I just realized that for the past two years I have said I would write a reflection about the end of the school year. I truly have wanted to do that. Interestingly enough, that reflection has never materialized. Well, I have one coat of trim color painted in the living room, made myself a cup of coffee, hooked up our internet, and now would like to write that promised reflection. However, since I'm moving from the school that helped me start my career, I figure it would be best to combine the past two years into one reflection.
I can still clearly remember my student teaching experience. I worked with two completely wonderful, completely crazy in all the right ways, completely compassionate teachers. They gave me pointers and praise and lots of laughs, and assured me for the final time before I spread my wings that I had chosen the right career. When my time with them was over, I knew I had earned the right degree because walking out of that school and saying goodbye to the students I had just taught Romeo and Juliet was difficult. I wanted to be in the classroom. I wanted students to come to my desk for help. I wanted to high five kids in the hallway.
And like a whirlwind the next month came and Brent and I decided on Louisville, and I typed up my resume, wrote a glowing cover letter ["I would be so lucky to work for a school district like yours"... I couldn't have even located the town in which the schools I were applying to resided], bobby-pinned my graduation cap to my mess of curls [who ever invented such ugly hats?], took lots of pictures, and loaded up the UHaul [that was almost responsible for dad missing my graduation...but that's one of those "for another day" type of stories]. I was still ever-confident in my choice of career.
I went to Wisconsin for a bit to marry off one of my best friends [it went well, thank you], then drove home to prepare for my own wedding. The imminent move to Louisville was tucked away in the back of my mind; however, the thought of a job was not really on my radar. I had never had a job interview. Being from a small town, jobs just kind of fell into your lap as a teenager ["Hey, does that big kid of yours do anything during the summer? NO? Well send him over to bail some hay and I'll pay him 10 bucks and hour!"]. I didn't fully realize the competitive nature of a real job market, or the the current exhausted state of our economic situation. Sure, I had taken enough initiative to send out some applications [and that glowing cover letter, remember?], but pretty much figured God would just take care of it as that had always been the case.
Then the call came. Some deep throated, southern voice asking me if I was still interested in the 8th grade Language Arts position at their school. My immediate answer: No. Not at all. Of course, that came out sounding something like, "Of course. I'm VERY interested." I wasn't interested for a few reasons) number 1: it was a MIDDLE school, as in hormones and puberty and sweaty kids that have attitudes and vocabularies that include "idk, wat's up" but not "maturity." number 2: their [smelly middle] school was in KENTUCKY. I didn't want to be there. number 3: it wasn't just MIDDLE school, it was 8th grade... for those of you that don't know this, 8th graders are the antithesis of all things good and right in this world.
"Of course. I'm VERY interested." And so the phone interview was set up, and a few days later I plopped on the floor upstairs in my parent's house, wearing shorts and a t-shirt and not having showered for a day or two [or three...because who's counting when it's summer!?] and decided this is the way all real interviews should go from this point forward in my life. The interview included the normal questions: "What are some of the reading strategies that you implement?" and "Do you have your students keep ongoing writing notebooks?" etc. I remember asking towards the end how exactly I should pronounce "Lou-a-vul?" It was a success and resulted in an interview in person.
Now lest you think I'm going to chronicle every moment of my teaching career from this point on, you are mistaken. I just wanted to paint a picture of how exactly I FELL INTO the position I did at the school I did. In case you didn't catch it, I knew no one in Looeyville, and sure didn't know any schools. I randomly applied. Randomly [and probably not smelling to great] interviewed. And I ended up getting a job in one of the top school districts in the state of Kentucky. This was all very good, but I would still be teaching those crazy 8th graders.
Fast forward 3ish months. Teacher I.D. badge slung around my neck, wearing the outfit I had meticulously picked out since, oh, about June 9th, I walk into the school building in which I had spent the previous two weeks sweating while hot gluing posters and such on my classroom wall. It was all perfect now. I poured myself a cup of coffee, breathed yet another prayer, and stepped into the hallway as the first bell rang. I smiled and greeted strange students as they filed into the building [not that they were strange, per say, but all of them were strangers to me...well, and some looked strange if I'm being honest]. Since I had first block planning I returned to my room and made sure everything was just right. My co-workers, also strangers to me at this point, one by one came to check on me to make sure I was good to go for that day. My immediate answer: "No! Of course not! I'm just a tiny little girl and I shouldn't be doing this! I'm not ready! HELP MEEEEEEE!!!!" Of course, that came out sounding something like, "Yes, thanks for asking! I'm just excited to finally be starting! Can I help YOU get any last minute things ready because I am completely and totally ready to go!" And then I flashed a huge smile and willed my nervous knees to stop knocking.
The funny thing: when the bell rang and the kids filed in and I gave them their seating assignments and welcomed them... my knees stopped knocking on their own. I made it a point to learn all of their names on that first day, and the next day in the hallway I greeted familiar faces by name [well, most of them. A few got called someone else's name but, hey, it was just the second day].
August, September, October... the months seemed to fly by. Sure there were bumps and hiccups along the way, but I also learned so much like proximity can squash about anything, treat the kid with the mom that works at Starbucks VERY well [I'm kidding...sort of], using a sick day when you have strep throat is really most likely the best option, expo marker does NOT come out of khaki pants, trying to grade papers and return them to all 110 of your students in a weeks time will most likely kill you, teachers really don't ever go to the bathroom... and other stuff, of course, but these were some of the most useful.
By the end of the school year though I had learned a lot about who I was as a teacher, and a person... and then I slept for the ENTIRE summer just to catch up on the amount of energy I had expended that first year.
August rolled around all too soon, as it has a funny way of doing, and I found myself moving classrooms and preparing in different ways than I had the year before. I now knew how 8th graders operated at far different levels than I had the previous year, and began planning more interactive lessons and stocked up on Lysol [because my first hunch that they were smelly and pubescent was also, unfortunately, very true as well]. The funny thing was though, this time I was so thankful I was going to be teaching 8th graders, and couldn't even picture it any other way. It is odd how things like that happen when you let them.
The first day of school came, I again greeted students in the hallway with a cheery wave and coffee breath [which I'm sure was a delight for them], but this time I just relaxed during that block of planning before I got students. I talked with my coworkers who were no longer strangers but great friends, and for good measure poured another cup of coffee. Yes, there were a few jitters, I think there always are on that first day for teachers and students alike, but there was also a peace. A peace knowing that, yes, I had made it past that first year and come out [somewhat] unscathed and better on the other side.
The students came in, I learned their names, they learned my pet peeves and that I "don't do puke" within the first few minutes, and all started off rather well. But within a month I was somewhat unsatisfied. These weren't MY students... these were the 7th grade teachers' students being IMPOSTORS in 8th grade bodies. I wanted MY students back. But then I realized, they were over at the high school imposing in someone else's classroom, smelling someone else's coffee breath. It was sad for awhile. I had spent so many months building relationships with the previous years' students and finally reaped the benefits in April. The thought of taking that long to get close to these students seemed impossible. No, it just wouldn't work.
But again those months flew past, I learned more lessons like don't schedule an observation with the principal for the last class of the day on a Friday, and even if you don't get strep throat take an occasional sick day, save the movie for a day you'll be there and make a sub teach them something [okay, I'm mostly joking...and besides I think I only showed two movies all year], and of course don't try to see if you're allergic to penicillin on a school day because you probably will be and it will be a disastrous affair. I also learned important things like sharing Monday homemade lunches with co-workers, and really listening when students' share their writing, and to not assume how a kid will do on his speech presentation because he will probably prove you very wrong, and sometimes yellow starbursts work wonders, and quite often a trip to McDonald's during planning time with your coworkers/friends is not necessarily the most productive but is probably the healthiest thing to do.
And come March, those students I had been pouring into returned the favor. They were finally "my" 8th graders. And then, they got ready to leave me too. And so the pattern goes.
Each year I will probably get a bit of the jitters on the first day. Each year I will probably think "my" students have left me and I have gotten someone else's students in return. Each year I will learn 492 new things. Each year I will get a little bit better at this thing we call "educating our youth." Each year I'll have that one student that will drive me crazy and I will try to lure with yellow starbursts. Each year I will be exhausted and ready for summer.
And each year I will realize anew that nothing done in love is ever wasted.
And that random school I just happened upon became a second home to me. My coworkers became a second family. When I first entered that building on a hot day at the end of May, I never thought I would leave it a different person 2 years later. I never thought that as I surveyed the stripped down walls of my classroom and turned off the lights for the last time that I would do so with tears rolling down my cheeks. As hard as it was to drive out of that parking lot with clipboards and markers and tape and construction paper and all other classroom essentials in my backseat, I know that leaving that school does not mean leaving who I am. I was a teacher before I entered that building. My two years there refined me and shaped me, but I am leaving that building the same: as a teacher. Hopefully a better one too.
And in another month [wait, where did the summer go?!], I will enter a new classroom, with new students who will seem for awhile like they belong to someone else, rather than me, I will make plans and change plans and catch new germs, but come May [please God, let us get out in May], I will have made those students mine, and we will share a space that is "ours" and it will be sad to let them go.
And on the rough days I will just repeat to myself: nothing done in love is ever wasted.
And here are a couple pictures of me with "those coworkers that became family" on the last day of school and at the "last supper" we shared together: