There are so many things that I miss about being an elementary school teacher. Halloween just passed by, and I remember the day with fondness. I loved creating the most engaging lessons for whatever topic we were studying to make sure my kids were engaged the whole week, no matter which day the holiday fell on. There was the inevitable build up, actual crazy day of the holiday, and then the sugar crashed days afterward. I loved the puns in the air and the opportunities for poetry and narrative writing all over the place. Then it would be the push to Thanksgiving break, and the mad dash to Christmas. Those were some of the most challenging times of the school year.It pushed me as a teacher to be creative and to really put myself in the kid’s shoes. I had to be on point, too, making sure that I was engaging, exciting, reliable, even-tempered, and ready for it all. Oooohhhh, I miss it.
Then there are things that I don’t miss. At all. My body being a topic of conversation is one of them.
Inevitably, every year, a sweet kindergartener would stop me in the hall, or when they were with my students as their buddies, and ask me that terrifying question. They’d tap my belly and say, “Teacher, do you got a baby in there?” I’d always smile down at them with my biggest fake smile and say, “Oh sweetie. Nope! I’m just made like this. Isn’t that nice? How we can all be so different!” In my head, I was crying and screaming at this tiny monster, “Nope, not pregnant. Just fat! Are you happy now!?” But it was all so sweet and loving; five year olds rarely know what they’re implying when saying things like this. But every time there was a bigger kid who heard it. They hear everything. And they’d always ask me about it later, or write to me, or make me a card, and want to know how I felt about it. So I would tell them. Sure, my feelings got hurt, but I shake it off. I’m awesome! I’d be super convincing; sometimes I’d even convince myself. Some days, I felt unstoppable. Lots of times, though, I was lying through my teeth. I was in the business of helping kids become wonderful adults, of helping them realize that they are, truly, awesome, every one of them. They needed to believe I was ok with me so that when I told them they needed to be ok with themselves, they would. It was the hardest part of my job.
When you teach elementary school, and probably middle and high school, too, the kids know you. They know your moods and temperament better than you do. Sometimes you spend more time awake with them than they do with their parents and more than you do with your spouse. They know you, man. And they’ll ask you, “Are you OK today?” or “Do you feel good?” or even, “You seem sad. What happened? Or what can I do?” I’m a crazy honest person. I’d let them know I was having a bad day because I had a headache or was tired. I’d let them know if there was stuff I was thinking about that was “private, but thank you for caring.” I’d even say things like, “I’m really OK, but this can be a really hard job sometimes.” In about 15 years I had one student who had a hard time with that. Otherwise, it was really ok. But I’m glad, now, that I can be more open when people ask me how I am. I think it’s really important for us to know about our fellow humans and what they’re going through. We all need to realize that everyone has a story; sometimes the stories are not happy.
There are lots of things I don’t really say anymore, even though I’m a parent. All of these would be frowned upon at the dining room table (or I’d be pretty upset to have to say them):
“So, let’s get your fingers out of your nose and wash them before we do more math.”
“One, two, three…eyes on me!”
“You’re right, that is really neat! But how about wiping it in a tissue instead.”
“I’ll wait until everyone is listening before I go on.”
“Sweetie, let’s sit on your hands so that it’s easy to keep them out of your pants.”
“Oops! I think someone forgot to take bodily functions outside of the room.”
There are so many more. So many funny stories, so many happy days, so many times when I was able to say I love you and mean it with all my heart. I miss being a teacher. Maybe I can still call myself a teacher. I don’t know. But I’m glad for the things I don’t have to say anymore. The thing I will still say to any kid I can, any time I can mean it, is “You’re a good person,” because no one I know hears it enough.