A Day of Wonder

Our school was holding its annual market day simulation where students set up shop with foods, crafts, whatever they can create and sell for a profit, as they learn about capitalism and how a market economy works.  Booths were set up outside and the seventh grade become merchants as the whole 6th grade comes out to shop  I got my hair braided, bought some home-made honey soap, and a yarn doll for my grandbaby. 

Suddenly a counselor came running across the field and said he needs me.  He asked me to follow him  He moved so quickly, I could not keep up with him.  I followed him into the building wondering how much trouble one of my students must be in for him to come running after me.

As I enter the door to the cafeteria stairs, I see another counselor on the stairs staring at me. I look to my right, and there they are….. my angel squad!  Four students, whom I dearly love, are standing on the landing arms laden with flowers and chocolates strawberries, hearts laden with love.  They were my class family when I last taught them 5 years ago.  One of them was with me for all three years of middle school, going back 8 years.  At first, I just stare taking in the overwhelming connectedness and joy I feel seeing them again.  Such a surprise and I am so intensely happy that it feels like my heart will burst. Happy dance and group hug time!  Tears begin to coat my eyes like a fine veil of pre dawn mist, as a flood of emotions washes over me, and I feel myself melting.

We go to the office and sign in.  Meanwhile they take in their old middle school, where suddenly everything looks small to them. “Were the lockers always that small?”  “I don’t remember us being small, were we?”  “Yes you were, in sixth grade.” They all laugh contagiously, reliving the middle school years at a safe distance.  “We need to sign in”  Two of them take out driver’s licenses as ID.s.  Whoa, you all grew up so fast….Three of them are in college and the fourth is working and taking a gap year, before beginning school next year.  They once sat in my class, as ESL students, working hard to get into regular classes and prepare for high school. Now, they are well on their way on life’s journey.  I always enjoy my students, but their year was extra special.  It is not every year that I sob on the last day of school  They were a really special group.  One of their defining features as a class was how they looked out for one another. Compassion, dedication, resilience, and joy were hallmarks of that class  They set off sparks of joy when they were students in my class, over the years, and  during yesterday’s visit they continued to do so.

We went outside to market day and collected my students  On the way to do so, I arranged  the girls  around the Swanson sign in front of the school, to recreate the picture we had in our HILT middle school yearbook.  When we arrived upstairs, my current class and the girls introduced themselves to each other.  One boy started with “I hate reading at home” and another announced, “I hate games.”  Sophia, the Queen of optimism, says “Why are you so negative?  Talk about what you do like.”  This is the same positive energy she brought to my class years ago.   Her bigger than life personality with her smile the size of a half moon, and her booming voice bellowing out greetings in English with a thick Italian accent, fill the room.  My current students sit mesmerized as I retrieve some of my former students’ work from my google Drive and print out speeches and essays they wrote in another middle school life time. Keity begins to read. Her speech is a reflection of who she is.  It is humorous, unpredictable and light on the outside, but filled with purpose and serious content within.  She begins talking about her own relationship with food in sentences brimming with self deprecating humor and hyperbole  “   “  This is followed by serious questions about world hunger and our responsibilities. Her essay is a thoughtful insightful package inside engaging and  playful wrapping, just like the writer. 

The bell rings and I look for writing by the others to share with my afternoon class. We go to geography, where we find Mr T.  The girls hit the room with me helping current students with their geography projects, they once did this class too….Then they go off to explore their old school.  We get together for lunch with some of their other former teachers, laugh, tell stories, and savor the moment.  Next they meet my afternoon class, the 8th graders.  I find copies of their 8th grade oratory presentations in my Google Drive and pull them up.  They deliver their speeches to my current class, who sit there spellbound.  “They use really important words… you wrote THAT in 8th grade.”  They are wonderful role models as former middle schoolers and as the young adults they have become

One of the girls got choked up reading her speech.  She spoke about bad decisions she had made and what she had learned from them and for a moment she was an uncertain 8th grader, looking for answers she has already found.  There were tears in her eyes.  I remember some of the struggles from those days.  My students were really moved.  It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of writing.  “You were revisiting your 14 year old self in the raw”  You will never again write like that 14 year old girl.  You may write now about challenges you faced at 14, but you will do so as a 19 year old, who has already overcome them, and that is different  There is something very authentic about capturing the moment while you are in it.”  We all talked a little about writing and the revisiting of our emotional selves at given points in time.  It was a powerful experience.

The girls all noticed how in 5 short years, cell phones prevailed.  Five minutes in the hall and they were asking questions…Oddly enough it sounded like more than 5 years between their leaving and the present.  “Could it have changed that much since we left?”  I don’t know, could it?

What I do know is that seeing these young ladies blossom even more in their lives was a coup de grace beyond anything I could have imagined.  They continue to be my inspiration and my joy, and reminder that no other profession can give a person this kind of fulfillment.

14 thoughts on “A Day of Wonder

  1. What a deep, rich slice of life — so visual, with the “bazaar” (reminiscent of ones we’ve had at school, the kids so love doing this) and the gift of a visit paid by former students. Lots of emotion swirling in and through this piece! A line that really struck me: You were revisiting your 14 year old self in the raw – You will never again write like that 14 year old girl. That’s a profound truth. A vital learning about the process of growing – as a person as well as a writer. Above all, there’s a tremendous thread of gratitude woven through all – it shines like the sun. As a reader, I bask in its glow. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for sharing in my joy at the visit, Even your comments are beautifully written, Fran. You absolutely felt the vibe of that day. The fullness of life was almost bursting for me in the room while they were there It was such a rewarding and emotionally fulfilling day.
      I know you feel that kind of connection to your students as well We are so fortunate to be there at key times in our students’ life journeys. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

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  2. I love when students come back to visit. I hardly ever recognize them but I love it! It sounds like you had such a special group of students that only come around once or twice in our career!

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    1. I loved that day. Just recently one of the girls txted to tell me that they were doing the same poem in her graduate class that we did together in 7th grade. They had to write their own poem in response and she said she was ready because we already did that- made me smile:)

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  3. Oh my gosh. You are so write, having your students come back for a visit year later is the best gift in the world and a reminder that we do the good work. We live a meaningful work life. It is like a secret that only we teachers truly understand. I’m so happy for you.

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    1. Thanks Amy. And I love your comment- so true. I have always felt that being a teacher added so much more meaning to my life, in ways I never could have anticipated. And you are so right, I think only another teacher in the thick of it could really understand the full dynamic of our profession and the personal rewards it brings.

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