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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Chalk on the Walk

Yesterday was the first day of school, and I have to admit I'd been dreading its arrival. I truly love my job, and once the school year is underway I get completely engrossed in the pleasures and challenges of teaching, but the transition from slack summer to the crazed academic year can be rough. And this summer my Old Man and I were out of town until literally the day before my school-related duties began, which gave that rough ride an additional element of vertigo.

But when I got to school yesterday, as I walked my bike up to the crooked campus building where my office is located, I saw this chalking on the sidewalk outside:


I was immediately very moved. There was something about the phrasing of the statement and the shape of the letters that added poignance to the tribute. (The final phrase, the last couple of words smudged by the time a fellow teacher snapped this picture, are "never would have made it.") My office is in the building that houses all of the offices for the English and Fine Arts departments at my school. As I read the chalk message, I felt a kinship with my colleagues in that building that I hadn't a moment before, and I felt in my bones how vitally important our job is. I recalled the student I'd counseled back in my second year of teaching, a girl who'd been abused by her brother and was planning her to take her own life, whom I'd met with daily during my prep period and worried about for years after I left that job and city. And I recalled how I felt when, six years later, I got a letter from her letting me know that she was okay, that she was in college, that things were much better, and that she credited me with helping to save her life.

I don't know what the phrase "never would have made it" means to our anonymous chalker, but I do know that being a teacher is a rare honor and a fearsome responsibility. We often have no idea whether we've had an effect, for good or for bad, on a student once she leaves our classroom for the last time. But in a world that can be very alienating, scary, and cold, to do our jobs with kindness and compassion clearly makes a difference.

And, after that heartening early morning experience, I had an exceptionally good first day of school.


Blogger Mrs. T said...

One of THE most curmudgeonly (is that a word?) teachers choked up the whole staff last spring at his retirement breakfast with this: "The reason I became a teacher, and the reason you all do what you do, is because it's the most important job in the world."

I hate that transition back to school, too. Once I get there, it's fine, but it's really tough. And I HATE mornings.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

That really just made my day, and I'm not even a teacher. How great to see that on yor first day back!

I credit my exceptional English teachers dating back to the 6th grade and on (Miss Johnson, Mr. Lindsey, Mr. Regan and others in the Boston Public School system) for helping to hone my writing abilities and encouraging me to look at language creatively. A lot of credit goes to my mom (a special ed teacher's assistant), of course, too -- but it was also so empowering to get that outside validation of my abilities.

Lisa (Mama Blah Blah)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

That gave me tingles.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

You are absolutely right.

And welcome back to school, dear hero of mine!

(boredhousewife Lisa)

4:57 PM  
Blogger What the Fae? said...

The feelings of a student for their teacher can be so profound, because it is a relationship in which hope is transmitted. Hope and belief in oneself, if the student is lucky enough to have a great teacher.

The chalk message is the symbol of your effect on the world.

6:07 PM  
Blogger E. said...

"a relationship in which hope is transmitted" - I love that. That is teaching and learning, at their best.

7:51 PM  
Blogger mist1 said...

Just passing through...had to comment.

I saw the 20/20 piece about the 6th grade teacher this morning and cried my eyes out. My parents were both teachers when I was a kid (Dad still is). I called them and they had watched it too. And yes, both cried their eyes out too.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Esereth said...

I didn't know you were a teacher. This adds to your groovy. And you're the kind who'll meet with a student in your free time every day, just to listen and help. This adds to your human worth.

What grade do you teach? I want more stories about school.

10:21 AM  
Blogger E. said...

I teach 10th through 12th graders, though I started out in junior high and taught college in between.

10:44 AM  

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