That’s what I’m allotted to describe the learners in my care, three times over under Language Arts, Math, and Unit Studies. Somehow, in that limited arena, I have to carefully illustrate how well I know these precious people. How well I understand their strengths and areas for growth, their obstacles and victories. In the span of a school year, they’ve anchored their place in my heart. How can I possibly convey the nuances that I understand in the small box granted to me?
In the 182 days that comprise a school year, I learn to watch their body language, how they enter a room, how they answer a question, how they sit when working. It becomes an instamatic evaluation: she’s had a rough morning, and needs some lead way; he needs to be reigned in before he spirals; she needs a hug; he needs to laugh. They all just need free time/extra support/a challenge. Sometimes the knowing is so instant, it feels as if I have developed psychic powers, other times I agonize over evidence to sort out where a child is, what they need in order to thrive.
I’ve lost sleep on more evenings than I care to recount; school time insomnia is my diagnosis. My mind reels with questions: how did that lesson go? Why did he/she struggle so much over that question? Are they getting what they need? What should I do differently? I dream about lessons, wake up to jot down ideas or gather resources to make it all happen. My learners become a plague to any other line of thought.
I study the evidence of their learning, determine plans for next steps, and consult with others when I am at a loss. I see their struggles as my struggles, their obstacles as a personal challenge. Their successes become a point to celebrate, with me walking through the halls wanting to tell anyone who will listen: THEY GOT IT! He gets the pattern! She spoke out loud! He doesn’t cry through lessons anymore!
They take over my life so much that I find myself picking up books thrown out on the sidewalk because so and so will enjoy this, or talking about such-and-such when on dinner dates. I enter the realm of the dreaded one-track mind where my learners are concerned.
This is what we do, we teachers. The children become our lives. People say it is a thankless job, one of giving and not receiving. I couldn’t disagree more.
As a teacher, I have the opportunity to constantly stretch and grow. I’ve learned about my weaknesses and my powers. Discovered myself as a Mama Bear advocate more times than I care to count, finding a voice and conviction that far outweighs any power I imagined I contained.
I’ve learned about things I never knew to even ask about, because I didn’t know it was a thing. I’ve had guest speakers who exposed me to new worlds, field trips that stretched my experiences, and children who introduced opportunities for learning because I needed to know how best to serve them. Children, in their extreme honesty, have given me fashion tips, character recommendations, and teaching feedback so brutally honest I had no choice but to find ways to improve. They constantly demand that I chisel away at who I currently am so that I might uncover my better self.
1,0000 characters to capture all that. Over 16 years, 1,000 characters allotted under three subjects, twice a year, for the 887 students who have been under my charge. For those of you like me who see everything as a potential math problem, how many character has Ms. Threlfall--- I’ll stop myself. That’s 42,576,000 characters.
And I just wrote the last of mine.
I am entering into a new phase of my career, stepping out of the classroom so that I might serve education in a different way while also having more energy available for a laundry list of important things, not the least of which is my very own learner- the one who, not as a student-to-teacher endearment, but through birthright, calls me Mama.
It’s often the duality of truth that makes transitions so electric, charged with emotions, and this is no exception. While I am thrilled about this new step, and see my opportunity to have an impact expanding, I am also feeling deeply emotional about this transition. And so it was with great pause and procrastination that I wrote my last sentences in the last report card, to arrive at the last 1,000 words I will write under the title of Classroom Teacher.
That sentence says it all…
She consistently demonstrates the attributes of a global citizen; I look forward to seeing how she will make the world a better place. I know I am a better person through serving as her teacher.
Erin Michelle Threlfall
Theatre Artist, Activist, and Educator, Erin is the mother of a budding genius in his 9th year of study. Erin and her little man, Edem, have a plan to investigate world theatre and influence education one continent at a time. Ghana, South Korea, Togo and Bali have been checked off the list of places to live; these days they call Brooklyn, NY home.