I have been cleaning out my classroom. I didn’t have to pack last year, and that was a MARVELOUS thing. This year I have to clean out my stuff and what the gal before me left behind as well. I had just sort of put it in the bottom of drawers and cabinets and ignored it.
As I go through folders which are filled with copies of work that I at one time carefully, neatly labeled–series of things such as 6 Way Paragraphs or SRA work or whatever, I dump the contents and save the folder. There are other things I don’t dump, because I will use them next year. There are some things I packed that I should have dumped. Anyway–the point is that just 4 or 5 or 6 short years ago, these things were used and were successful, but the How of teaching is as fickle as a 16 year old girl picking out her first day of school outfit. Minds get changed a lot. Vernacular gets bandied about from year to year: Differentiation, Understanding By Design, Best Practices, Quantum Learning, Brain Based Research, Personality Types, Learning Styles, Homogenious grouping, Heterogenius grouping, the list is inexhaustible. Add to that the Everchanging Child and it makes for lots of recycling–both of paper and ideas.
But as I look back over another school year gone, the one thing I KNOW that never changes–the absolute best teaching practice in the history of the world–is relationship. That is what matters most. Do you care about your kids? Do you care about what they learn and how they learn it? Do you care when you can tell they are having a bad day or that you were too harsh or that it’s their birthday?
That being said, the sad truth is that I won’t have a great relationship with every child who holds down a desk in my classroom. There are and will continue to be personality conflicts, unresolved issues, words spoken from both the student and from me that we will wish we hadn’t said.
Yesterday was the last day with kids. We were with our first period classes all day long, and I have had some boys in my class first period this year that, for lack of a better word, are just kind of jerks. I can deal with squirrels and pills and goof-balls and ding-bats and cry-babies and even (for the most part) whiners, but jerks just rub me the wrong way. And, you know, there are some of those out there. You could probably name some from your own 6th grade class.
I had one in particular that spent more time in my co-worker’s room over the past week than in mine. He made a perfect score on his state reading test, he has a lot of friends, he is popular, and our particular brains are on different tracks. I finally said, “Name Boy, we have one day left, and it is quite clear to me that YOU will never understand what you do to get into trouble, and that *I* will never understand why you keep doing it, so we just need to steer clear of each other as much as possible.”
And I was down with that. . .but he kept doing “little things.” He’d go walk with another class when I’d asked them to stay with me (1500 middle schoolers having field day. . .), he would get behind me when I asked them to stay in front so I could keep track of them, he would walk into the main area of the parking lot or gym floor or field when I asked them to stay on the side, no matter HOW LOUDLY I called his name to bring him back, he would ignore me until I sent someone to get him. And–as I live and breathe–when I was refereeing kick-ball between our class and another, and I used my heel to dig a line in the dirt to keep them from SURGING forward (as 11/12 years olds are wont to do), he LITERALLY WALKED UP FROM THE BACK OF THE PACK and put his TOE over it–the toe of one shoe. And looked at me. Even the kids were taken aback–“Name Boy–get behind the line. You HEARD Mrs. Langley” At one point there were about 100 of us in one activity, and I heard another teacher having a similar conversation (though a bit louder) with one of her charges. I didn’t even think twice, I walked over to this gal whom I’d not spoken a word to all year long–didn’t even KNOW she taught in our building and said, “I will trade you Name Boy for Dude Man.” She didn’t bat an eye. . .just looked at me as though I’d handed her a million bucks and said, “Deal!” Name Boy spent our last day with her, and Dude Man was with me. And both of them were PERFECT angels.
But even though I was not sad to see the back of Name Boy, and even though he was thrilled to see my face growing smaller as the buses pulled away, he ALSO knows that I would do whatever was in my power to keep him safe. I would care about him and speak to him in the hallway. I will remember his name next year and smile and greet him. And he will STILL tell people that Mrs. Langley was mean (or maybe worse), but that’s okay. He knows I care.
Relationships. The most important things EVER. In all walks of life.