By Catherine Hedge
Last night, my fellow and I went swimming at a nearby hotel. At the desk, the manager whispered, “You might not want to come in today. We have a whole bunch of middle school and high school kids.” Not mean-spiritedly, but kindly, to protect me.
I laughed, “I worked with middle schoolers for 32 years. I love them.” His eyes flashed wide, as if he were saying, “How could you stand it?”
Good question. Some of my dear friends have retired and I seldom see them. Others, so close to my heart, have passed away. I wonder if they realize how important their advice was to me, to help me weather the storms of a difficult, but ultimately satisfying career?
Yes, I still dream about it. Last night, in fact. I dreamed it was 8:20 a.m. I’d awakened 2 hours late and had to drop off a child at day care (a little blonde girl…I wonder where that came from?) Though I was running around frantically, my fear wasn’t , “Oh, Man! I’m so in trouble…”
Instead, it was, “I’ve failed my kids. They need me!”
I can think of specific individuals, Jeanette Corrigan, Ron Harris, Leland Sharpe, Wilbur Morris, and Nicole Sanchez who never let me forget the truth. Ultimately, when all the grading is done, hall duty finished, parent-conferences passed, paycheck spent, the whole reason for our being in that school is that our children need us.
Sometimes, far more than we realize.
I hope you enjoy this piece I wrote a while back to celebrate those teachers who took the time to teach the children…and their colleagues.
By Catherine Hedge
(Dedicated to Don Carrier and 25 year teachers, Junction City, Kansas)
He leans against the door frame and sighs, “Whew! What a day!”
The new teacher drags by, her arms full of projects, her eyes close to tears
He sees her weary face and quips, “Sure can tell the weather’s changin’!”
She looks around to make sure no one else will hear
“How can you do this? Day after day? Year after year?”
He waits a while to answer. It’s been so long since he asked why
Could it be twenty five years since he felt just like her?
Too young to feel so old…like a weary soldier fighting windmills
Before he heard them, the voices hiding in the air.
He takes her heavy load and motions her to rest.
“Did you ever notice, at the end of the day? We stand beside our classrooms
Backs against the wall. Distant faces. Arms crossed. Quiet.
It’s the great secret. We are listening. To the stories left here by every child.
They come together like a heartbeat, as if the room had a life of its own.”
She looks at him crossways and growls, “Come on! I’m serious!”
He points, “See that window? Where Lelani first saw the snow? I can still hear her squeal.
She has two brown-eyed babies and writes to me each spring.
Or that table? I see a boy wrapping himself around the leg and refusing to budge.
Now he comes to visit. Just to know I remember him. Almost has his GED.
Hundreds more call to me each night, “Hey, Teacher! Come back!”
Something in his voice reaches her like a bridge across a canyon.
She stands alongside him, her back against the brick. She closes her eyes.
At first only silence, then a syncopated echo, the rhythm of footfalls and laughter
The future children who will fill her despair with their dreams
The two stand side by side. Arms crossed. Quiet. Listening.
The Whisperers reach out, embracing both with their Siren’s song
“Hey, Teacher! We need you. We love you. Come back!”