Ahhh, this was the week I had been waiting for during my entire pregnancy -- the last week of work! As happy and excited as I was at knowing my school year was over, it was also a bittersweet occasion. You see, I am one of those insanely dedicated teachers who actually take the time to form personal relationships with my students. More often than not, I refer to them as "My Kids," and in some small way, I really feel like I have touched these children in some life-changing way. In case you all don't remember, I teach eighth grade pre-algebra. Most people cringe when I tell them that I work with hormone-crazed 12-15 year-olds, but this is my calling. I love this age group. They are still young enough to be molded, but old enough to have developed their own thoughts and individual personalities. It's especially appealing to me because eighth grade is the bridge to high school, and as much as they hate to admit it, the kids are yearning for major guidance as they transition over to the four most important years of their education.
[an error occurred while processing this directive] I pride myself in being "the cool teacher" -- the one who is sincere when giving advice, the one who bends over backwards for her students, the one who makes learning fun, the one who is there for a shoulder to cry on, and the only one who is still young enough to really care about what happened on the last episode of "The Real World" and plays all of the current video games. I mean, I actually trade gaming cheat codes with my students. The kids inform me with all of the gossip about who is dating whom, and they let me in on all of their personal teenage dramas. It's not that I am a nosy person, but I like being involved with them on a personal level. All teachers hope that their students will come to them if they have a problem or need advice, and because I am so open with them and show a genuine interest in their lives, I am a big source of support to many of my kids. Because I actually take the time to listen, I often catch wind of impending fights and can diffuse them before they happen. This year I even had a student confess to me that he was gay. He sent me an e-mail and told me about how when his mother found out she hit the roof and scheduled him to see a psychiatrist. She began treating him like he was the family's "skeleton in the closet" and even decided not to go to a family reunion because of his confession. In his letter to me, he was practically begging for acceptance, and my heart cried out for him. I wrote him back and let him know that I was supportive of him and that he could always depend on me. I encouraged him to attempt to explain to his mother that even though he was gay, he was still the same son that she loved, just as he was the same student that I cared about. He did, and after a few weeks I started seeing him smile in the hallways again, and when we would talk after school he would tell me how things were gradually improving in his house. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that I actually get paid to do this job. It doesn't even feel like work to me.
Anyway, this year I was blessed to have an excellent group of students. At my school, we use the "team teaching" method, which is different from what we customarily think of middle school to be. Our eighth grade hallway is comprised of four academic "teams," with four teachers on each team, each teacher teaching either math, Georgia studies, language arts, or Earth science. For instance, I am on the second team of teachers, and our team of students is known as Team 8-2. Mrs. Stokes teaches language arts and is also the "team leader," Mr. Bryan teaches science, Mrs. Black (who had her first baby in December) teaches Georgia studies, and I round it out with pre-algebra. Each of our homerooms is also first period class, and our students simply rotate between the four of us for their academic classes. The team teaching method allows for each teacher to have a limited number of students to work with, and it also allows us to work cooperatively to give our students greater chances for academic and social success. We had 110 students on our team, and the four of us worked hard to give our team a "family feel," which in turn lets the students feel more comfortable in the learning environment.
Team teaching also allows for increased school spirit, especially when there is some sort of fund-raising competition. All of the four eighth grade teams compete against each other, and the spirit these kids can exude is so exciting to watch. Many times there are competitions between individual homerooms, and this is where I get really competitive. I want the whole school to know that Mrs. Barney's class is "da' bomb," (as the kids often say). Most of the time homeroom competitions are fundraisers for various community groups, like the United Thanksgiving food drive or the Senior Citizen's Community Center Christmas fundraiser. The prize for winning these competitions is usually a pizza or an ice cream party, but when I motivate my students, it's not the party I focus on, but the act of kindness behind the whole thing. This year, my kids won the Thanksgiving food drive, the Pennies for Patients Drive for the American Leukemia Society, the Senior Citizen's fundraiser, Spirit Link school fundraiser, and the Yearbook purchasing competition. That was more than about three-fourths of the fundraisers the school had this year. Whenever there was an announcement about another homeroom competition, all I had to do was look at kids and say. "Who got this?" And in the spirit of yet another victory, they would get all hyped up and say, "WE GOT THIS, MRS. B!!!" We won so much this year that other eighth graders begged to be in my homeroom! God, those kids put a smile on my face everyday this year.
Well, the kids knew that I was going on maternity leave, and they knew that this week would be my last week, a full three weeks before school was out for everyone. They all practically begged me not to go, and kept asking if I would come in to see them. I promised them that I would, and that I was going to be sure to make it to graduation. We had standardized testing on Monday-Wednesday, and on Thursday I had a doctor's appointment, so I just took the whole day off. If my homeroom didn't win something, usually it was another teacher on our team who won. It turned out that all four of us owed our homerooms a party for one reason or another, and Friday was the perfect day, after a whole week of testing that fried the brains of both students and teachers alike. The other team teachers and I planned for Friday (my last day) to be a free day where we would remain in homeroom until lunch, have another half-hour of free time, then head back to the cafeteria to get the last of our earned fund raiser parties out of the way.
After that last half-hour of free time, Mrs. Black pops her head in my door and says, "We're about to head back to the cafeteria. Mr. Bryan's class is leaving first, then my class, Stokes is going next, and then you can bring yours up." I gave her the thumbs up, and told my kids to get ready to head out. Keep in mind that I am seven and a half months preggo with monster-sized twins, so it took me a couple of minutes to get up from behind my desk and search for my keys that I always seem to lose. Usually by the end of the day, my butt and hips would hurt so bad I could barely walk, so my kids got into the habit of yelling at me to sit down in my "rollie chair" as they called it (an office chair with wheels) so they could push me around, which was perfectly fine with me. So got situated in my rollie chair and three students got into a play argument over who was going to push me to the cafeteria. All three of them came to a consensus that I was so big it was going to take all of them to push, so they took their places and away we went. By that time the rest of my kids were already long gone, so it was just the four of us. When we were almost to the cafeteria, another student stuck out her head, and said, "Mrs. B, since this is your last day here, don't you want to take a tour of the school so you won't forget it over the summer?" The three kids pushing me stopped, turned me around, and said, "Yeah, let's go look down the sixth grade hallway." I could tell they were trying to keep me from going into the cafeteria at that moment, but I played the dumb role and went along with it. I put up a fake fuss about wandering around the school and tried to get up from the chair a couple of times. I joked with them and said that if they didn't let me go I was going to get up and drop kick all three of them, to which they laughed because they knew I couldn't even tie my own shoes. We finished the "tour" of the sixth grade hallway, and suddenly one of the kids threw a black sweater over my head so I couldn't see anything. I went right on playing the dumb role, arguing with the kids about the abuse they were putting me through. I knew we had to have been headed to the cafeteria, but they kept taking all of these unnecessary turns, and because I couldn't see I got disoriented and really couldn't tell where I was in the school. I figured that I would know when we got to the cafeteria because the rest of the team would be in there making noise. Finally we stopped, the sweater was removed, and at once I heard this deafening "SURPRISE!!!" We were in the cafeteria after all, which shocked me because they were dead silent before we got in there, and that type of silence is hard for any teacher to achieve. I was truly amazed! I mean, when I got turned away from the cafeteria the first time I knew they had thrown something together for me, but I was in no way ready for all that I saw. There were pink and blue banners and balloons all over the place, a stack of gifts, and my team of 110 students grinning at me! One student's mother owns a cake shop, and she made a huge cake that said "Good luck with your twins, Mrs. Barney!" and it was decorated with pink and blue baby booties. I turned to Mrs. Black and asked if the teachers organized all of it, and she shook her head and said, "No, it was your homeroom's idea. A couple of the girls from your class got the idea on Wednesday and asked Stokes and me for help. We told the rest of the team, and the students themselves put everything together. These kids must really love you, Barney. When it was my last day before my maternity leave in December, all I got were a few hugs and a couple of gifts." I looked around at those kids in complete awe and my heart overwhelmed. They got their parents involved, and delegated who would bring drinks, ice, plates, cups and napkins. There were complete dishes of food prepared, like taco salads, chicken wings, potato salads, fruit salads, cookies, cupcakes, chips, candy, and all of this was in addition to the pizza and ice cream we were serving our students for winning the fund raisers. They had a "seat of honor" all ready for me, and they waited on me hand and foot, bringing me drinks, food, and my gifts to open. The kids in my sixth period class had a little fund raiser of their own and collected fifty dollars to give to me. One boy took all of the bills and change home and exchanged it with his dad for a fifty-dollar bill. The babies got more clothes and diapers (yes!) and some cute figurines I am going to put in the nursery. They took tons of pictures, and there were so many tears shed it was almost funny. I cried because I couldn't believe that my kids had done all of that for me, and many of them cried when they told me how much I had touched their lives as their teacher.
I think that before that day, I always thought of myself to be a good teacher, and hoped that I could at least make a difference in just one student's life. But on that day, I actually got to see and hear it. You see, it wasn't the party or the gifts that were so special, but the thoughts and intentions of the students behind it all. I mean, this is only my second year teaching, and already I have felt the kind of satisfaction and reassurance that some teachers go their whole careers trying to feel. I will never ever forget that feeling, and I will carry those students with me in my heart forever.
Kym, Kyra, and Jaiden