Another one bites the dust.


Every Friday, after I have collected all of the clutter that has somehow migrated from my bedroom to my classroom during the week, driven it back to Detroit, lugged it up the stairs, just barely managed to turn the key in the front door, and stumbled into the apartment, the very first thing I tend to do is to collapse onto the nearest surface (be it couch, bed, chair, floor), wipe my brow, and think, "THIS was definitely the craziest week so far. Definitely."

I tend to think this almost every weekend, and yet, I am actually, categorically stating, right now, that I am almost positive, that THIS WEEK has....actually....actually...been the most ridiculous week to have happened since I started working at an elementary school. Actually.

Let me tell you why.

The week was already set up to be confusing. Already on the calendar we had parent/teacher conferences - which meant a day off on Thursday for both students and classroom assistants, as well as an unbelievable amount of tension permeating the air all week long. In addition to, and immediately following this day of conferences we had two back-to-back assemblies and a special activity choice period (in the morning for younger students, in the afternoon for olders).

So, right off the bat there were to be several inconsistencies in the weekly schedule, which would undoubtedly throw our students into a pit of uncertainty and despair.

Cue the return of the million meltdowns.

Then on Tuesday it happened. The only thing that could really make this week any more unexpected than it was already planning on being...happened. The parents of one of our students announced that they were moving. They explained that they had been approved to buy a house in a nearby town, and that there was a place in the local elementary school for their son. They wrote that they were moving almost immediately and that their boy's last day would be...tomorrow.

I completely understand that sometimes things happen suddenly and that they are often out of our control. I do no blame these, or any other parents for making the choice that must undoubtedly be the best one for their family. I also do not know how to begin to talk about the effect that such a sudden announcement has upon the entire school.

The first effect of this news was that the recent, and very unusual behavior that this student had been exhibiting was very suddenly and almost completely explained. Of course! His parents must have told him that they were buying a new house and had probably begun to prepare him for the experience of moving. This would explain why ever since mid-winter break he had been arriving at school already in tears and why he spoke constantly about missing his mom and wanting to go home. Perhaps he wondered when this move would take place and if when he went home, it would no longer be the home that he knew, but an entirely different dwelling. Perhaps his whole house was filled with boxes, and had suddenly taken on the appearance of a very unfamiliar place. Perhaps he worried that his family would move and forget to take him.

All of these scenarios are very possible and our reaction was very quickly one of deepest regret that we were only just finding out. One of the most difficult aspects of trying to sooth a child on the spectrum is that they are often unable to tell you why they are upset. Sometimes they don't even understand their own emotions and it is up to you to attempt to discover the reason for the panic. Had we known that this boy's family were even considering moving, we may have been able to reinforce his parents' efforts at school, and reassure him about the end result. As it was, we could only look back on the last few weeks with a new perspective.

The second effect of this news, which obviously spread like wildfire, was that all of the kids in this student's second grade class were almost immediately devastated and only wanted to talk about All day long second graders would approach us at random to ask, "Did you know that he was leaving?"

Why, yes. I did. As of this morning. Just like you.

Suddenly the entire class wanted to play with this child, to take pictures with him, to bestow upon him some small token of remembrance. By the end of morning circle time this child had surpassed his usual status of being "just another student" and transformed into a kind of minor celebrity. For a full 48 hours he was the hot topic. His name was on the lips of every child. They whispered about him in quiet conversations by the lockers. They called to him, "Goodbye!", as he passed through the halls. "You will still see him tomorrow," we had to remind them, "His last day is tomorrow."

One exchange (not heard by me) went something like this:

"Are you playing with him at recess?"
(affronted) "Of course I'm playing with him at recess? Why wouldn't I?!"

On his actual last day, Wednesday, a small party was held for him in our room, complete with cupcakes and ice cream (all chocolate, as requested by the guest of honor). The second graders had assembled a book for him, each child contributing a page of well-wishes accompanied by a colorful drawing. Several girls wrote that he had been their best friend. One child lamented, "We really loved you." Please do not let this confuse you. He has not died.

A few of the most dedicated (and some of the most dramatic) followed him to his locker at the end of the day and presented him with gifts - a crystal, a homemade card, a hot wheels car carefully selected from a collection at home. To the credit of these children, our student really was given a beautiful send-off. They are a fantastic bunch of peers every day, but they really made him feel special on his last day, and when his bus arrived, he climbed the steps wearing a gigantic smile that I hope will last him to the end of his school-year - wherever it may end.

Although our student's unexpected exit was the cause of some real sadness in our little community, I must admit that this was not the most personally difficult part of my week. I know that this student's parents are wonderful people and that they will have made a decision that will benefit their child. Of course there will be an adjustment period, but he is such a wonderful boy that I have no doubt that his new school will also fall in love with him and take care to support him through his transition.

No, unfortunately the most difficult part of my week, and the third big effect of this student's move was that I was forced to face the fact that I will almost certainly not be able to work at this school in the fall. Sadly, the loss of this student brings our classroom total down from what we thought at one point could be eight students, to a very measly four - and only three of these are in the room full time. We are also due to lose another student after the summer, as a place has opened up for him at a school closer to his home, that his many siblings also attend. This means that our numbers will simply be too low to warrant keeping two classroom assistants, according to district standards. Although, I would argue that more 1:1 time would certainly be beneficial to the students who will remain and would probably see them ticking off academic goals right and left, but don't get me started on that.

This news came quite quickly after the school had been notified of the impending loss, leading to an emotional few hours that it does not do to dwell on. There was a little shock, I will admit, mostly due to the fact that some sort of communicative lines were clearly crossed during the phone call, so that the whole school was under the impression that I would be asked to leave almost immediately. With all of the uncertainty in my life at the moment, the last thing I needed in my brain was the image of some suited official storming into the school, ordering me to gather my things, and marching me out the front door.

Fortunately, this is not the case. As it turns out, unless there is a need for a classroom assistant in another school in the district (due to new students, retirement, illness, etc.), I will most likely be in my school for the remainder of the year. What happens in the fall really depends on the needs of the district, which is something that I was well-aware of from the beginning and was prepared to cope with.

Still, it saddens me to think that I might be asked to leave a community that I am really beginning to love. I am sure that the other schools are also full of wonderful people and that I will probably enjoy working at any one of them just as much, but the thought of not getting to see my little guys every day is so depressing. Barely two months into this job and I am already attached.


As I am sure you can imagine, Friday was a bit of a free-for-all after all of the excitement earlier in the week, followed by the random day off on Thursday. One child began venting his frustrations first thing in the morning with a few outbursts, here and there, which by the end of the day had morphed into a screaming, crying, coughing, nose streaming meltdown over....well, I'm not really sure what, if I am being honest. It was just a bad day for him after an impossibly long and emotionally charged week.

I have hope, though, that next week will be better. That is what we told our students anyway. Next week will be "back to normal." So for their sakes I hope it is, but who knows if that's the truth. Maybe not. Maybe next week actually will be the craziest week yet.



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