So, for 7 years, i enjoyed middle school. I enjoyed the kids beyond imagination. Some were little, some were big, some were mature, some still young. I remember the first few days of each year and the ‘ roll call’. Yes, back then, we had to do ‘ roll call’. I called out the names of the kids on my roster so that I could see them personally. That was my connection. Back then, they were smaller classes of 20 or so. For the first few years, back when I was starting out, I had a classroom. Then, as the years passed, things changed and in the end, I was in a trailer. I stood at the front and called roll and the kids responded with ” Estoy aquí”. So cute they were. I distinctly remember one name in particular. Now, remember, I am fluent in French and Spanish so pronunciation has never been a challenge. His name was Semaj. I called his name with the emphasis on the last syllable as that is the rule in Spanish (I have no idea what it is in English!). This young man stood up (being slightly vertically challenged, it was hard to determine that he was standing). He corrected my pronunciation and requested that I put emphasis on the FIRST syllable. SEmaj, he corrected and I obliged, of course. I was very interested in this young man.
Later in the semester, I had the chance to meet his parents. I asked them about the origin of his name. Dad took a breath and began, ” Well, you see, his great grandfather was James, his grandfather was James, and I am James. We decided to break that cycle and named him Semaj, or James backwards.” WOW, I thought, that is a first. I came to adore Semaj. That was my last year in middle school.
I had begged for a high school position and given that the county was small, I was on a first name basis with the head of HR and the superintendant. It was nice to know such influential people. That year, the superintendant promised me a high school of my choice ( I already knew where I wanted to go) if I did him a favor. He wanted me to spend one year in a Title 1 elementary school teaching K-5 Spanish and travel to a middle school to teach sixth grade French. One year? I could do that! So, I said goodbye to my first school and moved into a new world. How could I say no?
That same year, I experienced many other things: students confiding to me about incest in their home, students confiding in me that they were offered drugs at the bus stop, a BEH student running out of my class into the guidance office and attacking a counselor with a golf club. You see, that school was a dumping ground for all special ed students in the county. It was quite unfair. That year, I tried to teach kindergartners Spanish when they couldn’t write their own name in English. I thought that the alphabet was a great place to start but what I didn’t know was they they didn’t know the alphabet in English. (Insert face into palm and shake) A few years later after I had moved on, the principal died at his desk of a heart attack. He was an amazing man, trying to save the world.
That year was memorable in so many ways-none of which were good. That year, I learned about something called ‘ irregular certification’. It was 1993. I was asked to get elementary certification on my license. So, I jumped through all the hoops, very proud of a video I made of my 4th graders showing their understanding and use of adjective agreement, colors, clothes and body parts. It was a cool lesson: I put in a big envelope some paper cutouts of basically Barbie doll clothes. Students came up, drew an article of colored clothing, and verbally spoke in the TL the item that they had drawn, the color, and where it is worn. For example, if student drew black pants, he would say, ” Tengo pantalones negros que llevo en las piernas.” I was so impressed! Nevertheless, I was not granted the certification.
During that year, my mother passed away and I went through a divorce all at the same time. I remember the office telling me that I had a call. It was my uncle telling me that my mom had gone into the hospital (she had Leukemia and liver cancer). He told me that this might be the last time I could see her and she may not come home. I remember vividly standing at my filing cabinet trying to figure out how I was going to make sub plans and for how long. You see, as all teachers know, teachers can’t just leave. If there is an emergency, we have to prepare unless we are blessed with colleagues who step in and help. My colleagues did just that as I was a ‘ special’ . They told me to just go and I did. My mother didn’t survive the night but luckily I was with her. I was only 29 years old.
Can you think of a time when you experienced an emergency at work and had to leave quickly, knowing that you would be gone for awhile? What did you do? How did you handle it?
I did finally make it to high school that following year. I’m glad I said ‘ yes’ to the Superintendant who asked me for a favor. I had so many experiences that I will never forget. These experiences made me who I am today. Next chapter is high school.