December, May, and August are the most difficult months for me. December for the obvious reasons, end-of-the-year holiday madness. August is the month of my birthday as well as the beginning of school.
May is a tough month for us teachers. We are faced with so many things to get done, packing up the year, and moving students on. Saying goodbye is stressful. How do you do it? With just a hug? With a card? A letter? A video of the year? I am not a “regular” teacher. I am not showing videos. I am not organizing games. I am not having end-of-the-year parties. Some of these things I try to squeeze in to our last days, but attendance is not reliable. Of all the months and days of the school year, these last ones are when I am least comfortable. I am tired. I am sad. I eat a lot of chocolate.
Do you know the story by Sandra Cisneros, Eleven? “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you
are –underneath the year that makes you eleven.”
What they don’t understand about school years and what they never tell you is when you’re in 6th grade, you’re also a 5th grader, and a 4th grader, and a 3rd grader, and a 2nd grader, and a 1st grader. When you walk to class on the first day of 6th grade, you expect to feel different, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like last year, only it’s a new school. And you don’t feel like a sixth grader at all. You feel like you’re starting first grade all over again. And you are –underneath the year that makes you a 6th grader.
Like some days you may say something stupid, and that’s like you’re still in first grade, and you aren’t sure where the bathroom is yet. Or some days, you may look into your lunchbox and cry, thinking of your mother’s hands making your sandwich and how she’s waiting for you to tell her all about your day. And you want to make her happy and make her feel like you are growing up and ready to face the world of middle school, but you’re not. You wish you could curl up under your desk on a springy red mat with a towel that smells like home and take a nap. That is the part that makes you feel like you are still in kindergarten. Your teacher smiles at you and understands. Because, inside, she’s a sixth grader, too.
Dedicated to Matthew who is leaving me to go on to middle school at a private school. I know he is ready. I know I have prepared him for this day, but I also know that inside he will still be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
–Margaret Simon, after Sandra Cisneros