Going Forward

It’s good you can’t see my face. I was a bit teary walking out of school for the last time yesterday afternoon. Five of my friends went with me, some lagging behind to take this picture unbeknownst to me.

It has been a long good-bye. A year long anticipation of this moment, which actually feels more like the beginning of summer than the ending of a career. (The cheerful woman from the Employee Assistance Program told all the retirees that this would happen. “It won’t be until September that you get totally depressed,” she said.)

I know that I can come back to read to the children, to read in some classrooms or the library. But, it won’t be the same. I won’t have my own classroom, which has become a family of sorts, with a history of remembered jokes and stories. That is precisely why I cannot sub, because I couldn’t stand popping in day to day with no lasting relationship with the children.

We all know the ending of something is the beginning of something else. I’m looking forward to blogging with the zeal I felt in 2006, actually commenting on your blogs as I visit them. I’m looking forward to reading even more than I do now, and reviewing more of the books which are sent to me. I’m looking forward to attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International) this September, and swimming and cycling this summer; seeing my family more, seeing my friends, and not rushing into making dinner fifteen minutes before we eat it.

But for now, for today, I am absorbing the fact that I am officially retired. I will never walk into school the same way that I left it yesterday, because we can never go back. Now is the time for going forward.

Just call me The Rocket

The Dolphin Dash was this weekend on Saturday; a 5K or a 1 mile run which all the students and their parents sign up to do. Some people take it very seriously, even going so far as to train for the run which is always held the first weekend in May. I, of course, read as hard as I could.

Every year I walk the 1 mile with a parent or two, enjoying the sunshine and the walk and being surrounded by my kids. But long passed are the days when I ran a 6 minute mile in college.

This year, I crossed the finish line (with my timing chip left at home on the kitchen counter) to the cheers of students and the announcement of the P.E. teacher shouting into the microphone, “And now, with a time of 17 minutes and 55 seconds, we have Meredith, The Rocket, Smith!”

It was all great fun, and after I hugged him, I said I was going home.

“What?” he joked. “You’re not waiting for the announcement of the times?” I smiled at him, and left.

This morning, the children walked into my room shouting and screaming. “Mrs. Smith! You won the huge trophy!”

“No,” I said.

But, in walked the PTA mother who had arranged the entire Dolphin Dash with the biggest trophy I have ever won. It said, “Fastest Female” on the bronze plate in front. So, I had to have a picture for proof.

Because NO ONE, least of all me, would ever have expected me to win a running race. It is the most hilarious thing I’ve experienced all year. And, in case you want to congratulate me, it was because I was the only female teacher who ran walked.

I’m still laughing quietly to myself.

They said I couldn’t be a teacher.

Not my parents. Not those who knew me well. But when I told my advisor in college that I wanted a double major in Elementary Education and Psychology he said it couldn’t be done. There were simply not enough slots in a four year plan to get through all the requirements. But, I did get a B.A. in both, with almost enough credits for a minor in Russian Literature.

My supervising teacher sat across her dining room table, in the Spring of the year I was to graduate, and said, “I don’t think teaching is for you.” She had seen me struggle with the class in which I was doing my student teaching; their teacher was retiring, and she didn’t have much control even before I stepped in.

The person who gave me a chance was the principal of a small school in Gelnhausen, Germany. I was overseas with my first husband, and I went to apply at the Department of Defense Dependants Schools. “Well,” she said, “let me see how you teach.” And so she sat in the back of a fifth grade room while I taught, and she watched me teach all afternoon. And then she hired me when the kids went home.

We took the students on long Volksmarsches, and by train to overnight trips during which we slept in youth hostels. One of my boys had cerebral palsy, but I told him I would stand with him and help him through.

When we came back to the States, a certain principal was impressed enough by my two years in Germany that he hired me in August, a few days before school was to start. And so my career with Indian Prairie School District was launched, 33 years ago.

I have wanted to send copies of my Golden Apple nomination, my Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers awards, my A+ Teacher Award, my Most Influential Educator awards, my Masters of Science in Education diploma, or my National Board Certification to those who initially scorned me. But, instead I focus on the years with my children.

There was Akhil, who made me laugh every day. Convinced he was a Storm Trooper, he’d come around the corner of my door with his arms pointed out in front of him saying, “Kick ’em in the balls, kick ’em in the butt, kick ’em in the ace.” (Which was how he pronounced “ass.”) I would tell him we weren’t kicking anybody today, and we’d smile at each other.

There was Artem, from Russia, who asked me the very first day if I knew what the largest lake in the world was. I hesitated, foolishly pondering Lake Michigan, when he told me it is Lake Baikal. I never saw a child more proud of his heritage in my life.

There was Jeffrey, who came to school without any valentines on Valentine’s Day because his mother was in jail. But when I looked on my desk at the end of the day, there was a heart jaggedly cut out of notebook paper which said, “Thanks for all the things you’ve done for me.”

I never expected the children to “color in the lines,” be someone they weren’t, fit in a mold of my making. Unlike the teachers my brother had, my son had, and most of whom I had, I said, “You can do it,” instead of “You can’t.”

What someone believes you can do makes all the difference. And when someone tells me I can’t do something? It just gives me that much more impetus to prove them wrong.

We Should All Be So Joyful About Such Simple Things

“Hi, Mrs. Smith!” says Saahithi, jumping into my room this morning. “Do you notice anything different about me?”

“Well,” I say, “your hair is in a beautiful pony tail…”

“No, I got new shoes! My bedtime is normally 7:30, but I went to bed at 8:00 last night because we went to the Premium Outlet Mall, and I got new Nikes!”

“Wow! They are purple and they have green accents,” I say. “Now those are gorgeous!”

“I know, right?!” she replied, happily smiling and turning her foot from side to side for me to admire every angle.

The bell rings, and I have to send her onward to her fourth grade class, but the joy of a nine year old thrills my heart. Oh, that we wouldn’t lose it.

The Timer Has Begun

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I used to go to Institute Day and wonder where all my friends had gone. I would joke to my team, most of whom could be my daughters in terms of age, “They’re either dead or retired.”

And now that’s me.

Not dead, of course. But looking retirement square in the face.

“Happy last First Day!” my old student, turned student teacher, turned teacher himself, said. “Happy last First Day!” resounded through the halls on Thursday when the children first entered the building.

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My friends and colleagues are happy for me. Certainly, I am happy as well. I have an air-conditioned room for the first time in 34 years. More importantly, I have a classroom of beautiful children. They are polite and sweet and smart; one of the girls asked me (asked me!) if she could turn over the hour glass above, as I bought one for my room, too.

But, I see the time running out as it has a way of doing. Time, so elusive. Time, so quick. A time for everything.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh,;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep and a time to cast away;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

This year I will be making many memories in my classroom.

One last time.

“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…”

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I have put up a diaphanous net in my room. It is sheer, and sways slightly in whatever breeze comes our way, and I am certain the fire department will make me take it down when they come to inspect the school in October. Maybe I’ll just nod my head politely and ignore the directives, as I am prone to do at this stage of my career.

I am facing my last year of teaching, and it makes me happy-sad. Mostly, right now, it is making me sad.

My colleagues exclaim in wonder how it is possible that I am able to retire at the end of the year; my husband told me to say, “I know! These past thirty-five years went by so quickly!” Which they did.

I was offered a job with the Department of Defense Dependents Schools in West Germany fresh out of college. The principal said, “Let me see you teach,” and sat in the back of a fifth grade classroom where I was subbing all afternoon. When she called me into her office at 4:00 she told me I was hired, and I haven’t stopped teaching since.

Not when my son was born in 1991, nor when his father died in 1997. Not when I had surgeries on my feet or surgeries in my mouth. Fortunately, the areas in between have held up much better.

Teaching is what I know; teaching has been my life. Now I am looking at the end of this beautiful career spent with beautiful children. It is so strange to know that this coming class is the last new class I’ll ever greet.

In 1984, I was handed a set of manuals, the academic standards, and an empty classroom. Now, we have Smartboards and document cameras and Chromebooks and Google classroom, and I am the only one who still teaches cursive along with all the technology.

I teach origami, too, and the love of literature, and the joy of laughter.

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I think that the diaphanous net is symbolic of so many things: the years fluttering by; the old ways of pedagogy; time. What can I hold in my hand? Like Wilbur who watched Charlotte’s children fly away on their gossamer strings, I am watching what I have done, whom I have taught, all the things that I have been, sway in the breeze. It is the way of the world.

It is time for me to learn new things.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Ecclesiastes 7:8 ESV

 

If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words, This One Fits With Testing Today

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We used to pass out #2 pencils and Scantron sheets.

Now we give laptops, log in codes and headphones. To 8 year olds.

Of course the headphones have not been put back into their proper Baggies. Of course three of them are tangled almost irretrievably. (See the photo of my lap, left.)

I miss Crayolas and paper and newly sharpened pencils. I thoroughly enjoy teaching cursive, and holding read aloud time after lunch, or Social Studies discussions about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chinese New Year.

But this morning one of my special education kids, practically the brightest student in my class, typed something different from his password. Instead of BKM4BP, he typed, “Die, computer, die.”

It was the perfect bit of comedic relief I needed. I burst out laughing when I read it, and he looked at me in surprise.

“That is exactly how I’m feeling right now,” I said, and he laughed, too.

And then he went on to produce the third highest score in the class.

Short on Patience, Short on Time

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If you had any idea, even vaguely, of how hot it’s been in my classroom this week then you would understand why I haven’t put up a post since Tuesday, let alone visited any of yours.

I’m sorry.

The pencils above give a pretty good indication of how things are going all around. The dear children in my class are driven to distraction with the humidity in a corner room, closed off to any possible air circulation with windows that don’t open for everyone’s “safety” in a school with no air conditioning whatsoever.

The children have been sharpening their pencils in between my lessons. When I saw them, I had to laugh. “Hand them over,” I said, “so I can take a picture.”

Needless to say, there’s not been much reading Chez Bellezza. Taking baths and going to bed at 8:30, yes. Reading from my stack of glorious books? Not so much.

But, it’s Labor Day Weekend. And I’ll be free of Labor for at least three days. Surely in that time I can post on the books I’ve received this week: The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojsyaczer, River by Michael Ferris Smith, and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Surely I can come by to see what you’ve been doing while I’ve been sweating.

The First Day of School

This is the school district’s plan for keeping cool as we have no air conditioning.
But it doesn’t rob me of the joy of fresh pencils ready to write new ideas,
glue sticks and
64 fairly sharp crayons for art projects.
This Granny Smith is not for the teacher, but for a project later in the day involving paints,
and all my ideas are being recorded in this Moleskine binder with my Rhodia pencils made of linden wood.
I can’t tell you how excited I am for a brand new year. Teaching never, ever
gets old.

My Third Graders’ Favorite Read Aloud Of 2014

I have read so many wonderful books to my class this year. We have touched on every genre, from my personal favorite, Flora and Ulysses, to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s biography. But the hands down favorite, even of my beloved rapscallions, is this piece of historical fiction from Laura Ingalls Wilder.
“What do you like about it?” I asked them, as I was truly surprised it was their favorite. (Even though it’s been one of my favorites for over thirty years.) And so they told me:
 
“I think it was cool how they were able to survive all the dangerous things that happened to them.” ~Natalie
 
“I like that it had a different ending than most books.” ~Zion
 
“It doesn’t tell you where they end up. You have to read more to find out.” ~Robert
 
“I loved it because it was full of action and very descriptive.” ~Cole
 
“I liked it because like Cole said, there’s a lot of action. And, my favorite part was the scream in the night with the panther screaming, and then the Indian shot it.” ~M. J.
 
“I like the prairie fire because everybody was panicking and getting water.” ~Michael
 
“I liked how Pa was so brave to go out at night when it was so dark and the scream was right under his feet.” ~Katherine
 
“I liked when Mr. Scott fainted down in the well, and Pa went down to get him when all the water was coming up.” ~Emily
 
“I liked when she talked about her life. Other books talk about other people’s lives, but she talked about her life. She’s telling it like she’s living it right now.” ~Michelle
 
“(I learned to) never give up no matter how bad it is.” ~Erjon
 
“If you’re complaining now, look at the people in the past.” ~Romaan
 
These smart children of mine. They know that a good book is beautiful writing, an interesting story, and lessons we can take away with us after reading it.
 
And to think they’re only eight years old.