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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Today I graded my last set of assignments.

160 of them.

Or, actually, I finished the four sets that I've been working on for a few days.  But that last class felt special.  Like, this is for reals.

I don't have to do that ever again.  It was truly the WORST part of teaching, grading papers.  Not that I minded reading some of them.  Sometimes.  But who am I to judge where a kid is in their life, what drama they are enduring at the moment they created what was on that piece of paper, what trauma they escape just to come into my classroom and have me tell them they are a failure when all they really want - all they really need - at this moment on this day in this school year - is a safe place to rest for a while?

I hated it, and I never have to do it again.  I won't miss it.

There are four people - two teachers - retiring from my school.  A total of four teachers in the district. Tomorrow I will be among three recognized at the union retirement party.  The fourth teacher retiree is the other teacher from my school, but declines to participate in the dinner.  We have had a lot of gloating fun for the last few weeks, however.

We have a secret sign.

"I don't care, I don't care..."

We sit through meetings.  The bandwith isn't strong enough to support the number of computers on campus and must be fixed for next year.  I look over at my colleague and we both start doing the "I don't care" hand flip.  New textbook adoptions.  Handflip.  New frameworks.  Handflip.  Homework policy.  Handflip.  Upcoming students with challenges.  Handflip.

There is a lot to not care about.

I'm supposed to give a little speech tomorrow.  What I won't miss, what I will.

What I won't miss?

Cavalry parents.

Call slips from the office.

The stock phrase when teachers want to pull their students out of my class.  "They know they have to make up the assignment."  Gawd, I hate that phrase almost as much as the practice.  Because, yes, I do think what I'm doing in my class has value, as much as what the other teachers are doing.

Fortunately, the list of what I will miss is much longer.  Big things, like the colleagues who have been crewmates in this lifeboat I've been in for half my adult life.  Little things like the glorious view of the mountains between me and the ocean as I pull into the parking lot.

But as I tried to figure out what I will say during my little segment of the program tomorrow, I decided it best to focus on just three things from that list that represent the one big thing I will miss most about being a teacher.

I will share about the girl who was tested and qualified as retarded but placed in my regular ed history class anyway because her parents didn't want her to be away from her friends.  She was so disabled that we (her special ed resource teacher and I) created special tests for her.  Five multiple choice questions instead of twenty-five (and no essays) with only one correct answer and one distractor and the correct answer highlighted.  She still failed them.  Nevertheless, in age-old eighth grade tradition, all of my students are required to recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and this girl had the same assignment as the others.  Memorize it, stand at your seat when called, and recite.  For a grade.  Mom called and begged me not to make her daughter do this in front of the class.  "She can do it during lunch."  Um, no.  The speech pathologist came to me and begged me to let her do it during the nutrition break.  Um, no.  These parents insisted on her being in the regular ed class; she would do what the regular ed students do.  As I recall, even the principal questioned whether making her do it with the rest of the class was the best decision.  The big day came, and she stood when called and recited the Preamble.  Perfectly.  The class applauded her as they had everyone else, but she was the only student who floated out of the classroom.  Mom called me the next day and apologized for pressuring me.  "She has never been like this before."

Just this year, another student, this one with a serious speech issue faltered his way through the Preamble.  When it was time for the three-minute Genius Hour presentation, there we were again.  "Doing it during a break is a perfectly acceptable accommodation."  Um.  No.  And again, he got up in front of the class with his brilliantly assembled slide presentation and used his hard-practiced speaking skills to do his three-minute presentation.  Not perfectly and I'm sure was the only person in the class with teary eyes watching him use his coping skills when the stutter threatened, but he stopped and he breathed and he focused and he got through it.  And I got the thrill of yet again watching a student grow exponentially in self-confidence and self-pride.

None compare, however, to my experience of three years ago.  I've written of it here before.  His mom still gives me giant hugs whenever she sees me.  I had a student with cerebral palsy.  Movie star handsome with a killer smile and a wicked sense of humor, he walked (or, more honestly, dragged himself around) with crutches and had serious speaking  challenges.  When it was his time for the 3-minute presentation, I gave him a choice.  In class or break?  At your seat or in front of the class?  I was pretty sure what he'd choose but I gave him a few days and finally he told me, "In front of the class."  I scheduled him for fifteen minutes at the end of class, knowing that he might have some computer issues because of the CP.  Ultimately, because of those issues coupled with computer slowness issues, his presentation took thirty minutes.  On pizza reward lunch day.  Five minutes into the lunch period, I stopped the presentation and offered to the class that they could leave and go get their pizza.

Not one student moved.  They just looked blankly at me like, "Are you nuts?"

I quickly sent the aide to the pizza line to tell them what was going on while the speaker valiantly continued his presentation.  A total of thirty minutes, fifteen minutes of their lunch time.  On pizza award day.  The entire class stayed to the end, then applauded and left with smiles and high fives and "Awesome job!"

The last students were heading out the door when I lost it.  On my way out I was greeted by a wide-eyed, teary principal coming in who said only, "Oh, my God!"

That's what I will miss the most.  Watching students who are given a chance to do something the world is telling them they cannot, do what seems impossible.  Having the privilege of watching their spines straighten, their faces light up and their feet lift off the floor.

As I've packed my classroom, I've run across a thin file labeled "Inspiration."  In it is an end-of-the year thank-you note from yet another special needs student.  She wrote, "For the first time, in your class I felt like I could do what the other kids do."

So, I guess most of all, I will miss kicking kids' butts into what the world tells them they cannot do.  And absorbing the joy when they sparkle with the knowledge that they can.


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Stitcher S said...

Very inspiring post--wow! Somehow I didn't realize you were retiring from our profession this year. I can't imagine the bittersweet feelings you must have. You have made such a difference in so many lives. Thanks for caring for your students. By the way, I love the expression cavalry parents. I haven't heard of that before, but I will start using it. :)