The last month of my life has been a beautiful culmination of frustration, humility, tranquility, chaos, teamwork, failure and triumph. It has been me placed on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The boat is TFA and the ocean is the life of teaching. Trees fell but I used the wood for oars, the waves grew but I managed to stay afloat, and the clouds came but I would dream of sun. The beauty of it all is in the now. These last four hours I have in California will be the hardest because I am from the Twin Cities. I have to literally sort through my student work and decide what can fit inside my suitcase.
Albert’s Exit Tickets will have to be thrown away because my iron won’t fit. Where is the sense in that? He is a genius. A 12 year old boy with long hair and thick, black glasses frames who talks to me about The Beatles.
Albert: “Mr. Erdmier! I don’t like that Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. I think of Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally’s Kitchen Table.”
He would proceed to draw a square. One step of the order of operations on each side, making the chairs of course. The answer would sit in the middle, representing the meal that was made. These are the stories that I will be able to share, but not show. His creativity will be a memory, and as it was my responsibility to teach in the classroom, I consider it my responsibility to share the story of his brilliance.
Or how will I show the comedic relief of Sinbad.
Adem-Diaz de Leon: “Mr. Erdmier, you have a butt chin!” (class doesn’t laugh, and to this day I’m not quite sure why. If you say the word “ball” to any 6th grader, they instantly burst into laughter and your lesson is delayed by at least 2 minutes)
Mr. Erdmier: “It’s actually called a cleft chin.”
Adem-Diaz de Leon: “How did you get it? Did you get in a fight or something?”
Mr. Erdmier: “No, actually I was born with it”
Sinbad: “It’s okay Mr. Erdmier, I was born with these good looks (brushes hand through hair from front to back)”
I thought it was hilarious. Now that I type it, it doesn’t sound that funny but I can still see him saying those words. The thing is that my room is a tight ship. I don’t let my students get away with anything. I will hand out warnings from across the room if I see behavior that is deviating from our class expectations. I will not hesitate to take a student into the hall, get down to his height and let him know that he is breaking my class expectations and that I will not tolerate it for the rest of the lesson block (provided someone is still inside the class watching my other students). But when my children say something that I find hilarious and is actually appropriate humor, I will let the class bask in the humor for a minute or two.
Or I will miss the way that I can look at Maya’s progress over the summer. From the open lines on her Exit Tickets that were filled with “idk”s to complete, perfect upside down triangles of order of operations, with the correct answer at the bottom and on the back of it “Math is Fun” in graffiti letters.
The perseverance of a student from my academic intervention hour hit me hardest. I offered the four students a deal. They have never had a Jamba Juice before so I told them if each student reached their Big Goal on the summative assessment, I would buy them each a Jamba Juice. The thing is that I knew all of them could, but one of them thought they couldn’t. During AIH, after reviewing one of his Exit Tickets he said, “I’m stupid and I will be the one that doesn’t let the group eat Jamba Juice.” I chose to ignore the fact that you don’t eat juice but instead leaned back and watched my students react. One chimed in, “You’re not stupid! You scored about the class average!” He replied, “Just barely.” Another student told him, “Here, what problems did you get wrong?” This sense of community and understanding from 12 year olds was something I do remember but is so much more appreciable when you’re 22 for some reason. I was proud to be their teacher and watch them as they all built up the confidence he needed. He reached his Big Goal of 88, requested the Razzamataz Jamba Juice and on his last-day survey wrote, “Mr. Erdmier, thank you for pushing me to my limits.” I will never forget him and will always know that today’s students want to learn, you just have to hold your expectations higher than they even know.
So as I’m ready to leave, I bring with me these memories. They are not tangible, but they are meaningful. The Bay Area, Los Angeles and Las Vegas regions can bring their posters, their student work, their manipulatives and whatever else they might have as a memory from their class. But I sit in the comfort that these memories I will never forget. They will never die. They will live with me this fall as I find another Albert, another Sinbad, another Adam-Diaz de Leon and another Razzamataz to push beyond their limits and prepare them for achievement they might think was impossible.