Moving On

The end of last year was really hard. Harder than previous years, for a few reasons. I started out teaching third and fourth grade, then moved up to fifth and sixth. I didn’t get any of the same students for the next loop, but it meant I saw my former kids all the time. So out of the 100 kids at this grade, I had 50 of them. In the four years with these kids, I got engaged, bought a house, got married, became a mother. I really became an adult, and hit so many milestones. These kids were with me for them.

It’s hard to move on after two years with a group no matter the situation, but it’s especially hard when they leave the school. When my fourth graders moved on, I still saw them all the time. Granted the sixth graders moved across the street, but it still means I see them far less. So visits from my former students have been so important since school started.

When the first day of school ended, I looked up to see one of them in the door. “Hi,” she said. “I need you.” And she started to cry. Turns out she was just feeling a bit overwhelmed by the transition to middle school, but was totally fine. Other kids have popped in throughout the week. Sometimes they wave from a distance. Sometimes they run to me and hug me. On one occasion, they snuck in while my current class was still here, and sat on the rug with them. It took 3 minutes before I even noticed. Yes, they timed me. So far every day I have seen at least one former student.

I love these visits, but I know they’ll taper off soon. And that’s good for both of us. They need to start feeling like their new school is home. I need to start feeling like my current class is where my heart is. It’ll happen on both ends. It always does. But the transition is hard.

A colleague and I were talking about it in the staff room yesterday.

“We go into it knowing it has to end, that it won’t last, but it’s still hard to say bye.” She said.

“And we want them to be happy, and like where they are now, but I don’t want them to forget me.” I said.

“I know I’ll love the new ones just as much eventually, but right now I just really miss the old class.” She said.

Then another colleague leaned over and said “Until you said class, I assumed you guys were talking about exes.”

We laughed, but that analogy really works.

So here’s to a new year! To teaching fifth grade again (I’ve found I like the 5/6 loop more than the 3/4 one.) To kids who don’t yet smell like sweat and cheap cologne, complain about hormones, and roll their eyes at everything. To a new group, and all their quirks, charm, and uniqueness.

I love my job.

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Hormones Are Not an Excuse

Being a sixth grade teacher is weird in so many ways. The one that I’m reflecting on today is the fact that I deal with a group of people who need my help because they lost a tooth, and need my help because they have their period. It’s a strange sense of vertigo to realize that these two milestones that literally mark the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood happen simultaneously, often to the same person.

And as I write this I’m realizing that as strange as it is for me, it’s even more poignant for them. So I guess I should say that being a sixth grader is weird. Again, in so many ways!

Last year we had them watch THE MOVIE, as they all call it. All about puberty and changes and all that fun stuff. This year we went over it in even more depth, with even more overly scientific terms, and cartoon images that were even more graphic and detailed. Plus the added bonus of discussing conception and fertilization. Last year was a one day lesson. This year’s spanned four days. A colleague referred to the curriculum as “Girl parts, boy parts, how they go together.”

Last year I felt so proud of myself for getting through it without too much awkwardness or discomfort on my part. Last year was nothing. After this year, I don’t think anything will ever make me feel uncomfortable again. Until you’ve showed a detailed model of sperm fertilizing an egg to a group of 11 and 12 year old girls, you haven’t really lived. Some people go sky diving to get a rush. This is a lot cheaper.

(My favorite part of this was when one girl yelled “Woo, that worm is the winner!” when the first one reached the egg.)

One thing that came up a lot in our long, ongoing, and incredibly detailed discussions was that for a lot of the questions (Why do we get acne? Why do we have crushes? What determines when puberty starts? Why do you get emotional around your period?) the answer was ‘Hormones’.

Yesterday I met with a student about her behavior on the bus. For the past few weeks, she’s been having some ongoing issues with another student. She freely admitted she hadn’t been as nice as she could have been. “Ok, I’ve been mean to her.” I asked her why.

She was reluctant to give the reason for the original argument, but did let me know this bit of info: “Well, I got my period today.” I waited for her to explain more. I stared at her. She stared back at me. “Ok, but this has been going on for a few weeks, right?” I asked. “Yeah, well, my period!” She said happily. More staring.

“I’m confused how you getting your period today made you mean to her three weeks ago.” “Well, hormones, you know.” She informed me knowingly.

Sixth grade, everybody.

How I Know I’m a Grown-up

When I started teaching, I was 22. In my first week at work, a custodian yelled at me not to run up the stairs, and was mortified when I turned around and he saw I was not a kid. A student once told me “Sometimes I think of you like a grown-up, but it doesn’t last long.”

I am no longer the youngest teacher at school. Several of my colleagues now have the dubious honor of being yelled at by custodians, and staff in the parking lot who tell them high school parking is on the other side of the campus. I’ve passed on the torch.

Since then, I have hit a lot of adult milestones. I went to grad school, got my masters, travelled all over, payed off my car, bought a house, got engaged, got married, had a baby (almost, anyway! One more month!).

None of these are the reason why I can now truly say “I am an adult.” No, that statement hinges solely on one reason- I watched THE MOVIE and handled it like an adult.

THE MOVIE refers to the human growth and development video we have the kids watch at the end of fifth grade. It can be summed up the following way: “Feelings. Hormones. Wash yourself real thoroughly or you’ll stink. Menstruation. Nocturnal emission.” The kids start talking about it in fourth grade, and the lead up to the movie itself is fraught with sweaty palms, awkward laughter, and red faces.

The teachers handle it much better, of course. Except for me. Awkward situations make me even more awkward. If the kids are laughing and know they shouldn’t be, I am most likely busting a rib trying not to laugh with them.

In my second year working with kids, I student taught in fifth grade. When we watched THE MOVIE, I went with the girls. (We split the grade by gender, and have each watch their own movie one day, and the opposite gender movie the next.) I was not looking forward to it. During the event, I did my best to blend in with the wall. Despite this, one girl felt the urge to turn around and make direct eye contact with me every time a part of the male anatomy was mentioned. It was intense. When I reminisced about this with the colleague who at the time was my mentor teacher, she was surprised that I had been there. “I don’t remember you being in the room for that at all!” She said. Good. That meant my attempts at blending in with the bulletin boards had worked.

This time around, I was in charge of my own classroom. I had to run the group. There was no blending in with the walls. Not only did I have to watch the movie with them, I had to teach the associated curriculum, and answer any questions. There was no backing out.

My colleagues and I had a talk about who would take which gender, since we split our class and send half to another teacher. “I’ve taught the boys class before.” “Me too, and I used to be a doctor.” “I have three sons, I can do this.”

They looked at me. I answered honestly. “I am not mature enough to handle this, so if no one minds, I’ll take the girls group!” Have I mentioned I love my colleagues?

On the day of, my boys all went to a colleagues room, and her girls came to me. We watched the movie. They giggled, turned red, and then wrote down a million questions, which ranged from serious to confusing, insightful to accidentally hilarious. I answered them all. Was it hard to explain how to insert a tampon? Yes. Was it hard not to laugh when explaining that boys did not get their periods? Of course. Was it hard not to be embarrassed explaining what, exactly, testicles were to a group of 11 year old girls? Good god, yes. But I did it. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t turn red, I didn’t try to become one with the walls.

And that is how I know I’m a grown-up. It’s kind of nice, to have finally stepped away from the intense awkwardness of caring about being embarrassed. I guess I just don’t care anymore. So please, feel free to ask me any and all questions about puberty, tampons, and nocturnal emissions.