Teacher fights back tears as year ends

Graduation: At first unfamiliar, a first-year instructor's fifth-graders became her friends.

June 17, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

She might have been fine if she hadn't looked at them sitting onstage in their flowered dresses and oversized suits at a ceremony on their last day of elementary school. But when 22-year-old Mary Hanna turned toward her graduating fifth-graders -- her very first class out of college -- her voice promptly broke in the middle of her speech.

"I was thinking that was a big mistake, because I was about to cry," said Hanna, who finished her rookie year at Gorman Crossing Elementary School in North Laurel yesterday. "I guess I was just thinking how good they looked. They're not coming back. That kind of hit, and I wish I hadn't turned around."

She is almost a year removed from that awkward day in August when she paced the classroom, racking her brain for anything she might have forgotten, even pausing to erase crooked letters from the chalkboard. She's past the overwhelming burnout period, the having no life, the wondering how she would possibly keep 22 10- and 11-year-olds engaged and interested.

The children who were so new and unfamiliar are her friends now, throwing her birthday parties and bridal showers, sending her e-mails and teasingly referring to her fiance, Eric, as Eeeeeeeric. They have promised to behave themselves at the wedding this month.

Yesterday, the fifth-graders had traded in their cargo pants and shorts for slicked-back crew cuts and ties, fancy shoes, boutonnieres and long-stemmed carnations. The sight of them was enough to choke up the principal and three teachers, Hanna included.

"I was able to learn to smile often," Hanna said at the microphone, struggling to keep control of her voice. "To appreciate the small people and most important, to always have a good sense of humor. Thank you, guys."

In a school year of so many memories and personalities, she knows what she will miss most when they move on to Murray Hill and Hammond middle schools next year.

"Their sense of humor," she said. "It was so nice for me that I didn't have to be strict. I didn't have to be mean. I could relax and have fun."

The affection is mutual.

"She was a good teacher. She was so interesting," said fifth-grader Jessica Morgan. "She wasn't real strict like, `You can't do this, you can't do that.' She let us make fun of her."

"She was fun!" fifth-grader Devin Rivers added.

Completing their graduation with a high-five and a smile, Hanna was surrounded later by grateful parents and countless children who wanted a photograph with her.

Next school year will be different and, in some ways, easier. Hanna will know what to expect on the first day, and she will have a better idea of what her class is capable of. She has learned how to organize, how to slow down and how to let go of the little things.

But Hanna wouldn't have traded her first fifth-grade class for anything:

"I couldn't imagine having a better one."

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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