I got a ride to the train today. Of course, I was running late. The car ride was full of typical off-to-school, off-to-work stresses as my ten-year-old sat in the backseat, her larger-than-she-is backpack bouncing on her lap. We’ve all been counting, counting, counting—how few days of school still remain.
I jumped out midway through their ride to school, this stop timed perfectly to the outbound train that arrives before my inbound one. Yes, our well-orchestrated winter ride strategy still worked brilliantly. Though I missed my warm weather walk to the train, I was pleased they made the light. As I walked to “my spot” on the train platform, from of the corner of my eye I caught our car turning the corner. Then, as though travelling in a bubble from only her to only me, wafted the most wonderful words. “Bye, Mommy!” she shouted, as loudly and innocently as only a happy ten-year-old can shout.
Bye, Mommy. As I watched the car drive out of my sight, I realized how special those words are, and how soon I’m going to trade them in for something much more middle school-esque; a groan perhaps, coupled with an eye roll? Maybe not, but I steel myself for this transition nonetheless. Truth be told, my thirteen-year old, quite the well-ensconced middle school student, would never do either. She’s simply and appropriately shed the innocence of shouting out of car windows.
Bye, Mommy. Savor this, I thought. I considered the many other losses of this time of year—the loss of structure that’s traded for the freedoms of summer, the many good byes, and in our case, the loss of an entire school. This is our last year at the intermediate school, one of my favorites in our school system. It’s totally geared to all things 8–10 years old, nothing more, and nothing less. And it does it all brilliantly. Yet now, this too we must lose. Our time there is over. I do know from experience that the next school, though different, is equally wonderful and perfectly suited to all issues aged 11–14. I know that our youngest will thrive there as our older child now does. It’s not about the gains, though, not yet. At this time of year, it is about the losses first—to make room for the gains.
My mind flashed next to the many teachers I’m riding on this train to serve, the teachers that are the pure raison d’être for Teacher Peach, the reason I bound into this work I love each morning. How do you do it, teachers? You form such incredible bonds with your students. You spend the beginning months of the school year exploring all of your students to learn who they are. Then you seamlessly shift to helping them discover who they can become on your short ten-month watch. You coach, cajole, foster, encourage, and lead each of them to their next benchmark of progress. And then you must say goodbye. And you graciously, kindly, and lovingly let go. How do you stand the losses? Or are they losses at all?
My thoughts move to the teacher who started all of this for me, my mother, sporting her Cameo pin in the photo at the top of this blog. My mother taught in early childhood for almost 40 years. It is through her that I first learned two things that shaped my professional life: one, that teachers possess amazing gifts to inspire other people (as you do for me, each day!), and two, that I’d probably never be a teacher in the pure sense of the word. According to my mother, I lacked the patience required, instead possessing the talent to capture and express the passions of others in ways that inspire them to keep sharing their gifts. The mission of Teacher Peach proves her accuracy, yet again. (She was rarely wrong, my mother.)
My mother didn’t see the endings of school years as losses. She was a teacher through and through. Each year, she gained new little faces and each year she happily sent off these awakened curious little minds to their next adventures in Kindergarten. She made it all look so easy.
She’d say, “That young child is going to be a doctor. This little one is going to be on the stage.” Years later, she’d go to many a doctor’s appointment only to meet a young doctor whose name she recognized. “So, I see you did become a doctor. I told your mother you would back when you were in preschool, Julia Louise.” She never forgot even a middle name. She was right about her predictions. Even when the stage she’d predicted turned out to be a boardroom, it was still a stage, tapping into those talents she’d detected so long ago. She was also spot-on when she reassured worried parents. “I promise you, Lynne, he will not walk down the aisle wearing shorts or carrying a pacifier. He moves at his own pace. He’ll be just fine.” And he usually was.
Perhaps that’s how most teachers cope with losses. Perhaps to teachers, these endings aren’t loses at all; they are accomplishments, part of the process, and a path to new beginnings. At least they were to my mother. We’d joke that she was like the Lone Ranger, standing off to the side as she watched her young charges bound off to those next adventures. We even scripted her lines, envisioning her turning to her Tonto, her trusty assistant teacher, to say, “Yes, our job is done here, Esther. We must move on and meet our next adventure. We have 28 new little ones coming to join us in a few weeks. Right now, it’s off to summer play camp for us.”
This time of wrapping up another school year, filled with bittersweet endings and shiny new beginnings for the kids and families, might be as filled with emotion for the teachers our company works to support. In the case of our teachers, I hope it is as it was for my mother, a time of rich, happy emotion. I hope it is a time of pride of progress, delight in the new discoveries made, and a time to measure what’s been accomplished, for the students and their teacher-guides.
And so our teachers continue to teach. This time I’m the student, learning from the amazing teachers in my past and my present that losses can be good, even easily twisted into progress markers on a journey of learning. I liked this train ride today. Yes, we will continue to count down the number of school days left in our house, of that I am sure. After hearing “Bye, Mommy,” this morning, however, I think I shall count just a little bit more slowly from here on out.
I hope this personal reflection touches a chord for you. At Teacher Peach, we strive to inspire teachers to recognize the incredible contributions you make to each and every student in your charge. You make huge differences. Know that, like my mother knew it. We do.
How will you wrap up this school year? What predictions will you make about your students? What are your particular points of pride about this recent school year? We’d love to hear from you here.