Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I do when I'm not here

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week!  If you've been with me from the beginning, you're well aware that I'm an educator.  A school counselor, to be exact.  However, I started my career 10 years ago in the English classroom.  I can't even tell you when I knew I wanted to become a teacher/educator, because it was just always so.  There wasn't another career I considered.  Well, somewhere in there my mom tells me I was going to be a ballerina in the evenings and a firewoman in the daytime.  I had big dreams for a little thing!

I've been out of the classroom technically for longer than I was in, but those years I spent teaching English seem bigger in my memory than the past six I've spent in the counseling office.  Maybe because I can remember my students by name.  Maybe because I still read the novels I used to teach.  Maybe because I still have artwork from my former students' projects hanging on my office wall.  Maybe because I just loved it so much.  Don't get me wrong, I love, love, love this job.  But it is just so different than the classroom, I cannot explain it. 

Because this is National Teacher Appreciation Week.  Because a former teacher of mine posted on Facebook to thank a teacher we had in our past.  Because I love teachers with my whole heart, I am filled with memories this morning of those who led me to this place today.  My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Billings who was the sweetest, most kind and loving woman.  Or my second grade teacher, Mrs. Krusinski (that was our first lesson...spelling her name) who introduced me to chapter books like Charlotte's Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kerby, who held my hand so patiently through long division, no matter how frustrated I became.  I was painfully shy in those elementary years, barely speaking above a whisper, but my teachers somehow understood me, and made me feel as though I was okay.  I thank them for creating a safe and nurturing place for me to grow.

When I entered the upper grades, it was all about the arts.  I set foot into the band room and disappeared into a world unto myself-and kids just like me.  Every single band director I had shaped the person I am today.  I am eternally grateful to each of them for pushing me to become a better musician, better team player, better person.  Because of my love for music, I chose to finish out school in a music conservatory and landed in choir simply because my mean guidance counselor (dad) wouldn't let me take a study hall.  Mr. Kochan changed me yet again.  The painfully shy girl who felt comfortable with a musical instrument attached to her face discovered she loved to sing.  There are days now I find myself wandering down to the choir room of my school just to listen-I miss that so. 

Finally, there was my junior English class.  With Mary Styslinger.  It was years later we found out she despised teaching American Literature, preferring Brit Lit, but we couldn't have known.  She opened my eyes to all that was the rich tradition of American writers.  It was in her room that I read Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Kate Chopin's The Awakening for the first time.  We performed The Crucible.  We wrote literary analysis papers till our fingers bled.  She forced our thoughts to twist and turn into directions we didn't know they could go.  I loved it.  I ate it up with a spoon.  Then  I got a ladle because I couldn't get enough of it.  Before that semester ended I knew I wanted to teach English more than anything.  It became my mantra as I taught my own teens years later-am I giving them the same thirst for knowledge that Ms. Styslinger gave me? 

I give thanks to all of the teachers who shaped me.  The teachers who left their thumbprints on my path to adulthood.  I couldn't have gotten here without you.  Many (if not all) of you won't read this today, or ever.  But I know that our jobs come with little thanks, and much grief.  If you know a teacher, love a teacher, or appreciate a teacher, make a point to simply tell them "thank you" before they leave for the summer.  We live on those words.  Tonight I will take some time to go through all the notes, cards, and pictures I have saved over the last 10 years.  It seems like a fitting time to re-read my treasures. 

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