I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to teach.
Teaching is woven into every part of my being. I was a young girl before the invention of the internet, smart phones and video games so I had to figure out how to entertain myself. Summers were spent gathering my seven brothers and sisters and any stray neighborhood kids I could find to play my favorite game which was school. I always appointed myself the teacher and took seriously the job of creating assignments and art projects. I made up stories and sang campfire songs. Teaching, for me, was the greatest job on earth. Who wouldn’t want to do it?
At age five I was off to kindergarten. My teacher was Mrs. Allred. As hard as I try to remember the books she read, the art projects we did or the songs we sang, I can’t. What I do remember as if it was yesterday is how I felt. I felt safe and loved. I was curious about learning and looked
forward each morning to school. I felt capable and smart. I was relaxed with the easy pace of the day. I was happy. Years too late I tried to find Mrs. Allred and share the impact she had on my life. I would have loved to talk with her teacher to teacher. To tell her I tried to model the kind of teacher I am after her.
After high school I enrolled at the University to study Education. Part of the coursework included being a student teacher in classrooms with seasoned teachers whom I would first observe and then plan and teach lessons of my own.
One student teaching experience was in a third grade classroom. It was December and the teacher gave each student a picture of Santa to color during art time. Our job, she told me, was to walk among the rows of desks to make sure students were on task. I noticed she stopped at the desk of one student. Although this student had been quietly engaged in coloring; they had apparently made a mistake and ventured beyond the colors Santa “should be.” Her Santa was colored with the traditional red and green, but also purple, orange, pink and yellow. A rainbow Santa, how wonderfully creative I thought. The student’s pride in her work was clear.
The lead teacher had a different impression for she took the student’s paper and crumpled it up. Giving her a new paper she said, “Here’s another paper to try again. Santa is only red and green.” The student obediently colored her second Santa “correctly” with a red suit, a green belt with a yellow buckle, black boots and a white beard. In that moment I decided if I ever had a classroom of my own, this would not happen. My hands would never crush a student’s piece of art as if it were garbage. I regret not whispering in the student’s ear, “I loved your Santa.” But I was young and intimidated. Too timid to ask what was wrong with a rainbow-colored Santa? And long before I heard the phrase, “process over product,” in reference to a child’s creativity.
After college I became a substitute teacher which allowed me to peek into classrooms and gather ideas I hoped to one day use. Like a treasure hunter I amassed a bounty of curriculum, art and classroom management ideas. Some days I subbed in quiet schools nestled in the country with cows grazing in grassy fields next door. Other days I taught in bustling city schools shadowed by looming skyscrapers with students whose families were homeless. Some classrooms were void of life and left me saddened for children having to spend their childhoods there. But most classrooms were vibrant and full of color cared for by teachers that clearly loved what they did. Through substitute teaching I gained confidence and the ability to think on my feet.
So here I am twenty-five years later. Most of the hours of my days have been spent with children. Some of these children are grown now attending college or having children of their own. The time will soon come that I will say goodbye to teaching. It will be sad for she is like the dearest of friends. I wonder if for any of my students I have been their Mrs. Allred? Will they remember I loved to sing songs with them? Will they remember I didn’t ask for perfection, only that they try their best? Will they remember that “once upon a time” stories were my favorites to tell? Will they remember being excited about learning? Will they remember feeling safe and loved?
Will they remember that within the walls of my classroom Santa can be any color of the rainbow?