Being a former kindergarten teacher, with twenty seven years of living in community with five year olds, has made me somewhat of a “kid at heart.” You could also say, the teacher inside has never died, only rearranged her schedule and priorities a bit.
Yesterday was the last day of school where my grandchildren attend. As I walked through the hallways to my granddaughter's classroom, I felt some unusual twinges of nostalgia. There were teachers directing students to stack chairs in one corner of the room. A more obvious sign the year was over were the words, “The Last Day has Finally Come,” written on a white board by one classroom door. The emotions of relief and thankfulness that perhaps only a teacher can experience seemed to inhabit my body. Some things just get in your blood and you will live with them the rest of your life. That was my experience yesterday.
Just weeks ago, my nine year old grandson and six year old granddaughter were expressing some negative thoughts about school. I picked up on the fact they were tiring of the whole experience. As some say, I could “feel their pain.” After 150 plus days, students and teachers alike begin the “countdown” and dream of summer mornings when they can sleep in or make their way to the pool. When my grandson exited his classroom making comments that indicated he would miss his teacher and friends, I was reminded of the bittersweet emotions of closing the chapter of a school year. My granddaughter grabbed her bonus jars of pink and purple Playdough and the small frog which would symbolize a year in Mrs. Powell's frog themed classroom, and we were off to begin a new chapter of their lives.
I've been thinking recently of cleaning my garage and FINALLY getting rid of all my teaching tools and memorabilia. There are file cabinets and boxes housing almost thirty years of the chapters of my life taking up lots of space out there. I've asked myself a hundred times what I'm waiting for since I retired ten years ago. I've been getting closer and closer to the place of surrendering to the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. However, yesterday I realized the ambivalence flows from something much deeper than one might think. Quite frankly, teaching has just become a part of who I am and will forever flow naturally out of my life into the lives of others.
Just a few days ago, I was substituting in a kindergarten classroom, and learned that right across the hall was a classroom being taught by a former student. Sometime later, I saw another former student who was substituting at the school that day. My daughter just finished up her first year of teaching elementary art at my grandchildren's school. When I attach the thoughts of real people to my “teaching tools of the trade” it is impossible to see them as just “things.”
I will at some point pack up the boxes of games, books, bulletin boards and posters and cart them all off to the nearest elementary school to share with other teachers who might find them useful. My garage would be neater and I'd open up more space for organizing other things in my life. But, the memories that are activated by simply walking through a school hallway on the last day of school and the emotions of real life experiences that flood my heart when I flip through my files or grab a book from my files to read to my grandchildren cannot be extinguished by simply removing the boxes.
When my grandchildren and I arrived home, we had lunch and took our first step into the much awaited summer vacation. My grandson grabbed an Ed Emberley drawing book from my files and found a place to continue his book of animal drawings. I remembered the dozens of times I'd used this book to help kindergarteners learn to create art. My granddaughter found a spot at the kitchen table with her pink and purple Playdough as I retrieved my Playdough tools from the garage. Who knows how many five and six year old hands have rolled snakes, cut cookies and formed creations using these same tools? Miniature plastic cups became cake pans and bottle caps became cupcake molds. Sifting through the birthday candles, straws and forks in my supplies from yesteryear, we were able decorate and create some pretty festive memories together.
Before too long two pink and two purple cakes and two miniature cupcakes, bejeweled with a few rhinestones still hiding out in my garage graced my kitchen table. When my grandchildren left, I found myself looking back through the drawings my grandson had done independently and remembered my Playdough days with him not so long ago. As I returned the supplies to the garage, I saw the tubs of toys and games that have been available when my youngest eighteen month old grandson comes to play. As long as little ones come to visit, it seems there will be opportunity to reach back into what was and bring something beautiful into the present.
Perhaps a clean garage would be somewhat like the “last day of school classroom” with desks stacked in the corners and books stored in the closets for the summer. I might even celebrate the space that would be created... like the summer months create a space for rest and relaxation for students and teachers alike. But something tells me I'd feel sadness rising up inside me when the first little one visited and there were no “playthings” for us to create and enjoy together.
I just know that with all the ambivalence of beginning school again in a few months, all true teachers and students who love to learn will get that “feeling of excitement” about starting over. As I contemplate all this, I am reminded of my own personal ambivalence to rid my garage of ALL that celebrates the life I've lived. Like I heard someone say recently, “Use the hay and spit out the sticks.” I can begin weeding out the things that are truly unnecessary and keep those things which will create new experiences for the little ones in my life.
Teacher planning books over 20 years old.......OUT
Desk accessories from classrooms in the 80s...OUT
Outdated bulletin boards from first year,'74.....OUT
Books filled with imagination..........................KEEP
Dress up clothes from Kindergarten dramas.....KEEP
So summer is officially here and it's time for some R&R for parents, students and teachers. It's really a time of celebration for those who have worked hard through a long school year. I salute those who are still in there full time changing lives. I hope my thoughts will provoke something of the permanence and importance of all you have done and how it will carry on long after the school year and even your days in school as teachers and students has ended. And if you are a teacher, please know you can take the teacher tools out of the classroom or garage, but you can never take the teacher out of who you are as a person.
Happy Summer! Eat Cake! Be a Kid again!