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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Take My Breath Class Away: Part Two

On Friday I played you the ballad of my incredibly shrinking class. For those of you who read that, this post is an update. For those of you who didn't, go ahead and check it out. We'll wait.



Although that post went live on Friday, I actually wrote it on Thursday. I knew what was going to happen, more or less, so I wrote with anticipation about the situation to come. So while you were reading about what might happen, I was busy living what actually did.

Friday morning came and we weren't given anymore details as the where's, when's, how's or even, most importantly, the who's. All I had heard through the grapevine was that it was going to happen as early as Monday morning and Friday was already halfway over. That is when I made the decision to take matters into my own hands and at least break the news to my class. I know they are only eight and nine year olds, but they are human.

I explained it to them in the simplest terms possible and was completely honest when I told them that I had no idea when they were going to do it or who they were going to take. They all had good questions. Some of them cried. Others didn't seem to care less.In any mix of twenty something people, results are bound to differ.

So a few hours later, when my principal came knocking on my door, my kids knew what it was about. She pulled me out into the hallway, in an effort to have some semblance of privacy. This is when she proceeded to tell me exactly who would be leaving my class.

So much for teacher input.

As anticipated, she rattled off six names. With each name she read, however, I didn't anticipate my wincing louder each time.

Now I'm fully aware that I'm about to tell you next goes against what all teachers tell you. Teachers will tell you they don't have favorites. Now having children you favor doesn't mean you play favorites. It's true though. You do feel a special connection with some people more than others. It isn't about who's the "smartest" or even times who's the "best behaved". There's just that certain...something I can't explain. Why do some people like chocolate ice cream or God help me, Paris Hilton? They just do.

Unfortunately explaining this with a professional slant is easier said than done, especially when your principal doesn't seem to have a compassionate bone in her body. There have been many examples over the years to prove this point, but I'll go with her basis for selection. Not anecdotal records from teachers or even grade books from the last two months of school. No, instead she was going off a cold, hard spreadsheet created specifically for survival of the fittest moments like these.

So while I had time on my side, literally, she had second grade Terra Nova scores and really, who could argue with that logic?

If you knew my principal the way I do you would know you have to pick your battles wisely. So I started to tell her how I was adamantly against at least four names on the list. We went back and forth a bit which resulted in my getting one name moved. But that didn't change the fact that three of my favorites were still on the chopping block, so to speak. Armed with her trusty test scores, she was certain she was picking high, medium and low ability students, but any teacher, any good teacher will tell you that no student's worth is judged by one test score alone. If that were the case, I probably wouldn't be teaching today.

Often when you take test scores as the sole indication of merit, you discredit the person behind those scores. No longer are they human, they're just a number. That's the problem with being objective in cases like these. She didn't know the children they way I did. She didn't know their strengths and weaknesses, much less who would adapt to change best. But most of all, she didn't know the students period. She didn't have them in her room, as her own, for 30+ days only to have them suddenly taken away. Call me sentimental, but the idea, no matter who the child, still made me sad.

Feeling defeated I reentered the classroom still unprepared in that moment to tell the class who was actually going and staying. After all, I had lost the battle, but not the war. Luckily for me I only had a few minutes left before lunchtime otherwise I think I would have turned into a blubbering mess right in front of my students. I just became so surprisingly overwhelmed by the news. It was a mixture of losing kids I had grown attached to, and finally, for once having a good class after TWO years of hell and then watching it get ripped away from me. It was all too much.

I went to lunch with a few of my co-workers and didn't eat a thing, I just cried. They convinced me to go to my principal and make one final plea for the students I wanted to "save". The worst she could do, they said, was say no. I had to admit, they had a point. The period after lunch was not my prep, but I knew another adult would be in my room at that time and I was still in no place to face the kids, so I went on a search for my principal.

I found her eating her lunch. I was terrified to approach her given her history. I am much more content being a "blend into the woodwork" type of girl. I asked her if I could speak to her and she barked at me that she was eating her lunch. She said this in front of other people, too. I was embarrassed, but I pressed on. Once you're humiliated, there's no going back. She asked me what this was all about, in an annoyed voice. I told her I wanted to talk about a few of the students she was taking. Any fool could take one look at me and know I had been crying. She didn't care. She referred me to the guidance counselor, not for my own, personal guidance, but to discuss alternative names with her. She said the chances were a parent might complain anyway. Apparently they were in the midst of making phone calls and some parents were refusing the change.

Parents who were protesting, however, were upset because it was so late in the game and because they were barely given notice. In any other district this would have been huge news to the parents, but where I teach, the complaining parent is the exception, not the rule.

So I talked to the guidance counselor who listened to reason and agreed on changing some of the names. My principal then came in and wanted to talk about the changes I wanted to make to her changes. The bottom line is she's a "I have to have the last word" type of person. It doesn't matter whether she's right or not, but our job is make her feel like she is.

Long story short I was successful in getting some of the names changed, but even as I write about this now I feel like I've been a bad teacher. I hate the fact that I had to play Let's Make A Deal with students in my class. I hate that I had to sit down and actually decide who mattered to me "more". It's a horrible situation to be in. The only thing I don't regret about it all is that I told them what was happening as it happened. Some of the other kids went home and found out about the change because their parents got a phone call, not the other way around. Call me crazy but to a kid that cares, that's pretty traumatic.

Today at the end of the day the six desks were moved. The guidance counselor took the students out to talk to them and then it hit me. I looked at the twenty remaining students and realized. This is it. This is my "new" class.

For better, for worse. For bigger, for smaller.



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