Pride fills me with warmth on a cold early morn when I can view the selfie sent to me by my 22 year old “baby” before he left for his student teaching gig. My usually slovenly-dressed lad who wears faded t-shirts and holey sneakers is not hung up on details like good clothes. In the selfie,however, he wears newish, brown slacks with a matching belt and a wrinkle-free, cream-colored button down shirt. His girlfriend has given him a slim-fitting haircut, and only she and I know his glasses are held together with Super glue. He also has the echo of a smile, and my usually laid-back, monk-like Art Major child almost appears eager and excited to go to school.
And so the teacher tradition in our family lives on. I am retired after 35 years of public school classrooms. (I have one small gig as adjunct faculty for a private Catholic university.) I look at Evan’s handsome and hopeful face, and I remember being the latter adjective long ago and far away…
For my 6th Christmas I got a blond-haired Susie Smart Doll from Santa. She stood about 2 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 Susie Smart Doll under the Christmas tree, I was dumbstruck with excitement! I soon found my voice and ran down the long hall to my parents’ bedroom. I breathlessly exclaimed as I jumped on their bed, “Momma! Daddy! Santa. Brought. Me. Susie Smart! Can you believe it?!” Dad grunted as he rolled over, and Momma patted my hand and said, “Ah-hummh, Sweetie. I’ll be up soon.” She smiled and softly turned over.
So my fascination with being a teacher began early for me. 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 Teddy bear. Susie was the model student who always sat quietly and always listened attentively.
Oh, how far from reality was my Susie Smart! I taught for 35 years, and my students (from ages 5 to 20) rarely liked to sit quietly and attentively. I even remember one day at Pearce Middle School, one of my 7th grade boys literally fell out of his desk without just cause. Maybe he was reaching for a pencil on the floor or just rearranging papers on his desk. But with his arms flailing and he is legs dancing in the air, he fell to the floor while his adolescent voice squeaked and squawked. I always confessed to 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, but a few highs and lows stick out:
Marco,the chubby kindergartener who did not like talking to me because his mom told him,”I don’t trust any white person farther than I can throw them.”
Andy, the 16 year old 7th 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 that school on the wrong side of the tracks. ( That was my first and last time to use corporal punishment, a method Louisiana schools believed in during 1978.)
Sam, 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.
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 other student in a choke-hold and yelling, “It’s ok, Ms. G., I got him for you!”
Nicole, the senior who was both an award-winning actor,comedienne, and journalist who awed me with her literary insight and wrote me the most beautiful thank you cardI had ever received.
Tyronne, the video anchor for our Eye of the Cougar morning announcements show who also painted the backdrop mural in our studio. Then he visited me years later to tell me about the Christian rap band he started and performed with around town.
Dare and Kyle, the crazy campus duo that once hauled a shopping cart full of “shit we found in our garage” as part of a visualization of hell assignment.
Diana and Hannah and the many kids who cried and kvetched in my classroom about their broken families, broken hearts, and even broken dreams.
Nothing can make you laugh, cry, praise the Lord, or curse the world like teaching can!
Now that I’ve retired from full-time , public school teaching, I still feel that teaching will be part of my future life in some way.
The teacher in me is not quite ready to put her chalk down.