Last week, a superhero guidance counselor at my school swooped in to save the day and clinched the transfer of one of my students into a special school where she will benefit being among other students with needs similar to hers’. This was the culmination of a few months of effort by one of my colleagues to get Madison moved, only to run into roadblocks with the mother and the bus company. Professionally, I was overjoyed that this sweet young lady with potential to do really well was going to a greener pasture. Personally, I was slightly sad that she’d be leaving us – but much more concerned for the reactions of my students, who didn’t get a chance to say “Goodbye” and didn’t even know the possibility of a transfer for one of their favorite people was afoot.
When I told them that Madison was not coming back, I expected there to be uncontrollable tears and indignant responses. (That’s how it was my first year, when one of my fifth graders transferred into special ed two months before the end of the year). The girls were sad and some of the boys indicated they were, too, but generally, everyone seemed pretty okay with it.
Within the last couple of school days, whispers began to enter my ears indicating that a new student would be taking hold of the coveted seat that Madison vacated. I’ve only had one student transfer into my class – also in my first year – and I was so taken aback when he showed up at my door unannounced that I almost feel like I was rude to the kid (though I grew to really adore him). This time around, though, we have had ample (or at least ampler) time to prepare for our new arrival.
When I told the kids a new child was going to come, they were elated! I was so happy to hear them say things like, “I want to be the new kid’s friend,” and “I’m going to help the new kid.” Of course, sly dog that I am, I turned this into a delicious writing experience where I asked the kids to draw on their experiences writing books together.
I guided their little minds to think of the things a new student in our class absolutely must know, and we created something of a survival guide to being a student in my class. The settled-upon title was Welcome to Our Nice Class, by “Everybody”.
We all agreed that most importantly, our new student – Samantha – needed to have a page with everyone’s face and their names. So the kids decided we could write, “These are all the kids in our class.”
Of course, she needs to know my name: “Our teacher is Mr. Foteah,” and also my para’s: “Ms. Rodriguez helps the kids with hard things.” (I was very excited that they chose to honor her with such an apt line.)
Next, they wrote where our classroom is, where to meet in the morning, and which lunch table to sit at. The last page was, “We want to be your friend!” Ah, the bliss.
I went and visited Samantha in her class today, just to give her a chance to (begin) to get used to having a man for a teacher, and kind of clue her into what her new class is like. And, as serendipity would have it, we happened to walk right by her room as her class was coming out for dismissal. I asked Samantha’s teacher to send her out to see the kids. Samantha, tiny and timid, emerged, took one look at my class, and smiled. They told her, “Hello,” and said they’re excited she’s coming. I told Samantha we’d see her tomorrow, and she returned to her class for the final time.
The kids have expressed uncertainty about where Madison is. I’m not sure they all understand that she really left to go to another school and won’t be coming back. But we’ve started calling Madison’s desk Samantha’s desk, and tomorrow we’ll all work together to get the new kid into the routines of our classroom.
I know it will be a challenge, but I also know my children will rise up to welcome her to our nice class.