Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bare Walls and Empty Classrooms; Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Note: This post was written in the final days of school. It's taken me a little time to fully reflect on the year and catch my breath from the whirlwind that was the end of this year and the onset of summer.

Summer has finally crept its way into the halls of my high school. Graduation whipped past me like the cardboard caps flying high into the air while the remaining students are completing day two of final exams. The reality of a summer break has officially hit me. This year, my classroom is completely packed in boxes as I will be making my way to the hallway over into a new classroom. Next year brings different preps than I have taught in the past and will also mark my tenth year teaching. While familiar faces will file through the halls again, the feelings that a new era is about to begin has struck me more significantly than prior years.

This newness and sense of excitement mean the potential for meaningful experiences and memories to be made. Fresh paint will be plastered to the cinder block walls and metallic rafters. I have a larger space to be filled with furniture I do not yet possess and actual bullet boards to decorate. Aside from the physical change of location, I am excited to spend time this summer reading a stack of books that have long been piled up on my shelf, spend time with my family, and regather my thoughts as countless educators do during the weeks of summer.

Looking at the walls that were once lined with posters, I realize that a classroom is more than a space for students to learn - more than just a location in which information is presented, and projects are completed. A classroom is a home - a place where young people learn more than just how to write a claim statement or solve a mathematical formula. The best moments of my first decade of teaching are not the moments in which I finally learned how to teach writing introductions effectively or crafted an annotating lesson that reached even the most struggling sophomore readers. No, the moments that I will hold onto for the next chapter in my career are the ones in which I saw a fearful freshman overcome his speech anxiety and work on perfecting a performance to the best of his ability at painstaking costs; the time I witnessed students realize that what was of the greatest importance was not the grade or accolades that come from producing quality work but the memories and lessons that were learned to achieve those rewards; and the countless times where I saw young people being kind souls to one another, great friends, and supportive shoulders for their peers. These moments all happened in this tiny classroom that I've called my home away from home for the last decade.

We will never fully realize the impact we have - the words that are internalized, the takeaways that students will carry with them past their formative years. We will never fully understand how difficult lessons, both academic and life-based, can teach resilience, foster creativity, and inspire young people to become content, productive, and successful adults. While every once in awhile, we are fortunate enough to get a Facebook message, stumble across a social media post of a former student, or even run into a parent at the grocery store and hear about the great accomplishments that our students have earned, too often we do not witness the next phase, but the possibilities that they have before them continue to inspire me to make my classroom and their high school experiences as much as a safe and homelike space as possible.

And while Thomas Wolfe states in the novel Look Homeward, Angel, that "you can never go home again..." I believe that a person always takes just a little bit of home with them wherever they choose to travel. So as I close my door to C19 for the summer and come back to a new classroom to call my own - a fresh place to forge new memories and inspire young people - I am grateful for the lessons my students have taught me during the formative years of my teaching experience. Here's to new possibilities, new paint, and the next set of adventures to be had.

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