What a year. What an experience. I started this job in the opening days of August 2018 as a new teacher fresh out of college at the age of 36. I attended my first employee orientation as a teacher. There were many firsts this year. First fight. First student I had to ask to leave my classroom. First redemption story of a student who struggled and then stuck the landing. First student crying in my arms. First trying to navigate the drama. First being called to the principal’s office. First making a huge mistake with students. First apologies. First redemption story of Mr. DeLay. First tears shed over a student. First time I really connected with a student.
There is no job like teaching in the world, I would argue. Each day begins on way, swings through the middle another, and usually ends galaxies away at the final bell in the afternoon. I had so many firsts this year it would take several volumes to extrapolate and explicate them all – so I’ll just tell you that this first year has been a year of challenge and confirmation. Challenge in learning how to do this job at a basic and measurable level where you’re not gasping for air or drowning anymore. Confirmation that this is where I have always belonged. That teaching middle school is my home.
Let me tell you about tomorrow. Because tomorrow is going to be the saddest day in my teaching career so far. There are plenty more sad days to come, but this is the last first I’ll experience in the waning days of this school year. It’s the last day of school. The final bell will ring and my students – I’ve found myself calling them my kids and I’m not even sorry – will take their leave of us and become the full time ward of the people they live with and the hot summer sun that awaits. I will stand in the classroom in those final hours and minutes having come to know these students in their full humanity with quirks, eccentricities, baggage, hopes, and dreams. I will miss their laughter, their smiles, their sarcasm, their sass, the looks on their faces, the angst, the antics, the jokes, and the frustrations. I will miss all of it, because I have come to love each of them in their own way. I have come to adore their oddness, their weirdness, their awesomeness, and their otherness that is a quality/quantity in middle schoolers that you cannot measure or put in accurate wording. The best description for this term is the scene in one of the Pirates of Caribbean movies where Marty and Gibbs are talking about Jack Sparrow. Marty asks,
“Have you noticed lately, the captain seems to be acting a bit strange…er?”Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
At the moment where Marty says, “strange”, Gibbs gives him a look of confusion as of course Sparrow has always been strange, so Marty has to add on the “-er” to make his point clearer. That is the part of the middle schooler you cannot hope to crack – there’s always that stranger part of them that refuses to be identified. And I love even that part of my students that fits the statement, ‘some things can’t be explained.” I adore it. And I’m going to miss it over the summer. Don’t get me wrong – we are all in need of some time to regroup, rebuild, redo, and re-energize. But there is a part of my daily life since August that will be missing for two months and change.
So tomorrow I will be sad to see them move on up to the 7th grade. I will be sad that I’ll see them in passing, or after school as they jaunt and jog off to their various sports, activities, and growing up even more. I’ll be sad when they move even farther away from me in 8th grade, and I’ll be sad when they continue on to high school. And I will definitely cry when they graduate high school. So I’ll miss them. Let me tell you – these are my first kids. My “Great Experiment” as a teacher. I told them at least once a week they were my unintentional guinea pigs. I apologized to them weekly. I have learned what kind of a teacher I was, am, and can be through them and the months since August. They have sharpened me, pushed me, challenged me, and nudged me in directions I never imagined or thought possible. These kids made me a better teacher.
Let me tell you about my students.
Let me tell you of their kindness.
Their broken hearts.
Their repaired, but scarred hearts.
Their blown minds.
Their opened minds.
Their feisty spirits.
Their silly moments.
Their serious moments.
Their words of wisdom.
Their incredible discussions, realizations, and interpretations.
Their soaring spirits.
Their unfailing drive to keep going, keep fighting, keep learning, and keep being who they are – no matter what anyone else says.
Let me tell you of some of the greatest students I’ve ever had the pleasure, privilege, and honor to teach. First it was my field experience students at Falcon Bluffs Middle School. Then it was my student teaching students at Newton Middle School. And now, it is my actual real for the first time students at Fort Morgan Middle School. It’ll repeat again next year as the next group of 6th graders enter our building. And I’ll start this entire process once more.
And let me tell you – I cannot wait for the next ‘first’ thing I get to experience. My first second class ever – and all the firsts we’ll learn together as the year progresses.
Let me tell you – this is truly the greatest job in the world.