Year Six: Leaving Loose Ends Untied

Through the eyes of my students.

At the end of the school year or of the quarter, wrapping up my time with each group of students, I always feel the same pressure: not enough time. Along with the anxious countdowns to summer vacations and sleeping in and having a personal life, I always wish I had more time. Students finishing projects or presentations without the chance to present them. Graded work that goes in the recycling bin after grades are submitted. Students that have struggled all year, and who suddenly have a light bulb go off in their brain sometime in June, just as productivity dissolves into field trips, class parties, award ceremonies, and absences. Language use blossomed at the eleventh hour: students making Spanish puns, or understanding Spanish puns and begging me to stop, students having entire conversations in Spanish, interviewing each other in Spanish, and then suddenly it’s the last day of school, and… ya está.

On the last day of school, there were lots of hugs and lots of crying, especially from graduating 8th graders. This year the end of the school year was particular emotional for me, as well. My husband and I have been toying with the idea of an out of state move all year, and in the final weeks of school I was using the time difference to my advantage, scheduling phone interviews with West Coast schools after my own school day had finished.

Remote interviews are pretty exciting. Hypothetically you could outline your professional qualifications over the phone while in a bathrobe, or via Skype in pajama pants and a blazer. (I’m not admitting that I did that, of course. But who would even know, right?) Sometimes high tech online video conference rooms malfunction, and your video flips upside down while you are describing how adept you are at integrating technology into your lessons. And sometimes you set up a phone interview for the last day of school, after emotional goodbyes to students and sharing funny and touching memories with staff over beers. This already might not be ideal, but then the sky might open up, spitting lightning and thunder, and dumping down buckets of rain right when you are trying to find a quiet parking lot for the interview.


Rain.

So for that phone interview, with a panel of teachers and administrators in San Diego, I ended up at the side of the road just around the corner from my school, on a somewhat abandoned Detroit street, with the rain so heavy I couldn’t even see through my windshield wipers. The interview was bilingual, and as I navigated the Spanish part of the interview, I could barely hear myself over the thunder and the screams of sirens going by. I don’t remember anything I said. I remember someone saying su accento es muy hermoso and that they would let me know by the end of the week, and when I didn’t hear anything back I moved them from the follow up list to the reject list, and moved on.

I got a job offer in East Palo Alto. It felt like the right decision, and we began setting plans in motion to move across the country in two weeks. Then the San Diego school offered me a job after all – despite the rain and the thunder and the sirens – and I accepted that position instead. We will be moving to San Diego in a month, where I will be teaching 3rd-8th grade Spanish.

Now I’ve said my goodbyes to my school in Detroit, particularly sad because this is the end of the Spanish program at the school. Spanish is not really part of Michigan’s priorities right now. It’s not on the Almighty Tests. The Almighty Tests, however, are increasingly digitized, so they will replace me with a full-time technology teacher. Seeing the progress my students have made in Spanish over the past two years, it’s hard to know that they will have to wait for high school for any more language instruction.

I feel good about the work I did in these past two years, at this school. Now, in my sixth year of teaching, I am finding my stride. There was so much this year that I think worked. (I wrote about some of it here.) I have loved this school so much. The closeness of the admin, teachers, parents, and students as a real community is something that I know is rare. However, something needed to change for me personally. Last year was rocky, and this year was even rockier. I think it’s safe to say that living an hour away from school was the main culprit, especially at the end of the year when construction stretched my commutes home into two or even three hours. After hours inching across hot pavement, or hours spent waiting out the traffic in my office or in a coffee shop, I came home and crawled into bed. There wasn’t time to be anything but a teacher.

What I do all day.

A lack of a personal life sometimes takes a few years to catch up to you. Your students are worth it. You have a career to be passionate about. It’s not just a job. But… it’s a job. It’s easy to forget that sometimes – teaching is one role among other roles. Your body, your mental health, your friendships, and your relationships will all fall apart if you neglect them long enough.

So am I sacrificing my current school’s Spanish program for my own sanity? Maybe. I might be a better teacher without the commute and the extended depressive period that was winter in Michigan this year.

I can only hope that the wonderful students I have worked with for the past few years will hang on to the bits of language I’ve given them. Maybe when they go to high school they will have the option to take a Spanish class, and remember rapping about themselves in Spanish, teaching lessons to younger students, making worry dolls, learning about the Day of the Dead, and maybe vague and confusing memories of a log that poops out presents.

San Diego

Also, I will be living on the coast again. I can’t wait.

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