Saturday, June 11, 2011


(Before I begin, I will acknowledge that I have not written since March, and a lot has changed since then. Hopefully, this entry will put what little closure I can on the year)

Today was the last day of school. It was a chaotic day of yearbook signing, rated G movies, and tearful hugs in the hallways.

After lunch I wandered out to the back of the school, where our 7th and 8th grade wannabe teenagers were playing frisbee and four square and lightning by the playground. I smiled at the girls in their flowery skirts, huddled together self-consciously, and the boys, hauling too-heavy nets out to the field to play lacrosse. I felt reflective and nostalgic, wondering how these students might behave when they are suddenly full-blown teenagers…angsty, confident, rebellious.

I watched as some awkward 7th grade boys spun each other in this strange metal contraption shaped like a cage. In all honesty, this playground toy looks a bit like a medieval torture device. The students enter this metal egg, stand on a small one foot wide square, grasp ahold of the bars, and then are whipped around by their friends at an uncomfortable angle. My teacher friend, Jessica, has confessed that she has nightmares of students being whipped around too quickly and clanking their heads against the steel.

I suddenly really wanted to be spun. I asked Jessica if she would spin me, and then we were running to the playground, using our teacher power to kick the 7th grade boys off. I stepped inside and grabbed the bars.

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One of my students took over and began spinning me. I watched as students began to crowd around to watch their Language Arts teacher be spun into misery, but they were all just an incoherent blur as I whipped around faster, and faster, and faster. I screamed out “Stop!” but he only pushed me faster. One of my feet lost balance and my heart dropped, afraid I might plummet to a dizzy death if I toppled over.

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When the spinning finally stopped, my eyes couldn’t focus, I tumbled out of the contraption and began running, after the students insisted I do so, at a strange diagonal toward the swings. It took a moment to recover, feeling as if I’d just gone on a three day drinking binge. I took deep breaths and squinted my eyes until I could see straight. I still felt woozy and uncomfortable even minutes later.

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But I was happy I did it.

I was thinking as I drove home tonight, how this whole year I’ve been just spinning in a little steel cage, reeling, watching the classes and the days and the months roll by like one streaky blur of color and noise. I’ve stuck my foot out before, trying to feel the air, understand what is happening, but only to be quickly whipped around back to the center of gravity and chaos. And now, here I am, on the last day of school, climbing out of this cage and running at an awkward angle, wondering to myself, “What just happened?”

Last Thursday I accepted a position at a new school. It is across the river, where I student taught and currently coach. I put in my letter of resignation on Friday. I told my students on Monday.

I could not have predicted the reaction I received when I told my students I would not be teaching at their school anymore. While I did expect some students to be sad, many students felt like I had betrayed them. “Why?” they kept asking me, “Why do you have to leave?” The 8th grade girls battled their way through the lunch hallway monitors just to ask, “Is it true? Are you really leaving us?” The students felt I was really abandoning them, not just my job.

There was an enormous outpour of love, in the form of poems, letters, and artwork all week. One student who kept me on my toes all year with his 8th-grade-boy-bravado and attitude, said to me in the hallway, “I heard you were leaving, that makes me really sad. You were my favorite teacher, and I’m sad that my sister won’t get to have you now.” Another student created a poster of all my favorite things, including diet Coke and some of the books we read this year. Today at the end of the year talent show, a 7th grade girl sang “The Call” by Regina Spektor, a song that I absolutely love from The Chronicles of Narnia. Halfway through the song she stopped, and said, “This song is dedicated to Ms. Baird. We are so sad that she is leaving.”

In the end, I can’t really articulate all that happened this year. I feel like I have grown five years in just ten months. I was telling coworkers a funny story about my six- person college house experiences, and I suddenly realized that was only last year. Students were writing and telling me things today that I thought I might one day, after many years of teaching, hear from students. How did I come so far in such little time?

The fact is, as teachers, we are making an impact. It is the cheesiest line out of the book of teacher clich├ęs, but we really do make a difference. We bust our asses every day to come up with innovative lessons, to connect with students, to capture and inspire and motivate, and if we put ourselves whole-heartedly into our jobs, we can do just that.

In all honesty, I loved and hated this year almost equally. The students challenged me every day. I struggled to find a balance in my life when I was so overwhelmed with my job. There were issues and problems and frustrations that don’t need to be typed here, because what it comes down to is the fact that I figured out who I am through this entire experience.

What I know is that I am a teacher. I can’t be anything else because it is who I am. I know that I want to connect with students. I know that I want to make students think and wonder and question the world. I know that I want to be silly and wild and irrelevant with students. I know that I want to make students better writers. I know that I want to make students better versions of themselves. I want my students to make me a better version of me.

I don’t know if switching schools was the right decision but I do know that it is not the wrong decision. I hope that I don’t look back in regret. I hope I find rewards in my new job in an equally satisfying, but also very different way.

This was not an easy year, and I don’t think that’s a unique feeling for a first year teacher. Yet, it was difficult in ways other than the typical rookie obstacles. But rather than dwell on those difficulties, I want to take a moment to be grateful for what this year has given me.

I met some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I met teachers who really love their jobs, and who want to become better at their jobs every day. I met adults who crave knowledge and enjoy relishing and sharing knowledge with each other.

I met my friend, Jessica, who made me feel welcome at my job from the very beginning. In her third year she was experienced enough to be wise about teaching, and offer thoughtful guidance and advice, yet she was also humble enough to trudge through the trenches with me, to sit and piece together the “what-the-heck-happened?” moments of our days. I became a reflective person because of her. She digests everything she sees and experiences whole heartedly, then she peels back all the layers of it and questions it. I’ve never met anyone so thoughtful and open. I needed her every day this year. She was the breath of reality.

I figured out how to actually run a classroom. I learned how to hold students to my expectations, how to raise the bar, how and when to lower that bar when necessary. I learned what my breaking point was. I saw myself as the teacher I did not want to be, like the day I made my 7th hour sign a contract that they would “raise their hand” and “not interrupt the teacher” simply out of sheer frustration and desperation for control. Then I used that experience to define and project the teacher I wanted to be. I hope that, in the end, I was just me, the person the hiring committee saw and believed in when I interviewed back in June, last year.

So all in all, I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I feel exhausted. I am seeing this switch to a new school as a continuation of my growth as a teacher, as an opportunity to truly become the teacher I want to be in an environment that (hopefully) won’t restrict it. But I am also viewing my past year as one I will always remember, and hold in a place of high esteem.

Here is what I know:

Kids are amazing. People are inspiring. I am always growing.

Mark was in good hands all year.

All year Jessica and my students were obsessed with the idea that we were actually friends in real life. I think their image of our friendship was solidified after they witnessed us giggling loudly, taking pictures of ourselves on a webcam from the back of the room, while they watched this movie.

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Jess took a ride on the spinny thing. You can see how happy it makes our kids to see us with absolutely no control.

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My kids graffitied my white board with threats to my new students...

Middle school kids really do have a way of making you feel loved and appreciated.

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Stay tuned for my next blog....
"8th Grade Adventures in Washington D.C."