Twenty Years of Teaching

I was in eighth grade the first time someone asked me to teach. It was my first grade teacher Ms. Schewe, and she was in need of a tutor for her students that were behind in Reading. This was in the days before remedial classes and special ed, and looking back I know now that the kids I assisted probably had ADHD or learning disabilities. I gave up my study hall at the end of every day to go down to the first grade classroom and help the littles learn their sight words. It made me feel special that my old teacher chose me out of everybody, and it made me feel special that I could help others learn something I loved doing so much: reading!! Around that time, I also started helping my mom teach her Religious Education class on Thursday nights. I was just an assistant, passing out papers and reminding kids to concentrate, but I liked helping them learn. I liked reading them the Bible stories, and I loved when they would give innocent little philosophical answers. Sometime around 16, I got my own class that I kept for about 5 years or so. I also decided at that time to pursue education in college.

However, after a year of schooling, I was unable to continue my classes for health reasons. I then took a job as a substitute Teacher Aide for a special needs school. It was not my favorite job, and honestly there were moments that almost scared me away from special educational altogether. Now, special ed was not my area of expertise- and only became an issue for me when I took that job out of convenience and the need for money. Yet, somehow, my early twenties found me working at Baker Victory Services, a large organization for children with behavioral disability. For a while I worked in the Day Treatment Center, as a one-on-one Aide for various students, but one in particular who I shall call Sunshine.

Sunshine had a lot going on up in her brain, and I am sure that if she were in school now she would have gotten even more assistance than she received when I was with her. But at the heart of it, despite everything she had been through and everything she has seen, she was just a 15 year old girl. It became very important to me that this 15-year-old grew into a functioning adult. We worked together for almost 2 years before she left the school, and I have never forgot her. I don’t think I ever will- because when I think about it, every school I have worked at has a child or two that has never fully left my mind.

Sometimes a kid makes an impression on you, and you think about them as the years go on, wondering what they turned into. After Baker Victory, I moved along to a few daycares for a few years, and then went into nannying. Then early last year I started working in After School Care Program virtually, and a few months into that we finally moved back into the school. I got to actually meet the kids I had been watching on the screen, and so many more…I have dozens now that greet me each day with a smile and a “hi, Ms. Brigid!” I wonder how many of them I will remember years from now- I know us teachers are not supposed to play favorites, but that’s nonsense. The funny thing is, while I do remember my favorites over the years, I also remember others that made an impression somehow. I wonder who I will remember 10 years from now.

See, I follow a couple of mothers from the daycares and nanny gigs that I worked at on Facebook, and I have watched their kiddos grow over the internet. I think right now the youngest of the lot is 14. However, I have seen other children I taught or took care of graduate high school, join the army, buy their first car, make the dean’s list, etc. And then I think of Sunshine.

One day out of nowhere, my friend Jen tells me that her friend, Jimmy, brought his friend along for a car ride somewhere. They get to talking, and it is discovered that this friend of Jimmy’s is Sunshine. I am elated to hear she is alive and well, and when she texts me out of the blue one day, my heart soared. Is her life perfect? No, it is not. But it was HER life, and she worked hard for it, and she fought battles and overcame obstacles for it, and I was proud of her.

I haven’t heard from her in years. I send her a text on her birthday every year, but I don’t get a reply. Sometimes, I worry. Sometimes, I hope she’s out there living her life and is too busy for the likes of me. The thing with Sunshine is that I know for certain, perhaps due to the fact she was already a teenager at the time, that she remembers me as clearly as I remember her. With the little kids I work with, you wonder what kind of impact you have and what kind of impression you are making and what will stay with them as they get older.

I have a little boy in my second grade who is always helpful and kind, in a genuine way as opposed to those who do it for candy or line-leader privileges. He always chooses goodness when he can, and tries to keep things fair and safe, even for peers. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said either an engineer or a teacher. He would be spectacular at both things, so I told him so and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. He asked me why I’m not there in the mornings, because he wants me to be his teacher during the day, too. My heart swelled at this, because even though I gave up the traditional teaching path back when I left college, I love that I have been able to help and encourage kids who need it, ever since I was a kid myself.

I am debating whether to return to school in the fall. I love my job there, but there are logistical issues that come into play. For instance, my car is on his way out and while I live in South Buffalo, I work in North Buffalo, and it’s a big city. I spend half of what I make in gas and car maintenance. It also prevents me from picking up afternoon hours at Avis, which pays slightly better. But the logistical issues mean very little when confronted with the issues of the heart- do I want to give up teaching? Do I want to give up working with children, something I have literally been doing for 25 years? I do not know. I don’t think I’m going to know by the end of the year, and I’m not even sure how I’m going to feel at the end of the summer when I have to make the decision to send in my rehire application or not. Either way, I just want it on the record that for over 25 years I have been teaching children. I have taught everything from good manners to New Math, from reading skills to coping mechanisms, from potty training to bicycle riding, and I have done it all while loving a child that isn’t mine as though it was in that moment.

That’s my secret. This is why I worry about school shootings- because I will throw myself in front of your child, as though they are my own. When a kid is in my charge, they are MY kid. They are MY responsibility. And I will treat them therefore as though they are my own. This may be why it is so hard for me to say goodbye to teaching. Because I am saying goodbye to a hundred children that were never mine, but whom I loved fiercely for a moment in time.

Oh well, we shall see.  Happy Thursday.


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