Today was my last day at Glenfair Elementary. And I have some thoughts.
But first, for those who don’t know, I have spent the last almost three years working at a very tough elementary schools. It is a school where the poverty rate qualifies all students for free breakfast, lunch and midday snack. There are students who have faced or are facing homelessness. It is a school with such a high mobility rate that the classroom population on the first day and the classroom population on the last, look vastly different . Some classes replacing as much as half their students. It is a school where new comers often do not speak English or do not speak it well. Looking over class lists I frequently see that almost half the students speak something other than English at home. Languages like Spanish, but also:
Glenfair, and the surrounding neighborhood, is one of the most diverse areas in Oregon. Granted that might not sound like a lot considering the incredible whiteness of the state, but looking through that list of languages again I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Rockwood neighborhood, where Glenfair sits, is one of the more diverse in the country.
All this lovely diversity and the aforementioned poverty comes with challenges. Children with trauma from life in a refugee camp, fleeing unsafe situations, being forced out of a gentrifying neighborhood, witnessing drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, families torn apart, a death of a loved one, incarceration of a family member… As an adult it has been heart wrenching and anger inducing to see. I cannot imagine what the students go through; I have only tried to empathize.
In this school I took on a hard job: Media Assistant. Although I was assisting no one and I did it for less than a living wage. Each day I would have seven different classes for 30 minutes each. It very much felt like me verses them. I would spend most of that time trying to keep them quiet and under control. “No running in the library”, “get off the table”, “we do not throw books”, “put down that chair”, “it is way too loud in here”, “do we kick our friends?”, “please, don’t yell at me”…and the like.
But the connections made with the students…those kept me coming back. Connections made over books and life stories. Connections when they noticed my hair cut or I theirs. Connections in watching them grow and overcome the difficulties that life has given them. Crying with them when friends died. Listening when they were scared a parent would be deported or they were certain a parent wouldn’t make it to the court appointed visitation. They shared hugs and I drew them pictures. I taught them the Dewey Decimal System and they drew me pictures. I taught them to play MASH and to think bigger about what career path they might have one day. They taught me so many things that I thought I would end with a list as tribute:
- To not assume, but to learn
- To be understanding because a reason exists for behavior
- That the library is the heart of a school
- To not take things personal, but to let the frustration roll off
- To recognize love in different and sometimes strange forms
- To be a better diplomat and mediator
- That self care is incredibly important
- That the humor of childhood is an unbelievable balm for the bad parts of life
- The importance of asking for help
- To learn from the knowledgeable and caring adults around me
- That I may not be cut out for the classroom or for elementary school, but I wasn’t too bad at it either
- That I have left cherished