Reflections on a Year Gone By (and Then Some)
Well, today was our last day of school for the year, and I am experiencing the screeching halt that comes after the whirlwind which is the end of a school year. I tend to get caught off-guard by the ends of school years, perhaps because I so easily get immersed into the day-to-day joys and challenges of teaching, perhaps because I love what I do so much that I don’t count down, perhaps because I know I can’t possibly “get it all done” in the dwindling number of days remaining and therefore succumb to denial about the year’s impending conclusion.
[Just for fun, here’s a great end-of-the-year story… One year a bunch of kids at our middle school smuggled squirt guns in on the last day of school. It was a very hot day, which we typically don’t have here in early June (“Take today, for example,” she said with a shiver…!), and the kids were being kids, wanting to celebrate the last day with a splash, so to speak. But our keen-eyed teachers got wind of their plan and managed to confiscate every last squirt gun. Can’t have those kids getting all rambunctious in the halls with squirt guns, don’tchya know. But after the last school bus pulled out of the parking lot, and with Alice Cooper's “School’s Out” blaring over the intercom, the teachers headed to the sinks to fill up all the contraband and proceeded to engage in an all-out water fight in the halls! If the kids only knew…!]
I can’t help reflecting back on a year… Is another one really down? Did I do everything possible for my students? How well did I reach my goals for the year? What needs to be at the top of my list to tweak and improve next year? What contributed to this year’s successes? Boy it was cool to hear the Math teacher today say how much he’s enjoyed learning about ways to challenge his advanced students… Glancing out my window and seeing our retiring English teacher head out the back door this afternoon to his car, our parting gift for him held tight in his hands... Passing on the news to one of my little guys that he will be subject-accelerated into 7th grade Math next year… Pondering all of the piles surrounding my desk… Going through the check-out process at four different schools… Feeling a little uneasy about what Summer might bring for some of my students (sometimes they don’t come back, for example)… Discovering I’ll be getting new carpet over the summer when the carpet man comes in to measure my middle school classroom (and dreading the re-organization that will mean for me)… Cherishing the sweet notes the kids left in my yearbook… Offering some bootstrap wisdom to an always-achieving high school student who just got her first B+…
The end of this school year came with a unique experience for me. See, for my job (in case you haven’t picked up on this) I work with the gifted students in our District in all grade levels, K-12. That means I have the same students year after year after year after year after year (etc.). This was my 13th year here, so that means that my very first group of Kindergarteners graduated from high school this past Saturday. [Can I really be that old‽‽] I just saw eleven students through one complete loop of school. Wow… What a treasure that is… One of them, in writing a scholarship essay earlier this year about a teacher who had had an impact on her life, began it by writing, “I can’t even remember a time before Ms. Fisher.” It’s the ultimate form of looping, really, and I try not to get caught off guard by the power that has for my students… and for me. Seeing my wee littlest ones - three Valedictorians and two Salutatorians among them - all tasseled up on Saturday was almost an out-of-body experience. There was Elliott, who brought his own soapbox to stand on during his speech; Amethyst, who, I’m excited to say, is planning to become a teacher; SuEllen, a future dentist who has the next few years paid for with a Gates Millennium scholarship; and Shane, who, despite his semi-underachievement over the years, I just know is going to light the world on fire when he finally has a chance to immerse himself into his niche. It’s really fun to send them forth into the world, all full of optimism and energy. It’s gratifying to hear from them that they appreciate having been challenged and prepared for future challenges. It’s a little unnerving to contemplate the potential weight of that many years of impact on a kid’s life. If anything, it makes me feel even more responsible to look out for them, to do right by them, to create ever-increasing levels of tackle-able challenge for them.
Having a K-12 job has definitely created for me a long-term perspective of a gifted child’s education. I’ve witnessed, time and time again, the “evolution” of a gifted kid - from primary school to intermediate school to middle school to high school to college to career. Now, when one of my middle school boys can’t find the completed assignment he put into his homework folder just a half hour before, I know he’s going to outgrow his current flakiness and could even – like one of my former such students – one day be a Truman Scholar. Now, when one of my little ones is happy as a lark in school but makes a side comment about not being challenged, I know immediate early intervention means heading off otherwise-appearing resentment that would come about five years down the road. Now, when a new teacher or student teacher appears in one of our schools, I know that reaching out to that person as a resource means I am - today - helping that teacher learn about students she typically has previously learned nothing about and - tomorrow - helping all of the gifted students who will cross that teacher’s path in her career to be better challenged than they perhaps otherwise would have been. Knowledge is power that way.
I can’t separate this big-picture-perspective from how I see their school experience. It has grown on me, like the little sprout in my shamrock plant that just yesterday was a tiny bump in the dirt and today is two inches tall… Somehow, somewhere along the line, this perspective crept up on me and set up camp to stay. Most teachers know their grade-level of kids inside and out. But for me, it’s one continuous trajectory. I don’t see them as 2nd graders or 6th graders or high school kids, I see them on an un-ending journey (one which I have the honor and responsibility to help guide).
So… Today we scatter… to college, to summer camp, to Disneyland, to PowWow season, to grandma’s, to reading books in the sun and swimming in the lake, to summer jobs, to cutting hay and moving pipe, to Possibility. And come August, we will pick up right where we left off…