One of the best things about living on the fringes of my school’s neighborhood has been bumping into students outside of the building. I, for one, was one of the few children who did not believe Rebecca’s story in first grade about “What Teacher’s Do When We’re Not Around” (aka the teachers go crazy partying at school and sleep there) because I was the child of a teacher. Granted, sometimes it feels as though I live at school. Also, I am guilty of fooling some gullible kiddos at Saturday tutoring that I do in fact sleep at school.
In the last 3 weeks, I’ve bumped into 3 different students from my first class. All of them go to the kick-ass charter school that opened last year in the neighborhood. I’ve kept tabs on some of them through fellow TFA people, but there’s something different about actually seeing them in person.
The first one was at the local Redbox. In all honesty, I recognized his little brother before I recognized him. The awkward, shy kid with the goody smile who showed up 6 weeks into the school year with enough English to get him reading kindergarten level texts? Almost missed him as this teenager stood before me, talking fluently about how he liked school and how he was doing well.
Today, I bumped into one of my fiesty girls from that first class — she was the first one to get into a fight in the school year (not under my supervision) and was heavily involved in girl drama. You think girl drama emerges in middle school? False. Ask me sometime about her one day relationship. She loved to write, but has serious phonological gaps. She enjoyed math alot because numbers put together made sense, but letters didn’t always.
As we walked through the grocery aisles, I asked her about how life and school was going. I asked her first about math — she’s had the same teacher for two years and every student I’ve had go one there has loved him and subsequently math in a way that warms my heart. In the same breath that she reaffirmed her love for math, she said “but I just got 100 percent in writing, so I’m starting to really like that too.”
This time of year, this final push, is always hard. There’s report cards to finalize, testing, testing, testing, projects to finish, and lots of loose ties to finish up. In essence, you feel like your routine is out of whack and that you don’t spend as much time actually teaching. You are so focused on the short term, it makes you forget the long term.
I’ve walked away from each of these interactions feeling inspired. I may not have been the best teacher that these kids ever had. Most of them walked away only a little less angry, and while showing some solid growth (or even impressive), still behind most of their peers. But I do remember conversations with these kids and their parents/guardians about their options for middle school and what it would mean to go to a charter school, especially one that was just opening. When I talk to these former students, I know that they are on the path to college. I see that somewhere along the way, they’ve let go of some of the anger that they clung to like a comfortable sweatshirt — you hold onto it for way to long and for no reason other than it’s comfortable and familiar.
When I think of what it will be like to bump into them down the road, I can’t wait to hear about what high school classes they’re taking and ultimately what college they plan on attending. Because unlike their classmates who went to their zoned school, whose high school has produced a shockingly low number of college ready graduates, I don’t worry about them being ready for college. I know that they will be ready, academically and socially, when college comes around.
And that feeling is what’s going to get my tired, sick behind into work tomorrow.