Friday, June 30, 2017

Reminders to Myself as a Middle School Teacher

Today I saw a photo that took my breath away. Apologies for the quality, it's a copy of a copy of a photo from 1993. In it is my husband, then boyfriend, Chris. We had just started dating. I was nineteen, he was twenty. In three years we would get married. My mind began to whirl.

I clearly remember being nineteen, feeling old and in charge. I knew where I wanted to go and knew how I was going to get there. I had learned some hard truths over the high school and early college years, but I had come out stronger. I felt like an adult. 
As I looked at that photo today I realized my oldest son, Luke, is only four years from my age in it. At his age, I had heartache. There were friendship betrayals. I was without mooring, no idea what I wanted to be, how I would get there. I was desperately afraid of both leaving home and never leaving my town. I was certain I would end up alone.
Parenting is not for the weak, and neither is teaching. What I wish I could tell my children, I really can't. No one could have made my path any easier. Where I ended up, I earned. I worked hard. I screwed up. I got back on the path. But when I look at these two kids, I don't see their twelve and almost fifteen faces, I see the faces of the young boys I once knew. Who begged for another picture book before bed. Who left action figures all over our house. Who reenacted WWE matches off of our living room couch, diving on to a giant stuffed dog, and pinning it to the ground. 

How did we get here?

Last night I was stuck. I needed to record a podcast for Voices from the Middle (Great podcast, subscribe if you haven't!) at 5pm. Liam needed to be at his Cross Country practice outside of town at 5. It was about a thirteen minute drive from our house. Chris was golfing. My parents weren't home. His friends weren't available. I looked at Liam and explained my situation. I told him I needed him to go to practice early, like twenty minutes early, so I could get back to record. He said no problem.
Liam on the first day of preschool.
I dropped him off at the park and pulled away, looking back as he sat down at the picnic tables alone. In my mind, I saw his three year old self, crying every day for the first three weeks of preschool, begging to come to school with me instead. We finally read The Kissing Hand and I drew a heart in Sharpie on his hand each day. I still remember the day his teacher sent me an email, celebrating that he hadn't cried that day. But, she cautioned, I might want to watch him. She thought something was wrong with his arm, his hand had rested on his chest most of the day. I burst into tears at my computer, startling my student Nate, who was standing with me. I tearfully explained that I told Liam to put his heart on his chest if he needed me and he would feel me right there, just like in the book. 

Heading back to the park last night at 6, I saw Liam standing and talking to some 8th graders, and then some high school kids, that I didn't think he knew. Where was my painfully shy boy? He had disappeared in this new seventh grade body.

What I hope I never forget as a middle school teacher is that these gangly bodies I see before me in class are giant versions of their preschool selves. They can feel self-assured in one moment, and doubtful the next. Looking back at myself, I know they will sometimes fear the future, while wanting to embrace it at the same time. And I pray I will remember that their parents are watching this happen before them, as bewildered as I am, wondering where their little children have gone, while their heart breaks just a bit more. 
I'm beyond excited to see my boys grow. I cannot wait to see where they end up and what they accomplish. I know this is the path forward, and I embrace it, but sometimes spin around wondering just how we have gotten here already. 

I'm also grateful that I had two middle school aged children when I began teaching middle school. It let me remember that I wanted to teach as I parent, with rules and guidelines yes, but mainly with support, understanding, and a lot of love. Kids can learn in a variety of classroom environments. And I do want them to grow as readers and writers. But they are also on the cusp of figuring out who they will become. To do that, they need support and a gentle nudge. They need to know they can come back when they need to, but that they are also ready to move on to that next stage. I can't wait to watch them soar.