Saturday, February 27, 2010

Au revoir, les enfants terribles

There were days when I thought the end would never come, but it finally has: my time with the sixth graders is officially over. No, Mr. Burnout will not be in on Monday, but the school doesn't feel that they have enough money to continue to pay me and Mr. Burnout's salary, so the students will be spending some time with the school directors, in other classrooms, etc. Mr. Burnout claims that he will really, definitely, almost 100% certainly be back the following Monday.

We ended on a positive note, which I was glad about. The students even asked if I would consider coming in next week and joining them for a field trip. I thought about it, then said, “You know, for a lot of the time I've been with you, you haven't treated me very respectfully or very kindly. If I decided to use my free time next week to come in and go on a field trip with you, do you think you would treat me respectfully and kindly?” “Maybe,” they answered honestly. So I told them that I didn't think I would choose to spend my time in that way. Then they told me, again very honestly, that they like aspects of my personality, and don't like other aspects – namely, the bossy parts (“like, sometimes when we don't do something you tell us to do you keep saying it and then you YELL at us.” The horror!) They mentioned that they feel exactly the same way about Mr. Burnout.

Anyway, it was a very honest talk, and I sincerely hope that they heard some small part of what I said to them. Here are a few memories of our time together......

…...The morning meeting when Caitlin told us about a dream she had the night before in which we all went out for ice cream together. “Was I there too?” I asked, and was surprised by how secretly pleased I felt when she said yes. She told us exactly what we all ordered, and even though in real life I hate vanilla ice cream, for a brief moment we felt like a community.

…...The times when, when I least expected it, they would suddenly become very engaged in what we were doing. One moment they would appear to not be paying any attention to my read-aloud, the next they would be asking insightful questions and telling me what they would do if they were in the main character's shoes. With the same amazing rapidity, they would disengage and leave the room without telling me where they were going or put on a song and pump up the volume as I put down the book exasperatedly.

......The evening I received an e-mail from Ashley entitled "Fw: U Rock!!!" that contained instructions to "only send to your closest friends, the ones you care about most, to remind them how important they are to you." Who else did she send it to? The other kids in the class, some people I don't know, her dad, and the Spanish teacher.

......The morning when Lizzie came in with two whole pages written about what she wanted her life to be like as an adult, even though I had only assigned them to think about it for homework. Her husband, she decided, was the owner of a Caribbean restaurant called Rice 'n Peas. That night, I got an e-mail from her mom telling me that they had a long talk about what long hours restaurant owners work, and she decided she didn't want that life for herself after all. He magically transformed into a film director.

…...The afternoon when I was sitting next to Caitlin on the couch and she leaned over, touched my shoulder and kindly informed me that my shirt was tucked into my underpants.

…...The many moments when I would catch a fleeting glimpse of their faces when they didn't realize I was looking, and spot the deep uncertainty and self-doubt in their eyes. Then they would sense my gaze and quickly rearrange a mask of tweenage attitude over their features.

When Mr. Burnout told me yesterday that he was planning to request one more week off, a wave of horror swept over me. But today, I felt a teeny-tiny pang of regret when I learned of the alternative arrangements. I feel certain that it's for the best. I have a new job that I am really excited about, coordinating an afterschool tutoring program at an amazing school; I already started it this week, and doing both jobs has been exhausting. However, I have to admit that despite all their flaws, I will miss the little monsters just a little bit.

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