Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Connecting With the Past...Meeting With Former Students (#1)


I recently got to thinking about my former students...

Just a reminder that it's been 14 years since I made the move from being a classroom teacher to a building reading specialist and then eventually my current role as a curriculum supervisor. This means that my former first and second grade students now range from 22-34 years old. They have all grown up!

Curiosity began to sink in as I wondered how each of my students has "turned out" and what, if any, impact I had on them. What do they remember from our classroom?

So I turned to the boxes I have in my basement. These boxes contain hundreds of pictures, student-made cards and notes, letters from parents, etc. I got lost for a few hours down that rabbit hole, smiling as I remembered particular students and events, reading through the heart-felt student notes to me.

Next I searched on Facebook, locating and friending many former students. My curiosity began to grow and I knew that I wanted to talk to these students who had once spent 180 days (double that for my looping classes) in my care.

I contacted several former students through Facebook messenger, and to my surprise, many of them responded!

Today I had my first meet-up with Caitlyn.

Caitlyn was in my second class. I was 25 years old and teaching first grade. When I think about this year, I usually remember two things:

  • I had 25 students in this class (12 boys, 13 girls), which was a bit overwhelming in a classroom where I was differentiating reading instruction to meet the needs of each emerging reader...as a second year teacher. 
  • It was the "year of the Js". I had three boys names Joseph, along with a Jeffrey, Justin and Jerry. 
My 1994-95 Class (Caitlyn is in the middle row, just next to me)

I met Caitlyn and her beautiful, five-month old daughter for breakfast, and I loved our conversation. We reminisced for over an hour, and she also told me about her life and current connections with many of the students from our class. 

The one big question I had was "what are your memories from our first grade classroom?". 
Caitlyn shared the following:

  • Pizza on Fridays at lunch was a big deal!
  • The students had a job chart and were able to move their own names to new jobs each week. She liked the freedom of this.
  • I met with reading groups on the carpet, and being on the carpet always made it feel like a special time with me in small groups.
  • Reading was challenging for Caitlyn, but she was able to memorize Green Eggs and Ham. I allowed her to read the book to the class which gave her confidence as a reader. She still has a "Good Job" reading certificate from me. 
  • We hatched duck eggs and even had pet ducklings in the classroom...until they moved to their new homes. 
  • The students did animal research and Caitlyn chose to research ducklings. She still has the book she checked out from the county library for her research...shhhh!!!
  • We once did math outside and that was fun. Hopefully I made math fun more than once. 
  • Behavior chart....ugh! This one hurt. Caitlyn remembers the one time she had to move her card. She also remembers the students who were frequent card-movers in my public shaming discipline method. Not my proudest moment. See my former blog on this topic: http://kidsfirst-passionateleadership.blogspot.com/2019/05/an-apology-to-my-former-students.html
  • This one cracks me up...I wore a lot of festive tops, sweaters, and pins around the holidays and she always thought of me as a "fancy dresser". 
  • I went to see Caitlyn play baseball one weekend. Several of the kids from our class were on the team.
  • When Caitlyn was in 7th grade, she came back to visit my classroom to read a book and help out with reading groups for a morning. 
Caitlyn's memories reinforced for me the importance of relationships to learning. Students don't learn in classrooms where they don't feel safe and loved with a connection to the teacher. I've always hoped that I was this for my students. I know more about social-emotional learning and my pedagogy has developed significantly over the years; there are many things I know I would do differently today. 

Caitlyn remembers the learning that was fun and when she had voice and choice. My heart and passion for teaching and my students is the one thing that has never changed, and that is what I hope they each continue to hold in their hearts as they remember their time in my classroom. 

When I was a classroom teacher, I made a class yearbook for my students at the end of each year. I would include pictures from the year along with a list of student-generated memories, and I wrote a note to each student in the back of their book. Since these were photo-copied, the quality wasn't great and the pictures were dark...it was the 90s. Caitlyn shared that she still has her book and keeps it in her classroom for her own students to read.

Did I mention...Caitlyn is now a first grade teacher 💖 

* I have several more meet-ups scheduled with former students over the next few months. I look forward to sharing my take-aways. 

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