By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
By the time this story makes it into newsprint and the hands of our readers, I’ll be neck-deep in the final two days of school.
I am blessed to be able to split my workweek into multiple parts, pursuing different passions in the process. One of those passions is teaching, which I do as a paraprofessional in first, second and third grades in our local school district two days a week.
The end of the school year still holds the same feelings of excitement and sadness that it did when I was a student. Those feelings are accompanied by the same smells: wet grass, the last pizza lunch, emptying the pencil sharpener. I remember writing my home phone number on scraps of old spelling assignments and passing them out to my classmates. I remember pushing my small backpack to its limits with papers, projects and long-forgotten winter clothes from the back of my cubby. I remember getting on the bus after the last day of school, convinced that September was only weeks ago and there’s no way I’d just completed an entire grade.
I see these scenes play out with my own students, but with the added awareness that summer break will bring many changes to some of their lives. A first-grader, finally comfortable with her quirky sense of humor and confident in her unparalleled ability to draw, will move away this summer. A second-grader will miss her favorite teacher next year as he takes on a different position in the district. Third-graders, on the top of the food chain at this end of the hall, will soon be the youngsters in their new homeroom classrooms.
The very nature of education — to grow, to change, to move ahead — is at odds with the comfort and security we aim to foster in our students all year long. In June we are all mother birds, pushing their chicks out of the nest. We know we have to, but — at least for me, as a very young and inexperienced teacher’s aide with no children of her own at home — it is not easy.
So, if you’re reading this, I’m soaking up every moment of the last two days of school. I am setting the intention to be present for every question, comment and unprompted joke or riddle. I am probably being gifted random sketches and coloring pages — as is the case every week — and I am collecting every single one, making sure they each attach an “artist signature” before they hand it to me. I am loving every minute until that last bell rings and three months of summer vacation begin.
Of course, the truth is that we all need a break — the full-time teachers, especially.
Society shouts platitudes all year long that teachers are incredible, caring and important. The truth is that there is no adequate word for what teachers do for our community. I watch the teachers I work with dedicate their lives to making sure children grow to be kind and thoughtful people who will contribute to our world in unique and powerful ways. This is detailed, exhausting and sometimes demoralizing work. It is also (as I have come to learn in my own, small way) the most rewarding thing a person can do.
Teachers are heroes. At the end of the school year, I hope we can all remember that.
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