One Tribe: Part Duex

by beccaborrelli


One Tribe. A Brazen Fourth Grader. 2010

Effects from the recession are reaching all districts this year… even upper middle class white suburban northeast Ohio ones. In an effort to assuage the district’s impending budget crisis… actions were taken across the board. One(point)five specialists per department were RIF’d (Reduction in Force) the first week of May.

This was a good year to leave for graduate school.  The Art Department was lucky- one teacher off to grad school, and one retiring, meant no RIF’s for employed art teachers. Music, Physical Education, and Media Specialists were not as lucky.

The last week of May, the Music Teacher sent home her farewell letters to families. Classroom teachers comforted students. Staff pulled together. It was an emotional time.

Fourth Grade entered my classroom on Friday at 2:30. Ah the resilient kiddos… we get the most tired and taxed versions of each other every week.

Five steps in “C” locks me with large almond see-through blue eyes.

“Miss B, we heard you’re leaving too. Is it true?”

I am tired and it barely registers.

“What? How did you hear about this?”

“Mr. B told us.”

“Ah. Well… let’s sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.”

I am matter of fact. I tell them about returning to school to learn more about teaching. I tell them about my dreams to experience new people and places. Their faces are sad, but I have seen many sad faces. It’s flattering… yet I know the truth of being an Elementary Art teacher. Most of them won’t remember my name in two years. By High School Graduation, I will be a faint memory… a blip on the radar.

I am tired. I briskly scoop up their projects and move on with the demo before studio time. I launch into a description of urban art.

As I hang visual aides on the board I begin with my carefully scripted questions. “So if Graffiti Art is on public property- is it good? Bad? Both? Let me know your thoughts!” My voice swells, I’m digging deep for enthusiasm this late on a Friday. My eyes scan the class for the first time. I am met with tears. Big red eyes. A few of the girls’ chests rise and fall heavily.

My relaxed stance stiffens.

I don’t have experience with this. Kids don’t cry when the years ends in my class. They will see me the following year. Even the graduating Fourth Graders know I will be here ready to welcome them for a visit. So I say the only thing that is in my throat:

“Hey hey…. what is this?”

Silent tears turn to sniffles and coughs for air. I pass around the tissue box. I walk around and give hugs. No one talks or moves. “C’ wraps her arms around my waste and succumbs to a hard cry. I swallow the heat away from the backs of my own eyes.

Perhaps I should listen when they tell me they will miss me.

Perhaps I should listen when they say they loved my class.

But instead I just feel undeserving.


On the last day of school I box up un-auctioned clay pots from the After School Art Empty Bowl project. The pots begin to talk- and the energy they emit washes over me. If 12 weeks of work, questions, mistakes and joyful chatter could all hit me at once- that is what I felt in those moments sitting next a school kiln in the creepy basement. I am excited for the next step… away form Ohio… towards something new. But I sit for many minutes next to the kiln… letting the children’s art talk to me a little while longer.


In November, the Fourth Grader’s probing about race and war, prompted me to write a lesson integrating social justice. Students illustrated the song One Tribe by Black Eyed Peas… creating an Aminah Robinson style Raganon that integrated Keith Haring style imagery.

As I passed back art the last day of school- students asked to hear the song one more time.

As I sat in the front of my now emptier classroom… I watched students color, cut, and sing… kleenex littered on tables. I passed around an email list and soaked up the smell of the art supplies, the humid cement block walls, and the joy welling in my heart.

Deserving or not… gratitude threatens to overwhelm me. I step out in the hallway to wipe the tears… confident that everything I’m leaving behind is good.




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