Saturday, May 24, 2008

And Off They Go...

My school year has ended.

This is a bittersweet time of year for me. I am filled with pride as I watch each of my little ones use the tools I have given them. I watch them play together, compromising and negotiating the use of popular toys, comforting each other when knees or feelings get hurt, remembering to wash hands not only before eating, but after peeing as well. These kids can sit at Circle Time, and have a relevant discussion about the story we have read, as well as help plan activities for our day.

I am also filled with a little bit of sadness - most of these kids will not remember me in a couple of years. Most of my students will remain at our little school for Pre-Kindergarten, a smaller amount will stay on for Kinder, and then I will see a handful of them at the elementary school where my own children attend. The ones who move onto a different school, I will more than likely not see again. And while I will always cherish the time I spent with them, these kids, if we ever encounter each other again, will wonder who that crazy lady is who is so excited to see them at Wal-mart.

I recently saw a former student, now in second grade. She, of course, had no recollection of me, but her mother kept trying to convince her of how much fun she had in my class, and how much she used to adore me. She simply smiled, and gave me a small hug that was designed to make her mom hush. A few days later, she saw me again, and this time, ran into my arms with a real hug. 'You're the teacher my mom says had a significant impact on who I am today!" Quite a large statement from a second grader - awesome vocabulary! - and while I don't really buy the significant impact part, I am always happy to get a hug from a former student.

This has been a wonderful year for me. I can't honestly say that about every year that I have taught - but this year had a great mix of children and parents; and I feel we all learned so much.

So, as I send my babies on to the next step in their education, I start to ponder many things. How young they are....most have turned four when they leave me, but a few won't hit that milestone until this summer. Yet we expect so much out of them. It boggles my mind that a mere four years ago these children were held in the crook of their parents' arms, all toothless and wobbly headed (Heck, I held many of my current students when they were infants), and now they are expected to control their temper, share, be a kind and understanding friend, see a task through to completion, not miss the toilet, put on their own shoes, clean up their own messes. Wow. That is a lot for such little people. Yet they all rise to the challenge - amazing.

And I worry about them as they move on to a different teacher, and in some cases, a different school. I feel I know all of them so well, will their new teachers see the beauty in each and every one of them, even if it is not readily apparent?

Will they see Garret's* amazing sense of humor as a distraction or for the gift that it is?

Will they understand that Douglas's family is going through a divorce, and his negative behavior is a direct result of that?

Will they figure out that Jake is having trouble adjusting to a new baby?

Will they appreciate Ann's precociousness, and not think she is simply sassy?

Will they work with John's obsessive tendencies, and not just ignore them?

Will they see that the hyper little girl that is bouncing off the walls with her friends used to be so painfully shy that she couldn't even look you in the eye, so this behavior is amazing?

Will they understand that when Steve says unkind words, this is a huge improvement from the talking he used to do with his fists, so he should be congratulated at the same time he is coached on the proper behavior.

My list goes on and on. I have given the teachers at my school the evaluations I wrote on each of my students, but I still worry. I want them to experience the same joy and amazement I did with these kids. And sometimes, to find that joy, you have to be willing to look for it buried way down deep. All kids have it, we as teachers just have to be willing to do the work to locate it, and then nurture it and help it grow.

So, I have a couple of months to regroup and get ready to start all over. My coworkers and I call the beginning of the school year "The Kitten Stage". The first six weeks of teaching three-year-olds is like herding kittens. Imagine trying to get 12 kittens to sit still and listen to a story, and there you have the perfect description of how I will be spending my time come August.

*all names have been changed

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