September is a blind date for any teacher. You are matched with 22 students, and 22 students are matched with you. “Are they your favorite class yet?” People who know me well ask this question every September and laugh. They know. They know that in September I still miss the last class. And their parents. And they know I’m about to fall hard for this new class. Again. It happens every September. It will happen next September, too.
June is about saying goodbye to 22 children. I know them, I love them, and it is hard to say goodbye to them. We make each other laugh and we finish each others’ sentences. We know each others’ strengths and foibles. We have become a community of trustworthy friends. We are not perfect, but we work together perfectly well. That blind date in September? That seems like it was a long time ago.
We’ve been reading Appalachian Folk Tales. Richard Chase went into the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina in the forties and collected the stories that were told there. As a folklorist, he was interested in European roots and motifs that ran through those tales. It was clear that the stories had come with settlers and had morphed in a new environment. These children become folklorists as they learn to make connections and trace the motifs to stories we’ve read from other cultures.
Many of the stories Chase collected center around a hero named Jack. Jack’s brothers Will and Tom, one after the other, set out to seek their fortune. Then it’s Jack’s turn. Jack is his mother’s favorite; it is hard for her to let him go. In story after story, Jack’s mama packs a poke– she stuffs some corn pone into a red bandanna and pokes a stick through it. Jack puts that stick on his shoulder and sets out to seek his fortune leaving his mother on the porch wondering if he even has the sense he was born with. Is she done? Has she given him what he needs?
Next week, I’ll stand on the porch and say good-bye. I’ll wonder if I’ve given each child all that he or she needs. I’ll remind myself that we’ve worked hard together and that I’ve packed their pokes full. They’ve been taught to pay attention on the journey– to “read their lives” so they can write about their lives.