Lately, I’ve been a little more irritable than I would normally be, or want to be. Like many teachers who care deeply about their craft, I can be hard on myself if a class doesn’t go well, but over these past couple of days, I’ve been carrying that to an extreme. I know why. It’s no secret. But sometimes you just have to let things take their course, doing everything you can to stay on an even keel so that the kids continue to have a good experience.
And they are! At our last middle school team meeting, I had put on the agenda some happy news a parent had shared with me. Her daughter could not be happier, and comes home each night raving about how much she loves it here. When I shared this news, it turned out other teachers had heard the same thing from this family, and we added other names to the list. Indeed, the kids seem relaxed, comfortable, happy, and (within the norms of young adolescence) focused on what they are learning.
At this point in time, if I were reading this blog aloud to my Humanities 7 class, they would be bursting with impatience, wondering why an author would say “It’s no secret” if they weren’t about to actually reveal the secret. So I will end their, and your, suspense. One of our two cats, Moki, while sweet and loving and affectionate with us, never bonded nor even accommodated to the other, and the situation had deteriorated to the point where it was clear that she really needed a home where she could be an only cat. I found such a home for her, with an alumna of our school (a newly-minted kindergarten teacher looking for an older cat that needed to stay indoors), and last night dropped her off there. It’s one of those things. I know she’s better off and will be happier, and I love her enough to want that for her. But I also love her enough to miss her terribly. The house feels empty, even as my other cat somewhat nervously works to make sure I know she belongs here and wants to stay.
As I woke up groggy this morning to my radio alarm, the first lyric I could clearly understand was, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. I know who I want to take me home…” It was eerie how perfect the song was for the moment. Beyond the lyrical coincidence, this song, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, was chosen by the class of 2003 to sing at Vespers as their farewell song to the school. I worked with them to prepare it, strumming along on my beloved black Strat set to its sweetest sound. They sounded beautiful, simultaneously wistful and brave as they reflected on their past here and turned toward their future elsewhere. One of the lyrics, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” has become a touchstone in my life.
Normally, I’ll think about this song at the end of the year, when our school is approaching that “some other beginning’s end” and somewhere else is soon to be the new beginning. But of course, it is the same in reverse for the start of our year. As we come together joyfully and build this year’s community, last year’s communities and ways of doing things are still engraved in our students’ minds. In that same meeting, where we were talking about how happy our new students are here, we also talked about the sea change in culture some of them were nonetheless experiencing, and how to guide them through it. The girl who comes home every night raving about how much she loves her life also looked up at me quite frankly yesterday and said that in her old school, she had never had to present original research in a paragraph quite the way we do it here. I worked with her to pull ideas out of her existing paragraph, combine them, add to them, and figure out what the main idea was and how best to phrase it. Then we talked about how to test how closely each line of the paragraph related to the newly-written topic sentence, keeping some ideas but setting others aside for hopeful inclusion elsewhere in the paper. She had the sense it wouldn’t be easy and it might take a few more drafts to get it right. I told her that was possible, but that I also had the sense she would get it right. She nodded as if to confirm that she trusted my judgment on that point, and bent to her work as I moved on to confer with the next student.
And so it goes. We keep the best of the places where we have been, and move on to welcome the best of the places where we are. We continue our journeys to become our best selves, not without bumps but not without joys either. Part of the coming together must be to honor where we’ve been. It becomes natural once we recognize it as such.
Nearly two years ago, Moki made a cameo appearance in our school’s blog, in a piece called “Moki was right.” In it, I wrote, “My little cat Moki has crawled into my lap. Perched on her haunches, she has one paw on my right shoulder and the other against my chest; her head is nestled under my chin and she is purring deeply. For her, there’s nothing all that complicated about love.” Sometimes, of course love can be complicated. But sometimes it’s not. As Moki moves on to her own new beginning, those thoughts remain.
-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean