Thursday, May 31, 2012

Teacher Love

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had a two-year-old daughter who I adored. To me, she was the cutest, sweetest, and smartest child ever born. The way she would reach her arms up to me and say, "Hold you, Mommy, hold you" would make my heart melt. In many ways she was my whole world back in those days, but people told me that I would love my next child just as much. Although I could grasp that idea cognitively, it was really hard to imagine.

But soon my son was born, and what a sleepy baby! I don't think he opened his eyes until the third day in the hospital. I was holding him on that day when the phone in my hospital room rang. My husband, on the other end of the line, asked, "What are you doing?" at the same time my baby opened his eyes and squinted up at me in reaction to the light. My eyes locked with that little sleepy boy, and I answered simply, "I'm falling in love with your son..." It had happened. Without time to really get to know my second child and learn if he would be adorable and sweet and smart, I loved him. I loved both of them, and still do, just the same.

I'm reminded of that at this special time of year in a school. Teachers and students are counting down days; some schools are out already, and summer is upon us. Back when I had my own classroom, I experienced over twenty years of "last days of school." I've stood in a line of teacher-dancers on the cafeteria wall, kicking up our legs and waving to the exiting school buses, smelling that exhaust for the last time for over two months, seeing those grinning faces smashed to the windows, some I'll never see again as they go off to high school. I've look at some of those faces and have known the truth - summer will be difficult for those who go to school and "escape" from dismal situations at home. I wave at those kids the hardest, my hand reaching out to them, hoping to hold them under the safety net of the schoolhouse for just a little longer...

Every year I have reflected on the group of students leaving me and have said quietly to myself, "I'll never love a group of kids as much as this group. They were the best group I ever taught." One thing you may not know if you aren't a teacher...each school year brings a group of students with a "whole group personality." And in the middle school, we hear about them years before they get to us. Just wait until you get the group that's in fourth grade now...they're sure a bunch of talkers! or The kids you'll get next year are so sweet.. (and occasionally some rather negative descriptions are included during our conversations with those who have them before us.) 

Then every year, I look out over that classroom at the beginning of school and think, "I'll never love them like last year's group." 

But then it happens. A seventh grader says something endearing, like the year my student Tevin told me he had a friend who didn't celebrate Christmas; instead, "He celebrates Harmonica." And the student who answered to "What are the adverb questions?" (the answer is How, When, Where, and To What Extent) with "How, When, Where, and What's the Matter?" Okay, maybe you had to be there...

In every class there is a child who slowly wraps himself around my heart - "Mrs. Rigsbee, my family doesn't have things, and sometimes it makes me so mad, I think I may just go out and steal what I want" and those who do it a little more quickly - on the first day - "I'll try not to drive you crazy. I'm my parents' worst nightmare."

Then I watch them sing in the chorus concert, cheer at the football games, dance at their first school dance in the cafeteria. I read their journals and follow their little dramas; I watch them sit with no lunch because their account is out of money. I hear voices change, see pants grow too short, soothe the tears, and rejoice in the smiles. Before you know it, the year is almost over. Then you know what I think?

I think I'll never love a group of kids like this one.