“No more pencils! No more books! No more teacher’s dirty looks!” This is the first thing I thought of when I was asked to write an article from a teacher’s perspective about the end of the school year for The Full Moxie. And then I thought, “No more students’ dirty looks, either!” Nah! I am kidding! First graders don’t give dirty looks. Well, not that many of them anyway …
As a teacher, there are a few times of the year that are insane; the beginning, parent conferences, open house and yes, the END of the school year. The last few weeks of the school year are CRAZY! You are testing, grading, awarding, rewarding, planning, finishing, gifting, packing, cleaning, organizing and “goodbye-ing.” And, ironically, the more stress we have, the less stress the students have. (This can prove to be very annoying sometimes!) They have finished testing and for them, each ring of the bell signifies one step closer to freedom. All the while, we teachers are thinking, “OH MY GAWD! How on earth am I going to finish everything?” Somehow we do, and the trick is finding a way to make it special for the kids while we keep our sanity. We also try not to keep a countdown on the board of how many days until summer, but trust me — we all have our countdown somewhere.
One of the traditions I started my very first year I have continued to this day. I write each of my students a letter telling them what I am most proud of them for, what I want them to work on, what I loved about them, what made me smile and what to expect from second grade. I include it in a memory book filled with little art projects and photographs of special days. Each year I think, “I do NOT have time to do this!” and then I take a deep breath and remember the many emails and notes and thank-yous I have gotten from parents over the years telling me that it was the nicest thing they have ever received from a teacher. Here’s the thing — all year long I receive letters, notes, gifts (big and small), baked goodies and yes, even apples, now and then. I am so fortunate to work in a community of families that supports me, helps me and is generous with their time, resources and talents. I love knowing that I can give them a gift with a lasting memory of their child during that one snapshot in time.
My first year of teaching — 19 years ago — I cried as I said goodbye to each of my students! (Those that know me will not be shocked by this.) I was young! I was energetic! I was sure I would never have a class as special as that one! Well, now, I am a bit older. I have a little less energy and I don’t cry on the last day of school. I am wise enough to know that every year is full of special students. I will tell you this: There are always, always kids who touch my heart. It is not always the child you would guess either. Many times it is the one who gave you the most trouble all year, but that still gives you a hug and says you were the best teacher they EVER had. (Yes, I do realize as a first grade teacher that they have only had ONE other teacher, but STILL! It is nice to hear.)
Teaching is not an easy job. No one should really do it because of the summer vacation (although, I will admit, summer vacation is very nice). The bottom line is, you have to LIKE kids. You have to WANT them to succeed, and you have to work HARD. Most days, the smiles of those kiddos make all of that worth it. Some days the promise of a glass of wine at home is what gets you through and some mornings racing to the nearest Starbucks and remembering you still have 12 Starbucks gift cards you received from students gives you the burst of energy you need to start the day with a smile.
I remember one day this last spring when, on the way to school, I got a text from a friend asking, “What does your day look like today?” I jokingly answered, “Oh, I don’t know. I will probably just be busy inspiring children.” You know what? Maybe that wasn’t a joke after all.
Maria Olivas has been a first grade teacher in Clovis for 19 years. She is a Fresno native whose greatest pride is being the mom of a precocious 8-year-old daughter.
[featured image via everyday celebrating]