I have been asked if it was a sacrifice to leave the classroom. It was and it wasn’t. You see, leaving the classroom to work in the library was an easy decision. I begged a little for it and worked a little for it and couldn’t be happier with my choice. I love the books. The heft of the books. The beauty of a perfectly illustrated picture book. Finding one with beautiful prose, exquisite word choice, a book that pulls you in and cannot be put down. I love putting the perfect book in the hands of a kid. A kid who comes back and talks to me about it. I love reading aloud a story that makes us laugh, squirm, cry. Yes. I am happy in the library. But there are things I miss about the being in the classroom. I taught sixth grade for 19 years, It had a rhythm. Routine. I was comfortable. I loved the age group – kids who were just starting to develop a world view. I loved reading with them. I loved writing with them.
What I miss (in no particular order)
Sixth grade graduation: The end of one important phase. Elementary school. Peanut butter and jelly days. Construction paper hats, paper mache covered balloon models of the earth. Dr. Seuss and Junie B. Jones. Sending them on to the locker-lined halls of middle school. Passing periods and planners. Sports teams and fundraisers. Make-up and boyfriends. School dances and high heels.
Slideshows: Those graduation slide shows I put together. All the details. Counting pictures. Making sure everyone was equally represented. Selecting music. Jack Johnson. Making the music fit the pictures. How fast to advance the slide show. Timing it. Timing was important. No one wants to sit through a 30 minute slide show! But what pictures to leave out. Pictures of kids singing karaoke? Egypt Expo pictures? Greek myth posters? Science, teams making airplanes and lifeboats, catapults and tectonic plates? Silly pictures, selfies in Santa hats? Finding the best photos. After that came the job of collecting baby pictures. Yes. I did a baby/toddler picture and put it next to the sixth grade picture. It was really the highlight of the whole ceremony. Kids laughed. Cheered. Little children with wispy hair and wide eyed innocence change right in front of your eyes into skinny, beautifully awkward pre-teens.
Content: Writing conferences. I LOVED writing conferences. Christmas Stories, memoirs, research projects, myths. Perfect paragraphs. I would start by asking, “What would you like me to notice?” Then I would find something to love about the piece of writing. Generally easy to do. End by asking “What would you like help with.” This is where I would slip in things like, it is “their” not “they’re.” I loved Literature circles. I might quantify that by adding, literature circles that are going well. It is frustrating when the occasional one bombs. And they do, but I don’t generally worry, at least they are reading great literature. But nothing is better than when they are successful. You have groomed them and then you sit back and listen to them have rich, specific conversations about what they have read. All of this takes hours of planning. Every minute worth it because the pay-off is so big.
Field Trips: While the bus rides were hell. Pure hell, I miss the excitement of a field trips. Dressing up for a cruise ship, mock trials in the court house, Ward Lake hikes and science. Middle School orientation. Walking trips to our local beach. Hot dogs. S’mores. Juice boxes.
Warm spring days. Extra recess. Reading outside. The awe of geese overhead, stopping to watch thousands and thousands, V shaped lines going on as far as we could see. Endless games of kickball. There is a spring time smell in the hallways. And No. It is not a gross smell, it is the smell of doors and windows propped open, of spring breezes coming in. Trees and fresh air, bringing with the sounds of kids on the playground.
End-of-the-year-projects. So many. For years and years I would have a play. The first year I tried it, I did a whole play, Robin Hood. One poor kid had to memorize 126 lines, and the rest of the class ran around looking like peasants whacking each other with the wooden swords I rounded up. The next year I recruited my good and incredibly talented friend, Sherry and we pulled off something amazing and we ran with it. Year after year, Shakespeare vignettes. Every kid a star of his or her own scene. (That is worth it’s own blog though). April was always poetry month and poetry cafe. Kids dressed in black. Dim lights. Tea. Snacks. Snapping, not clapping. Reciting poems they wrote themselves and a classic poem (no Shel Silverstien or Prelutzky, I was talking Dickinson, Hughes, Frost), poems I insisted they memorize because yes, you CAN memorize eight stanzas.
There you have it. Some of the things I miss. I do get asked that question a lot. As you can see, I have given it some thought. I miss all of that. But honestly the thing I miss the most is that last moment of that last day. We are lined up in the classroom. The sixth graders are waiting to do the traditional “Run Down the Hall.” This is the moment it dawns on some of these kids that… This. Is. It. Most will give me a hug, some cry, some are jumping up and down they are so excited to run down the hall. They run. I walk, meet them at the bus and we wave. And wave. And wave while the bus ceremoniously circles the parking lot again and again, kids hanging out the windows cheering and calling out “Good-bye!” Usually we sing. The teachers and staff, we sing. “Hey, Hey, Goodbye.” We sing and wave.