I did not sound like a 40 year old while talking to my mom that afternoon.“I haaaaaaated sixth grade, Mom!”
“I know”, she said in that familiar calm voice my mom has always had when I have been at my wits end; understanding and a little placating.
“I can’t work in middle school for a whole school year. Filling in at the end of last year was one thing. This is a no.”
Silence on the other end of the phone.
“I’m a First Grade teacher for Pete’s sake!”
“But, Kate. Don’t you think those middle schoolers need you? Don’t you think you would be best for the job as someone who suffered through Sixth Grade?”
Silence on my end at this point.
“Gak” was all I could come up with.
So I called up my best friend and my husband. I just complained a bit more to whoever I was talking to and they listened and encouraged and supported and knew they were just there to hear a rant from me. I called back the Assistant Principal.
”Yes, I would love to be a middle school Instructional Assistant. Thank you so much for thinking of me.”And thus started my school year working with Sixth Grade and a curriculum I had no desire to re-learn.I breathed deeply through the first weeks of school; getting to know the students I was working with, learning the style in which each child learned, figuring the mood and approach of the classroom teachers, and sensing my role within the classroom. I sweated a lot. I eyed the “cool kids” with apprehension. I heard every joke of mine that fell flat echo through the silence that followed. I lost my appetite. I overate. I was nowhere near just supporting these students with learning differences, I was revisiting a time in my life when I was heavy, wearing bad clothes and huge glasses, and had few friends. Some days no friends if they had all decided on that before I had gotten to school that morning. PTSD lite.
I remember a few weeks into the school year knocking on the Assistant Principal’s door to say “Thank you” for reaching out to me to take on this role again that I had finished for someone the Spring before. I was proud to have been thought of, appreciative to be employed in such a great school district, and raised up well enough to say thank you for something, even if it isn't exactly your cup of tea.
As time went on from there, I became more comfortable with the students. I started talking up in the classroom to ask for some clarification from the teachers knowing the students….that I...had missed a point being made. Questions I never would have asked when I was 11 or 12. I became more strongly the advocate for the student who was so very disruptive, felt every regret for the one who just didn’t do his homework, received the drop in the gut when she got back her test with a failing grade. I researched some topics being covered in class to add to the explaining of this or the reasons for that when studying with my kids. I stopped to talk about home life with those who could not move on from their math problems until they cleared their heads of their worries. I came down hard on he who chose an afternoon of sports over his study guide, or on her laziness when it came to finishing the chapter assigned. I high fived every success on a quiz, beamed at every hand raised, even if he got the answer wrong. I laughed at every joke they told because they were so funny, and teared up at any thought of not working with her again next year, of not seeing him at this school anymore.
In late spring I was called into the principal’s office to discuss the following school year. He said he had some bad news and some good news. The bad, I was being pink slipped- last one in, first one out of a job. The good news, he knew an opening was coming and it would be in early childhood education- perfect for me.
The noise in my head went from buzzing, hearing I was being let go, to roaring when I heard I wasn’t going to be in middle school anymore. Not be with middle school? Not be with my guys? Early childhood? Better fit? I was lost.
And then, I wasn’t.
The principal said that if I really was hoping for a different grade level, he could see what could happen. I realized my facial expression must have been purely confusing to him. I shook the look from my face and said,
“I’ll go anywhere. Anywhere you need me.”
And I would. Even when I saw a glimpse of Eighth grade. Even when I thought of glitter and clay and helping to brush teeth in Pre-school. It didn’t matter where I was placed. I am a teacher. I am meant to be this. In my younger years I thought I was meant to be a First grade teacher and that was it. How closed minded I was then. How closed minded I was a year ago. I had shut myself off from so much by limiting myself to a grade level rather than seeing the vast role as a teacher. I love and work well with students, regardless of age. Regardless of what is being taught or how it is being taught. It doesn’t matter if it is my classroom or I slip into someone else’s room. I am in a child’s corner. That is my job. That fits just right.