The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 19 2013

Breaking The News

Day 177: Today, I finally told my kids I was leaving. To prepare, I did two things. First, I made brownies. I figured if my kids were going to take it poorly, at least they’d have brownies. Second, I made a slide explaining the new city I would be teaching in – Lawrence, Massachusetts – and specifically explaining that it was a city and a school that could use a real teacher-leader.

First and second period, the reaction was pretty much the same. A smattering of “What?!?” with one, maybe two “The teachers always leave this place.” Students by and large listened to me respectfully. I got some hugs and requests for my gmail address as they left.

Fourth period, my homeroom had a pretty muted reaction. A couple of students, as is the norm, drifted into class in the middle and immediately began talking. My usual requests for eyes and no speaking limited the gravitas. Oh well. I’ve got those folks for another three days. They’re not done with me yet.

More importantly, we nailed the catapult lesson. I will remember that during their last science class, we stayed on task and focused, despite flying marshmallows. I’ll also remember that for the first time since October, AM gave me props. I found her after class and told her how proud I was of her growth as a respectful leader, and made her promise to keep doing her best next year.

It was eighth period that really killed me. I gave out the brownies, told the students my age – something I’d promised all year. The atmosphere was pretty joyous. And then I dropped my bomb.

Immediately, GC shouts, “All of the teachers leave.” Someone else: “Are you going to a better school?” I use that as the segue into explaining that it’s not a better school, but a school that might need more help, and teachers who are willing to step up.

When it comes time to read the Big Goal for the last time, I offer that everyone can say it. SE and a couple of other girls ask me to instead. I finish, and ask what it means to “put your money where your mouth is.” A student answers: “You have to back up what you say is important.” I explain that if I’m going to talk about leadership all day, I’d better be prepared to be a leader myself and take on a new challenge, somewhere I’m really needed.

I tell this class that I’ve loved teaching them, and I’ve loved their enthusiasm, and I’ve loved seeing their hard work. I dismiss them, and I think I’m in the clear, when I see SBA is crying. And not the loud, look-at-me crying sixth grade girls can do sometimes. This is silent crying – legit crying. I find myself repeating to her, “I’m sorry … I’m sorry …” before I finally hug her and say, “I am so proud of your hard work this year, and I’m so excited to see what you do next year. Please remember that.” She nods and walks out, leaving my heart broken.

An hour later, I find JV crying in the stairwell. I gave JV a consequence nearly every day this year. We’re not exactly besties. I ask what’s wrong, and HG, walking by, says, “She’s sad because you’re leaving.” I say I think that’s not true. JV says, “I’m sad because you’re leaving.”

Well … damn. I’d talked myself into believing students wouldn’t care much, that they were leaving the campus, that they wouldn’t see me anyway. Turns out they did care. For some, it’s for the negative reasons; they’re used to seeing teachers leave, and this validates their perceptions.

For others, though, it seems like they were really and truly sad to see me leave their lives. Maybe they’d been planning to come back and visit next year. Maybe they just wanted to have the chance, and now they couldn’t, even if they wanted to. Either way, my worst fears came to fruition – that I was disappointing my kids by leaving their lives and their community too soon.

A few months ago, I ultimately decided the personal and professional reasons for leaving outweighed that risk. Now, I can only hope I’ll really stay in touch, remind myself that I’ll still be doing good work with students next year, and prepare for a heavy-hearted final three days.

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