The month of June is like the confluence: the joining of two or more bodies of water. But instead of bodies of water, in my case, it is the joining of two or more bodies of students. And in the event of this particular month, it was the coming together of multiple bodies of students.
First up, was the 22 lively students that I had in front of me every day from 8:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Fifth grade can be a time of great angst and this spring was no exception. The transition to middle school, where for some, Thoreau had been their only academic home for the past six years, can be a frightening one. Just when they have figured out my expectations, their classmates’ personalities, and things like where the bathrooms are located, they are now facing a switch to a new school, where they now face the prospect of not having a “friend” with them (new middle school strategy) to having multiple teachers and multiple locations during the school day. No longer will just one teacher be running after them for missing work, there will be multiple teachers with different demands on them. No longer will there be a tubby to place their belongings, they will face the prospect of moving every 48 minutes and with that move will be their possessions that have to also travel with them. With more blossoming of those lovely hormones, personalities that were sweet for most of the year, became pretty sour in the last weeks of school. It was a time that sometimes it was a struggle to get through the day with all of the chatting, which is a hallmark of middle school behavior.
But amongst the angst, was some great learning going on. How many times can I express that Robotics is the best thing that I teach? In case you haven’t heard me say that before, I will say it again, “Robotics is the best thing that I teach.” Robotics pulls in the best of learning. It blends creativity, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and collaborative work in with whatever curriculum that I decide to mix it with. This year’s theme was Lewis and Clark. Students needed to research the obstacles that Lewis and Clark faced and design a robot that would overcome these obstacles. As one student noted “This is Lewis and Clark meeting the 21st century.” Almost immediately after introducing the project, a lot of the angst disappeared. Students who had a not so positive attitude about robotics at the beginning were asking to stay in for recess to do some programming. Students whose expertise was more in the hands-on area of building robots, became the “go-to” students. Students challenged themselves to accomplish some tricky maneuvers that I personally thought couldn’t be done. Students stuck with difficult challenges. They didn’t throw the towel in when something didn’t work as they wanted it to. By the morning of our demonstration on the second to last day of school, the students were ready. They were dressed for success and calmly got up in front of a room of their parents and other guests to present their robot. The name of this project was “The Journey Project” and it was a fitting name for the journey that many of them had taken throughout the school year as learners. I am very proud of where they traveled through the year to become better writers, better readers, better mathematicians, better scientists, and better social scientists. But most of all, they had become better people. I am M.A.D. will go down as the hallmark of this year’s group.
Second group of students up: the graduating class of 2013. For the past five years, the Thoreau School faculty has hosted the graduating seniors. Most have gone onto Concord-Carlisle High School, but others have moved, and others have gone onto private schools in the area. It is always fun to see what your old 4th or 5th graders have turned into as young adults and what the next chapter of their life holds for them. For me, I had this group as 4th graders when we had just moved into swing space at the old Alcott School. By the end of the year, I had only ended up with 15 of them. While 15 is the typical number of students at a private school, it is a little small at the public school level. And this 15 could be a little on the difficult side. So, I was eagerly awaiting their arrival in the Thoreau School Library to see how they have morphed into young adults. Right before the end of the day, one of my current students, whose brother was among those graduating seniors, mentioned that his family would be hosting a student who attended Thoreau but had moved in 4th grade. That student was one that I had, Nick, and he had moved in the middle of the school year to Colorado. I think I had originally heard a bit about him, but had heard nothing for years. Max told me he was coming for the graduation and I was disappointed that he wouldn’t be here for the reunion of Thoreau Alum.
When this group of students arrive though, they are no longer the 4th graders they were when I had them. A few looked identical to back in 4th grade but were taller and resembled an adult version of their 4th grade self. However, most of them needed a name tag because they were really morphed. One handsome young man walked over to me and said “Mrs. Erickson?” On his name tag was “Nick”. It was my old Nick. I had misunderstood Max, he was there for the graduation, but also for the rest of senior week. It had been 8 years since I had last seen or heard of Nick. And there he was standing in front of me, reaching into his backpack and pulling out a scrapbook. He went on to tell me that this scrapbook, which the class had made for him when he moved, meant the world to him. It kept him up during some really down moments. I have to be honest, I didn’t remember doing this. A seemingly simple measure, have the students write him a note, and put it together in a scrapbook, had meant the world to this student. The fact that he dragged it across the country to show me, meant the world to me. No matter how tough the day, the month, the year had been, disappeared in this realization that as teachers, we have an incredible impact on a child’s life. I am a teacher. That’s what I do and that’s what I love doing. The difference this made in Nick’s life made a profound impact on my life. This made my day, my week, my month, and my year.
Group Three: From time to time, there is a group of students that stay connected to me. The first group just finished their sophomore year in college. The next group, was my “replacement” group for that group of girls and they just finished their freshman year in high school. These five girls were really tight as 4th graders when I had them as students. In 5th grade, they use to come see me on occasion for lunch. In 6th grade, when the group was split into two different schools, they started to drift apart a bit, but would still come by after school for “tea”. I could always count on Rose baking something pretty sophisticated for her age, and I could also count on the gang of them being pretty silly. Sometimes almost too silly! But year after year in middle school, some of them still wanted to come by. I would enjoy hearing their stories about this student and that student, about their Bat Mitzvahs and siblings, and about their summer plans. Slowly, there were growing up and the silliness started to subside. So, Larissa had written to me in the spring and asked about getting together in June. Rose, who had moved onto a private school, would be out of school early and could come during the second week of June. So we selected a date and got it on the calendar. They arrived after school. A few of them tower over their former teacher now, but otherwise, they all are the same kind and neat kids they were when I had them in 4th grade. Both Rose and Katherine backed something for this “tea”. It was great catching up with them. What I always admired about this group was that they are happy in their own skin. They are who they want to be. Five years later, they all have very different interests. It was great hearing about their activities and their summer plans. They are morphing into young adults and I am really looking forward to following them on their path. I left that tea happy to see them and pleased at where they are in the world. I am sure I will write more about them in the years ahead.
Group Four: Past students who are now in middle school: This year, I duplicated Karen Hoyt’s having former students who are in 6th grade, come back and speak to my current students about middle school. I admit, I only originally invited four 6th graders and two 8th graders. The two 8th graders were two of my finest male students and I thought they could offer a “big middle school picture” to the 5th graders. When I had these two boys as 4th graders, I knew they would grow up to be fine leaders, and I have been correct on that assumption. Their two sisters, who I had for 2 years, were also going to come, along with another girl who was going to ask two boys. However, Karen asks back her entire former class and when word got out, suddenly, I had e-mails from other students asking if they could come. At this point, it was easier to say yes than no, and that proved to be a good decision. They were to meet us at 2:30 in the auditorium where we were doing robotics. Thunder rumbled overhead as the middle schoolers filed in, completely drenched. And it was quite a line up of students! There was one that I was worried about, but have seen several times publicizing his own lawn business, which is an awesome thing! They spoke extremely respectfully to my current students. answering their questions honestly and humorously. After 35 minutes, we needed to end, but I was very proud of this bunch of students. I look forward to “tracking” them in the future as I know they will be doing great things.
Group Five: SuAsCo River Schools Network: After about five years of brainstorming on how to make this happen, on Monday, June 10th, after school, about 10 of my current students welcomed about 13 students from Lowell to officially kick off the SuAsCo River Schools Network. A total of 23 students, ranging from 5th graders to college students got together to discuss the importance of studying and preserving our rivers. As one student from Lowell said, “I like studying about rivers because it shows us how we are all connected.” Watching the students analyze water samples from around the watershed to exploring the Thoreau School River Trail was an awesome moment to showing how students from different areas and backgrounds could be connected over a common thing: in this case, the rivers. I look forward to growing this program over the next year.
And finally Group Six: I don’t really know this group of students. Currently, they only exist as names on my class list for the upcoming school year. We start receiving this list early in June and it is tweaked until we receive our “final” (in that students always move in during the summer) list on the last day of school. It can be a confusing time, looking at the future, while dealing with the present, and having the past all involved at the same time. Yet, I find myself already thinking about the possibilities for the next year. How will I do things differently with this group? What are they like as learners? What inspires them? What will they grab onto? Those questions will continue to be asked up to day 180 of the 2013- 2014 school year.
A blur. A confluence of students past, present, and future. Students who are MAD. Students who have morphed into wonderful young adults. Students who want to help the environment. Students on a list. A blur.