understand that I’m not kidding when I tell them I love them (which I’ve started doing on a daily basis, without any censor or hesitation). I hope by the time promotion comes around a week from Wednesday I’m not so caught up in my own summer that I disregard the ache that will come with losing all these kids.

I realized last week, when someone was talking about discipline and how “I’m not here to make friends. I don’t need any sixth grade friends,” that I made the prime teacher mistake: I made friends. These kids not only created the hell I went through for a few months, but got me out of it. The people that encourage me the most, that pick me up when I’m dragging, that hug me when I’m about to cry (whether they realize it or not), that surprise me with gifts and smiles, that show me my most clear strengths and obvious flaws, are these kids. Next year I will not have this accidental closeness, this dependency on them to help me stand my ground. Next year I will be more of a teacher and less of a peer. An actual authority figure instead of a confidant. It’s satisfying and easier for me (I hope?), but it makes this year’s loss even deeper. These kids know me, better than I ever wanted them to.  They taught me southern culture and forgiveness. They put up with countless mistakes and failed lessons. To borrow one of Wess’s themes (I think?), they were my best teacher evaluation. When I failed, they told me. When I succeeded, it was undeniable from the way they talked in the halls, or how they sang prepositions through our tornado drill. THESE CHILDREN, these students have very well made this one of the most starkly memorable years of my life.

2 Responses

  1. v

    this is beautiful, xaro

  2. v

    ahem, caro…

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