Friday, October 30, 2009

Back to School, Ring the Bell

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.

The last day of school, May '09

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.

September '09 at the Project Discovery ropes courses


  1. It is SO cool to hear you talk about teaching, Gretchen. Your passion for it really shows.

    Boy, that AR50 jacket is a favorite, huh? I saw someone wearing one like it last weekend, and was confused when it wasn't you -

  2. Aww thanks, Turi. And, yes I almost had to look for a different picture because I was wearing the same jacket in both, with two different groups of kids. But I like these pictures, and hey, I really do wear that jacket all the time. My husband actually tries to tell me I'm not allowed to wear it anymore because that's all he sees me in. :) (But I just ignore that request, hee hee.)

    Brad - Okay, am I missing something? Is that some reference to a joke from our past that I'm forgetting? If so, sorry. Please explain!

  3. Wow...this sounds like an amazing school :) I'm glad you found a good match!

  4. Gretchen, I love your natural way of teaching! I wish I had a teacher like you growing up, who let us run and explore, and best of all, crunch through the leaves! :) Your kids are SO lucky~

  5. Wait, you teach at a school where you get to be a Harry Potter geek, take kids camping, have kids laugh at your adorably goofy sense of humor AND teach running? Sounds perfect for you.

    I think one day you should run like this

    And clearly, your computer should be called Dumbledore. McGonnagill at the very least.

  6. wow- your new school looks amazing! Almost makes me want to change careers! I'm glad you stopped to see the salmon. I am still saving the salmon-adorned wine, would love to share it sometime to toast autumn and running and everything else that is wonderful in our lives. Inquiring minds want to know: how was Helen Klein?

  7. Thanks Amber adn Addy.

    Lisa, you think my sense of humor is adorable? Not just dorky? Motherhood must be doing good things for your perspective. :)

    Sarah - Would love to taste that wine sometime!
    As for HK....oh my. I finished the crazy-long race report and will post it tonight, so look out.

  8. Yes, you're adorkable!