Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

Good Bye, Fifth Graders! Be good…..

I love the last week of school because the atmosphere in the building is joyful, silly, celebratory.  We have “Crazy Hair Day” and “Picnic Lunch Day”. We put on our play, everyone gives extra recess, and the math books are packed away for the summer.

I love this week.

I hate the last week of school because it means letting go.  For ten long months, I have thought about these twenty five children day and night, adapting lessons for them, watching them at work and play.  I have felt responsible for their learning, their growth, their confidence.  I have fretted over the ones who can’t seem to speak up, and sputtered over the once who can’t stay quiet no matter how I scold.

I hate this week because it is such an abrupt and complete break with these children whom I have nurtured and loved.  As they leave my door on the last day of school, I know about their families, their health issues, their special education plans.  I am part of the fabric of their lives, as I have been since the end of August.

But when they come back in the fall, I will no longer be privy to those facts, nor should I be.  Confidentiality is vital in a school, and the families of our children deserve to be protected from gossip and chatter.  Professionally speaking, I have no need to find out how K’s eye doctor visit turned out, even if I was the one who first noticed the problem.  I have no need to know about squabbles between families or among family members, even though in the spring I was asked to help G to handle them.

In the fall I will no longer be a part of those lives that mean so very much to me right now.  They will walk out this door in three days, and I will wave goodbye and call “Happy Summer!”

Then I will open my hands, hold them toward the west wind, and I will slowly and sadly let go.


Trust yourself

Sometimes it is very difficult being a teacher.

I know. This is not exactly a surprising or earth shattering realization.  It’s just that sometimes that fact hits me hard.  Like right over the head.

Sometimes as I walk slowly down the hallway to my classroom in the early morning light, my only thought is, “I can’t do it.  I just can’t do it any more.”

Most of the time, I feel pretty comfortable and happy with my job.  Most days I feel relatively successful, moderately useful and generally likeable.

But then there are the weeks from hell. Alas, there are the months from hell.

This year I have been blessed/cursed with a classroom containing four or five alpha males. They are funny, smart, athletic, charming, powerful, egocentric, attractive, controlling, defiant, loving, enigmatic and immature.  All at once.

The better part of my year has been spent on crowd control.  I have been struggling to keep them under enough control to allow everyone in the room to learn and grow, while allowing them the freedom to have fun, express themselves and spread those golden wings.

It was exhausting.

For the majority of the year, I felt more or less successful in achieving my balancing act.  But now it is spring.  Ah, now it is spring.

For the past four to six weeks, I have been in direct conflict with my Alphas.  When I try to teach, they talk.  When I try to ask serious questions, they joke.  When I try to break them apart, they come crashing together like a set of powerful magnets.  They are a black hole, and they are drawing all of our energy into the vortex.

I have yelled.  I have lectured. I have contacted parents, asked for advice from colleagues, and sought administrative support.  I have used rewards, consequences, conversations, letters to the teacher, emails home.  I have done everything that I can think of, short of falling to the floor with shrieks and tears.

I love them. I respect them. I totally want to strangle them.

Back in the fall, when I was just getting to know the class, I became aware of a boy named Pablo.  He was born in Guatemala, and came here at the age of five.  Pablo struggled with all academic areas, and did not see himself as a student.  He wanted desperately to be an athlete, a cool guy, the boy with the latest awesome sneakers. He wanted to be accepted.

As the year began, I noticed that whenever he was asked to write anything, anything at all, Pablo would ask every student around him, “How do you spell……?” or “How do I write…..?”  I knew that he had been receiving support from both the ELL and Reading specialists. I knew that he had been given many strategies for writing and for expressing himself. I was annoyed at the way he always asked for help.  I thought he was being lazy, you know?  So I started to catch him in the act of asking for help.  I would say, sharply, “Pablo! Trust yourself!”   I felt as if I was barking at him, and began to suspect that he was trying to avoid my notice as he asked for help from his classmates.

I remember one day, when the kids were writing on the computers. I forget exactly what prompt they had been given, but they were asked to write and to express themselves.  I was walking around the classroom, looking over shoulders and making sure that everyone was doing what they had been asked to do.  I came to Pablo, and saw that he had very little written.  I noticed that he had a folded piece of paper clutched in his hand.  Huh.  A note to a friend, I thought to myself.  “Pablo!”, I barked in my best teacher voice. “Hand it over.”   I held out my hand.

Pablo was red faced, teary eyed, silent. He handed me the offending note, and lowered his head to continue his slow and careful typing. I dropped the folded paper on my desk.  I knew better than to embarrass him by reading the note aloud or by making an issue of his thoughts. I was sure that he had written a request for help.

After the kids had left the room to go to lunch, I picked up Pablo’s crumpled note.  I carefully unfolded it and spread it on my desk.

In his careful, poorly formed letters, he had written the words:

“Pablo. Trust yourself.”


It took me a while to forgive myself for my gross misjudgment of this little boy.  I stood at my desk for many minutes with tears in my eyes when I first read it, and I fumbled for many days trying to find a way to address it.  Finally, I found a way to talk to Pablo, to encourage him and compliment him for his positive self-talk.  I thought that I had done a good job, and I tried to let go of my mistake.

But the weeks and the months went by.  The Alpha males went into Alpha mode.  I found myself, in the early days of May, going head-to-head with them for control of the classroom.  There were days when I was tired, my back ached, my arthritis was acting up, and I was worried about my mother.  I didn’t have my usual patience and I wasn’t able to give the kids the tender care that they deserved.

I was mad, I was ornery, I felt challenged and disrespected.  It got to the point where I was losing my temper every time one of the Alpha’s even breathed.  I snapped when they laughed at each other’s jokes. I squawked when they insisted on sitting together at meeting.  I bristled when they whispered and I howled when they called out.

It was a nasty, ugly, unhappy two weeks.  For all of us.

But then I spoke to the parents, and I got some desperately needed support.  My back got much better. I had a good night’s sleep and the class was finally past the annual state testing ordeal.  I kind of relaxed.


For the past week or so, all has been well in our classroom. I am having the end of year conferences, lead by the kids.  They talk about the year, show their progress, tell their parents what they did well and what they need to improve.

But before each of the conferences with the Alpha males, I am finding myself anxious, and guilty and a bit shamefaced.  What if they tell their parents about how awful and mean and cranky I have been?  It doesn’t feel good!

But you know how I comfort myself before I face those families?

I think about Pablo, and his note.  And I tell myself,

 Karen. Trust yourself.”

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