Three weeks ago I flipped off the lights and walked out of Room 23 without a backward’s glance. It was the kind of goodbye that aches all the way down to the soles of your feet and I had a car full of boxes and a house full of children needing lunch, so I did what I always do and just kept going. It has taken me all of this time to untangle myself from the year so I can find the words to let go of this past year’s group of kids. When I walked into my first day of teaching first grade, on my back was a pack of a 1000 worries. How much can kids who can barely read and write learn? What do I say to someone who doesn’t speak English? Will they like me? Will I like them? Will I bore them? WIll they bore me? Endless questions, no answer in sight, until we met, and then…love at first sight.
Teaching kids is an intimate thing. There is so much to the relationship… trust, faith, hope, compassion. I had felt my heart swell with the joy of watching kids learn when I was teaching high school, but teaching these children was pure magic. When I was in college, one of my favorite authors was George MacDonald. In one memorable passage, he writes about a mythical group of children called The Lovers. The main character is waylaid from his journey and his worries by a beautiful group of children who just want him to pause and play under a fruit tree. They laugh, sing songs, feed him apples, and give him hugs until his wounds are healed, his soul filled, and they send him on his way. And to think, I got to spend a whole year under that tree…
There is something enchanting about being six years old. You have only been alive for a few Christmases and Halloweens, and everything from snowfall to missing teeth is an event. At six, you have piles of faith in the goodness of people, so when you feel happy-you hug, when you feel sad-you cry, and when you feel energetic-you do NOT sit criss-cross-apple-sauce. Class News is filled with monumental happenings, like getting a bagel from Dunkin Donuts, a new puppy that goes, “hhummm, hhummm, hhummm”, and my mom baked a cake. Within the walls of this classroom is a planet of existence, Kindness and Caring its world powers. And when Peace and Harmony are disrupted by someone’s unwillingness to share a matchbox car they brought from home…you tell the Queen having complete faith in her Justice.
As the year went by, I found myself slowing down. I rediscover the joy of painting with watercolors, new boxes of crayons, and scratch and sniff stickers. Somedays I would go to school tired, or stressed from the business of life, and there was always a good morning hug, a love note tucked on my desk at lunch, and a warm, “I’ll miss you” at the end of the day. I also realize my buckets of adult energy can’t begin to match their DESPERATE NEED for movement. Somedays their spirit is too much and it spills all over the floor and each other. They break stuff, the noise level is deafening, and my head pounds. So we do yoga, take brain breaks, and dance everyday…all things that also bring me pleasure.
And everyday they heal me of my adultishness a little more. They remind me that life and the people in it are mostly good. One May morning, I hear John Legend’s song, “All of Me”. I realize this love ballad is the song my heart sings of them.
All of me, loves all of you
Loves your cuves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
I’ll give my all to you
You give your all to me
Room 23 has been a love song. It is a culture born from my passion to let teaching be my mission, and their love for learning…and for me. I expected to do a good job. I expected to be successful. I expected them to learn. I never expected to be soooo very loved. As I type and wipe tears from my chin, I have gratitude for their gift, thankfulness for their kindness, and immeasurable sorrow at leaving them.
There will only be one first grade year. Next year, I am changing rooms and grades. My third graders will be older and wiser. They will have more knowledge that life can be bumpy. And they will need me too, the way good teachers are always needed by students. But as I say goodbye to my firsties I am struck by the lessons they taught me.
When you feel happy – hug
When the world is unjust -tattling may not fix it, but you feel better
When you are sad – cry
When you are excited – dance
And above all make sure the people in your world know you care- write lots of love notes
Goodbye my dear sweet children, thank you for sending me on my way a little bit younger and a lot more whole. May God bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you as you journey on.