Friday, June 12, 2015

Thoughts on a Tough School Year

I said goodbye to 29 amazing kids this week.  Each of them took a piece of my heart as they walked out that door for the last time.  Some of them couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  Others lingered for one more hug this afternoon with a tear in their eye.  I understood both because I was feeling the brunt of each sentiment equally.

I truly love my job and I try hard not to complain about it.  No one goes into teaching because they think it’ll be easy.  If they do, they don’t last long.  But any teacher will tell you every year has an entirely different feel to it.  Some years make you feel guilty that you even call it a job; others drain every ounce of your energy and every corner of your heart.  For me, this year was the latter.

I’ve found myself fighting a lot of guilt this week.  Twenty-nine kids is a lot and simply put, many days there wasn’t enough of me to go around.  I know there are times I’ve been short-tempered, I know there are kids who needed help they didn’t get, and I know I missed out on getting to know some of them as well as I would’ve liked.  I both taught and loved those kids with all I had for an entire year, but today was still met with more a sense of regret than a sense of accomplishment.  I’m always left feeling I could’ve done more, but this year more than some.

I’ve said many times over the past months, both to my class and to other people, that it wasn’t always their fault when we had a bad day.  When you’ve got 29 children in one room, someone (usually more than one someone) is hurt, mad, sad, confused or all of the above almost every minute of the day.  Those kids grew in patience, self-control, and compassion this year, as did I as I tried to guide them.   Rarely did a day go just as I planned, but we adjusted and stretched ourselves, together. 

One of my favorite things about the school experience is that it simulates real life in a controlled environment, teaching kids how to interact, cope and persevere within those four walls.  This year might not have been perfect, but it was real.  We fussed, we fought, we flipped out from time to time… but we also had fun and developed friendships.  I’m sure a lot of those kids went home frustrated some days, just as I did, but I can only hope that one day they’ll look back on fourth grade and remember our classroom was a place they could be themselves and feel accepted. 

The most meaningful experiences in life aren’t easy.  They leave us feeling drained, sometimes laden with regrets.  But it’s in those times that we’re stretched outside our comfort zones that we discover our true capabilities.  Every time I’d think I couldn’t possibly field another question, apply another Band-Aid, listen to another story, or calm another student, I’d take a step back and remind myself that the 20th plea meant just as much as the first to the ten-year-old making the request.    That student who was tugging at me during dismissal at 2:45 deserved my best just as much as the one who had marched straight to my desk at 8:00 am with a concern.  So, I dug deep and I did the best I could, every day for the last 10 months.  And just like it wasn’t always their fault when we had a bad day, it wasn’t always my fault either.  It’s called real life, and boy did we live it in Room 319 this year!

I’m not sure I’ll ever look back on this school year and say, “Wow, that went great.”  But already I can say, “Wow, it was worth every second.” I love each of those kids just as much as I love the kids on an “easy” year, and in some ways, maybe more. There’s something about going through something difficult together that bonds you and that’s why today I had a tear in my eye just like some of my students did.  It may not have been easy, but I dare say given the chance, most of us would do it all again.  That’s the other thing I love most about the school experience- come August, we will. 

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