*reposted from something I published on searchwarp (which is now apparently called wrytestuff.com) on Oct. 26, 2009 (As an aside, I'm about to put stabby stuff in my eye with the use of a "y" in write to make it look cute.) Regardless, here's the original. However, I'm going to repost with an update afterwards.
I shed a tear tonight. I'm not sure if it was a happy tear or a sad tear. I think both. I received this message from one of my former students: "...How u been? I miss you, i wish u worked there lol we need sum teachers who care"
Two years ago, I taught 7th grade in an inner-city classroom. The school was experimenting with their middle school by going to self-contained classrooms, rather than allowing the students to change classes for each subject. (There were many reasons for this, but one of the explanations I was given was to cut down on the fighting and violence in the hallways between class periods).
It was probably the hardest teaching job I ever had.
It was definitely the best teaching job I've ever had.
The horror stories? Oh, I've got a few. Every day of the first two or three weeks was a nightmare. A young man grew angry at another student and threw an overhead projector into a group of students, shattering it. When he returned from his suspension, he got into another altercation and threw my timer through my window. Another boy picked up a chair, ready to throw it at a girl in the classroom. I really began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
I honestly don't remember the exact moment that things changed, but I know that I told them that we were no longer going to function as a classroom. We were going to function as a family. I know that it stuck with them because they reminded me of that all year long. These kids needed a family.
We had a Thanksgiving dinner together. Many of my kids brought in dishes to share. We sat together and ate together. I know I'll never forget it.
When the kids would come back from lunch upset over something that had happened, sometimes we'd have a family meeting. We'd take a few minutes of class time to discuss what happened and why we were upset. My rules were simple. 1. No shouting. 2. Be nice. 3. One speaker at a time. Sure, we missed a few minutes of math, but they weren't going to be thinking about math if we didn't hash out the problem anyway. And believe it or not, they didn't take advantage of this. We only did it a handful of times during the year.
I introduced the kids to service projects. I refused to do a fundraiser to go on a field trip. We participated in can collection, Operation Christmas Child, and other activities to "earn" our end of the year field trip.
I was pregnant the second semester of the year. When I told the kids, their joyous response made me cry. On my birthday, one of the boys' mothers, who knew that I could only stomach certain things, brought one of those things in - and enough for the whole class.
Don't get me wrong. We still had our issues. But, we handled 90% of our issues in the classroom. I chose to involve the kids in their consequences (mainly by making them call their parents if they were getting out of line) I kept them out of the office, out of suspension, and in our classroom.
And then I got RIF'ed. My kids were furious. I wasn't exactly thrilled, but it's a pretty common thing, I hear. But nevertheless, I wasn't going to get to teach my kids the next year (the school was going back to traditional format the next year, so I would have had them again for whatever subject I would have been teaching). I decided that these kids had enough obstacles to overcome without losing contact with someone that they knew cared about them. I did something I wouldn't normally do. I gave them my email and my Myspace account so that they could keep in touch with me if they chose to. That's how I came to see the above message.
I went back to the school for their 8th grade promotion. I could almost feel my blood pressure rise when I walked into the building. But when I got to the room where my kids were waiting for their ceremony, I knew that the whole year had been worth everything.
Two years later, I still hear from about 1/3 of my class on a regular basis. They're freshman now, split between two high schools. But they still know that they can talk to me whenever they need someone to talk to. I even got a message last March from a boy wishing me a "Happy Pi Day." He remembered! (I made a huge deal about it. All of our subject lessons had something to do with those numbers and we even had pie that afternoon).
I can't wait to go back in four years and see them graduate from high school. I know they will. I told them they have to. But I really hope that somewhere along the way they are going to find "sum teachers who care."
It's now October of 2011. I still keep in touch with these kids. Sometimes I get some flack from them for not talking to them enough. Mostly I just read. (They're all on FB now, thank goodness. Myspace is enough to give a person a seizure.) I try to send encouraging notes or let them know I am thinking of them if they are having a rough time.
Some of my kids have gotten into some trouble, but they seem to be owning up to their mistakes. Some of my kids are doing amazing things (One of them is even graduating a year early!!)
I hope they know that I will always continue to be grateful to them for teaching me what it meant to be a teacher. And I hope they know that no matter what, someone will always believe in them.