If you read my post about the end of the school year last spring, you’ll know how much I loved teaching middle school English, and what an awesome group of eighth-graders I had. You might be surprised then, to learn that I am teaching fifth and sixth grades at an entirely new school this year.
I didn’t want to interview at other schools back in May, but it was basically a financial necessity. I loved my job and my school, but because of the complicated structure of this particular charter school, I was only earning part-time wages. We just couldn’t afford that luxury any longer. So it was without any real desire for the job, that I went to my first interview at my new school.
When I arrived, I had to admit, it seemed like a nice little school. It is a K-8 campus, which has a much different feel than the 6-12 schools where I’d spent my entire teaching career to date. When I saw my classroom for the first time, I noticed that the six student computers had names instead of numbers—names like Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and George Weasley. I began to think that perhaps I was in the right place, after all. (I was a little disappointed that the computer at my desk was not, in fact, named Albus Dumbledore, but I’m still hoping to rectify that situation.)
At teacher orientation, I learned that I was to lead a week-long field trip in Yosemite Valley with my kids. We’ll be at the Yosemite Institute doing field studies in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I couldn’t possibly have picked anything I’d rather do with my students. It seemed more and more that I was going to fit right in at this school.
After two full months with my 13 students, I know I’m in the right place. It’s a younger set, to be sure, and there are some things I miss about working with the older kids. I’ve had to shelve my tendencies toward teasing, and adjust some of my academic expectations. On the other hand, I can act like a total goofball and instead of being met with a room full of looks that say Ms.-Brugman-you-are-so-weird, I get an eruption of giggles. (Of course, it can also be challenging to reign them back in from giggles to academics, so I have to watch that one, too.)
And then there is the running. All the middle school teachers get to teach one elective on Friday afternoons, and the kids in grades 5-8 choose what they want to do. Guess what I’m teaching?
So every Friday at noon, I head out the back gate with 7 kids and we run to the park. As far as I can tell, this is running in its purest form. There’s no set workout, no competition. Our afternoon is summed up nicely by the suggestion of one student, as we entered the park on our first run.
“Let’s just explore!” she declared. And we did.
At first we explored the trails through the park. Now when we get there, we generally just run through the woods, across park benches, over picnic tables, past the horse stables, across the grass and then pause for a break at the playground equipment. Why can’t swinging and sliding be a part of running, right?
Our time essentially becomes just a giant game of follow-the-leader. You never know where the leader will take you, but it usually involves running along the top of a low retaining wall or something. It definitely, always, absolutely requires the group to divert its path to scuffle through every windswept pile of crunchy fall leaves.
We also move with a surprisingly natural cadence. The fastest runner is a 10-year-old girl. (At this age, gender is no dictator of speed.) She bounds along like Bambi, talking as fast as she runs. But she also has a natural instinct for when the group needs to slow down, and never minds walking so everyone can rest. We run. We walk. But always, it seems, there is something to explore.
It may not be much of an athletic workout for me, but it certainly feeds the soul. It reminds me that I run because I love it, and sometimes the best way to run is just to explore and play and not worry about where you’re going. To run without expectations. And these are the times that I wonder who is really the teacher and who is the student.