They Change the World, I Wax Nostalgic and Shiver

22 Oct

When I see teachers now, or talk to them, I get a weird little ache somewhere behind my ribs. It’s a lot like nostalgia and a little like jealousy, and I know it’s still there because whenever I interact with a teacher, it’s almost like I want to jump up and down and wave my arms and shout, “I did it, too! Honest! I was there, in the trenches, just like you! I impacted kids’ lives! I was INVOLVED! I was important in the world, too!!” This makes being a parent during teacher conferences really fun for all parties involved, let me tell you (“Ms. Ferguson, would you please stop talking? Just a little?”).

Today was the rescheduled fall field trip for Quinlan’s four-year-old preschool class. She and her friends WERE SO EXCITED. They couldn’t go to their first one because of bad weather, and even though today was supposed to be chilly and windy and possibly rainy, by golly, they were bundled up in their layers and sent along on their school bus because this was a FIELD TRIP, and field trips have to be had. It’s autumn in the suburbs: apples need to be picked, pumpkins carved, hay bale slides slid down. There are few joys in life greater than tractor rides through corn fields. We all know this. And neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall keep a four-year-old from his right to a tractor ride. Teachers definitely know this.

Except. It was cold. It was windy. But the teachers herded the kids and watched them play and cheerfully led them from one activity to the next. They tucked their hoods over their heads and carried on. And after a quick lesson on pollination in a warm log house, we walked outside, the heavens opened up, God turned on the water faucet, and whoosh.

Four-year-olds look a lot like wet cats in the rain.

They picked their pumpkins. We shivered, huddled under our rain coats. Those of us smart enough to bring umbrellas braced them against the breeze, and shivered some more. I would’ve taken pictures, but…I kept my hands in my pockets. I wasn’t one of the ones who thought of an umbrella.

The teachers smiled, and labeled each of the pumpkins with the kids’ names and placed them in organized rows on a wagon. They chatted with the parents, and each other, and led us all on to the next fall fun activity.

They took the tractor ride. The seats of our pants soaked through with wet and the cold. The kids chattered as they pulled their sleeves over their hands to maintain whatever warmth was left in their skin. Meanwhile, they pointed out the different colors of apples they saw. Quinlan’s friend Lexi told me all about how she loves pumpkin pie, and the best way to make pumpkin pie was to cook apples and water and put it in the oven, and it makes the most delicious pumpkin pie in the world. The teachers, because the wagon was so full, walked behind it as it moved along the muddy path, their heads bent against the rain. I can guarantee their jeans stayed dry, but I can’t say the same for their shoes.

The children selected their apples from the Fuji trees. One of Quinlan’s teachers helped her pick hers because her fingers were too frozen to bend. We huddled against each other some more to stay warm. One little boy started crying because the rain had gotten into his jacket. But the rest of the kids were happy. Wet, cold, but still excited to be out. The parents and grandparents, though, shivered through their sweatshirts and sneakers and UGG boots they bought when they were pregnant with the last child in the dead of winter and were too swollen to fit into anything else and swore they would never ever wear in real life ever again but boy are they warm, so on they went.

The teachers? They just brushed their wet hair out of their eyes and took a vote on whether to stay at the field trip or return to school, and then calmly sorted pumpkins and lunches and children and apples. They smiled, and pulled their jackets close, and carried on conversations like the heavens weren’t really pouring miniature ice cubes all over them and the sun had disappeared and run away to Bali.

I taught, back in my pre-child days. I respect teachers. I love them, am a little in awe of them, and sometimes wish I could still be as big a part of the world around me as they are in theirs.

Preschool teachers, though? Early childhood educators? They are just in a class of their own. I have seen my child climb into the arms of her teacher when she’s nervous. I’ve seen the patience, and the way they treat the most “difficult” child with the same calmness as they do the obedient kids. I’ve seen them teach special needs children inclusively, discipline quietly, laugh with a child, and never at one. I’ve seen them walk behind a tractor through the pouring rain in the mud so that each child and her caregiver could have a seat, and make sure that field trips happen because the kids were so excited, because a little bad weather never really stopped a child from having fun. The parents and grandparents, maybe. But not the kids.

Preschool teachers are different than secondary ones. High school teachers do it because we enjoy the kids, of course, but also because we love the material, are passionate about our subject matter, are thrilled by the discussions and experiments and feedback. Early childhood teachers do it because they love the kids.

And they’re not letting anything like arctic raindrops get in the way of that.

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