Had lunch with fourteen friends today. No big deal, really until I share this number: 444. Four hundred, forty four. This was the total accumulation of years we spent educating children. Now folks, that is a lot of lesson planning, report carding, and parent conferencing! So many young faces looking to us for answers as well as questions. And so many mornings of greeting youngsters at the door as they told us of loose teeth, bragged about birthday gifts, and cried because their dog ran away. We listened to each tale with kind attention, while motioning one kid to hang up his jacket, and shaking our head as another little darling decided to snatch the pencil off a classmate’s desk. We took attendance, gave spelling tests and read countless stories. When a bandaid would not stop the hurting, we bandaged their souls in kind words and warm hugs.
The student was never an intrusion in our day; kids made our day matter. Teaching was always so much more than averaging grades or processing curriculum. It was creating a sense of wonder, fostering a love for learning, and making sure each day held giggles and songs. We were story tellers and magicians, disciplinarians and number jugglers. And at the end of the day we were blessed. As well as very, very tired. Oddly, we could not wait until we woke up to do it all over again.
I looked at the gals with whom I was breaking bread. We laughed and storied, and shook our heads at the changes that were overtaking education. What? No time for holiday art lessons or cool units on owls? Constant pre-tests and post-tests that have crowded out the moments necessary for imagination? Classroom plays that held kids’ excitement and joy, shelved for strangers coming in the room to offer ‘interventions’. School days so rich that kids did not want to be absent–all this dumped so the data is streamlined and profitable? There was a balance between “skill and drill without the thrill” and hands-on activities which spilled over into each subject level. What looked ‘fun’ was ‘fundamental’ and the basics were never compromised; just served with neon green highlighters or power points. We fused technology into what the textbooks left out, and time-tested ‘best practice’ were our benchmarks.
I have never heard a former student say to me, “Wow, Mrs. Hall, those weeks of practice leading up to ISTEP were life changing!” Nope. But they will remember the time we put ‘Goldilocks on Trial,’ built moon bases that showed how we could live on the lunar surface, and wrote so many stories, essays and poems, that some were bound and published. I get responses from schoolchildren who recalled making games based on math concepts when we did a section called, “Let’s Get Board with Math.” And those moments they would beg me for more time just to read silently, as they became lost in the Young Hoosier books or autobiographies. We took them to Australia and back to the Gold Rush. On the first snowfall of the season, we ran outside to catch the snowflakes on our tongue. And we taught under administrators who honored our commitment to all students.
These pupils became authors, mathematicians, artists, scientists, and performed on those ‘high stakes’ tests because we had also infused personal pride, accountability, and a work ethic in between every worksheet, project, or packet. We expected our kiddos to spell, punctuate, and calculate accurately. And our day wasn’t scripted, timed, and we were trusted as educators to do our job.
With 444 years of instruction among us, we were entrusted with the awesome task of teaching a child. It was an enormous job which required patience, structure, and a mastery of the subjects we taught. Some of us spent every day with children afflicted with numerous disabilities. Many of us received awards and commendations. But really, we were only as good as the newspapers said we were. We taught children of children, and many who spoke no English. We have attended the weddings of our former students and sadly, bid our goodbye at some of their funerals. We spent 180 days a year molding clay…and in doing so, we were molded into better human beings. What an exchange!
The teachers of today have such a hard road. I substitute a few days a week, and I can feel the tension as I arrive in the buildings. I do not fault the staff, but of directives so misguided that educators are being forced to robotically turn out perfect little products. Kids are not a product. Just as their vital statistics follow its own path, so does learning. Numbers are only indicators, folks; it is the personal narrative that matters. The little person with knock-knock jokes and a yearning to please; who colors outside the lines and puts love notes on your desk, and always lets the new kid sit next to her or him—these are the individuals who made our 444 years so precious to us.
I marveled at the gifts of my fourteen friends. How we shared such a history. Back in the day, we would sit in the hallway, lean up against the wall, and laugh at who got the first phone call after report cards arrived home. We built one another up, shared classroom strategies, and inside info on what worked with ‘that kid‘. School was the ‘stuff’ of our souls. It was not easy then, and it is not easy now. But my, what an honor, to say, “I’m a teacher.”
And when it all is added up, I have to conclude that we fourteen teachers with 444 years of combined experience have been blessed beyond measure. Thank you for allowing us to use our gifts in the public classroom.
Lunch is over, so back to the classroom. But if you are really good, you may earn an extra recess. Class act, indeed.