My Turn: A teacher’s love letter and farewell to Greenfield Middle School

Greenfield Middle School, where the writer worked for the past five years.

Greenfield Middle School, where the writer worked for the past five years. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By JULIE ERICKSON

Published: 07-08-2024 4:20 PM

 

Yesterday I formally resigned from my position as a special education teacher at Greenfield Middle School. Today I woke up with a very heavy heart. I’m not questioning my decision. I think the new position I have accepted is the right move for me professionally, but I am reflecting on how sad I am to leave the Greenfield schools.

There is plenty that is challenging about working in Greenfield. Like low-income public schools all over the country, Greenfield faces tremendous funding and staffing challenges. Many times in my five years at GPS, I have thought about writing a letter to this newspaper to vent about numerous frustrations, stemming mostly from limited resources. But instead, as I depart, I am choosing to write a love letter. I think it is important for this community to read a less-heard narrative — that there is much to love about Greenfield Middle School.

It still comes as a surprise to me that I even ended up working at Greenfield Middle School in the first place. I am from the area; I grew up in the hilltowns and was privileged enough to be able to attend a private school, the Greenfield Center School, as a child (a wonderfully enriching experience for sure, but sadly one that’s not easily accessible to most children in Greenfield).

As I imagine may be the case for some people reading this newspaper, I never had a positive image of the Greenfield schools, and when I became a teacher in my late 20s, the Greenfield schools were definitely not on the list of places I ever thought I would consider applying for a job. I assumed that the schools were a dumpster fire — too “rough” and of such a low caliber that I could never imagine myself being happy or successful working in them.

And yet, sometimes life just sends us in unexpected directions. I was looking for a job and happened to know someone at Greenfield Middle School who encouraged me to apply for a long-term sub position. I started in the fall of 2019, just six months before COVID hit, and quickly moved into a permanent position as the sixth grade special education teacher.

The first thing I learned is that there are many outstanding, caring, dedicated people who work at Greenfield Middle School, including colleagues who I have absolutely loved working with. The next thing I learned was that I loved working with the students and families of Greenfield. While many families who send their children to Greenfield Public Schools are dealing with challenging life circumstances, they of course want the best for their children.

They have been some of my favorite collaborators of the past five years. And their children, my students, have consistently warmed my heart, made me laugh, and challenged me to be a better educator.

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I worked at Greenfiel Middle School through the COVID years and watched as many colleagues left under trying circumstances. I didn’t blame them. But I stayed; I found meaning in tending to the mess that was the return from remote learning. Two Septembers ago, I was the only returning special educator at the school. I am happy to say that a talented and dedicated new special education team has grown up around me since then.

I am sad and sorry to be the one now creating yet another special education teacher vacancy. But I can say with confidence that the right person will thrive in this position, as I did for five years.

At the Center School, I experienced extensive farewell traditions, including two days of ceremonies at the end of the school year dedicated to acknowledging, appreciating, and saying goodbye to students and staff members leaving the school community. This is not a practice I have observed in most of the schools where I have worked, especially for students and staff who decide to leave over the summer. But it is in that spirit that I am writing this letter to say farewell to the colleagues, families and students I have come to hold in high regard. And to extend my appreciation for their hard work, humor, and good company through all the trials and tribulations of the last five years.

Thank you for everything you have taught me, GMS. I care about you, and I will miss you.

Julie Erickson lives in Whately.