Pushy Toads, Sand, and Empty Chairs and Empty Tables — Ruminating About Day 180

Who Can Be King of the Toad Hill?

June 21, 2010.   Day 180.  The last day of school started as many of my mornings on the other 179 days do.  Arrive between 6:40 a.m. to 6:45 a.m., talk to my Buddy for a little bit, and then head upstairs to Room 305B.  But on this day, it was different, because it was the last day of this school year.  The last day is always really unsettled for me–everyone in the room knows that there is soon to be a change.  On this morning, it seemed like our Eastern Spadefoot Toads felt it as well.  When I went over to their tank, it seemed like I saw some behaviors that I hadn’t witnessed before.  There was some “pushing” going on, and it looked like they were jockeying on who would be the King of the Toad Hill.  I stopped and thought about what my husband said about them, “soon they won’t have their tank cover opened and crickets and fruit flies dropped in.”  They will be heading back to Sandy Neck Beach at the beginning of next week and I started to wonder how they would fare in the real world.   Would they be able to find food on their own?  Would they survive the rough and  tumble world?  I felt far more confident about my fourth graders becoming fifth graders with their upcoming transition.

The students finally arrived and we set off to work on our robots for the Second Annual Great Thoreau Robot Race, saving digital farm projects to a server folder, and flattening our ball chairs.  After our race (congrats to EC 18 and EC17 for winning!), we did one last fractions lesson.  During snack, I showed the student “The River and Me” (I need to upload this still).  They asked to see the movie I had made them last week, so we watched it again.  Several of the other adults in the room had a running bet when I would fall apart.  So far, so good for me.  I then showed the movie we had made “Project K”.  This touching movie was made for a child in the class who is moving in several weeks.  Seeing what her classmates said about her touched her to no end.  The goodbyes were heartfelt and wonderful. Watching her wipe her eyes, I brought her over a copy of the movie, and several other presents to remember us.  Still no tears for me, I had to be the adult and be there for my students.  Since four of our original Kiva loans had been paid back, we reinvested in four more micro-loans.

Our Sands Combined to Make a Beautiful Beach!Next it was time to create our class “beach”.  At the beginning of the year, each child received a sample of sand from me.  It was now time to take each child’s sample and create a beautiful sand jar.  Each sand represented the individuality of the student, but together it represented the class.  I told the class how quickly they had become a “beach” in my mind.   I talked to them about how many wonderful things they had accomplished this year.  Yesterday, I spent time in the aisles of Roche Brothers searching for the perfect jar that would represent this year.  After seeing the jar filling up, it was just the perfect jar for this group of students.  Our finishing activity was to read “The Seeker of Knowledge”, a book that I had read to them on the first day of school.  The underlying message was to always believe in themselves,  to not give up, and to always have the spirit of discovery and imagination.  With that, we played our math game for one last time and headed down to the buses.  A friend calls this “Wave Day” as after the students get on the buses, all the staff lines the sidewalks and waves the students off.  After hugging each child, I joined my colleagues in waving the students off.  Still no tears, but I was certainly feeling melancholy as I headed back to my student-less classroom.

Empty Chairs and Empty Tables

Declining an invitation to go out to lunch, I decided to work on paperwork as I was not mentally prepared to pack up this year yet.  I quietly set to work on progress reports, getting them done in record time.    The room felt empty, lifeless as I kept on plugging away on the paperwork needed to be done at this time of year.  Finally at the end of the day, I decided to do a little cleaning and putting away of materials.  Feeling like a limp dish towel, I decided to leave around 4:45 and tackle the rest of the room another day.  Turning off the lights, I locked the door, and closed the door on another school year.

And for the record, I made it until 5:00 p.m. before crying.

The Inner Biologist and The Art of Letting Go

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a science nerd.  It all started in fifth grade when I received a microscope for the holidays.  I spent hours looking at amoebas, paramecium, and water fleas.  My Studies of River Water won first place in the Hudson Public Library’s Hobby Fair.  Fast forward 40 years.  My fourth grade classroom has become a really “alive” classroom.  First came the salamander eggs, then came the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles.  Watching how excited my students have become brought me back to those days when I spent hours looking at my river creatures and doing detailed diagrams.   Some students will spend as much time as they can just observing.  They will call me over or come excitedly over to share an observation or a thought.  Give them a digital camera and they go to work, creating videos of the ever-changing tadpoles.  The students chatter to one another — “look at that one, I wonder what happened to its tail?”  I find myself drawn to their conversations, to observing the tadpoles and salamanders with them.  Yesterday, we had Dr. Windmiller visit us to discuss the Eastern Spadefoot Toad and Spotted Salamanders.  When he asked why did we have the tadpoles, one student replied “to jumpstart them.”  It was great to have a professional biologist in the room, acknowledging the efforts of the students in saving these tadpoles from what would have been a sure death.  One student observed that the spotted salamanders were kind of boring.  “You might think they are boring, but in reality they are being pretty smart.  By lying still, they are not allowing predators to want to eat them because they think they are dead.”

Day 14 of the Eastern Spadefoot Toad tadpoles arrived.  After completing day one of MCAS Math, the students sat down to work on their comparison essays, comparing the Spotted Salamanders and the Eastern Spadefoot Toads.  One of my students, who is just fascinated by both creatures, asked if she could write one paragraph comparing in-class observations of both species.  “Sure” I told her as she took out her journals and headed back to the salamander tank.  Patiently she sat there, looking at the tank, taking it all in.  I went over and stood in back of her, looking at our “boring” salamander larvae.  Suddenly, one of the little salamanders excitedly swam in a spiral, up to the top of the water.  My student was so excited and I was pleased to share in her excitement at the salamander’s swim.  I thought of my students and how during this school year, they have grown and evolved into learners who are excited to learn.  They are always “swimming” towards bigger things, and like the salamander, not going in a straight line, but down much more interesting paths.

This afternoon, while the students were in gym, I began separating out 40 tadpoles that we would raise to toadlets, while the rest of the tadpoles would be brought back to Dr. Windmiller, who would be taking them back to Sandy Neck to be released.  Even though intellectually I knew that this was going to happen, I still couldn’t help but compare it to the end of the school year.  I knew we would only have the majority of the tadpoles for two to three weeks, just like in September, we know we only have these students for 180 days.  Just like the tadpoles were being released back to their natural environment, my students would also soon be released to fifth grade.  I dislike the process of placement, of giving away your students.  You hope they will continue to flourish as students and as people, just like the salamanders and the tadpoles have been doing in our room.  There is a lot of growth happening in Room 305B, both physically and emotionally.   One of the many positives about being a teacher is raising these students, from basically third graders when I get them in September to tadpoles with both sets of legs in June who are self sufficient.  When I brought the tadpoles back to Dr. Windmiiler’s porch, I carefully placed them into the cooler.  Once the last one was in the cooler, I took one last look at my happy and prospering tadpoles, I got back in my car, and drove home.   One of the good things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.  But, one of the bad things about being a teacher is that you get a new set of tadpoles every year.