Pride filled me with warmth on a cold early morn when I viewed the selfie that my 22-year-old “baby” sent me before he left for his student teaching gig in 2016. My laid back lad who wore faded t-shirts and tattered sneakers was not hung up on details like good clothes. In the selfie, however, he wore new brown slacks with a matching belt and a wrinkle-free, cream-colored button down shirt. His girlfriend had given him a slick haircut, and only she and I knew his glasses were held together with Super Glue. He also had the echo of a smile, and my usually laid-back, monk-like Art Major child appeared eager and excited to go to school.
And so the teacher tradition in our family lived on. I retired after 36 years in public school classrooms. On that chilly morning I looked at Evan’s handsome, hopeful face and remembered owning the latter adjective long ago and far away…
In 1962 I got a blond-haired Susie Smart Doll from Santa. She stood two feet tall, wore a plaid skirt with suspenders, and a white collared shirt. She came with a desk and a small chalk board. At 6 a.m. when I sleepily walked into the big living room and saw this dream-come-true doll under the Christmas tree, I was dumbstruck! After I found my voice and ran down the long hall to my parents’ bedroom, I jumped on their bed and in breathless spurts let them in on on the massive surprise: “Momma! Daddy! Santa. Brought. Me. Susie Smart! Can you believe it?!”
So began my fascination with teaching. That year I taught Susie so many things: how to write her ABC’s, simple addition, and the importance of paying close attention to your teacher. My two younger sisters sometimes joined our class as did the occasional stuffed bear. Susie was the model student who always sat quietly and listened attentively.
Oh, how far from reality was my Susie! Real life students rarely sit quietly at attention. I remember a day at Pearce Middle School when a seventh grader literally fell out of his desk without warning. Maybe he was reaching for a pencil on the floor or just rearranging papers on his desk. But with his arms flailing and his legs dancing in the air, he fell to the floor while his adolescent voice squawked, “Whaaa!”
Fifteen years later I told my high school students that middle school was too much for me because “Students can fall out of their desks for no apparent reason!”
The thousands I’ve taught through the years seem to meld together in my memory with a few highs and lows sticking out:
Andy, the 16-year-old seventh grader who was taller than I was and glared at me with pure hate when I took him in the hall outside my classroom to use the paddle that every new teacher was given at a school literally located on the wrong side of the tracks.
Victoria, the feisty 7th grader who helped me break-up a fight in my portable classroom by putting the boy who had hurled a desk at another student in a choke-hold and yelling, “It’s ok, Ms. G., I got him!”
Sid, the senior who pulled out his pecker when I went to his desk to answer a question about his college essay after school one day during a tutoring session.
Nicole, the award-winning actor, comedienne, and journalist who awed me with her literary insight and wrote me a thank you card I treasure more than jewelry.
Tyrone, the anchor for our Eye of the Cougar morning announcements who also painted the backdrop mural in our studio and visited me years later and gave me a flyer for the rap band he started and performed with around town.
Dare and Kyle, the crazy campus duo who once hauled a shopping cart full of “shit we found in our garage” as part of their visualization of hell assignment after we read “Paradise Lost.”
In 2016 I wished Evan all the stamina and flexibility he needed to be a teacher. He already had more creativity and compassion than most people can even dream of possessing. He went from being a substitute art teacher to being the audio/visual production instructor (and assistant tennis coach) at the Austin high school he once attended.
Now in the fall 2021 Evan decorates his classroom, sets up his video technology, and rearranges the lessons, videos, and syllabi he has created for the school year that will follow the pandemic year of chaos and Zoom lessons. His beard is longer and his smile less eager. But he has the bravery to match his creativity. More important, he knows how to connect with his students by using respect and a solid sense of humor. He’s ready for all that the educational powers-that-be will demand of him. Teaching is in his DNA!