|My sixth grade self-contained class |
(with apologies to the students with half a face)
I'm the first "kid" in first row on a bad hair day.
|Me in 1979 when I was teaching the 6th grade self-contained class|
Years ago, I taught middle school. My last year teaching in the Knox County, Tennessee, school system I had the most wonderful self-contained sixth grade class. It was an unusual situation. The parents had petitioned for their children to stay together in a self-contained class through sixth grade, instead of changing classes and having a different teacher for each subject. The students had all been together in a self-contained fifth grade class at another school. Surprisingly, my middle school honored the parents' request and chose me to teach the class. Previously, I had been teaching social studies to 125+ middle school students.
I loved teaching that year, though teaching math and science challenged me. I used the project method of organizing the curriculum whereby we explored a topic from all perspectives, cutting across traditional subject boundaries. If the students came up with a good teaching topic or strategy, we would go with it.
While I did have paperwork to complete, supervisors to please, and only a moderately supportive principal, it was nothing like today. Generally, as long as my class didn't bother the principal or other classes, we were left alone. I had confidence that as long as the children were focused and involved in their learning, their test scores would take care of themselves. I stressed reading and writing and engagement. I wanted the students to stick with a task to completion while experiencing the joy of learning.
I've thought of those sixth graders so often, and wondered if they remembered their sixth grade class and teacher. When cleaning my library recently, I found the 1979 school yearbook that I had forgotten existed. Finally I had the students' last names that had faded from my memory in the ensuing decades. I wondered if I could find them on Facebook--those amazing children who would be moving into middle age by now.
First I decided to try to locate the student with whom I spent the most time. This sixth-grade girl lived near the school and would often stay late to help me with various classroom chores. I immediately found her and recognized her from her current photograph, but she had also posted an older photo from her youth that confirmed it. I couldn't believe my luck. I glanced through her page and located another of the students, a boy, who was so special to me.
I told my sister, who also used to teach middle school, about my search and asked her if she thought it was appropriate if I reached out to these individuals. I didn't want to creep them out. She assured me that any former student would be pleased to hear from me.
I first sent a private Facebook message to the female student. In a couple days I received a response. She said she had been searching for me off and on for years. However, I left Tennessee after teaching them, moved to a Sioux reservation to teach at an Indian college there. I next moved to Louisiana, divorced, and changed my name--all factors making it more difficult to locate me through the internet. She was delighted to hear from me (but not half as happy as I was to find her).
She told me she married the "little red-headed boy" from our class. I remembered him immediately. He was the quintessential American boy--red hair, freckles, hyperactive but just adorable. She said he still appreciated my taking the time to figure how he learned, then I gearing my teaching to his learning style. She said I was his favorite teacher ever! I know I encouraged him in his creative writing. She said he hoped I remembered his story of the red dot in space. I would need a little more prompting on the plot to pull that up from the depths of my aging brain, but I sure remembered him. I even remember where he usually sat in class.
She filled me in on her life, the good times and the not-so-good. Her career path has been as unique and diverse as I would expect from a gifted child. She keeps in touch with several of the other students from the class. I remember them all. Perhaps on one of my drives back to my hometown in Virginia, I can stop in Tennessee and reconnect with the students who remain in the area.
Next I wrote the other student I saw on her Facebook page, the boy who has continued to be her friend over the years. He lives in the DC area with his daughter. He told me I had touched his life when he was going through a rough period in his childhood. He is now a successful counselor and appears to be a wonderful dad. Again I swelled with pride and pleasure seeing the man he has become.
(I've purposefully not provided names nor many details about the students in this post. I respect their privacy and in no way want to intrude on their lives. And don't ask what I had done to my hair, or more importantly--why? I think a permanent was involved.)
I'm not quite sure what my takeaway is from this experience. I guess I will go with the obvious one. Teaching in the public schools is difficult, even more challenging, if not impossible, today. There is no money in teaching. There is frequently little appreciation for a teacher's efforts, but there's a chance you can make a difference in a child's life that he/she will carry into adulthood. And if you're lucky, you will meet students who will steal into your heart. You will never forget them and know that your life has been the better for knowing them.