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Our Stories: A Teacher

The second in a series called: Our Stories

These are stories told to me by other people.

I write them because I want to write.

They tell them because they want to be heard.

There was a girl. She was like a lot of others. She wanted to be a teacher.

“Why?” they asked.

She didn’t know how to respond. There was no easy answer.

“I just feel the most at home when I’m with kids,” she told them. “So, I want to be a teacher.”

That was enough. At the time, that was enough.

She graduated with her Master’s Degree, the least amount of education she could have to get through the doorway of a classroom. She gained just under $50,000 in school loans, less though than many of her teacher-seeking peers, and she knew that she wouldn’t start out making enough money to get a new car so she’d just drive the one her dad kept fixing.

She still wanted to be a teacher.

She applied to dozens of districts. She didn’t get a job, but she still wanted to be a teacher.

She still wanted to be a teacher so she took a position in a struggling neighborhood for a Pre-K program that she realized too late had no real curriculum. That didn’t matter. She designed it herself. For about $10 an hour she designed it herself and in the first month a five year old threw a chair at her and by the last month she’d seen it all when a little girl sat on her lap as a social worker took notes from the child about how her step-father touched her. She held the child tighter and waited until she got home to cry.

She still wanted to be a teacher.

The following year they called. A public school called, probably to make her stop calling them. She went for an interview, sweaty and shaking and wondering if she was really good enough.

She went for a second interview and then back for a third time to teach while they watched and just when she thought she might not being doing it right a child moved up against her on the floor, on the floor where teachers spend a lot of their time. The child was warm at her side and she got that feeling again, that “at home” feeling, and she forgot to care about the people watching her and instead she just taught . . . and learned too.

She learned that she wanted to be a teacher.

They next day they called again. They called and asked if she’d like to be a teacher.

She would.

She’ll get summers off she realizes. Summers off.

When summer comes though, she gets a job as a nanny because she didn’t know. She didn’t know that paychecks would stop and she didn’t plan ahead and it’s OK. People work in the summer. Teachers can too. She’ll do better next year. She’ll take the summer off then.

Next summer comes. She works two jobs. She works two jobs the next summer and works every summer after that.

She still wants to be a teacher.

Things get really hard. There’s so much more to do than teach.

She wipes tears.

She puts bandaids on cuts.

She settles arguments and helps them learn how to settle some without her.

She zips jackets, puts hair in ponytails, grabs garbage baskets right before the throw up comes.

She searches for lost lunch boxes.

She listens to story after story after story after story.

She spends hundreds of dollars to make her classroom more of a place her kids want to be and she calls them that too, her kids.

She spends more. She spends hours. She spends hours and hours on report cards and lesson plans and emails and meetings and worrying. She spends a lot on worrying.

She makes mistakes. She makes many. Years go by. It is not any easier. It is harder. She thought she’d know it all by now. All that she knows though, is that she never will. She will never know it all. She will always be learning.

She still wants to be a teacher.

Then one day she cries. She cries realizing for the first time how many people hate her because she’s a teacher, because she’s protected by a union, because she has vacations and good healthcare and a pension that will help her retire. She wonders if she’s not worth these things because people tell her that she’s not, people she doesn’t even know. They tell her that she is not worth these things.

Those who love her say to ignore this. They say she should be making a lot more money. She says that she should not. She says that tax payers pay her salary and she doesn’t want them to be overburdened, that she just wants them to care about her. She says that she’s grateful for a good living doing something she thinks is important. She’ll try not to let it hurt so much that not everyone understands what she does. She’ll try not to let it hurt.

She still wants to be a teacher, but some days she is not.

Some days she is not a teacher. She is something else. She doesn’t know what she is. It’s not what she thought and it doesn't aways feel like home anymore and it is too much work and too much ridicule and too much politics and too much testing and too much, too much, too much. She still wants to be a teacher, but she also thinks about something else. She thinks about leaving.

She thinks about leaving and she thinks and she thinks and she thinks and then her kids walk into the classroom. They walk in with pieces of paper. They are smiling and reaching out to her and she takes the papers in her hands like dozens of flowers.

There are drawings on them, and words too, so many words, words from their sweet child souls, words that she has taught them to spell.

She slows down. She looks more carefully. She sees her stick figure self with long pencil-brown hair and the exact outfit she is wearing that day and even earrings. With their broken crayons they have drawn the earrings in her ears and they have drawn stars and hearts and polka dots all around her head and her entire body and they have written notes that say things she should have known.

They write notes that say how much they love her and what they’ve learned from her and how funny she is and how they wish she would never leave them. The notes say that. The notes say, “I wish you could be my teacher forever.”

She takes the kids into her arms then. She takes her kids into her arms and she whispers to them.

She whispers, “I still want to be a teacher.”

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