"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what
you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". -Maya Angelou
It's September. My classroom is emaculate - the only time it'll appear so all year. I've got the opening day materials photocopied, sorted, and ready. My rosters are sitting on my desk, a pen ready to play the phonics game with the assorted spellings parents have conjured. Butterflies are dancing around in my stomach. I am ready for the beginning.
Slowly, my students trickle in - the Beta versions of their future selves. Some are dressed to impress, having carefully selected their digs from carefully planned school shopping purchases. Others have determined that no fanfare is necessary, their reps are set. And a growing number wear neatly repaired, laundered, and pressed clothing that bears a history of its own.
I begin my schpeal, something like this is my philosophy of mastering practical language arts.
And the nitty gritty of curriculum, assessments, and administrative initiatives quickly takes over.
Somewhere between that first day and the first holiday break, my students become my kids. Their lives become part of mine and their issues attach themselves to my thoughts, my psyche. Some begin to confide in me and I hear of the family matters big and small that consume them. And within their writings and their side of the desk confiding, we weave a community cord that doesn't seem to unravel when they leave my class at the course's end.
Yes, there are assignments. H doesn't do any of them. In fact, I see the top of his spiked-hair head far more often than I see his dimpled face. B tells her mom she does everything, but it's too hard and she can't figure it out, so nothing is turned in - - we've got a dialogue that spans pages of e-mail and yet, there is nothing indicating we've resolved anyone's frustration. She, by the way, wrote a lovely sonnet (complete with perfect rhyme and iambic pentameter) about hating English. E, of whom I've spoken before, is determined to make me work for every bit of effort I expect him to make. I suspect he likes the one on one, and his shy smile and moments of sparkle in his eyes has confirmed this more than once when he sits through a second class for help.
Countless other students work consistently to turn in something - even if it's not complete, correct, or on time. These students, when they leave my class at year's end, offer passing hellos in the hall, but they move on.
It's my unsuccessful students that surprise me. M, for example, is this handsome young man who thought of school as a social experiment. All the way through the year I urged him to help me help him. Grade print outs, number crunching (you need at least this to get the "D" that gets you out), etc. were continual. But M gave me nothing. And then we had a conversation at the end of the year. I told him it was too late to fix his grade. We talked about his baby sister (because he never wrote anything, I didn't know there was one). He was going to have to escort little sister to summer school each day. M lit up as he talked about this darling little girl he's determined to protect from the evils of the world. And I asked what example he was setting for her. A frown wrinkled his nose and tensed his mouth. I think there was an explosion of understanding. He promised to do better.
This year, I met baby sister - a sweet little girl with long wavy black hair, a shy smile, and eyes, shaded in thick lashes, that glow with promise. M hunted me down to introduce me and baby sister stood shyly behind his back clinging to his hand. He's keeping that promise, the one he made to be the example for her.
In between the assignments, I see the Beta versions evolving into 2.0 and beyond. New hairstyles, new accessories, new outlooks. Moods shift like the weather, and the forecast sometimes looks pretty bleak. There are hellos on some days, nothing more than grunts on others. And sometimes, there are confessions, speeches, pronouncements, and lamentations. And groans; lots and lots of groans (sometimes they come from the students).
I don't remember half of what I say during my lessons every year and it's clear the students don't either. No doubt it is a jumble of anecdotes about raising my two blessings, my crazy nerdom of my school years, and my sarcastic humor that I can't seem to contain. Sometimes I dance - badly. Sometimes there is singing (also bad). [I once recited the Pharcyde's "Ya Mama" in a lesson on hyperbole...]
I'm grumpy, I'm elated, I'm leery of hugs that some kids insist on giving. I'm the only me I can be; real, weird, and clear about my expectations for success beyond my class. When I lecture, it's not about curriculum, it's about life outside the classroom - school as the means to the end, and the end being the success they hope to attain for themselves. So even if M, B, E, H, or any other of the students I have the privilege of working with aren't successful in my class, they know I care.
I hope they know I've got their best interest in my heart.
* Written for MamaKat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop