I passed through four elementary, three middle and three high schools growing up as an army brat. By the time I was a junior in high school and on to my third high school and tenth school overall, being the "new kid" in class was no longer new to me. By the time I was in high school, being the new kid wasn't easy but I understood how it would work. In elementary school, being the "new kid" was tough. I had just left behind my most recent home, my friends and my place of safety and security: my school. Even though it was tough, when I walked into school on those first days in elementary school, I knew that I would have an ally: my teacher.
I can name every teacher that I had from kindergarten through high school. I can tell you about the aide in my first grade class. My mom was working nights and would pick my sister and I up from our nanny in the morning. My mom would drop my sister off at her school and then drive to my school's parking lot. As we waited for school to start, I would sit on my mom's lap in the car. We would talk and many days, I would lay my head on my mom's shoulder and enjoy having my mom close. Many mornings, my mom and I would drift off to sleep for a few minutes. The aide would come out to the parking lot, gently knock on the window and carry me into my class, with me still groggy and missing my mom. She would hold me for a few minutes, letting me slowly emerge into the world of first grade. I can tell you about my first grade teacher and when I ran into her on a Satuday afternoon, I was so excited to tell her that I read a story to my mom all by myself! She gave me a high-five and said that if I wanted, I could read it to the class on Monday morning. I can tell you about my second grade teacher, a new teacher, who always encouraged me to do more, reach farther, play harder and laugh more. I can tell you about my fourth grade teacher, who pulled me close after I returned to her class after three weeks away because I had been threatened to be kidnapped and then promptly pulled me back into the routine of our class. I can tell you about my "tough" fifth grade teacher who had an infectous laugh. I can tell you about my really tough sixth grade teacher, my first year in an accelerated program, who was kind but demanded excellence from us and opened my eyes to so many, many things (that was the year I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry).
Every teacher I had through my initial twelve years of schooling touched my life in some way. At the time, I hope I said thank you. It is only now with many years hindsight that I can truly appreciate all that each of them gave: their laughter, their wisdom, their patience and their love. I was blessed with amazing teachers, and yet for as special as they each were and are to me, I do not believe them to be unique.
You see, I married a teacher. I watched him go through his years of teacher preparation and only then gained an understanding of the complexity of their training. I can write a masterfull legal brief but I would be lost to write a lesson plan, let alone understand all of the components that go into one. I watched him become a teacher and saw through his eyes his first year of teaching. I heard the stories of his students. I listened as he relayed their triumphs and their setbacks. But what I noticed most of all that year was that he did not sit on the sidelines of his students' lives. Their challenges became his challenges. He took on their heartaches and theirs plights (sharing his lunches, his supplies, his time, and his life with them). Years later, we still talk about some of his first students. He has been to their football games on cold fall nights all these years later. I know that he still cares about them. He would give one of his students the shirt off his back, or more.
Since my husband has become a teacher, I have come to know many of his colleagues. Some are young, others older. One is an absolute spit-fire who keeps my husband in line, and I love her for it. One of his former colleagues made our son a beautiful blanket before he was born. I have sat in the room with teachers on the last day before Christmas break. There is no doubt that each of them is looking forward to the days away from the school, but what struck me more is that every time the conversation veers back to their charges. They ask for advice on how to handle an issue one child is having; they lean on the others through tough years; they tear up at the plight of one child's life.