Thursday I moved classrooms. Many, if not most of my colleagues did the same. Whether they had been assigned a new-to-them room in the same building, or were transferring schools, like me, we were all purging no-longer-needed papers and no-longer-wanted decor. Supplies were shuffled. Cabinets cleaned out. Rooms left to the specifications of the hard-working, under-appreciated, custodial staff.
I turned in my room key and my building pass card. I found the appropriate people to initial my checkout sheet and laid it on the growing stack in the front office. I went back to “my” classroom for the last time. I took a deep breath before turning out the lights and shutting the door behind me for the last time. If only those walls could talk. . .
Honestly, I am not sure what they would say.
That room had been my mentor teacher’s room as I began my residency. It was her first year in the space, but it was “her room” without question. I learned so much from watching Mrs. Williams interact with and instruct our students. Then, last August, it became “my room” as I set it up a bit differently. I kept bits of Mrs. Williams in the design and decor, but I could also point out aspects that Ms. Spears and Mrs. Dixon had contributed. As the year progressed, the influences of Ms. Pounds and Ms. Funches could be identified in my instruction and classroom management. There were other professionals, including my professors from my graduate program, whose impact on my teaching became evident within the four, oddly-angled walls.
Now, the empty teacher desk, the blank bookshelves and the vacated rolling cabinet cannot even hint at all the learning and growth that took place around the kidney-shaped table and in the 28 student desks. Throughout the course of the year, over 120 sixth graders would cycle in and out of that room for their English Language Arts lessons. We discussed themes and text evidence. We made inferences and had conversations consisting of accountable talk (more or less). We read. We listened. We spoke. We wrote – a lot.
But, I know over the last two years in that room, I grew the most. I realized that I will always be learning ways to hone the craft of teaching. I learned that I can learn from 11 year olds. I recognized that I truly love middle school students.
I am pretty sure I could have learned these things in any classroom in our district, but I learned some things in THIS classroom that I believe are/were exclusive to schools on “that” side of town. I hope I can adequately explain my thoughts here –
For the prior dozen years, I had worked in a church environment. My husband is a minister and our circle had become pretty sheltered and sequestered. I was mostly, if not exclusively, around people “like” me. Same race, religion, economic base, basic background – I felt cozy and comfortable. However, seasons change and, as my oldest daughter prepared to begin her college career felt the Holy Spirit prompt me and lead me into a next and new season for me too.
I applied for the Teacher Residency program for aspiring educators who had a bachelor’s degree in something other than education. Then, after being accepted and assigned to “my” new middle school, I reported to the campus for my first tour of the aging, but added-on-to, building. In my spirit I could feel the Spirit confirming that this was where God designed for me to be and I couldn’t wait to meet the students that would fill the hallways. What I didn’t know was how they would fill my heart.
You see, this school is located on “that side” of town. You know, not where you’d typically recommend people to move to if they were new to town. During my two year tenure, there were shootings overnight within a half mile of the campus. We were reminded to lock our car doors frequently because the homeless population had set up a camp in the adjacent woods. (One gentleman attempted to sleep in one of our courtyards.) Lessons were often taught with the sound of sirens in the background because both a fire station and a police station were located within that same half mile radius.
The students are a very diverse bunch. Many of them are military kids. Many of them have seen more “life” in their 12 or so years than I have seen in my 45+. Most of them could be classified as a “minority” by at least one definition. Refugees. Foster kids. Special Ed. Lots of labels. But – EACH of them are special and unique and specifically created by God in His image for His plans and purposes.
These students are more than numbers or statistics or demographics. They are more than what their life has been so far. They are beyond the stereotype of where they just so happened to be zoned to attend school. The students that filled those 28 chairs and sat around that kidney-shaped table in my classroom are capable and strong and funny and insightful and so, so, so very much more.
God used them to teach me about myself – where I had been self-righteous and condemning, where I had judged and carried prejudices, and where I had been too comfortable and cozy to see the needs in the city, in our schools, in my classroom. They each had a story and most of them were not responsible for what had led them to their current place. As I learned the backgrounds and the personalities of those students that filled those desks, God allowed me to see them as He did and He grew a deep love them in my heart.
By the end of the school year, I would find myself calling them “baby” or “honey.” These weren’t just casual names, but truly terms of endearment. As they left for the last time on Tuesday and Wednesday, there was a genuine ache in my chest. Some of these kids, most of them, I will never see again. Yes, they could be “boogers” and cause me to lose my “cool” at times, but they stole my heart.
As I walked from that room for the last time, I prayed for them. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I prayed for the faculty and staff. As I drove away, I remembered and reflected on all God had done at this special place in my heart.
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Operation Do It (O.D.I.)
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