October fourteen, two-thousand-fourteen.
My first day in a new classroom. I introduced myself to my cooperating teacher and met the principal. I was guided around a tour of the school and shown where all the important places I’d be spending the next healthy month. The kids were adorable. Twenty-one smiling Native faces gazed up at me. “Who are you?” “Why are you so tall?” “How old are you?” “What’s your name?” I was bombarded with questions. The class sat down on the carpet and I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Bridget. I go to college in Bemidji. I’m nineteen years old and I have one younger brother. I’ll be helping in your classroom for a little while. Is that okay?” The reaction I received melted my heart. They were so excited, they could hardly focus. They introduced themselves to me and I knew I was going to have a hard time remembering names…they all looked the same: dark hair, dark eyes, rattails.
October twenty-one, two-thousand-fourteen.
I was in school during math class and specialty classes, which includes gym, music, art, and culture. These kids aren’t the brightest. In fact, most of these second graders are reading at a kindergarten or first grade level. Several are EBD, emotional/behavioral/disturbed. Many have trouble distinguishing letters from one another. Math is hard for most of these children. Counting doesn’t make sense. Addition doesn’t make sense. Numbers are difficult. I watched them struggle with determining the difference between the plus sign and the minus sign.
October twenty-eight, two-thousand fourteen.
I finally had their names memorized, which apparently is quick. My cooperating teacher said she hadn’t had anyone learn them that fast. They were precious and special; how could I not remember them? I watched these kids go from struggling with five plus three to determining partitions of geometric shapes. They didn’t know it, but they had graduated to division. Yes, it was a challenge, but they could do it. I’ve noticed that when any new person comes into the classroom, suddenly the children “don’t know how” to do things. But they do. The agency they displayed after getting used to me there was unreal. It was no longer, “Bridget! What is six doubled?” “What is it called when there are three pieces in the rectangle?” It was, “Bridget! Look! I did this all on my own!” I am so overwhelmed with excitement, joy, and happiness. Life is good here.
November six, two-thousand fourteen.
Before my eyes, these struggling children blossomed into smart, young kids. They are learning geometric solids, what we adults like to call 3-D shapes. They’re learning new words, big words. They’re recognizing words like trapezoid, parallelogram, cylinder, and sphere. These words are hard for a low-functioning second grader, but they did it. As teachers, we develop biases for our kids. We read an IEP that says they can’t do certain things, when the reality is that they can. We set low standards for them and we should be setting high standards for them to strive for because they can do it if we believe in them as much as they believe in themselves.
November twentieth, two-thousand fourteen.
I’m barely containing my emotions. These kids have become my own in a matter of a little over a month. They’re excelling. Their reading levels have skyrocketed since being tested a week ago. I am so proud of them! They drew me pictures and wrote me letters today. It was two and half hours of hugs, hand-holding and “I miss you’s.” They worked on adding multiple numbers together. They are being challenged in ways they didn’t even know existed when they walked through the classroom door in September.
That’s my favorite thing about teaching. Everything is new to them. They learn everyday. Their minds are growing and soaking up every piece of information they hear. I think that is such a wonderful opportunity!
Unfortunately, my time with my second grade students has come to an end at Red Lake. They were a rowdy and sassy bunch of kiddos but my heart is so full of love for every one of them. Getting up before the sun every day was a struggle, but I wouldn’t change the last month and a half for anything in the world. My students all drew me pictures and wrote letters and one of my favorites said, “I like holding your hand. I don’t want to not. I don’t ever want to stop holding hands.” I’m gonna miss spending early mornings with the little darlings.
Sometimes life is hard, but the little things are what make it special.