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When Kids Grab Your Heart

I am a teacher.  From August to June, each year, I spend my days in the company of 6th graders.

I am fortunate to work in a wonderful K-8 school with an enrollment of about 450 students.  It is a vibrant place, nestled in the heart of the community that it serves.  The building is nearing 90 years old, and the budgeting is sometimes tight  Things aren't fancy around our place, but there is almost nothing that we won't tackle together.  Our kids are loved and disciplined and encouraged and given wings.  We prepare them to be citizens in an increasingly interconnected world, and then we send them out to explore the far corners of that world.

From my vantage point at the 6th grade level, I can see kids coming along through the years.  I see them when they arrive, brand new and so very little in the beginning days of kindergarten.  I talk to them in the halls when all their words come out distorted by their missing front teeth.  I admire their art work in the halls, and get moved to tears when they sing like small angels at holidays and celebrations of all sorts (yeah -- I'm sappy that way).

When they finally get to me and my classroom, I help them solve the inevitable conflicts in the halls and on the playground, and coach them through how to manage increasingly busy schedules.  I listen to their hopes and their fears and their sorrows and their dreams.  I laugh at them and with them.  I remind them that they are good people who know exactly how to do the right thing in most situations.  I grade their papers and mark their report cards.  I stay in touch with their parents, and I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how to make some apparently opaque concept more clear for those who struggle.

When they leave me each year in June, waving over their shoulders as they sail off into their summers, I am comforted to think that they'll be back in the fall -- for 7th grade, and then again for 8th grade.  I'll get to see at least a few of the seeds that have been planted begin to sprout, grow, and bear fruit.  I'll see the young people that I invest a year of time with mature; take on leadership roles; and begin to peer out of their adolescent faces with eyes that hint of the adults they will become in time.  It is breath-taking.

Except... Except that it doesn't always turn out quite like that.

Students who begin their educational career with us, have the opportunity to move, at the beginning of the 7th grade year, to a nearby public high school/junior high school that regularly ranks in the top 100 schools nationally.  It is huge, with some 1800 students in 6 grades.  It offers a dizzying array of amenities and options and opportunities -- and it is tuition free.  Students have to test to earn admittance, but by the time they've spent their elementary school years with us, most have no trouble at all.  Each year, some of my 6th graders leave and go "over there."  Each year, it breaks my heart to see them go...

This year, there came to be a sort of unspoken parental competition around the admission test to the place. Parents who had not considered sending their child anywhere else in September were often convinced to have their children take the test, "just to see," and when they were accepted, the DILEMMA was born.  As the months wore on, more and more 12-year-olds convinced themselves and their parents that they should leave our "small pond" and go off to the "big pond."  Out of 45 students there are probably 15 who will not return next year.

Aside from the obvious financial issues that reality presents to the principal and the finance committee people, I just hate the thought of "my" kids going off into the big, cold, cruel, uncaring world so soon.  I want them to stay where we know them; where we know their families; where we are not so far flung that a kid can get lost or vanish or become invisible.  I want them to stay closer, and test their wings in safer environs.  I want them to lead here where we so desperately need them to do that -- read with little kids, act as peer mentors on the playground, direct the lighting for the annual variety show, work to make sure we are implementing new and more effective measures to protect the environment in and around the school, help to develop healthier menus in the cafeteria, travel to our partner schools around the world...

I know they aren't my kids.  I know that it isn't my call.  I understand the things that drive parents to make the choice -- especially in these very difficult economic times.  Knowing doesn't ease the pain of losing sight of children who have grown close to my heart.  I know that those who finish the next two years with us will come back for years... stopping in from time to time for visits, sending emails as they grown and journey into adulthood, and someday (hopefully long after I am retired) maybe even send their own children to school right here where they grew strong and healthy.  Those who will leave in June with their eyes on the other place?  I know from experience that we will likely see no more of them.  Theirs will be a different path.  It makes me sad, and I can do nothing.  Nothing at all. They are not mine to hold -- not for the long run.  I am given only a few more weeks and what will happen will happen.




  1. Swan,

    You must be a wonderful teacher to care so much. We need more teachers like you.


  2. All the time that I taught I was at the other end of the scale - seeing them move upwards for 6 more years..... feeling that connection was truly a gift. I do understand that feeling of "loss" that comes when they actually leave .... move on to bigger and better things....

    AND more than you know I understand the underlying financial problems that come with transfers to other "better" schools. I am wondering if your job will be secure - with all these departures???

    My wish is that - even though you are losing some - that your job will remain secure and you will be able to guide more lil ones forward to the great adventure that is life......

  3. I love teachers, like you, who bond with our kids. And truly, I think they are still the majority, at least on good days. It's a privilege to have teachers like you teaching our not-always-easy children.

  4. Swan, I know how you feel, I taught in a K--8 school for many years. I ffelt like I was a part of many of those families, in good and bad times. Sadly, the school closed a few years before I retired. What a blow to all. I moved on to a junior high building, but it was never the same. I agree with the above,,it is your caring that makes such a difference in these lucky students lives. abby

  5. Dear Swan...

    I'll 5th and 6th the good thoughts above. I imagine you are a amazing teacher and that the students at your school get a firmer start then many others. For those that pass on to the other schools, at least they are still going, and I would hope they continue to. We never realize how important education is until we look back on it, and the opportunities lost and gained. I too hope that your school continues to thrive and offer an alternative to those folks that want and need it.
    Warmest wishes,

  6. Impish18:43 PM

    They are lucky to have you; it's so obvious how much you care. It's a bit like a parenting, isn't it? Nurture and guide them, and then watch them go...


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