The 8-week Summer 2011 semester ended on July 20, 2011. For some reason, I decided teaching 10 credit hours in the summer would be a piece of cake…after all, I had previously taught all the offered classes multiple times. Of course, the appeal of earning enough money to pay outright for M’s school tuition and replace the back deck may have had something to do with the motivation to say ‘yes’ when my team leader approached me.
As usual, the semester was anything but easy; it has taken me nearly 3 weeks to digest the happenings of the term. My Applied Math class was full of students lacking the mathematical background to really understand and process the material, a narrow majority of my Arithmetic class felt that attending once a week during a summer class was perfectly acceptable, and the bright spot on my schedule, Pre-Algebra, was so full of super-stars that they often eclipsed the students who needed additional assistance. I started the semester with a little over 60 students; in the end, 35 or so finished their respective classes. Along with the professional challenges there was, of course, personal turmoil. Yet, somehow, 8 weeks passed; the chapter closed, and the stage is set for a new slate of students to open their own mathematical chapter on August 25, 2011. I’m sure I will learn just as much from them as they will learn from me.
As my semester was coming to a close, a new chapter in life was opening for my son, M. I had decided back in February to sign him up for a week-long summer camp at our local children’s zoo. It seemed like it would be a fun adventure for him; they were scheduled to ride the train, as well as feed the goats, koi, parakeets and giraffe for the week’s major activities. There were also crafts and games galore along with a daily snack. It was, I reasoned, a safe environment for him to spread his wings and flap around a bit without actually leaving the nest.
When the big day came, my husband and I stood with M and waited patiently for the zoo workers to unlock the gate. I took in the whole scene…those parents with older children were lounging on the benches, checking their cell phones for news updates, old hands at the drop-off scene. Those of us with younger kids were standing, unsure of what to do, clutching backpacks and taking photos to pass the time. Eventually the gate was opened and we walked M to his classroom; it was a happy place with colorful blocks, carpet squares, art supplies and 15 or so nervous 3 and 4-year olds. M was a bit unsure as well; my husband had to stay with him for 30 minutes or so on Tuesday and Wednesday, but by the time Friday rolled around, I was dismissed with the flap of a hand shortly after delivering M to the classroom. At pick-up time, I watched, hidden slightly behind an overgrown bush as M led the charge of 3 and 4-year-old boys down the hill, all of the them screeching like monkeys, laughing and playfully shoving each other. M had, I realized, developed ‘friendships’ with the other children; children I had not specifically vetted or decided he would play with. He had taken the opportunity of zoo camp to not only go to the edge of the nest and flap around a bit, he had hopped out of it to meet the other baby birds, formed opinions of them, and interacted in a way I had not anticipated. In short, he had begun to develop a social circle beyond my choosing; an important step toward true independence and eventual adulthood that both elated and saddened me.
This fall M will continue flapping his wings away from our nest as he begins pre-school; the continuation of the chapter we opened on a hot, sticky summer morning. This fall also marks the beginning of a chapter in the lives of my new students. The brave-hearted among them will follow me as I lead them on a 15-week tour through the brambles of Pre-Algebra / Elementary Algebra. Like my son, those students will also stretch their wings and flap around the nest we create together, but eventually the student leaders will emerge and begin to hop away, and they will take those destined for success with them. There will be new friendships formed among students and faculty and in December, I will find myself 2 or 3 Facebook friends richer. It’s a beautiful thing and the ultimate compliment in this digital age.
On M’s first morning of zoo camp, my husband wanted to stay close by in case M needed us. We went to kill time and stay cool in Best Buy, where my husband decided he needed a new video camera to record our boys’ lives. We bought the camera, but I need no video to clearly remember the moment I saw my son running pell-mell down the path toward adulthood, just as I have not needed video to revisit the moments of my teaching that truly saddened or elated me. In our lives, chapters are constantly opening and closing…it’s what you do when the chapters open and close that matters. Embrace new experiences, create a safe nest and when it’s time to gently nudge someone toward their own greatness, let them spread their wings.