I heave my oversized bag on wheels out of the trunk, let it thunk heavily to the ground and start trudging to my classroom, my other arm filled with overflowing folders of paperwork. Little footsteps start tapping along behind me. "Miz J?" hollers the owner of the little feet. I sigh. Some days I am just not prepared to start my school day until the bell rings, and yet -- here we are. "Hey, Miz J, I couldn't do my book report yesterday because we had to go to my brother's friend's birthday party at Peter Piper's Pizza and then on the way home my baby sister threw up in the car seat and Mama said today was a homework holiday because by the time we all took baths it was WAAAY past bedtime." This is my little friend Adrienne. Sometimes she can be a little high-maintenance, but if you ask me, her charm factor greatly outshines her need for attention. The first time I met her, I mistakenly called her “Adrian.” She said to me, “You can call me that if you want, teacher, but that’s not my name. My name is Adrienne.” How can you not fall in love with that kind of spunk? At the door reaching for my key, the papers start to fall, and I barely make it into the room before dropping them on the nearest table. "Ohhh, Miz J, I can help you!!" She starts trying to pick up the papers, and they fall out of the folders into a chaotic mess. "Oh NO!" she wails. "Honey, I'll open the classroom in a couple minutes, okay?" "But my book report isn't done, and today was the ultimate final due date like you said, and then I'm not going to get a gold star today!" "Well... I'll see if I can make an exception just this one time, okay? But you definitely need to turn in that book report tomorrow, and then we'll try to get you your gold star. Got it?" "Got it. Oh, and my Mama wrote a note for you, too, see?" She hands me a crumpled envelope from her pudgy little hand. Every fingernail is a different color, and it seems to have been done with marker. "Thanks, kiddo. I'll see you in a few minutes, all right?" She skips out the door and I lock it behind her, but I'm still touching it when there's a knock. Whoever is on the other side already knows I'm in here. I figure now is when I should start counting to 10. Dear Lord, dear Buddha, my own dear Guardian Angel, please give me patience. I open the door. "Ms. Jackowski, so glad I could catch you!" Dear me. "Hello, Mrs. Anderson -- I hadn't known you'd been trying to reach me. What can I do for you?" "Well, we have that meeting scheduled for tomorrow, but I won’t be able to make it!” "You know, we scheduled it a month ago to make sure everyone involved could be there." "Yes, I know! I really feel bad about it, but something’s come up and there’s just no way I can do it. I’d like to reschedule it for next week." "I'll see what I can do, but we need to have a member of the administration, the school counselor, and the behavioral therapist all there together, so it can be a challenge to change a date like that at the last minute." "You know, I was trying to give you the chance to fix this without going over your head, but if you're not going to work with me, I'll just go ahead and talk to your boss right now." She smacks open the door on her way out. Locking the door behind her, I flip on the computer and hope it starts faster than usual so I have time to email my “boss,” the principal, about what's going on with Mrs. Anderson and potentially changing the meeting time (again), and clean up the papers all over the floor, and set out today's morning activity and solidify some of those morning lesson plans I'd been working on. Argh. My eye falls on the envelope in my hand from Adrienne's Mom. I was Adrienne’s brother’s teacher a few years ago, so Adrienne’s Mom and I go way back. I open it and find a sticky note that says, "Sorry yesterday so crazy for us so no book report today, will have done for tomorrow, thx for understanding. p.s. Is it Christmas break yet? And when do we get a break, anyways?" "I wish I knew," I say to my still-blank computer screen. "Just make sure you let me know when you find out..." I open my email to find the teaching head of my grade level needs me to give back the CD I borrowed from her that I haven’t used yet ASAP, the behavioral therapist is coming in first thing this morning, and the school counselor needs some information about one of my students to complete her report. Oh, and here’s a new one from the principal – the superintendent is doing a walk-through tomorrow morning and we need to have our classroom walls in compliance with this year’s new rules. ARGH. Somewhere deep within my being, there is a part of me that is still a child, and that part of me is now tugging aggressively on my skirt and saying, “Can we go home now PLEASE?” The first bell rings and I haven’t emailed the principal or done anything else I’d wanted to do. I scoop up the floor full of papers and put it on top of the rest of the pile in what’s supposed to be used as a teacher’s coat closet, though I don’t know if any of the teachers use it for that purpose. I head down to pick up the kids where they’re lined up (and by that I mean chasing each other around in the general vicinity of our classroom number) on the blacktop. “All righty, kiddos – let’s get this show on the road!” I do a couple of the earsplitting claps I learned when I used to have the time to take flamenco. The children instantly snap to attention, backpacks on, eyes straight ahead. Just kidding. What kind of an operation do you think I run here? I once heard somebody say that there’s no such thing as well-behaved children, just children who have been forced into obedience… and those who haven’t. I try to remind myself of this sometimes, as an indication of hope that my students’ feistiness is a sign of their well-being. What really happens is I thank the three kids who are standing and ready to go, and then walk down the line, helping the others put things back in their backpacks, find their backpacks, put on or pick up their jackets and sweaters, and stand behind someone from our class. Phew. That done, I start walking, my little ducklings trailing behind me. I’m exhausted and the day hasn’t even started yet. Back in the classroom, we’re about halfway through our ABCs when it becomes clear that we have some sort of a poop emergency going on. At first I’m worried that someone’s gone in their pants – always an emotionally-charged experience, and I hate it that I have to send the unlucky child to the nurse while I stay with the rest of the class, which feels like abandoning them in their time of need. Luckily it’s just that Lorenzo’s stepped in dog poo outside, apparently, so I send him to the nurse (no problem, he’s not traumatized, he can’t even smell it) so she can call his Mom to bring him clean shoes, and I call the office to call the custodian to clean up the poo-prints. This could take a while. I know from experience, like that time Marcy barfed up cookies and milk at the springtime recital. Let’s just say that event was forced to end early. Now some of the kids are starting to gag, while others have become fascinated with the smelly spots all over the floor, so I decide it’s time for an early recess. I let them go on the big kids’ playground, since nobody’s out there at this time of day. They’ve just heard the happy news and sprinted out to explore it when the principal, Mr. Dean, ambles up. “Ms. Jackowski, are you having a special occasion?” They’re pretty strict about how often children get to play around here. “You could call it that – it is if you consider a child tracking dog poop into the classroom a special occasion.” “Mmmm.” Sometimes when I talk to Mr. Dean I find myself wondering if they require principals to pretend not to have a sense of humor, or if maybe they really do lose their sense of humor during the process of becoming principals. All I know is it’s not on my list of jobs I’m willing to have. “I called the office to radio the custodian, but so far he hasn’t come out.” “Yes, he’s been working on the 6th grade bathrooms this morning. See that this doesn’t go on too long, mm? You know, you can always have class outside.” Now it’s my turn. “Mmmm.” I reckon he has never tried to get the attention of 20 five-year-olds during unscheduled activities while outside surrounded by trees and birds and other aspects of nature that are far more interesting to them than reading, writing, or ‘rithmetic. Barbara, the school secretary, comes speed-walking up to us. “Mr. Dean, we need you in the office.” He rushes off. Phew! That was a close one. We didn’t even have a chance to talk about Mrs. Anderson and the continually rescheduled meeting. Suddenly I hear one of the kids screaming. My eyes, which have been scanning the playground, catch on Roo, shrieking frantically from the very top of the jungle gym. He’s probably okay, but he clearly thinks he’s about to die. I start to run. “TEACHER, TEEEACHERRRR!!!!” “I’m coming, honey!” I scamper up to the top where he’s dangling, clutching a metal bar, his tiny knuckles white. He’s looking down and I can tell he’s thinking about how much it would hurt to fall that far. He doesn’t know yet: whatever you do, it’s never a good idea to look down; just keep your eye on whatever it is you’re doing and don’t think about it too much. I scoop him up and put him on a flat slab of metal, comparatively safe since he can’t look down as easily from there. He keeps on yelling, just a couple of decibels lower, “Teacher… Teacher!!” “Yes, Roo?” He’s still clinging to me like he really thinks he’ll die if he lets go. “You saved me!” he breathes, like I’m Superman. “You’re okay now. Let’s get down from here.” I hold his hand as we walk down the steps until we reach the solid earth. Yeah, moments like this are the reason I teach. Some say it’s for when they see a child get that spark of understanding when you’re teaching them something new, or that hum of activity when everyone is actively participating in some project. I like those times too, but for me, I teach for these random, unexpected moments that will probably stick out in the mind of the child even when they are much older. The moments that will definitely stick out for me. I teach for these moments that they can’t schedule or unschedule, that you can’t predict, that nobody can influence because they’re part of the random beauty of time with children, a force of nature unto themselves. I’ve barely stopped panting when I see the custodian out of the corner of my eye. “Hey, Mr. Bill!” Mr. Bill is our adorable and friendly custodian. He’s married with six kids, but that doesn’t stop me, or maybe that’s what makes me feel comfortable, flirting with him mercilessly. He tries to pretend not to see me. “Mr. Bill, did I ever tell you how cute you look in your uniform?” “Now Ms. J, you know you can’t let your boyfriend hear you talking to me like that.” “I was wondering if you could help us.” “Aw, and here I was thinking you really did think I’m cute. I’ve half a mind to turn on my heel.” “I really do think you’re cute, it just seemed an opportune time to mention it. I’m the classroom with the poo-prints problem. If you tell me where that carpet cleaning stuff is, I’ll do it myself.” “I imagine you know I’m not supposed to let you do that, but I’ll try to drop it off in a little bit. I’ll be over there as fast as I can, but this bathroom is the first priority right now and I can’t even describe to you what it’s like over there. All I can say is they don’t pay me enough -- those 6th-graders get more creative every year. In a bad way.” He walks away shaking his head. “In a bad way.” Settled back in the classroom, after we found a note from the behavioral therapist on the door saying she’d missed her scheduled time to visit and didn’t know where we were, and Mr. Bill came by with his special delivery and we serenaded him with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” big green spots of odor-sucking mystery goo glomming on the poo-prints, Adrienne, Lorenzo, Roo and the rest of the group back together again, we start on our learning centers time. Sometimes it seems miraculous that we ever get anything done around here. At lunch, after I’ve spent half the time walking the kids to the cafeteria and making sure they could find the cards with their names on them and they all balanced a tray with a hot dog on it all the way to the tables, Melody pokes her head in to my classroom.“I knew I’d find you here!”“So what? I’m a loner, an introvert who treasures any fleeting second of alone time she can get throughout the day – is that so wrong?“You should hang out in the teacher’s lounge with us and have some adult conversation.”“That sounds kind of kinky.”“You know what I mean – I hear you’ve been talking a lot about poop this morning.”“Word gets around. Okay, five minutes – but that’s it.”Twenty minutes later lunch is over and I’ve relaxed a bit in spite of myself listening to the other teachers banter back and forth about their kids at home, their families, juggling everything. I always wonder if it’s really worth it. Seems like they never doubt that it is. On my way back to pick up the kids again, I cut between the buildings and as I step under a tree, for a heartbeat I’m shielded from everything but the dark of the shade, the sun smearing through, the sky overhead. It smells like earth. I want to stop here and follow this feeling, instead of rushing into the next thing to do and then the next thing and the next, trying to pretend these moments aren’t as important as they are. But it’s time to pick up the kids from lunch, and there is no room or time here for this dreaminess. I look up and see them free under the sky, spinning in crazy circles till they fall down dizzy. They are my teachers, and I hope I am learning from the lessons they teach.
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