Toward the end of the school year, my students started asking me, “Will I get to read with you next year?” It broke my heart to tell them no. Saying goodbye is never easy, even when you know that moving on is the right thing to do. I feel confident that one year with the Minnesota Reading Corps was enough. Yet nothing tests my resolve more than a nine-year-old girl telling me how much she’s going to miss me.
Last week we threw a party for all the Reading Corps students. With four tutors at my school, that was over a hundred kids. My favorite part was when we gathered the kids around their respective tutors and took group pictures. I had never seen all my students in one place, and it reminded me of how worthwhile the past year has been. Our wonderful internal coach — the teacher who supervises the Reading Corps members — made us each a framed copy of the group picture with our students. I look pale as a ghost next to all those beautiful faces, but I love love love it.
About two-thirds of my students were with me for the entire year. It was easy to get discouraged at times, wondering if I was really making a difference in their learning. Then I took a better look at my data. Reading Corps is all about statistics, and we have graphs tracking the progress of each student. I realized that students who had started second grade reading 20 words per minute were now reading 80 or 90 words. They were able to pick up a book and read it fluently, only needing my help with the occasional tricky word. When you see someone every day, it’s hard to notice them changing, but they are.
I’m excited for summer. I’m excited to have more energy for creative pursuits. I have a few crafty projects in mind, and the blog is already getting more of my attention. Despite the advantages of summer vacation, I know I’m going to miss my kids. Who else could come up with such creative misspellings of my name? Or draw pictures of me with rainbow-colored hair?
When you work at an elementary school, sometimes children give you things. Sometimes those things are very sweet, but they are usually also hilarious. Here’s a selection of “gifts” that I have received.
Sometimes kids give you things because they just want to get rid of them. It’s like handing something to your mom that you don’t want to carry anymore. Around Halloween I was walking past some kindergarteners who were packing up at the end of the day. A girl was clearly having trouble fitting this construction paper pumpkin into her already bulging backpack. Then she saw me, thrust the pumpkin into my hand, and said, “Here! I made this for you!”
In case you couldn’t tell from the hinge on his stomach, this is a ceramic Santa jewelery box! It was actually given to me by the student of another reading tutor. She and her sister very sweetly got presents for all the Reading Corps members. She told Sara, her tutor, that she liked my jewelery box better, but she couldn’t give it to Sara because she’s Jewish. Oh Christianity, always scoring me the best ceramics.
I was actually surprised by how few Valentines I got from my students. Kids usually get pretty pumped about various holidays, but I guess the Valentine love didn’t extend to reading teachers. I did, however, get this adorable homemade Valentine from one of my girls. I’m particularly fond of the imperfect use of pattern scissors. And not to brag or anything, but another girl gave me a mini-box of chocolates.
Here is another example of being in the right place at the right time. I was walking past some first graders packing up their backpacks. For no apparent reason, one of my former students handed me this beauty. I can only assume that he didn’t want it for himself, and thus decided to pawn it off on the first female passerby. Or else he strongly associates me with stickers, which is also possible. Sometimes the children seem to think that my sole purpose is to give them stickers.
Moral of the story? If you want to score some swag, work at an elementary school.
Germs, germs, germs. This facet of the job didn’t occur to me until training. Then I was reminded that as elementary school tutors, we would be exposed to a cornucopia of germs. I was the first of the MRC members at my school to get sick, and I’m currently fighting off my second cold. We’ve actually joked about keeping a tally in our office of who gets sick the most. I would say at least half the kids that I tutor on a daily basis have a cough right now.
Taking your work home. Particularly in my first few weeks of tutoring, I was amazed at how much I thought about my kids when I wasn’t at school. I would lay in bed at night going over who needs easier reading passages and who needs to review his ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds. With five weeks of tutoring under my belt, I’ve mellowed out somewhat. Still, I care about doing my job well, which means it can’t be contained within school hours.
Occasional long days. Successfully completing my year with the Minnesota Reading Corps depends on serving a certain number of hours. Since tutoring hours alone won’t get us there, we have to look for other opportunities to serve, either in or outside of school. I’ve been working in the after school daycare program one day a week, and I just started helping with an after school class in creative writing. It makes for a great way to get to know the kids, but nine-plus hour days are not my favorite.
Unexpected hugs and hand-holding. In my first few weeks at school, I was amazed by how low the bar was to qualify for a hug. Kids that I had met for five minutes during initial testing were hugging me in the halls. The trend continues with some of the kids I tutor who like to give hugs or even hold hands. It’s not really an occupational hazard, unless you count spreading germs.
Stolen hearts. I should have known. I am, after all, a total softie. Still, I was surprised by how quickly I became attached to my little friends. A few of them will be exiting MRC services soon, and it will be a bittersweet moment. I’m happy that they’re excelling and no longer in need of extra tutoring, but it will be sad not to hang out with them every day. Then again, there’s always another kid who needs help.