I thought by now I was tougher, cooler, or, at least more mentally prepared. But I wasn’t. And so I cried. And cried. And cried. I suppose it is only fitting that my time on the Navajo Nation ended much like the way it began.
During my last week at work, I would tear up every so often as I paused to absorb where I was, what we were doing and what was happening. I have a desperate need to remember.
I need to remember the casualness with which my 8th grader said, “Oh, I already know that stuff,” when the high school transition specialist explained to her what 9th grade inclusion algebra included. I need to remember the way my eyes welled up when parents voluntarily went to the podium microphone during our end-of-the-year special education banquet just to say, “Thank you, Ms. Shyu. Thank you, Toby. Thank you. Thank you for all you have done.”
I need to remember how irritated and proud I felt when “Elmer” kept disrupting class by chanting, “Too easy. Too easy. God, don’t you have something harder?” when he was counting a combination of coins and bills. (He earned a 100%.) I need to remember how naturally my students grabbed crayons and scraps of paper to budget for their meal, including tax and tip, on our field trip to Cracker Barrel.
I need to remember how welcoming it felt to be handed a chubby baby to cradle during Navajo Culture Week when the community came to the school to cook traditional food. I need to remember the weight of hugs around my thighs from 3rd graders. I need to remember 8-year-old “Nathan” telling me that he is going to miss me soooooo much. I need to remember me telling Nathan with tears in my eyes that I am going to miss him soooooo much more.
I need to remember how hard my Navajo mothers laughed at my attempts to flip tortillas in my kitchen. I need to remember how hard I guffawed at them when they tried folding Chinese dumplings. (I admit, they now fold better than me.) I need to remember how I cried when the custodian laid on my desk two of his paintings from 1983 for me to keep.
I need to also remember the pang of guilt I felt when I realized that I should have started the new decoding strategy at the beginning of the year. I need to remember that feeling of wistfulness when I realized I should have begun holding Family Nights and Literacy Nights each month from August, instead of May. I will remember that look of disappointment from one of my 8th grade boys when I told him I couldn’t make it to his graduation/birthday party, because I would already be in Texas by then.
Much like the beginning, I cried. But this time I cried because I have been blessed by children, good friends, surrogate mothers, grandmas and grandpas.
The opinions expressed in On the Reservation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.