Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bittersweet June

I’ve been on a school calendar since I first let go of my mom’s hand and stepped into that kindergarten classroom. I think its rhythms are programmed deeply into my blood. The routines become so internalized that when my father retired after thirty-eight years of teaching, we all joked that he was going to have to change tasks every forty-two minutes. The ending of my time with my students as their teacher is one of those rhythms. As a kid’s teacher, I have a clear role. Once students pass on to the next teacher, we have to strike up a new relationship or just move on. Sometimes students still come around once I don’t teach them anymore, but as often as not, we’ll just wave in the hallway.

I can catch up with individual students, but another teaching reality is that once classes end, a class combination is gone for good. Class combinations of students are as organic as any other organism I’ve studied, and I don’t need a degree in social anthropology to recognize what a complicated creature it can be. There’s always one class in particular that I know I’ll miss especially. Even though some of these students will still pursue a mentor-type relationship with me, this place in time, our class, will end very soon. Already it feels different, like a rose one day past its fullest bloom or a sweet banana the day before it gets too many spots. I can smell tomorrow; we all have an energy, a momentum towards the end of the year, which will be the end of this class, too.

I’ve felt this way about classes before, and I’m sure there will be classes I’ll feel this way about next year, too. Blessedly, I’ve come across this kind of class dynamic almost regularly, usually one group per semester. It’s funny, because sometimes it’s my morning class, like this one, and somehow the rapport we established as we woke up and began thinking and working for the day together just created a good space. I’ve had other classes, perhaps more rare, where as the last class of the day, we just sustained each other meaningfully until that final bell. It’s not the personality of one kid or even a particular grade level, and it certainly doesn’t correspond to how “smart” the students may or may not be. It isn’t me, either, because I never know which class will strike this emotional eco-system with me. I can’t seem to conjure it into every class I teach even though I enjoy each class and have a fine energy and consistent work production with most students most days.

It’s intangible, it’s difficult to describe, and it ends with the school year. I’ll stay in the same room and teach a different group of students at the same time in the same desks with the same materials, more or less, and it will be different. I’ll see these young people places: the hall, the parking lot, the mall. At first, they’ll greet me really warmly and come up to me, but when it’s just two or three or four of us, we won’t recapture the energy that existed in class, when we acted as a learning community. Sometimes I’ve tried to hold on too tightly to these special classes, bringing in doughnuts, elevating the end with special circumstances. I’ve mostly created a kind of awkwardness. Some kids say things as they flick jimmies off the glaze like, “This was a really good class. I don’t just mean the work we did, it just—I don’t know…” “Yeah,” the rest of us will nod.

It’s crazy to me that I’m the teacher, the leader, and I don’t know much more about this phenomenon than they do; it’s like the prism on a bubble blown away and into the sun. I know sooner than they do that it will end, and that we won’t be able to recapture it with each other again. We’ll miss it, but I hope they learn, like I have, that this kind of feeling is what academic communities can sometimes yield; we’ve been lucky to enjoy it, and as learners, they’ll experience it again with new people. I like having a job that ends, that refreshes itself, and I trust that I’ll have many more special classes in my future. I’ll just miss this particular class for a while…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

amy said...

You've captured it exactly. In my short four years in the classroom I have experienced this very same phenomenon every semester, every year. It has happened to me that the dynamic sometimes shifts during the course of the year and a class that was initially a challenge becomes the class I most anticipated and vice versa.

I was slated to shift my course load from mostly freshmen to mostly juniors next year and was thus going to teach again nearly all of the students I taught last year when they were freshmen. I was both concerned and very interested to see how our dynamic would differ as the students would inevitably be shuffled from their previous configurations. As it turns out, I will be joining a new community in the fall and won't get to witness the transformation. I wonder if I would have been surprised, disappointed, inspired?

I am always so grateful for the end of the school year as it brings me such renewal and revives my anticipation for the coming year and its fresh start. I'm working to harvest the energy and presence of mind to reflect like this during the school year.