Back to school: A teacher’s perspective
School begins next week. As a veteran teacher, bittersweet is the word that best describes my feelings this time of year, at this time in my life.
A popular meme on social media these days attempts to explain the situation. As if posted by a teacher, it reads, “It is not that I do not want to go back to school … it’s that I don’t want to wake up early, put on real clothes, drive or have any responsibilities.” This statement seemed to fit me so well that without hesitation, I clicked on the “love” button, virtually commiserating with my tribe. Then, since I still had some free time ahead of me, I promptly began my “back to school” shopping.
T-shirts and ‘Teacherisms’
I purchased three T-shirts in no time. One features the definition of teacher: (noun) “A person in it for outcome rather than the income; the most important professional in your town; a really easy job, like riding a bike, except that the bike is on fire, you are on fire, and everything is on fire.” Yes!
The second shirt has a peace sign over a heart-shaped graphic with the words: “Teach love and peace.” Such a worthy goal!
The third is a long sleeve shirt. On it is printed the alphabet, letter by letter, except for that word in the middle, “elemeno.” God only knows when this might be worn given the heat wave outside and my own internal flaring, but it is cute!
As you might now realize, I teach in an elementary school where occasional T-shirt wearing by the Intensive Intervention teacher is acceptable. I will add these shirts into the rotation of others worn during my 30-plus years of teaching.
Shifts and preparations
While I feel so privileged and fortunate to do this work, this ministry that I believe I was called to do, it is true that I have begun to look around, to catch a glimpse of what might be next for me. Of course, I do realize my audience when writing this blog post. Kudos to you many Sisters of Providence and others who taught 40 new students each year for 40 years and then moved on to become principal for many years to follow! I do not have it in me. I am watching my peers retire and/or make changes, and I, too, am itching to do so.
My summertime respite is ending. Change is in the air. It shifts in early July, meeting me on my porch each morning as I leisurely sip my coffee, think my big thoughts and ponder my wonderings.
So, while I purchase shirts for myself, I buy instructional materials and classroom supplies for a new group of students. I attend in-service days to learn the newest research-based practices for teaching. I communicate and plan with my school colleagues and get my classroom in shape.
I swim laps each day to calm my nerves and prepare my body. I get my teeth cleaned, I complete my annual physical and I get my hair cut, even shorter than usual, lest it should catch fire!
For now, I am a teacher. I like to work. I have T-shirts to wear. And, I do love teaching! In fact, I am passionate about it. I love the students — delightful, challenging and endearing. Christ among us! I have many coworker friendships and I have a supportive community of family and friends who understand the bitter sweetness of this time for me. So, with trepidation and excitement, we begin a new school year.
I will “Love the students first and then teach them.” Does this quote from our dear Mother Theodore sound familiar to you? It is my mantra. “Just breathe,” I tell myself so that I might slow down enough to actually do the loving first. And, giving thanks to a dear friend for this quick prayer suggestion, I pray, “God, your timing is perfect,” when I need yet more patience. I recite my own version too, “Have faith in the natural order of things,” before adding, “Providence never fails,” just to fortify matters. When I really need grounding, I hum the melody to a simple refrain I composed summers ago, very likely in July, when I began to feel the air shift a bit. Lyrics are as follows:
Help me to pause before acting in haste
To breathe in your love, your mercy and grace
And if taking action is what’s meant to be
Then may your compassion flow forth from me.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is no prayer in public school! This teacher is praying all the time! And where is God to be found? She is sitting in those desks and He is working behind the scenes in those schools, every day. If you are so inclined, pray with me, please, to the God of your heart. School will soon begin.
I loved this, Sheila! The world needs more teachers like you. I was always a wreck on the first day of school no matter how many years I had been teaching. Then I met the kids! All anxiety dissipated.
Thanks for reminding me of this noblest of professions.
Thanks for your reflection Sheila. Great reminder of the power of God’s call in your life right now. May you breathe in God’s love and blow out your anxiety with each mindful breath.
I LOVED your blog, Sheila. How well I know that anticipation of a new year! Even as principal working 12 months, the “beginnings of a new year” would begin to surface after July 4.
Thanks be to Providence for you, and the many teachers like you, who see this noble profession as a way of manifesting God’s love to all those little faces in front of you!
Peace to your heart! And thanks from all of us who have gone before you!
Wonderfully explained and reflective of where so many teachers’ hearts are this time of year! Thank you for the dedication you’ve given your profession…and what a wonderful selection of t-shirts!
Great, touching, inspiring article. You reminded me that you were a supportive student of mine at SMWC when among other things, I attempted to teach 18-20th century philosophy . Having never taught that topic, I especially had a constant prayer in mind, as well as when I went on to other jobs. You remind us that prayer continues to keep us strong, positive and hopeful. Your article indicates YOU are a great teacher and support to many of us.
Every student deserves a teacher as talented and passionate as Sheila!
I’m drinking a cup of mariachi coffee on my front porch and celebrating you . So nice to have met you at the retreat . blessings in your day and peace in your day .
I pray that there is a little bit of Sheila’s passion in every teacher – make that a lot of Sheila’s passion. I know my children had good teachers, many who teach with a passion like Sheila. Sheila has put that passion into words for all of us to know. It’s a beautiful vocation. I know you will continue with that same passion in you future choices.
Reading your blog made me nostalgic for my decades as an educator. It is the most noble profession. I am so pleased that you realize it is a vocation and requires passion to realize the dreams of the students. Hurrah for you,
Sheila, You have learned well from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin as you
LOVE THE CHILDREB FIRST AND THEN TEACH THEM.
hppy School year
Thank you! Met new students on Monday. Working on the loving first! Not difficult to do.
Sheila, loved your reflection on your vocation. As the sister of a special needs person, I am so grateful for you and your passion for teaching.
And, may I borrow the lyrics of your song (I did not know of your musical talent!) for posting on my organization’s Facebook page? It fits so nicely with our grief ministry to those who have lost a spouse and need so much strength to move forward with their lives. Thanks so much!
Thank you for your kind words. Of course you may use the lyric of my song. I am glad to know it can be useful for others.
Sheila, thanks for your profound reflection. You’re indeed a true daughter of Saint Mother Theodore.
Blessings to you, your students and co-workers,
How fortunate was I to have the Sisters of Providence as a role model,especially Sisters Marie William Horner and Sister Agnese
BOoddington. They would have loved your article. During my 37 years of teaching in the public school setting Mother Theodore was my go to asking for guidance in so many situations and her belief that you must love them first was key for me. Enjoy your year. You and your students will be in my prayers.
Clearly Sheila you have embraced with your actions the words and legacy of so many S+Ps and dear St Mother Theodore!! Kudos to all, especially those working with special needs children and adults, You are the shoulder they lean gently on and receive the love of Providence to nurture their souls.
Enjoy the days of August before the daze of September and God bless all teachers past and present for their love is always with us.
Sheila, this was wonderful! Thank you! I can totally identify with many of your feelings, even this year when I only do a little part-time teaching. Your students are so lucky to have you. Have a great school year, and best of luck on ideas for your future! I am passing on your article to teacher friends. My principal will love your lyrics. Wish I knew the melody.