My 18th year of teaching is ending. Our desks are empty and stacked against the wall, my bookshelves are covered with butcher paper, and I have 5 mere hours to entertain my almost-sixth graders before we say our goodbyes.
I’ve spent days sorting and organizing thousands of digital photos to prepare for my traditional end of the year photo slideshow. It’s very time consuming but worth it to watch my students’ faces as they notice their incredible growth and change over our ten months together. It is also a great chance for me to look back and learn lessons from another year in the classroom.
As I reflect, I realize that this has been a particularly challenging year. We grieved for incarcerated parents, ill siblings, and lost pets and grandparents. We lost one of our own. With that loss, my students taught me how to grieve with grace.
The most career-altering change this year is on-going. The #RedforEd movement taught me much about messaging, mobilizing, and organizing. As a teaching profession, we realized that no one was going to save us – we are the ones we’ve been waiting for and we will wait no longer and let our students and schools suffer. I felt unprecedented community bonding as we made posters and decorated car windows and later passed out petition forms together. Weekly walks-ins and long days and nights spent at the Capital led to school-wide team bonding across grade levels and content areas. We joked that it was the best professional development we’d ever had but there was truth in that statement. Watching my colleagues learn about policy and politics and become empowered to act was an unforgettable experience. I’ll never forget the pride I felt in taking my daughter to the Capital to have a civics lesson firsthand.
School shootings colored every experience this year. As I write this, news of yet another shooting filters into my happy little classroom bubble. Every drill, every helicopter flyover, every loud, unexpected noise brought ugly, terrifying images into my mind. In a year where it was more dangerous to be a child at school than a servicemember, I sobbed showing my own daughter the safest area to hide in her classroom, then had to put on my “teacher face” to professionally remind my students of the safest space in our classroom without scaring them. This year I learned to keep my door locked all the time, propped open by a magnet in the door jamb that could be removed in a heartbeat during a lockdown situation. This year I wondered many times if I would be brave enough to do whatever it took to protect my students. This year every mood and decision was affected by that fear.
I was not always the teacher my students needed or deserved. But I know that every morning I woke up resolving to do my best to be there for them. Even when I failed, I woke up again the next day ready to do my best again.
As always, with challenge comes growth. There were quite a few standout moments this year:
My most challenging “tough-guy” kid, begging me for meditation time during our Mindful Monday, when I forgot.
During a book talk, one student held all the others spellbound as she read aloud to us. I’d never heard this class so quiet. When she finished, they begged me to buy a class set of the book so we could read it together (The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry if you’re looking for a good YA read).
Watching one of my fifth graders sing his heart out to one of my favorite songs “Think Positive” every night on stage as Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Our school-wide human tunnel welcoming our kids back to school at the end of the walk-outs.
As I’m writing this, a 4th grader pops her head into my classroom and says, “Mrs. Maloney! I found out you’re my teacher next year! I’m excited, ‘cause I heard you’re fun, but I’m a little scared, ‘cause I heard you’re strict!” I reassure her that I’m mostly fun and only a little strict and tell her to rest up this summer for a big year ahead.
Despite the challenges and fear that colored this difficult year, I realize I’m really looking forward to year 19. After all, I did learn to “think positive.”