"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

in another life, I was a teacher

There's something about August.

For five years I spent these hot and hazy weeks in a tizzy of nervous, excited anticipation. A new school year! A new group of students! New lesson plans to try out! Brand new boxes of perfectly pointy-tipped crayons just begging me to doodle a bit!

In some ways, I'm still the same person I was all those many years ago...before kids and sleepless nights and crinkly lines in the corners of my eyes. I still get the urge to clean, purge, and organize at this time of the year. My kids' closets are ready for fall, though the weather will keep us in shorts for another two months. My pantry has been redesigned in anticipation of busy mornings when snacks and water bottles and lunch boxes need to be readily accessible. The storage room in the basement has been cleaned up; "new" toys coming back into the rotation while old favorites of the summer have been packed away for the time being.

But, beyond that, I don't even recognize that person I was when I stood in the front of the classroom. Beyond the tiny humans in my house, the sleep deprivation experiment I've been conducting, and the wrinkles, there's more that separates these two phases of my adulthood...

When I was a teacher...
I had 25 5-year olds in my care for six hours of each day. I was responsible for their education, yes, but I also contributed to their social and emotional development..in addition to keeping them safe. Sound familiar Moms and Dads? I taught at a school in which most parents worked (and many worked more than one job). Many didn't speak English and few participated in programs at the school. When it came time for field trips, I was lucky if one parent volunteered to be a chaperone. Often, it was just me and the kids...all 25 of them (some of whom had a significantly limited understanding of the English language)...at the zoo, on a hayride at the pumpkin patch, jumping (jumping!) from "lily pad" to "lily pad" across the pond (the pond!) in the Japanese gardens in the local botanical park. Can you imagine watching your five-year old, 25 kids back in a long line of dawdling kindergartners, leap-frogging across concrete platforms above a pond full of 2-foot long koi fish? And not a single kid had with him a change of clothes in case he didn't stick the landing. I didn't think twice about it! Oh, the innocence of youth.

As a mom, the mere thought of a trip to Target with my own three (native English speakers) sends me into a cold sweat. And when we do set off on our voyage to the store, I carry in my diaper bag enough (snacks, diapers, spare underwear, and Band-Aids) to sustain us for a three day camping trip.

When I was a teacher...
I had to perfectly plan my bathroom visits around my lunch and Resource periods. I became an expert in Holding It.

As a mom, I can use the potty whenever I damn well please. The caveat is that someone's usually watching me or calling my name.

When I was a teacher...
I thought I had seen it all in terms of a child's misbehavior. I've had students refuse to follow directions, talk back to me disrespectfully, and lie to my face. I've had to call parents because their kids were kissing on the playground, stealing from his peers, or defacing school property. I had to explain to a student that, despite what happens at home, we do not use the word "f*ck" in the classroom. And once, I was kicked and spat on while a student hurled racial obscenities at me. He was five.

As a mom, I have seen nothing that even comes close to some of the behaviors I witnessed in the classroom. But, somehow, from my own flesh and blood, even the most innocuous behavior: a rolled eye, a muttered "last word," a slammed door, a disrespectful tone, an unkind word to a sibling...can elicit stronger emotions from me than I ever felt towards my students. I was such a calm, cool, and collected teacher....

When I was a teacher...
I had all the answers. Literally: Teacher's manuals. Besides, my students were five and six years old. I could handle whatever they threw at me during the school day. What rhymes with tree? No problem. If you have two cookies and your sister has three cookies, how many do you have all together? I got this. What animals live in the Arctic? Easy! [Don't say penguin, don't say penguin, don't say penguin...]

As a mom, four words: Thank god for Google.
How long is the longest whale shark? How did people first walk to America from Europe? So what is 'plate tectonics'? How fast does a chicken run? So then how fast does a roadrunner run? What does a gila monster eat? Why did I like this watermelon yesterday but not today? Just tell me how evolution actually works. That's all I'm asking. 

And that was all before we'd even finished breakfast this morning.

Lesson Learned:
I may not be setting up a classroom, or getting ready to meet the 25 new faces who will become my class, but there's still something about August....I'm full of nervous, excited anticipation for the new school year...but I'm still not ready for summer to be over.

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