Friday, September 2, 2011

Letters to My Next Year Teacher

I received the best surprise yesterday.  It was the first official district work day of the 2011-2012 school year.  Well, that wasn't really a surprise, teachers have known that was coming.

The surprise came in my teaching partner's classroom in a yellow folder--discovered on the first official district work day of the 2011-2012 school year.

It's finally real.  Official work days. With that comes the stacks and stacks of teaching stuff that somehow always fits away neatly for an entire school year and also somehow always gets spread out across any available space the days before a new school year.  Families registering their children in the office.  Little feet and big feet dashing to and fro along the hallways in a flurry of hellos and how are yous and how was your summer and are you ready for the year. 

The quiet of the hallways as I worked on my classroom prior to official days is gone. And I am glad.  Because in the quiet the surprise sat all along in a yellow folder in the classroom across the hall from where I sat and it waited.  But in the bustle of the end of the day and the commotion of moving everything from one stack to the next it showed itself.

A simple yellow folder--which in my school often signifies information about a child who may need a little more attention--contained not a heads up but rather sweet letters from some of my soon to be students.  From students who, until this moment,  sat only in a list of black and white names on my class roster.  From students who, until this moment, sat in a blur of anticipation in my brain.  Students who now sit with their little souls bared as much as they can stand, or in many cases bared as much as fit into the sentence frames their teacher from last year wrote on the board.  Students who now sit with their school picture affixed to the bottom (or top if they didn't follow directions) of the letter smiling at, or shying away, from me as I read their words about themselves. 

They are precious little beings.  I wonder what they thought as they wrote this letter to a teacher they have never met, a teacher they have hopes about.  A teacher who in their head sits as a blur of anticipation and perhaps fear.  A teacher who turned out to be me.

It's such a unique relationship in the teaching world.  We ask and expect our children to trust their teacher so completely that they are willing to try and fail and try again and perhaps fail again, only to be asked to try one more time to succeed over a period of 9 months day in and day out with that 1 teacher.  We then ask and expect our children to build that relationship with a new teacher--every year.  What hope these tiny humans bring when they write to that next teacher--please like me, please have faith in my ability to learn, please don't see me only for my shortcomings, please oh please be nice. 

I love looking at their penmanship.  I love reading their birthday and their likes and what they are good at. Yet, I flinch when I read what they feel they are not good at.  They plead in their letters.  Among them this year, "I hope you make math something I understand." And I want to.   I yearn to make sure they leave in 9 months better at math or what ever it is they ask.  And deep in my heart I know they will be just fine at it, if I can build confidence within them along with the skills.  And I also know that for the past year their teacher worked to build that confidence.  I hope my colleague knows that in the end she succeeded.  Because now these little children know not only what they lack in knowledge,  more importantly they are secure enough to know they can ask for help.  And I thank that colleague silently for that security which she instilled.  And I rise to the challenge in my head and in my heart. Thus today I began my lesson plans for these students who ask for so little and yet so much.

I can only work each day to live up to their desires, to fulfill their hopes for a good year, and ultimately work to teach them that which they must understand before the next grade.  It will take time.  And then, then once I have their trust and they are comfortable enough to learn in my classroom, when they are settled into an academic routine then, well, then I will have them write a letter to their next year teacher. 

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