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  • Writer's pictureMeghan St. Clair

Firsts and Lasts

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

I didn’t know how hard all the “firsts” would be as a brand new teacher. A student reminded me about the first day I walked into the classroom and she and her friends, sitting front and center, could not stop laughing at me. Let that sink in. They sat in the front of the room talking and giggling.

About me.

While I was standing there.

The fact that she brought it up at the end of the year was remarkable. I forced myself to forget that moment, early on, in order to move forward. Apparently the shame and embarrassment I felt still brings tears to my eyes. She scanned my face to see if they would spill over. I’ve come along way. So has she. She has an awareness of others, now, and she was able to lay her defense mechanisms and rough edges to the side to acknowledge my feelings. The fact that she sees me as part of her Crew, that is something I will never forget. I wish first impressions were less important than lasting impressions.

There was growth this year, in the high school kids and in me. I didn’t know how hard it would be to build relationships and how crucial it is to have humans as both allies and adversaries. Adversaries are not our enemies. They are our thinking partners. Adversarial relationships in academia provide the best kinds of conversations and mutual understanding. Asking questions of people helps you get to the heart of matters. It’s crucial. It’s our obligation to each other. As much as I believe in communicating and connecting, this year was the first time I saw the flaws in my ability. I witnessed firsthand, the dance so many of us choreograph with our voices. We experiment when we say too much, and when we say too little. We practice giving trust and taking it away. We make friends and we lose them. Being a first year teacher does nothing less than show you all the things you have to learn about yourself and others.

We are in the trenches with these students. Our embarrassment mirrors theirs. Our joy is felt along side their own. We laugh and cry together. And then it is summer. There were so many things I didn’t know, especially how hard the “lasts” would be. My first “last” was a goodbye to a student moving on. He spent much of the year, shutdown and hidden: running from classrooms, stomping his feet, protesting the “obsolete nature of teachers,” scorning us for “our incessant chatter”. Maybe it was his frivolous use of my washi tape or the reem of paper lanterns he made for the office. But he showed us the way.  I ventured out into the wilderness with this man-child. He invited me to run with him and he acknowledged “my position as a teacher and not merely a human occupying space.” Getting to know him opened so many doors. This student, that student and all the others, we come together with a bag full of experiences and we put them together then sort them out. We spend our whole lives doing this dance.

Saying goodbye came with a profound weight. Another lasting impression that bears far more significance than our humble beginnings together. I wish you could know how my heart broke open when he clomped up to me in his size 13 tennis shoes and a sheepish grin and said, “I wish to converse with you, as this is my last day and you will never see me again.” His growth came both intellectually and emotionally. We sat in a circle remembering our moments with him and he listened from afar. I know we are better off for our time together. Much of this year was dictated on his terms, and still he found a way to work in small groups and large groups and with the other humans in his world. He became endearing to all. And the kindness that was directed towards him, was reciprocated tenfold. He sort of “found himself” within our walls and so we send him out to bloom in the world. What an amazing gift, those firsts and lasts. I didn’t know how unforgettable they would be.

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