Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Last week one of my students, who is not originally from the United States, came out and asked the question I could tell he has been avoiding for days. The type of question that one already knows the answer but it is super important to get to the source and hear the final truth:

"Miss Perry, you stay Kindergarten? I go First Grade?" 

It was the most serious and quiet question of the day. I had to assure him that yes, he is completely ready for a new school. And yes, it was true that I would not be coming with him.

I find that "big picture" conversations often happen with children when their hands are busy; participating in enjoyable tasks, such as working in clay or cooking. This particular afternoon we were working with natural materials in our classroom studio space, wrapping up an ongoing art project and imagining the upcoming fall at new schools. This topic of conversation frightens people during many points in their lives- changing schools, graduating high school or college, moving to a new city. During these transitions we have to move on and sometimes we even have to leave others behind. It is part of life, we might as well learn it from our classmates and teacher when we are five or six years old, right? It is important to get the hard facts from people who care about us and know us almost as well as our parents do. It doesn't make it any easier, in fact I see children embracing each day with an awareness that school is soon to be "out for summer". In this school Kindergarten is the oldest class available and all the children moving onto First Grade will be going to other schools in their community next year. It is a bit like "dead man walking" around our end of campus these days. We still share much joy during our time together, but it is evident these joyful days are numbered.

Being a teacher of a "transitional" class/grade is a trying and rewarding business. Each fall I create a classroom community of trust where children are comfortable with peers and adults. In order to do so I must support children in a way that they can learn to trust me and see that I trust the others in our class as well. This may take weeks and months, but it is a worth while task. I would say that my best teaching tool is this relationship I build with my students and their families. It is this bond that provides the opportunities for such serious talks and a shared desire to make the best learning environment for all at our school. I believe that leaving such a learning environment knowing one must connect with new spaces, teachers, and students is one main aspect that makes the end of the year so unsettling for the children in my class.

Teachers make the commitment to be the one who is always assuring and encouraging a group. Even when teachers are unsure of their upcoming transition(s) themselves. I believe that children have a right to a supportive school community where they may take risks and share or discuss feelings of hesitation, surprise, or happiness. And this is the environment I will provide no matter how few days we have left of school.

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