June 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye

A friend of mine called this an Irish Goodbye, the kind of leaving where you just sneak away (usually to avoid being dragged back in for one more round:) I am saying goodbye to a place that has been life for nearly a decade.

If you are just reading my blog, you may or may not know I worked in an inner-city school for many years. When I graduated from RISD I said if I was going to work in education I was going to go to an urban district. At RISD I had worked with kids after school in South Providence and bribed them off the streets and into my art classes with prizes and candy. Most of my kids used the free stuff as an excuse to come to my classes, but I know they really came for the art. In our little safe classroom, in the public library, they brought in their film rolls and I developed them. They wrote about their life and took pictures. They let me into their homes and lives through these pictures. We studied famous photographers like Robert Frank and Lewis Hines. They took pictures of their mother under hair dryers while their sisters looked on, their rooms messy and unkept and their dogs protecting their yard from behind steel fences. Sometimes they dressed up and pretended they were someone else, somewhere else, kings, queens, ninjas and they wrote in that voice. My best friend would come to translate their stories and teach them English, patiently one kid at a time while I taught them how to develop their film.  Selfishly I thought I was "making a difference." I did this for two years. Every once in a while, a kid would stop coming and I would see them hanging on the streets with a group of kids way too old and it was like someone kicked me in the stomach.

I never really wanted to be a teacher before that, but because of them,  I decided I would only work in an urban district.

I wanted to feel like I was making a difference, again selfishly.

When I first got to my first assignment, a middle school, in the worst part of the city, I'm sure teachers put money on how many days I'd last. I walked into this middle school that was "between" principals, was given a key to the room and that was it. Literally. The key did not open the supply closet, so I ran to Walmart and bought supplies the night before (I was hired only a few days before the start of the school year). "This is exactly what I signed up for" I thought. Blonde girl in cowboy boots (before they were cool) who hadn't been to a public school in about 10 years was going to "make a difference." I had an angel step in who took me under her wing and I had the privilege of calling her my mentor (thank you Meg!) and she understood me. She let me figure it out without falling too hard. She sat at my kitchen table while I put together my teacher evaluations and went over it all line by line, lesson by lesson, SHE LET ME WATCH HER TEACH and she was amazing! That is huge! For some reason no one lets you watch them teach as a new teacher. She listened to me cry and told me to pick "one kid",  all I needed to do was make a difference to one. One, naturally turned into two, three, and I am forever grateful for her advice. For a solid two years, I came home hardly able to get the energy up to eat, fell asleep whenever I could and got up to do it all over again. No one told me about that part, the pure exhaustion, I never felt anything like that! As I got better, the job got harder, because I was no longer trying to survive, but truly teach and listen. I had a lot of successes little and big throughout the years, but none of those stories seem to matter too much.

There are so many stories I could tell about my 10 years in urban education but I need something to do when I eventually retire;);) Leaving this city is so anti climatic. I could write a story about how I turned lemons into lemonade very easily, but I don't think that would be authentic. I don't think it is any different now then before I came despite tremendous efforts by many.
This is my daughter in my class on a snow day
 (we couldn't make it to her school so she came to mine since we live in walking distance.)
My students and the teachers I work with have become part of my family.
The students helped me tremendously when I was pregnant, never letting me open a door or lift a thing.
The teachers showered me with gifts for the "new baby".
Her babysitters have always been kids in this neighborhood.
Everyone treats her as one of their own and I treat my students  as my own too!
This class in particular had been with me for many years (our population was transient so this means a lot to me.)
I absolutely loved being their teacher and they always begged me to bring Stella to their class.
Now I'm going to cry!

So as I move onto my new position it is bitter sweet. There won't be a goodbye and it really is better that way. Kids don't remember too much and our students are transient and not used to anyone staying in one place for too long anyways. This will be harder for me then it is for them!

I am so proud to be moving to a place that will value my work, I can feel it already! I am beaming with pride to be joining this special school which is supported in their profession by administration and the community. It is full of smiles, kids who stay their whole elementary career and parents who come in to truly help (and I haven't even met the staff yet!) This week I am going to give myself permission to be excited about this amazing change by going to my new classroom and setting it up. It is with such a heavy heart that I say goodbye to this city, I have no idea what is out there, but I'm brave enough to find out! I will continue to develop lessons on this blog and let you know what ideas inspire my students. Stay tuned, because I feel like the best is yet to come!


Phyl said...

Wow, Erica; you really snuck this one in on us! Congratulations! I'm looking forward to hearing about your new job! Will it be a commute for you? What grade levels? Keep us posted!

Mrs. Hahn said...

Urban, Suburban, or rural... hands down, you will be a great teacher. It's nice to have a new and exciting change in your life. I look forward to your future blog posts Erica.

Mrs. Hahn said...

Urban, Suburban, or rural... hands down, you will be a great teacher. It's nice to have a new and exciting change in your life. I look forward to your future blog posts Erica.

Mary said...

Beautifully written. Congratulations on this next chapter!

Unknown said...

Phyl! I know I couldn't really say anything for a long time it's been a longer process then one might think! This district in particular is very tough to get into . .. and rightly so, they invest a lot in their teachers and support them to the highest degree. Sample lesson and a few interviews later, I am finally able to share the news. I will be moving! So commute will be up to me. We are downsizing on everything including stress:)

Nic (Mrs. Hahn)! Thank you! Smaller and less classes will allow me to really spread my wings. I am so excited to be able to bring more content to this blog of what inspires.

Mary! Thank you! I am excited to be able to visit everyone's blog and contribute more now that I will be on a new adventure. You are always an inspiration.

Marcia Beckett said...

Wow, good luck! I'll be reading to learn all about your new adventures!

Unknown said...

Thanks Marcia. I'm sure there will be loads of new ideas coming up!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Erica! I remember you posting pictures of Stella as a baby and now she's such a big girl! I hope this new adventure fills you and your family with joy!

Becca Ruth said...

Congratulations Erica! Your post hit me hard because I was in the same position last year. I had no goodbyes (from the kids) either, but I work in the next town with the Wal-mart and I run into those little bits all the time. It hurts when they ask why I left them. I know I made the right choice though and that's what helps me. Good luck in your future position.

Unknown said...

Thank you Pat! It will be a great move for our whole family which is the #1 reason why I'm doing it! Moving is not easy but I'm motivated to give Stella what she needs.

Becca Ruth, it is good to hear I'm not the only one in this position. It is really difficult. I really thought there could be more systemic and community growth because I am the blonde version of Mary Poppins seriously if it happens in a Disney movie I can do it too. . . but it was really complicated. I'm really more sad about this then I ever knew possible. You invest a lot in a place and have dreams. I know once I start next everything will make more sense. Thanks Becca Ruth for chiming in. We will have to talk art teacher to art teacher sometime:)

Kristin said...

Good luck in your new position, Erica and thanks for sharing your journey. Looking forward to reading posts about the new adventure! PS I can't believe how big Stella is!

clariola said...

I wish you all the best. I know this kind of feelings. I had been teaching Spanish in a public school in New Orleans before to come back home in Spain.It was very difficult to me to say goodbye .Now, 12 years later,I continue missing them, I would like to hug them and to spend some time sharing our experiences.Good luck , Erica and enjoy.Hugs from Spain.

Anonymous said...

Really wish that you had said a proper "good-bye' to the children.
You unfortunately did what everyone else does in their lives. You slipped away/sloped off -you even say it yourself.
Everyone deserves the feeling of being important in someone else's life even if it is only their teacher, (rather than a parent or carer). All teachers are important and generally remembered -you too -and you sound wonderful, teaching from the heart. Kind regards.

Unknown said...

Believe me I wanted to but it was better. The kids are already distraught and crying before summer break a lot of anxiety. This would make things worse for them. Sometimes you have to weigh your options. Sometimes you really have to make the better decision for people when no decision is a good one. That is being an adult. You would have to know the situation (which I hope you never do!)

liam said...

Beautifully written. Congratulations on this next chapter!.Cash for cars sunshine coast

Anonymous said...

Thanks Marcia. I'm sure there will be loads of new ideas coming up!And this belongs to my cash for cars brisbane article.