Thursday was my Mom’s last day as a teacher. Seeing that sentence in print gives me a strange feeling. Some of my first memories of my Mom have to do with being with her in her classroom. I first remember that she was a kindergarten teacher at a Catholic school (and we were not Catholic so I’ve always wondered what that was like for her). They had a summer school there that I got to go to when I was old enough. I only remember snippets of that: baking apple turnovers and running “dittos” on the “ditto machine.” That’s right, I remember a time when it was not common for a school to have a Xerox machine.
I don’t feel that old.
Back to Mom. I grew up knowing that I never wanted to be a teacher myself (don’t get me started on that list) but recognized how brilliant and wonderful it was for my Mom to be a teacher. Sometimes it would annoy me, too. We would go out shopping to Kohl’s or to the mall and inevitably we would be stopped by someone who either was a parent of a kid my Mom taught or a grown adult who used to be a kid that my Mom taught who would soon be having that person’s kids in her classroom. Good grief. She was sort of a celebrity in that respect. But I don’t think she ever saw it that way.
She stayed for years at this particular Catholic school and man, talk about the ups and downs. And the pay, from what I could imagine, was the pits. No one seemed to mind walking all over the teachers at this school. Sometimes Mom would cry about a bad day…or pretend that she wasn’t upset about something but clearly she was. She put herself out there, heart and soul, every darn school day. She was never satisfied to sit back and use the same lesson plans from year to year. It seemed to be a day to day kind of evolution that energized her. I think she sparked a lot of kids that way.
When she finally got the call to move to the fancy public school (yes, public), she was in full bloom. Talk about the resources and support she now had! She’s the kind of person whose excitement makes you excited. Of course there were still bad days and bad kids and bad parents. But this was a great move.
She also moved grades throughout the years: kindergarten to second grade and finally to sixth grade. Teaching the big fish in the little pond at the elementary school. She became “teacher-in-charge” when the principal was out and was head staff member for things like Student Council and Quiz Bowl. At one point I remember her telling me that there was a group of kids who would sometime stay in at lunchtime and play Euchre with her…strange but true. My Mom created tight bonds with so many of these kids.
Mom was nearly forced into retirement last year. At the 11th hour she decided she wasn’t quite ready and signed on for another year. Less than a month ago she signed the paperwork to make her retirement official. That must have been a difficult day. But hopefully also a liberating day. She’s still got so much fire in her that I know there will be a second chapter for her. She’s already thinking about volunteer work, getting her realtor license and of course, playing all the tennis that she can handle. Did I mention that she’s quite competitive?
Have you ever seen the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus?
I always pictured my Mom having that same kind of effect on the kids she taught and the teachers she worked with. One of the things she was feeling guilty about when making up her mind to retire was the fact that so many of the younger kids at the school came up to her to say, “I want to be in your classroom when I’m a sixth grader!”
She will be sorely missed. But I have to think that she’s left her stamp on that school and on those kids. Happy retirement, Mom. You are my Living Legend.
Back to food for my next post…I promise!
P.S. Did you have a teacher that you will never forget?