I teach a 2nd period class of 6th graders. Some 6th graders take to middle school like a duck to water. They are ALL ABOUT the organization and the locker and the schedule changing and the map of the building and the planning of locker breaks and potty breaks. All. A. ‘Bout. It. All.
Some—meh—not so mature. Papers billowing in their wake as they race—nearly tardy AGAIN to the classroom that is two doors away from their last classroom because they went to the restroom and then their locker and nowtheyarenearlytardyohno-ohno.
Then there are some who just have the occasional Monday. And today, that happened to Maria. I have actually KNOWN Maria since she was in Victoria’s 2nd grade class. She was one that would fight to sit at the front of the floor packed with 2nd graders when I would go to read to them on Friday afternoons. I went to read Geronimo Stilton nearly EVERY Friday afternoon to Victoria’s second grade class. And now I teach many of them—or at least see them in the hallway on a regular basis. They remember me, and they remember Geronimo Stilton.
Maria left her pencil bag in my room 2nd period. Now I am a HUGE proponent of the pencil-bag-with-metal-grommets-that-lives-in-your-binder type pencil bag. It HOOKS. Into your binder. It STAYS THERE. Yet there are many, many, many much CUTER pencil bags that you are just supposed to carry with you. I find these free-wheeling pencil bags in my classroom a lot—or in the hallway—or in the bathroom stall. They DON’T stay put. They roam. Or are left behind.
Maria’s was merely left behind. We were in a rush at the end of class, she had spent most of it outside my door with others who had not completed the work they were assigned over the weekend because they also didn’t complete it last week. They are kids who really SHOULDN’T be in a level one reading class—but because of changes in our district’s determination of level one—they are. So. Maria’s stress level was a little high. She is a basic reader, and was asked to complete work that is on her level to a little too difficult for her at an advanced rate. This I cannot change. It’s the nature of the level one class, and by policy, I cannot change the pace or “rigor” (how I HATE the advent of that word in the rounds of education vernacular as of late) of that class—even for sweet, gentle, lisping Maria.
I teach a 3rd period class of 7th and 8th grade dyslexia students. They also struggle. There are only 11 of them in the room, and the things they are being asked to do are not difficult—it’s more drill and practice to cement skills they need to aid in their reading for the rest of their lives. They have been in the dyslexia program a long time, so they do, in fact, know the drill. Today I had them split up a deck of vocabulary cards and a deck of missing letter cards and work on them in pairs. Then they switched with someone else and worked on the other half. I let them choose a spot in the room. There were two students sitting over where Maria sits in class during this activity. After that, I had the 7th graders come to one side of the room to do a lesson while the 8th graders did some “drill bit” practice in pairs. Again—two students (different ones) sitting where Maria sits–and 2 others also on that side of the room. A total of 4 7th/8th graders where Maria sits and 2 8th graders NEAR where Maria sits. I know them all. Taught two of them in 6th grade. . .and now again.
After 3rd period, Maria came into my room. “Mrs. Langley, have you seen a pencil bag?” “No, honey, I haven’t. . .wait—there is one over on the floor where you sit.” HUGE RELIEF on Maria’s face. Her item was found. Cue angels singing and ethereal light from heaven.
Then she opened it.
At least the person who stole her stuff had the decency to leave her house key. I guess that’s something. Right? They didn’t leave her stranded outside her door after she got off the bus waiting for her mom to arrive at 6:00 when Maria gets home at 4:00. How polite of them to be considerate of her while they were stealing all of her pens and pencils and map colors and B.E.S.T. tickets (our school reward program.) They also left her cute bag with the puppies and her name on it. Oh—and her “cut in line pass” for lunch since her name was written on it in ink. At least they didn’t tear that sucker up and leave it on the floor for the custodian to vacuum. That’s something.
Thing is—Maria should have kept up with her stuff. She should have. I know that. I get that. She will learn a lesson today. BUT—the BIGGER thing is that no one should have TOUCHED HER STUFF except to put it on the chalk tray at the front of my room with all of the OTHER left-behind items that collect there on a daily basis. What is so hard about leaving other people’s stuff alone? Why can’t we dispel or dispense with the attitude of “finders keepers” or “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine?” Why should—when I go to talk to a peer about it—it be Maria’s fault? Which one of us has not forgotten or left something even when we WERE paying attention? Why should we, as a society, automatically assume that someone will take our things? Why have we settled for this notion? Am I the only one who is naive enough to find this disturbing despite the fact that I know it to be true?
Well. . .I’m just not sure what the answer is to any of these questions. I have a purple, grommeted pencil bag that I will fill with pens, pencils, and map colors to give to Maria. I will tell her to use it rather than her cute, puppy one. I will gently remind her to keep up with her things. I will e-mail her teachers to see if they will give her some B.E.S.T. tickets since hers got stolen and are probably now in a trash can because her name was on all of them. I will talk to my class of 7th and 8th graders tomorrow—I might even read them this—and hope that it makes a difference. That is what teaching is—just HOPING that one thing will make a difference to somebody on some day and change their behavior, and therefore their life, for the better. At least. . .that’s what *I* think teaching is.