Nathan Greene

Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013, 11:44 pm EST

Today is the last full day of school. We just finished our last Integrado class with the 7th grade and the students presented their “Exploration of Self” projects. For this assignment, they could choose from a number of different project ideas – poems, songs, short stories, dances, bringing in objects that mean something special to them, etc.

The students just left the classroom and I am left here bawling. Every student in class cried today. I cannot believe the depth of tragedy that so many of our students have experienced at only 12 yrs old. They presented teddy bears to the class, poems, jeans given to them, pictures… all remnants of a father that was murdered, a mother that died this year, or parents who have left them to work in the U.S.

So many of these stories I didn’t even know. I spent an hour and a half with these kids every day and I didn’t even know these hugely important things to them. I didn’t know that half of my class (or more) was living without one or both parents. How awful. It is our goal to visit every student in their homes to get to know their families and their home life, but through this crazy year I only got around to about half of them, and I didn’t even know.

I am left feeling so many things:

  • incredible admiration for the courage required of these kids to share these things (in a middle school class none the less, among kids who for whatever reason are in the meanest stage of their lives)
  • anger that that the universe allows for such suffering in such young ones
  • helplessness that I can’t rewind the clock and give them all a different version of childhood
  • anger toward the parents of these kids who left them behind to pursue a better life in the states. (I know that some of their main motivations that to leave was to provide for them, but kids need parents! They need that above all else).
  • gratitude for the amazingly supportive home and community that I grew up in.
  • Awe for the maturity of our students.
  • A reminder of the terrifying fact that at any point this life that we have been given can be taken away from us and a reminder of the importance of cherishing it.

In writing my final reports and organizing my lesson plans for the next teacher that will take my place, I am seeing that I have taught them a great deal this year. They now know about the reactants and products of photosynthesis, they can spout off the function of villi in the small intestine, and can tell you the difference between renewable resources, nonrenewable resources and ways that we can individually work to slow global warming.

In the process of teaching them these things that they might forget, (and probably will forget) I have also taught them things that they won’t forget, like the importance of honesty, communication, support, pride in themselves and their work. To take responsibility for their work, their families, their school, their community and most importantly to themselves.

I realized that while I have been helping shape them, they have been shaping me as well. They have taught me the importance of follow-through, that using negativity to respond to negativity never works, that students will come up to the standards that you set, that 12 year-old minds are incredibly complex, that providing structure gives way to creativity, that even I can do whatever I put my heart into (if I want to be an art teacher, I can be an art teacher…. I guess I didn’t choose that role though, it kind of plopped into my lap).

I have learned so much from this class. When I say goodbye to Cofradia in 3 weeks, I will leave carrying pieces of all of these kids around with me for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I have to go run to the cafeteria to get a baleada before the elementary schoolers buy them all… selfish little buggers!