Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

Teacher Reflection on the End of the Year June 27, 2007

Today, June 27, is probably a very ordinary day for many people. At least it is ordinary to the extent that it probably is not a day that you may remember one year from now. I only hope that, should you have cause to remember today one year from now, your reason is a happy one.

Today, for me, marked the completion of my second year as a full time teacher. It also completed my first year as a New York City Department of Education teacher. Maybe in a world of insanity this seems unremarkable … but I also celebrated my 51st birthday this year. I walked away from a six-figure income in the business world to follow my heart and soul … and even though I knew it was the right thing to do, today was the proof.

After a bad decision to teach at one school, I was fortunate to have a few angels guide me to the school where I belong. It was an incredible year in which I had amazing support from a great principal, a fabulous assistant principal, a great dean, a talented mentor, and lots of teachers and specialists who made my life easier.

By the way, I taught 8th Grade at a school that made great advances and changed the lives of hundreds of students.

Let me take pause here lest you should think that this piece is about me or my colleagues. After returning home from today’s finale, after handing out diplomas and awards, I was able to catch the tail end of “Dances with Wolves” (save your cracks about me watching a “chick” flick). Near the end of the film, Kicking Bird tells Dances with Wolves that “We have come a long way, you and me.” It was those simple words that released all the emotion that had been locked up inside me. I also have to admit that I love the scene with Wind in His Hair yelling from that top of the ridge that he will always be a friend to Dances with Wolves.

Kicking Bird’s words presented me with a quandary. The obvious metaphor would be that the students themselves had come a long way. That is very true … I am so damn proud of those kids and my only hope is that they can see and appreciate how much they accomplished in the six months we spent together. All 63 of my students graduated. All passed their English Language Arts exams.

Again, let me emphasize that the students did all the hard work … all I did was to set some lofty goals and point them in the right direction. Sure, a few students needed a little “motivation” to get going … and what I couldn’t do, the AP and dean had my back. There were also a number of parents who met with me at 7:30 AM about their child.

After years as a manager and executive, I can never remember a time when I was happier or prouder than I was these last few days.

But then a second thought hit me. It never crossed my mind to thank my students for how far they had taken me. I wish to God that I had five more minutes with each of them.

I came to these young ladies and gentlemen after several teachers had quit on them. I made one promise to myself and them … I was not going to quit NO MATTER WHAT. These young lions felt the need to test me, and they were very good task masters. But when they pushed, I pushed back harder. When they got in my face, I moved closer into their face. When they yelled, I yelled louder. When they threatened me, I said they could take the first shot.

Yes, I have already been told I was insane. But I was also learning about these kids. I learned to live in their world. I spoke their language. I was consistent in my response. Thanks to tons of guidance and support that I never received before, I knew when to stand firm and when to bend. Most of all, I realized that I never saw skin colors, my “whiteness” never became an issue, and we tackled issues of prejudice and racial bigotry without hesitation.

In the end, I had boys of Hispanic and Black American descent hugging me. These kids have so few male role models in their lives, and they taught me to be what they needed. The girls, a far tougher group than the boys, also did the same. One girl who had only used four-letter words when talking to me up until a few weeks ago was smiling at me the last few days and she hugged me good-bye.

One might say that we came a long way together but it would be a disservice to the young ladies and gentlemen. They took me much further than I took them. My hope is that we can all take the lessons we learned and apply them through the remainders of our lives.

As for me, I have been honored by being given a 5th Grade class next year … with the hope that I can follow them through the next four years to their graduation from 8th Grade. As God is my witness, I will not forget to thank them for how far they will take me during the next four years.

For any of you that refuse to believe God has a plan for each of us, read my story again. God has put me where He wants me to be and given me more happiness than I deserve.

Vaya con dios, my friends. And please bury No Child Left Behind so we can really start to teach children again rather than “teaching to the test.” 

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5 Responses to “Teacher Reflection on the End of the Year”

  1. Nelly Says:

    Congratulations!

  2. Donna Says:

    What a well-written reflection on the year you have had! I loved reading it and am so thrilled that you have found the school that both you need and that needs you – and that supports you. If only such perfect matches were made more often, if only more educators were dedicated and driven as are you, we would not see the achievement gap that drives us to go further each day than ever we did in any other profession. Education as a whole and children in particular are lucky to have you, teacher!

    Donna

  3. bluboo Says:

    Dear Nelly and Donna,

    Many thanks …

    I hope my readers will understand that my desire is to be as dedicated as my dear friend Donna. Donna has the heart of a lion and the compassion of an angel. There have been few souls on this Earth so kind and gentle … and so perfectly suited to teaching.

    Donna, we need more teachers like you.

    Bluboo

  4. Tim Says:

    A very well-written and inspiring essay. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all.

    Congratulations on finally getting through eighth grade.

    -Tim

  5. bluboo Says:

    Hey Tim …

    It was a lot easier the second time around … and after 37 years. Love to you and the family.

    Blu


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