As I do every end-of-May or early-June, I’m reflecting on another school year being over. Unlike folks in the corporate or business world, my time is marked by the school year versus the summer. Ah, the life of an educator… I started this school year having just been freshly moved from a one-on-one position with a student I loved like my own child. I missed my student but was a little excited to be back in a high school setting with older kids. I started a totally new position and learned how to do it as I went along. The year operated smoothly, and I began to love the intelligence, wittiness, and sarcasm of many teenagers. I probably thought every day of my former student and wondered how she was doing, but that didn’t stop me from beginning to feel at home at South Stokes High School – the school where I started my teaching career nine years ago. South Stokes, despite its flaws and age, feels like a second home. Perhaps the fondness comes from growing up in an older farmhouse as a child; I think I can appreciate the memories and legacy a place might hold. South Stokes will be celebrating its 50th birthday next year – it’s a treasure in the community. It’s a place that holds many good people within its wall every week day. On that note, let me add that the employees at South Stokes are incredible people. I’ve met people who are real friends within the professional realm but also carry it outside into their personal lives. My coworkers are incredibly caring, exhaustingly selfless, and often make me laugh to the point that my sides hurt. I feel like I work with people who understand me, will accept my sarcasm, and will love me regardless of the crazy things I often say. To say that I haven’t enjoyed this past school year with its positive experiences and amazing people would be a lie. It’s been an absolute blessing.
Today I’m also reflecting on the previous five years I spent with the little girl I’ve grown to love so much. This year was her last year in elementary school, and next year will bring a load of new challenges when she starts middle school. Part of me wants to still be with her to help her through things, but I realize it must be God’s plan that we take our own paths on a daily basis now and learn how to be just plain friends instead of teacher and student. When I started working with E, she was beginning kindergarten. She’d already qualified for and attended two years of preschool because of her physical disability (cerebral palsy) but in order to function in a regular education classroom, she required a one-on-one assistant. I took the position with little information and certainly no experience. As the days passed in kindergarten, E learned to write, which often required me to hold my hand over hers to literally get her to make the formation of letters correctly. We learned how to work as a team. As an adult and educator, I learned far more about communication and patience in my years with E than I ever thought possible. Sometimes there were moments of pure stress, anger, and frustration that E would meltdown right in the middle of class, and it was during those times I felt my propensity for compassion and calmness expand. There was no manual or cerebral palsy handbook to tell me how to handle this sometimes emotionally-fragile little girl or how to support her. I learned how to dig deep into a well of acceptance and understanding to help her when she was having moments of utter despair.
But don’t get me wrong: for all the times we cried and hugged together, we laughed and giggled and shared smiles every single day. E was always very mature and understood my sense of humor pretty quickly. We joked and picked on one another, and it was incredibly rewarding. E was always a joke-teller – the two-liner jokes with a question and a punch line. My favorite joke to this day, that I think she first told me when she was six years old, goes like this: “How do you get a Kleenex to dance?” “You put a little ‘boogie’ in it!” I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought of that joke and snickered to myself in remembering it.
The other aspect of my life that I’ll always connect E to is the birth of Ella Grace. In the year I was pregnant, E and I had to do things differently because my expanding belly prevented me from doing a lot of the physical things I did to assist E daily. I think that during that year we laughed numerous times over how I inadvertently bumped E with my belly. E was always good to take her challenges and slip-ups in stride and laugh at herself. I’d like to think that I helped with that because if I ever made a mistake myself, I purposefully apologized but brushed it off with a chuckle and moved on. After Ella was born, I told E’s mom several times that I think E had done a good job to prepare me for having a daughter of my own. E had been like my daughter before I had one. As a matter of fact, E told me weekly that I was her “mom away from her mom,” so after Ella was born, I was able to say she was my “daughter away from my daughter.” We were literally like family. She could often predict what I was thinking or going to say, and I could do the same for her. It’s hard to describe that kind of bond with a student to another educator because most educators are balancing a classroom of multiple students. Yes, while I was with E, I assisted and managed the other students in the classroom, but my main focus was always E. Before I was transferred away from E, we had just completed her fourth grade year.
She had tackled so many obstacles and challenges in her education up to that point, and I’m always sad when I think about how I didn’t get to experience her last year of elementary school with her. E had begun blossoming into a beautiful and VERY smart young lady. She had developed quite the attitude and gumption that I know it will take to tackle life with a physical disability, but to match her sassiness, she was showing her incredibly kind heart and sweet spirit to her classmates and other adults alike. We get together for dinners and visiting periodically now. I think we always will, and I’m so thankful. I survived this school year without E and she survived (and still even thrived) without me, but I hope that as we both go through life, we stay in each other’s hearts even though we’re not by each other’s side.