As I begin my 32nd year of teaching school, I often shift my attention from the long list of “to do’s” and try to experience the joy of kids around me.
There is so much eagerness, so much hope, and so much excitement in the faces of kids starting school. It’s something I wish we could bottle up.
I have several younger friends who have little ones getting on the bus for the first time or heading for kindergarten. I’ve already looked at pictures of kids dressed in their new first-day-of-school clothing with grins on their faces – grins so big it’s almost as if their anticipation is seeping out.
My oldest son’s first day of kindergarten was overshadowed by his baby sister having brain cancer, but we still made the best of it and celebrated as much as we could.
Being the oldest, he seems to have gotten the raw end of the deal many times. Thankfully, he has grown into a pretty remarkable adult.
When he went over to the big middle school, he had to be bused back over to the little school where I still taught. His younger brother and sister were there with me, and came down to my classroom after school to grab a snack and play a little while I wrapped up the day.
This was the daily procedure, and we all waited that first day to see what report big brother would bring from his new school.
Around the time of his arrival that first day, his little sister had come into my classroom crying. I’m not sure I remember what happened, but I do remember she required quite a bit of calming down and consoling. Right in the middle of this, big brother rolled in.
I greeted him quickly, but was too busy quieting the “baby” to do much for him. After several minutes, he could no longer stand it;
“I love middle school!” he exclaimed with a look of pure joy.
It could not be contained.
Other memories fade in and out of the “First Day of School” documentary in my mind’s eye. A thumbs up photo of my younger son with his new backpack and hand on the doorknob, heading to his own first day of kindergarten. Our first little girl, looking far too young to be getting on the bus to head to preschool; yet, there she was, sitting up straight and almost bursting with excitement.
Finally, there’s the photo of the baby, getting off the bus after her first day of kindergarten, posing beside Miss Lana, her beloved bus driver.
And then, of course, there are the countless memories I have of my own students. Some of them would venture into school in the days before school, checking their class list hanging near the office and then timidly peeking around the doorway as I readied the classroom for the first day. There were at least a couple of wide-eyed kids who’d heard that their 6-foot-4 male teacher was “mean,” and at least one who had burst into tears in the office when he found out he’d be in my classroom.
I remember sweet little third graders quickly placing a gift on my desk or handing me a homemade card. One little girl, who rarely spoke, wrote me a note after the first day that said “I’m so glad to be here” and hugged me tightly around the neck before leaving the classroom that first day.
Lots of “feels” can be seen on the faces in my mind. Many of those little faces make my eyes foggy.
I look back often and wish I could go back and correct some things. I wish I had known, as a young teacher, what were big deals and what weren’t. I wish I could have been gentler at times and wish I could have been more understanding.
There were times I let life’s problems carry over to my profession. There were times I did not have my priorities straight.
I’ve been blessed to know some of my former students as adults, and I can only say God must place them in our lives to affirm us when we need it most.
“I’m amazed that you all learned things. I really don’t think I knew what I was doing,” I said to one former student I ran into one day.
“We knew you liked being with us,” she began. “And you were just like a parent to us. Some days weren’t the best, but I’ll bet most of your students remember the fun times and how you made things interesting. Kids understand that adults aren’t perfect.”
I didn’t feel that I deserved such a sweet sentiment, but I took it.
And like the bottled-up joy I wish I had, it is something I hold on to. Our job is not easy and as teachers, we certainly aren’t perfect. But I’m pretty sure we all have the desire to do the best we can.
It certainly is a gift if even one student tells you that you made a difference, made them feel important or loved, or helped them in any way.
Have a great school year, everyone.