It has been a while. Several years, in fact, since you have seen my face in front of you. No longer do I wear the flower barrettes in my hair, sparkly Limited Too shirts, or the braces on my face. I have long since out grown them all. The little denim jacket my mom put all the cute patches on probably couldn’t fit on one of my arms now. My books of choice are not The Very Hungry Caterpillar or any Nancy Drew in the series. My favorite subjects are not PE and lunch, and my free time is no longer dedicated to coloring or Model Magic clay. The purpose of me writing this is not to merely keep you in the loop of my new adult life. It is not an apology. It isn’t even a thank you. It’s much more.
I remember you sitting with me during recess, your break as well as mine, to teach me how to do long-division. You worked through my tears of frustration and defeat alongside me until I finally could do it on my own.
I remember when the 9/11 happened. They showed it on the TVs in our classroom. You stood in the doorway with your hand over your heart, big tears rolling down your face. You hugged us extra tight that day as we silently left to go home for the day, whispering words of comfort to each of our confused and terrified faces.
I remember the funny hats you would wear as you taught us about the history of our country. You rode a stick-horse around the room to keep us giggling. You sang silly songs you made up to help us grasp things that were beyond unnecessary and confusing, but you wanted to make it fun.
I remember when the house down the street caught on fire. Two of the kids went to our school that lived there. I remember watching you carrying a huge bag of clothes, shoes, and food as if it was Christmas and Thanksgiving in the middle of April.
I remember falling on the playground and you allowing my tears to stain your red shirt. You helped pick all the woodchips off my socks and put a Scooby-Doo band-aid on a tiny, microscopic scrape.
I remember the days when my classmates and I made you frustrated. Your voice was cracking from overuse. Your face went from an impatient pink to the reddish point of tears. We didn’t deserve recess, but you gave it to us anyway.
I remember seeing you constantly cutting lamination, sipping coffee, stapling worksheets, carrying stacks of copies.
Not only do I still remember, but now the cloudy, snap-shot memories mean so much more.
Now I get it.
I get why you did it all. You not only were a teacher. You were our friend. Our parent. Our coach. Our cheerleader. Our surgeon. Our mentor. Our hero. You still are my hero.
On Thursday, you came to my mind. It was lunch. And I was so done, hiding in my closet, eating chocolate, and wiping away tears of exhaustion and defeat. I was done with extending grace after grace to only have it trampled over. I was done with the early mornings and the late nights. I was done with the constant flow of papers, worksheets, and lesson plans. I was done with the never-ending streams of paper clips and post-its I find wherever I tread and the expo marks that never seemed to stay off my clothes and hands. I was done talking and my voice not being heard. And I thought I was done with caring, because it never seemed to matter.
In my cluttered closet, I was sitting on the step ladder I had used for hours after school to hang cheerful decorations on the walls, which seemed purposeless now. Then, a book you read to us caught my eye on the shelf across from me. I instantly thought of you. I began to wonder how many days you had like mine today, complete with the earth-shattering, lesson-stopping temper tantrum, twelve requests for restroom breaks, and spilled coffee staining your shirt.
And I finally got it.
I now know why you did what you did.
You did it all to teach us something bigger than any math, science, social studies, and reading textbook could ever teach us. You did everything so it could be learned on days like today when we want to throw the towel in and walk away with our head hung low.
I guarantee you had days where you did not want to pick your head up off your soft and warm pillow to be greeted by the county purchased fluorescent lights. I expect you had days where your throat throbbed from incessant words that never reached listening ears. I know you had days where you wished your lunch break could be solely devoted to eating rather than grading and shoveling down half-microwaved leftovers. I bet you had days where you hid in your classroom closet and ate chocolate while you cried and questioned everything about your career choice. I get it now because I have those days, too.
But, what you did next. Oh, what you did next, I now fully understand most of all.
You wiped away your tears. Finished your chocolate. Straightened your shirt. And, put a smile on.
You did it for us because you believed in us. And you wanted us to know that if we had bad days, like I had on that terrible Thursday, where we wanted to surrender, you let us know you still were in our corner. You always wanted to make us feel special because to you, we were special. And you never wanted us to forget it.
So. Because of that simple truth, I wiped away my tears. I finished my chocolate. I straightened my coffee-stained shirt. And I put my smile on. Not for myself, but for my students.
I did it for my students because I believe in them. I always want them to know that if they have bad days, days they want to hide in a cluttered supply closet, where they want to surrender, that I am always in their corner. Ready to catch them or to encourage them. I want them to know that they are special, because they are truly special. And I never, ever want them to forget it.
So, this letter:
I’m sorry won’t fully cover it.
Thank you will never fully define it.
But I remember. I remember may help you to remember, too. But, I pray you not only remember, but realize what you did meant so much. Your gentle hand, heart, and words did not just stop when you gave them to me so many years ago. They kept moving and growing. They are still moving forward today.
You made a difference. And hopefully you and I can keep making a difference. Together.
So, I am not sorry.
And I am not saying thank you.
I am saying I remember.
And, I hope you remember, too.
Love the little girl with the patches on her denim jacket,