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.

Ant Problems

We had a class breakfast last week, and in the ensuing chaos of twenty-three 12 year olds eating and drinking, some juice was spilled. Multiple kids attempted to clean it up, but only ended up smearing it across an even greater surface of the counter. Within an hour, sugar ants were busily crawling across it. We cleaned it up, but by then the damage was done and a line of ants kept scurrying across the counter.

That afternoon we had reading buddies, and the second graders of course noticed the ants. One little girl quickly pointed out that I could just poison them. I explained that they were there for the spilled juice, and that I didn’t want to use poison if we could just do a better job cleaning up the juice.

“You could put the poison in the juice bottle!” She suggested enthusiastically.

“Well I really don’t want to use poison, and the ants won’t be able to get the juice in the bottle anyway” I replied.

The little girl looked meaningfully around the table at each of the sixth graders she sat with. “It’s not for the ants.” She said to me. The sixth graders looked at me and each other, but the little one was already back to her book, head resting gently on her very alarmed looking buddy.

After the second graders left, my students asked “Did she suggest you poison us because we didn’t clean up the juice?” “I think she did.” I answered. “But I promise not to poison any of you.” Nonetheless, the juice was thoroughly cleaned up after that.

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.

All Hormones, All the Time

Ahh, May of the fifth grade. A glorious time. The flowers bloom, the weather warms up, the kids are suddenly taller, crankier, and stinkier. Spring is in the air, and so are the hormones.

We have officially hit the preteen period. They are talking about who likes who, desperately jostling to sit next to specific people only so they can roll their eyes at everything that person says. They are more aware of clothes, and music, and what they are ‘supposed’ to like. For my friends who teach primary grades, this time is terrifying, but I don’t mind it too much.

It’s a tough time for them. Emotions are high. They are likely to laugh too loud, cry at the drop of a hat. Little things can make them angry and ruin their day. Their bodies have started changing in weird, uncomfortable ways. Even worse, people know this is happening and expect them to talk about it. Relatives and older family friends around them wax emotional about the wonderful, amazing changes ahead, while they cringe awkwardly.

All of the above describes puberty, but it also describes… pregnancy!

I feel your pain, guys.

You cried yesterday because your friend didn’t want to play tag with you. I cried because I could not reach my foot to buckle my sandal. You became inexplicably angry when your mom insisted you go with her to your brother’s soccer game. I went into a rage when my husband ate the last pizza slice.

You’re suddenly getting taller. A lot taller. When you stand up, it’s disorienting to see how high off the ground you are. I’m getting wider. A lot wider. It’s hard to remember that I can no longer fit between small spaces like desks. (Related note: I’m sorry my belly has hit so many of you in the back of the head when I walk by. You’re right, we do need more space between the tables.)

You’re growing hair in unexpected places that you don’t want to talk about. I am sporting luxurious side burns (don’t worry, your facial hair will come in soon) and a hairy belly of truly epic proportions. I, too, am simultaneously ashamed and proud of this.

Your body has started doing all sorts of strange, weird, gross, but sort of cool things that I won’t talk about here. I feel you, my small friends. Humans. Gross, am I right?

So here we sit- 23 pubescent preteens and a 6 month pregnant teacher. Sometimes I ask my assistant what it’s like to be surrounded by a sea of hormones. She says she doesn’t mind, but in all fairness she may just be afraid I’ll cry. Or eat her.

These Are My Big Girl Pajamas

Last year, our superintendent retired and a new one was hired. At the end of the year, the new hire (let’s call him Mr. S) went around to all the schools to meet the new staff. He came to our school on field day, which is a huge outdoor K-6 event. It’s a blast. Last years took place on a bright sunny day after a week of rain. I had been leading parachute games, and over the course of a few hours had sat, laid down, and slid in the mud left behind on the fields. I was in cut off jeans and a t-shirt, and pretty thoroughly covered in muck. When I met Mr. S, I had to wipe my muddy hand off on my muddy jeans to shake his hand. He was a very good sport about it, and in my defense I was one of many scruffy, muddy teachers.

The next time I ran into him was this fall. It was a cool, rainy day, the kind where you wake up and think “No, I do not want to dress like a professional.” Luckily for me my school is ok with that, so I pulled on a giant sweatshirt and my comfiest jeans. When I ran into Mr. S at school that day, I cringed slightly at my outfit, even though I knew he was aware that our school has a very relaxed dress code.

The next time, I assured myself, I would be dressed like a grown up. A professional, even! Unsurprisingly, that was not the case.

It was pajama day. Kids love to wear their pajamas. They always want to have an official pajama day on the last day before a vacation. Every time, I remind them that technically, they can wear PJs whenever they want! But the fun, of course, is in all of us wearing them at once. For the first PJ day this year, I wore sweatpants and a flannel shirt. This was not enough, according to the kids. Those were merely comfy clothes, NOT pjs. Next time, I upped my game. I borrowed a fuzzy blue two piece flannel PJ set from my mom. It even had stars and moons on it! I wore it with my head held high.

Towards the end of the day, I went to pick my class up from art, which they had gone to straight from recess. I hadn’t seen them since before lunch, since my assistant had them while I was in a meeting. As I waited at the art room door, I ran into Mr. S. We chatted briefly, exchanged pleasantries. I saw him notice my unusual outfit, but put on a polite, understanding smile. “Pajama day?” He inquired. I nodded and started to explain.

Before I could, however, the art room door opened and my class filed out. Unbeknownst to me, they had all changed out of their PJs for recess, and not had time to change back yet. Every single one of them was in regular clothes.

So there I was, face to face with the superintendent of schools, wearing pajamas for no discernible reason. I decided trying to explain would only make it more awkward. So I smiled at him, and walked away with as much dignity as an adult woman wearing pajamas at work can muster.

The kids, needless to say, were very entertained by the whole process.

An-i-maaaa-tiooooon

Despite the fact that I don’t teach kindergartner, kindergartners feature heavily in this blog. They are adorable, hilarious, and have absolutely no filter. Most of my interactions with the tiniest of our school’s students occur at the end of the day while I walk bus lines out, and this week’s highlight was no exception.

A little girl who I know only as ‘dinosaur hat’ based on her excellent choice in winter headgear looked up at me with big round eyes yesterday and said apropos of nothing “I’m confused by how some movies have people that are real and some don’t.” I’m used to questions like this- when you’re still processing how the world works you ask anyone and everyone for help.

“Do you mean like how some movies are drawn, and have some have real people?” I asked her. “Drawn like Spongebob?” She clarified. I nodded. “That’s called an-i-maaaa-tiooooon,” She told me in an incredibly condescending tone, drawing the word out like I was simple and clearly wondering if she had chosen the wrong adult to ask for help. “And no, not just like that.”

At this point I was confused by what she meant, and when I told her this she puffed out her cheeks and said “Ok, it’s like this. Have you seen ‘Frozen’?” When I nodded she said “Ok, so Anna and Elsa are drawn, right? Remember an-i-maaaa-tiooooon?” Once I reassured her I understood this concept she moved on. “So they aren’t real, at least I didn’t think they were real, but my friend when to Disney World, and she said that Anna and Elsa are there, and they are real, and they talk to you!” Her eyes had been getting bigger and bigger throughout this, and her hands getting higher and higher in the air. The shock and awe was palpable.

“I’ve never beened to Disney World, but I’m going in April! Do you think they will talk to me?” She asked. I assured her they would, and then I melted into a puddle because this was just more adorable than I can usually handle.

The Tattooed… Mom

I’ve had a lot of big news I was able to share with my classes over the years. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting a puppy, getting married. This is the biggest so far- pregnancy!

As soon as I found out, one of my first thoughts was of telling my students. Both how exciting that would be, and how awkward that would be. To little kids, having a baby is somewhere between fact and magic. “Well, you got married, so this is the logical next step. Now something will happen involving birds and bees, maybe specifically storks, some scientific terms I don’t understand but my parents told me so the could feel progressive, and you’ll have a baby in you. Voila. When’s recess?”

My students are ten and eleven, the age when certain aspects of human relationships start to become both extremely interesting and extremely gross. They have, at the very least, a vague sense that what starts this process has a lot less to do with storks and a lot more to do with those feelings they’ve all started having when they look at each other. In short, “I don’t know exactly what you did to get this way, but I’m sure it’s sort of gross.” The preteen years are a magical time.

When it became evident to both myself and my colleagues that I couldn’t go on pretending I was suffering from a low grade stomach bug all the time and smuggling fruits of increasing large sizes under my shirts, I decided to tell the kids. I broke the news, and reassured them I’d still be here for most of next year (since my school has classes with the same teacher for two years, I’ll be their sixth grade teacher, too). Their reactions were about as awkward as I expected, as hilarious as I could have hoped, and much sweeter than I thought they would be.

After a moment of stunned silence, one of the boys clapped his hands to his face and yelled “That’s so exciting! This is awesome!” Then the floodgates opened and a million questions were unleashed.

“How big is your belly?”

“How big will you get?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” “When will you find out?” “How can they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” (The answer to the last one was a shocker- no one apparently thought the same rules applied for babies in utero and the rest of the mammal kingdom.)

“How do ultrasounds work?” “Why are they called that?”

“What will you name it?” “Can we pick the name?” “Can we vote on the name?” “Will you name it after me?” “Or me?” “What about me?”

“Do you have any cravings?” “Have you eaten weird food?” “Does it like (fill in random food here)?”

“Will it come to visit us?” (Not, will you bring it in to visit. Will it come to visit. Of it’s own volition.)

“How does it get food?” “How does it breath if it’s in there?” Following this was a student provided run-down of how the umbilical cord works, much to the discomfort of everyone else, including me.

“If the cords attached to you and the baby, what happens to the part in you when they cut the cord?” (Full disclosure, I used the best of my evasive ‘answer without really answering’ techniques and then found the nearest colleague with kids as soon as I went to lunch to ask her the exact same question. Apparently I still have a lot to learn.)

“Does all pregnancy ruin your stomach? Because my mom says I ruined hers. If it does, don’t tell the baby, it will feel bad.”

“Will it go to our school?”

“Will your dogs like it?”

“Can we at least pick it’s middle name?”

All in all, it took about an hour of processing and questions, both the practical, the personal, and the scientific. I’m excited about the whole thing. I’m so glad they know, and so happy they are excited for me. This lucky little bean has 23 big friends looking out for it already.