Wednesday, April 25, 2012

22 Days

22 days of school left.  Today I felt like this was my bittersweet mantra.  The kids are just itching for summer, and therefore their behavior and ability to focus has taken a steep decline.  In moments of frustration, I found myself repeating "22 days, 22 days, 22 days..." exasperatedly in my mind.  But then one of those small, sweet moments would sneak in, and I would find my mind whispering "22 days, 22 days, 22 days..." with the little sadness of knowing that "my kids" would only still be my kids for a little bit longer.  Looking back, I have seen amazing development and maturity occur over this year.  On a day to day basis, these things are hard to see, but then I'll have a moment of clarity where I realize that they all look a little more grown up and turn their work in on time a little more often....for some students it's still those baby steps of progress that make my day.

I take stock in the success of these kids.  I want to know that when they move on, they've got the tools they need to succeed.  More importantly, I want them to know that they can come back for a visit if they feel like they might fail.  I don't think I ever realized how attached I would grow to this group of kids.  Maybe that's how I know that this is what I'm meant to do and where I'm meant to be.  Even on the most frustrating days, my students are worth the little headaches.  

Over the past week and a half, we've been writing poetry in English.  Today, my students turned in their writing and I was thrilled to see such creativity on the pages of their journals.  Even the kids that hated poetry made me laugh with their witty poems about hating poetry. But there were also moments when my heart broke in half as I read about the sad, dark places where some of my kids are stuck right now.  I had to go to the counselor about a few students whose poetry held suggestions of self-harm and self-hatred.  Just knowing that at thirteen years old, a child's life can seem so terrible that they would think about the possibility of giving up is unbearable to me.  There is so much good and excitement and perfection in this life that they need to know and feel and see.  Having to acknowledge that I had never noticed the signs of their sadness before I only had 22 days left with them also hurt my heart.  How could I miss something that was crying to be noticed from the pages of their notebooks and the sad smiles on their faces?  On the other side of that coin, at least I have 22 days left to do all I can to help them see that someone cares.

After an emotional roller coaster of a day, grading and listening to poetry, I happened to receive a pleasant surprise from a student that I have written a lot about lately.  This kid just will never cease to amaze me.  After doing time in detention this afternoon, my newly appointed homeroom student aide and 7th grade English student popped her head in my door.

"Ms. Herring, I wrote you a note in detention!" I had checked on her in detention and made her promise to read a book. You can only win so many battles....

As she walked across the room to my desk, I began my lecture on the value of reading and how tomorrow  is a reading day and I don't need her causing chaos because I know she hates reading and she'll try to cause chaos....blah, blah, blah....she just could not stop smiling.  She nodded her head and said, "I know, Ms. Herring," dropped a note on my desk, and left.

"See ya tomorrow, girl."  That's right.  I'm her "girl."

Dear Ms. Herring, 
GIRL, Thank you so much for your help this year and for being my teacher.  You have taught me bundles of stuff this year, and I actually got a good grade because of you. Thank you for your help again. I appreciate it a lot. In other words, you're freaking AWESOME.

Consider my day made.  Time to make the next 22 count.  A lot.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thanks for helping me

ONE MORE DAY.....One more day, and I am done with my first Benchmark week as a teacher.  I had good intentions of blogging over Easter weekend to sum up my "countdown to Benchmark" experience.  I'll be honest.  The "countdown to Benchmark" experience can be summed up in about five words. Stress. Tired. Tension. Anxiety. Tired. I put tired twice because I have quickly found that dealing with middle school behavior in the height of spring fever makes me tired, and middle school students in the height of spring fever are tired of hearing me preach about the value of main ideas and making inferences.  Needless to say, if I can sum up a whole potential blog post in five words, it does not need to be a blog post at all.

Instead, I went into this week with a smile and a positive attitude, determined to keep the kids as pumped up as possible as they faced hours of silent concentration each morning.  I just knew that something wonderful would strike me this week as a little piece of wisdom from my favorite middle schoolers.  That, in fact, did happen today as soon as the first bell rang.  I never name students in my blog, for confidentiality reasons, but the student who gave me this little piece of wisdom is a student I have mentioned before.  I spent most of the first semester thinking she was going to punch me in the face if I made any serious attempts to teach her something.  During third quarter, I moved her to the front row.  A little over a month ago, I started working with her during Benchmark Academy after school, and three weeks ago she became my unofficial student aide during homeroom.  This is a kid who spends a lot of time in the office, and who burned some serious bridges with her teachers last year, but the thing is, I really like this kid.  She has a serious wall built up, and she is tough as nails, but deep down she's just looking for attention like every other human being in the world.

Anyway, this morning this student comes running in my room asking to borrow pencils.  Our post-benchmark activity this afternoon was to go to a play.  The alternative to the play was two hours of silent reading at school.  As I was handing her some sharpened pencils, I asked this student if she was going to the play.  She replied no, that she didn't have a dollar to go to the play.  I then told her that the alternative was to read a book.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  This child was not about to read for two hours.  I still can't get her to read much longer than two minutes.  I gave her the pencils and a dollar in quarters and asked her what she was going to do on her essay today during testing.  She said was going to write five paragraphs and take up two pages and reread her work.  She finished her statement by saying, " just like you told me to do, Ms. Herring."

Later, as I was walking around the room during testing, I looked over at the "Benchmark Promises" that I had my students write on the last day before testing.  I put them on the wall this week to cover up all my posters.  As I looked over it, I found this child's promise:

I promise to do my very best and check my work because you helped me in class and at Benchmark Camp. Thank you for helping me :)

The combination of our morning exchange and this promise on my wall made my day.  I'm no child whisperer.  I can't get to the root of every child's deep-rooted problems in my classroom, and I have plenty of students who I am sure cannot wait to never hear me preach the importance of the parts of speech ever, ever again.  I'm learning everyday, and my students are my teachers.  One of the most important lessons I have learned this year is that my job is not to be a buddy.  My job is to set a boundary and an expectation, to support my students until they get there, and then to help them surpass my expectations.  Not every student will do that, but I can sure help them try. The thanks that this student displayed made me thankful.  I'm thankful for all 135 of my "student teachers" that I get to see everyday.  They teach me so, so much.  They teach me humility.  They teach me patience.  They teach me gratitude. They teach me tolerance. I can't believe that in six short weeks they'll move on.  I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids as my very first group, and I can think of quite a few of them that I'll never forget.  But for today, I am thankful.  I am especially thankful for small words and smiles of thanks from my students.  They mean more than those kids will ever know.