In the fall of 2012, I began my first year at this school. First block, first day, I met a group of 29 freshmen in their first high school math class: geometry. From the beginning, we all clicked. A new school didn’t seem quite so intimidating because every day of that first semester started with camaraderie and good times–and some learning, too.
Three freshmen left the school mid-term. All but one of the rest passed. Eleven Asians (1 east, 3 south,4 south east, 3 mideast), nine whites, seven Hispanic , one black. Five Muslim. No long-term ELLs, one suffered from near-blindness. Ten athletes who played their entire high school careers, including two who eventually got scholarships. The eventual senior prom queen. All those who passed made it through trigonometry, at least. Most made it to pre-calculus. Only a few made it to Calculus or AP Stats, although at least three talented students were derailed by an F from Mr. Singh , which I found frustrating. All of them are going to college. They reflected the school’s population writ large: diverse, athletic, not overly focused on academics, but smart enough to get it done.
One student I never saw again: the feckless, charming girl who failed all her classes by treating school as social hour continued to frustrate her father, who brought her away from the Philippines and her mother, hoping he could prevent a pregnancy before a high school diploma. Another student I just didn’t run into much.
Four others were likewise never in one of my classes again, but I saw them frequently; they’d always shout a greeting across the quad, identifying themselves because they know I never wear my glasses.
The remaining twenty saw me in at least one subsequent math class. Five saw me twice more. None seemed to mind.
In all our frequent chats, literally up through their June graduation, we’d regularly refer to “that first geometry class”. Our touchstone memory, kept alive through four years of their education.
One of my “three-timers”, a sweet, tentative young man who never had another math teacher until pre-calc, stopped by with his yearbook. As we thumbed through the senior pages, calling out familiar faces, he suddenly said,”Man, I bet you’ve taught most of the seniors at least once.”
We counted it together—of the 93 rows of four students each, I’d taught 288 of them, or roughly 75%. Many–at least fifty–more than once.
In the face of that percentage, I decided it was time to work around my dislike of crowds, speeches, and heat in order to represent on their big night. So at 4:30, I showed up to help assemble them for the procession.
At first, the seniors were gathered in informal groups outside the staging area, taking pictures, talking, dancing about impatiently. Many called me over or waved, shouting out their names because they know my sunglasses aren’t prescription.
As they moved into the cafeteria for the staging, I wandered around, touching base, asking about plans, saying goodbye. As I’d expected, they needed teachers to organize the alphabetized lines for the procession, so I took a list of twenty. Rounded them up, hollered them into line, while the fourteen students I’d taught before joked that in less than three hours they’d never have to listen to me again. “And that’s why you became a teacher!” a bunch of them chorused.
Finally, the graduation manager gave the sign for zero hour. Suddenly well-behaved and serious, they streamed out in order, paused for a few minutes at some inevitable delay, and then the music started. Their procession took them by the stadium’s fence along the security road; I stood about 15 feet away by a barrier and put on my prescription glasses, even in the sun, the better not to miss any face. Waved and cheered at brand new adults who waved and cheered back, glad I was there, happy to see me, happy that I was wearing my glasses and could see them. And when the last student–one of mine–turned for one final smile, I decided that the graduation itself, the heat, the speeches, the names, would dull the joy I felt in this moment. Time to go.
As I walked back to the Starbucks where I’d parked my car, latecomers were hustling to the stadium, many holding signs and pictures. I saw pictures I knew, stopped to congratulate the parents and send them on their way. And suddenly:
“Hey, it’s my geometry teacher!”
I looked at the pretty, lively young woman holding a…toddler? infant? gurgling happily walking towards me, waving. Smiled, running through the names of the only other geometry class I taught and coming up blank.
“You don’t remember me? I’m Annie!” and I gasped.
“Oh, my god. Annie! I thought…I haven’t run into you for so long…you didn’t go back to live with your mom? I don’t think I’ve seen you in..three years? I didn’t recognize you. You’re all grown up! How’s your dad? You look fantastic. And how’s this little guy? How old is he, fifteen months?”
“Nope, just nine months.”
“He’s gorgeous. How are you? Come to see the grad…well, duh, yes.”
She laughed, and hitched the baby to her other hip. “It’s great you came! I still think about that geometry class. It was so fun!”
“I wish I’d run into you more. Go, get going, you don’t want to be late. Take care of this adorable one. I’m happy to see you.”
“Me, too. Take care. Bye!” and off she went, striding confidently into her future. I watched her, thinking of all the questions I wanted to ask: did she graduate? Go to our excellent alternative high school? Is the baby’s dad in the picture? What are your plans? and being so very glad I didn’t.
I resist presenting Annie as a tragedy. I didn’t feel guilt, watching her walk away. But I did feel…awareness, maybe? I’m good with unmotivated underachieving boys. Am I as good with girls? Could I be reach out more? Give them reasons to try, to play along?
“You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”
I remember telling that ed school professor that the two sentiments don’t follow. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.
Goodbye, class of 2016.
Goodbye, geometry class. Next year is my first without my touchstone group. I’ll miss you.
I want you to go forth and live happy, productive lives. Please know that for the past four years, your presence has been a big part of mine.
August 9th, 2016 at 3:03 am
[…] Source: Education Realist […]
August 10th, 2016 at 4:48 am
That was very sweet ❤
August 10th, 2016 at 5:37 am
August 17th, 2016 at 4:19 am
What a great piece. I can completely relate. For me it was a group of kids that I had in math classes, social studies classes, and even some extracurricular work. They graduated in 2014. Know that no matter how long you teach, they will always hold a place in your memory that no other class will ever occupy.
August 17th, 2016 at 4:23 am
Yeah, I can believe it. Thanks!
August 17th, 2016 at 11:49 am
For my AP chem teacher, it was the class in 1983. She was in her 30s and enjoyed the interaction with teenagers, talking about the school elections and all that silliness. I was in 84 but was a year ahead. That class was incredible: 25 National Merit semifinalists when we typically averaged 7 (good high school in suburbs).
We were first names, visited her house on snow days from miles away (literal, and not the millennial literal that means figurative 3 foot snow storm) to be fed hot chocolate, coffee and drop off our homework…and play bridge.
Plus my teacher was in love with one of the students. I think it was never consummated, but they were awfully tight and she was pretty sad when he left and stopped talking to her.
She was an incredible lady. Smarter than a lot of the professors in research universities. But just liked hanging out with kids. Said she never got so close to another class though. Oh…and she dialed back her AP course too, to the required curriculum. We did all kinds of extra stuff like particle in the box, extra descriptive chem, solid state chemistry, etc.
August 17th, 2016 at 5:42 pm
OK, that’s all creeping me out. Not at all what I mean.
August 18th, 2016 at 2:01 am
I’m cool with it.
August 23rd, 2016 at 5:36 pm
Very well-written. I’m curious. Was this easy to write or did you have to struggle (good ed word) to get the right length, tone, etc?
August 23rd, 2016 at 6:01 pm
I edited it down once after publishing. The overall idea had been with me the whole summer. The graduation sections were fairly easy. Putting the geometry class statistics around it was harder.
I originally had more information about my thoughts on Annie, but then pulled them out. They distracted.
So length and ordering were difficult. Tone wasn’t. I had that consistent throughout.
September 22nd, 2016 at 5:16 pm
[…] also realize that you can choose to berate yourself for every mistake you or the students make, or not. As Bobby McFerrin says, in every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it […]
October 29th, 2016 at 9:30 pm
[…] In Clan Teacher, pay is substituted in part with ego gratification–and don’t think it’s not a fair trade. I’m a cranky introvert–you don’t think it matters to me that I send kids out into the world with Memories of Me? Good memories, of course–and yes, like all teachers, I worry about the damage, the memories I might cause through a careless word or ill-considered retort. But I don’t demand perfection from my own performance. I am satisfied. I can try to do better. […]
January 4th, 2017 at 7:26 pm
[…] Graduating My Geometry Class: I taught roughly 75% of my school’s class of 2016, including a group of freshmen four years ago in the first class of my (and their) first year. […]