The Bitter and the Sweet

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted.

Months really.

It’s been a crazy, busy year. Transitional, in many respects. No excuse for not writing though, except that maybe I wasn’t sure what to say.

But today I woke up knowing I needed to write.

In the next few weeks I will put a final period at the end of a creatively fueled twenty-two year-long-run-on sentence that has been a central expression of who I am. After spending my entire adult life actively engaged in the lives of little ones – teaching, nurturing, laughing and loving – I’m going to step away from the public school arena. And as the day draws closer, my emotions seem to be stuck on overdrive.

Elation

Sadness

Excitement

Nostalgic

Grateful

Humble

So very, very humble.

But don’t think that this reflection is going to have an ideological veil thrown over it blanketing the past two decades in fairy dust and magic. I won’t profess that every child in my class clawed her way out of the D range to make it to the honor roll. That every broken spirit was miraculously repaired with a well-timed smile, a hug or a kind word. Trust me when I tell you, not every parent signed up to be my biggest cheerleader.

But even so, most of those twenty-two years were so very, very good. In many ways they were excellent. And in truth, those pruning years, the difficult ones, were the years I grew the most.

Personally

Professionally

Spiritually

And for that, I am forever grateful.

This summer I will pressing into a new space. After a few years of wrestling with the call God has placed on my life, I am stepping into new ministry.

Is being obedient scary?

Of course.

Is it going to be worth it?

My heart of hearts says, “Totally!”

My want-to-worry flesh says, “Hopefully.”

The Spirit within me calls out, “Trust Me.”

So now my life seems to be a simultaneous process of excitedly looking forward, while steadfastly trying to remain present to all the moments I’ve been given now.

As in today.

It’s tough. Trying to live the Matthew 6:34 principal rubs against my teacher planning, “think ahead” self. So I’ve had to make a conscious choice to remain present. To let tomorrow worry about itself.

Every day people ask me, “How many more days?”

And every day I can truthfully answer, “I’m not counting.”

I’m not counting, because I don’t want to cheat even one little one out of the best I have to offer.

I’m not counting, because even in these last few days I’m trying to soak up every bit of the bitter and sweet that is left to be savored.

Because I know that’s the real blessing of obedience. The awareness that it takes both the bitter and the sweet to experience the beauty of the journey.

 

 

The School Bag

School has been out for nearly a month and my school bag has not been touched.

Those first few days of summer break were spent in frenzied, family fun – trips to the zoo, birthday celebrations, cook-outs, and long-awaited dips in the pool. Then there were days of catching up on those built up, back burner household chores.

Factor in a trip to New York City and there you have it. It is now officially four weeks past the last day of school. My overburdened school bag occupies the same place in my closet it has since being plopped down on the last day of school. Granted, every once in a while I might have shifted it around a bit to reach something behind it, but for the most part it has stood its ground, neglected and forlorn.

But never forgotten.

Trust me.

Every time I saw it sitting there in its unattended disarray I felt a guilty twinge.  Staring at me from the corner of the closet floor each morning it practically begged me to put it out of its misery.

So today was the day.

I pulled everything out of it.

It was not a pretty sight.

There were fifteen pens. Fifteen. A disproportionate amount of them were red. Who in their right mind carries around fifteen pens? There are not enough papers in the entire second grade to warrant that amount of ink.

More sensible were the fifty or so family pictures I had. You never want to miss a chance to have those on hand in case someone asks to see a picture (or fifty) of your grandchildren.

Two mismatched winter gloves, a whistle, my badge and an umbrella – recess duty remnants.

My emergency kit of spare reading glasses, breath mints, hand lotion, emery board, lip balm, Kleenex, Tylenol, and deodorant. I’m not sure why the deodorant was in there. I promise that without fail every morning I use antiperspirant. Perhaps I had stowed it for back up during parent teacher conferences. (Just in case things got a little tense.)

Two unopened CD’s. I just never found the time to rip off the cellophane.

A steak knife. Guess I should have used it to open the CD’s.

Three paper clips, a quarter, and a mysterious envelope into which I had shoved $25.00. I’m sure at the time I had a reason.

This year’s yearbook and next year’s class list. Both gave me pleasant pause; one as a happy reflection and the other as a hopeful future.

A black silk bag of small river rocks. I think I had used them as a children’s sermon illustration at church and yet somehow they found their way into my school bag.

At the very bottom were three handwritten thank-you notes, a black Sharpie and a single Reece Cup.

Job completed, I thought.

But then I noticed one more thing covering the bottom of the bag.

Glitter. Lots and lots of gold glitter.

And oddly enough, it made me happy.

Happy because I knew as I had sorted through that bag, my year had been a plethora of precious memories. And now, as a sort of delayed punctuation mark, had officially ended with a glint of gold.

Schools begins in a little more than a month. I’ll be bringing my bag with me with its special coating of glitter in the bottom. Hopefully it will be a sign of good things to come. The new year beginning like the old one ended.

With a classroom of little ones and the golden promise of sparkle and shine.

Why I Teach

This past week was National Teacher Appreciation week and I was blessed to be on the receiving end of a lot of love. It was so encouraging and very humbling to be acknowledged for just doing my job.

No doubt, teaching has changed dramatically over the years. This is my twenty-first year at my present school. And although I couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment, it’s definitely not the same job I originally signed up for two decades ago. Much of the professional autonomy is gone. Curriculum is driven by educational law largely lacking in common sense. Testing is out of control.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is this – children still need somebody to love them and invest in them. They need someone who will care enough about them to hold them accountable. To say no to unacceptable behavior and yes to putting forth the necessary effort to succeed. They need somebody who will help them push past failure and cheer them on even when its hard.

Learning isn’t about perfection. It’s about progress.

Over the years, I’ve rejoiced in my students’ successes and agonized over their failures. And still I feel like I’m the lucky one. The one, who for at least a short while, got to walk that path of progress alongside them.

A few weeks ago a child in my class wrote me a note on the back of her math homework. She was moving to another state on short notice and on her last day of class she handed in her homework along with these words.

To the best 2nd grade teacher anybody could ever have.

School is very important. That is not why I like it though. I like it because of all of the people you can meet and the things you are able to learn. People become teachers. They take the time to teach us new things. Mrs. Gatts, yes, my teacher, helped me. She and all my teachers helped me learn and know what I do know. I love my teacher. I love you, Mrs. Gatts.

That’s why I do it.

That’s why I teach.

That’s why any loving teacher teaches. We love learning, but more than that, we love the learner.

Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all my fellow teachers! Keep loving the learners. They are so worth it.