Written by Ms. Berman
Sitting at Islands Restaurant, on Friday the 13th, I was trying to absorb the upcoming teaching plan that Dr. Ankeney had laid out before me. "So Kelli Connaughton can take your IB Bio class and Carla Valdez will take over Marine Science. This will allow you to focus on your Honors Chemistry students upon your return." Being that we were discussing other aspects of the Science Department, the students, and general school issues as well, I didn't have time to fully process this information until I got home.
I went into my office and sat staring at my computer screen. I wanted to bring up my IB Biology class roster, but couldn't bear to do so. Although I would still be posting grades for the remainder of the semester, these students were no longer mine.
Instead of the icon for school attendance, I randomly clicked on The Common Application Online icon. My list of seniors, for whom I had written college letters of recommendation, appeared, all with the word submitted next to their names. Checklist completed! There is this section on the teacher letter of recommendation form in which the instructor rates the student on 15 categories, with options such as average, above average, top ten percent, top five percent and "one of the top few I've encountered." The highest assessment, "top few I've encountered," most of us educators rarely mark, or we will lose our credibility with the Admission's reps.
Just as a particular student may be "one of the top few I've encountered," on rare occasions a class will also warrant such a rating. This is not to denounce the individuals whom I have taught in previous years, but rather to acknowledge that sometimes there is a magical combination of students who are all focused, thoughtful, collaborative, intelligent, and simply a pleasure to teach. I was blessed with such a group of 41 students this past fall in IB Biology.
I am acutely aware that my medical leave has inconvenienced many people. Decisions must be made that are in the best interest of the students. And Dr. Ankeney is rightfully trying to create a schedule that will lighten my work load so that I can focus on the students who have been most impacted by my absence. In addition, Mrs. C. is a stellar teacher who will take on the class with the energy and enthusiasm in which the students deserve. Every justification validates this transition.
But what I am grappling with is that students are not merely a list of ID numbers. Each one has their own story. Some were new to me this year and I hadn't even had the chance to get to know them. But for the ones whom I had, it was never about the Biology for them, but about my role in validating their self-worth. I am thinking about the ones who had been told that they were not college material, or whose parents were unemployed and they knew I would find a way to discretely spot them cash for a school event, or the students who feared they couldn't handle the demands of the full IB Diploma program and trusted me to break that news to their parents. This is what I am leaving behind. This is what makes it so painful. And yet I am the adult here. I am the one expected to model adaptive behavior. It is my duty to make my exodus with gratitude for the time we did spend together, as well as provide a genuine welcome to their new teacher and mentor. After all, I am the one who recruited Mrs. C. to SDHS. I should be proud to afford her the opportunity to work with these once in a lifetime students, and they with her.
I glanced back at my Common Application roster. I reflected upon how once that letter is submitted, my professional relationship with the student begins to shift. In many ways, it is liberating, as the element of academics is removed from the equation. I typically sigh with relief as I close their file of transcripts, essays, and resumes, and transition to mentoring them as needed. Perhaps this is the philosophy that I need to adopt with my Biology students at this time... It is not really good-bye after all... It is more like a leave-taking. Although I won't be the IB Biology teacher on record, I will still be teaching. For Mrs. C. and I don't work in a vacuum, but as a team, and will continue to do so. Our collective brainstorming and energy always has, and always will, center upon the needs of the students. I will support the students by hosting tutorials in order to prepare them for the quizzes and exams. I will assist them with their upcoming college applications. I will continue to talk to them about "life skills."
Just as I have been a mentor to over thousands of students throughout the years, I have been fortunate to have received professional support and guidance from my superiors as well, in this case, Dr. Ankeney. Once I allowed myself to reflect upon this teaching plan from a renewed perspective, I realized that it was in best interest of everyone involved. This is not the end of my teaching career. It is a new beginning.