Kayla stalks into 2nd period, drops her stuff on the desk with a thump, and faces me. She is visibly upset as she asks, “I heard you’re going to high school. Are you really leaving?” Her tone is a mixture of accusation and disbelief. My heart breaks for her as I scramble for a gentle, yet honest, response.
“Yes. It’s true. I was hoping to tell you myself, but I didn’t get the chance.” I surely didn’t. Only moments ago, I had broken the news to my 1st-period 7th-grade language arts class. My students had done a great deal of talking in their 3- to 4-minute locker break, and news of my departure had got around in record time.
Kayla’s face fell, and she opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I waited, as I knew something was coming. Kayla never had trouble expressing herself. This time, however, she stammered through it, making every word count.
“But, you know, you’re like, the nicest teacher in the 7th grade. Where am I supposed to go now?”
And now I am at a loss for words. In a moment such as this, I suppose I hope my students will remember me for something I taught them about language arts or even life. I am baffled by her question of place.
“But Kayla, you’re going to 8th grade next year. It’s not like I would be your teacher even if I stayed. I don’t understand.”
“I wanted to come and visit like the 8th graders do. How am I supposed to do that now?”
And then I do understand. She’s right. My classroom is more than a place where I teach 7th-graders. It’s a space routinely inhabited also by 8th-graders—my students from the previous year. They come in the morning before homeroom, between classes, usually after lunch, and in the afternoon during connection time. Not all of them. I usually can’t tell who might pop by—I only have about three steady regulars. They come to say hello, but many times they just come and sit until I tell them it’s time to go. Sometimes they don’t even speak to me; they simply sit.
This lost chance to return to my classroom was what was on Kayla’s mind. I imagine she perceived it as an earned reward that had been forcibly taken or stripped away from her, as the hurt never left her eyes throughout our conversation. I didn’t know how to make it better for her, because I knew the only thing she wanted to hear was the thing I couldn’t and wouldn’t say. I was most certainly going on to high school. I didn’t come to the decision easily, but once that the decision was made, I wouldn’t change my mind. I was going, even though the going wasn’t easy.
Reprinted by permissions of the Publisher, From Bob Fecho, et al (eds.), Teaching Outside the Box but Inside the Standards: Making Room for Dialogue, New York: Teachers College Press. Copyright ©2016 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All rights reserved.