Mary Robison 0000-00-00 00:00:00
I’ll never forget standing by the buses on that bright August day that was thick with heat and promise. The only first-year teacher, I stood with trembling hands and a bad case of nerves among those very experienced teachers. The line of kids began to lengthen in front of me. Still, I smiled warmly—even excitedly—and welcomed each child to the group. A fifth-grader in line held up a small vase with a carnation in it. The note on the vase read, “Good luck! You’ll be great. Love, Mary.” That was nearly 15 years ago, and I doubt I’ll ever forget that child who reached out to me, even before we set foot into our carefully decorated classroom or implemented any of my painstakingly planned activities. Though I was a stranger to her then, I was her teacher. In turn, every day in my teaching career, I have reached out to my students. Some days have been easier than others, and some kids have responded more readily than others, but reaching out to each student has always remained the centerpiece of my teaching. Kids are well aware who is invested in them and who is not, and that knowledge informs them when to open up and when to shut down. I decided early on to regard students in my classes as extended family, realizing that we would have our ups and downs, but that our classroom would be without the bite of indifference and contempt that are born when the teacher remains aloof and strident. We had to be a family and I had to be at the head of it. It worked. It worked beautifully. We learned as much about one another as we did history and algebraic equations because there we were, coexisting for seven hours every day in one room. Yet as the field trips, projects, reading assignments, presentations, and investigations transpired through the months, we knew it would end. And I planned meticulously for that ending. I mourned it while I anticipated it, as did most of my students. Saying good-bye after a year of building relationships isn’t easy. So I collected things along the way that documented and commemorated what we had built together, as did they. We needed proper good-byes. After 14 years of teaching—in a traditionally graded school, a multiage configuration, and in a looping arrangement—I’ve had groups of students for as little as one year and as long as three years. I tell you, no matter how much time I have spent with my students, letting go and saying good-bye are always hard. Knowing that, I am glad that from my first year of teaching, I made it a practice to write each student a letter at the end of the year. In it I record friends, favorite books, funny, profound, or notable things the student said, and particular memories I want that student to retain. Then I insert first- and last-day photos I’ve taken as well as any others gathered during the year. I include my mom’s telephone number, because I know she’ll never move, so they can reach me through her. When finished, I mail these keepsake letters to the parents, asking that they not be distributed until the child’s 21st birthday. I’m still in frequent touch with many of my students; I have maintained close contact with them and their parents. For those I have lost touch with over the years, I receive such fun phone calls years later! Newly grown adults call to update me on their lives, and though the voices have changed, little else has. It’s as though they left for spring break and just got back to tell me about their trip. The sense of family is still there. We know because we delicately but so purposefully built it together.
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