I was in the back corner of my hometown Kmart when I experienced that moment that every child eventually does—the moment I first realized my teacher didn’t live in her classroom.
There she was, my beloved fourth grade teacher, and she was wearing—gasp— jeans! With a purse slung over her shoulder and a couple of kids tagging alongside the cart, she smiled as if it was the most normal thing in the world to bump into each other near the Blue Light Special.
Mrs. Niggemeyer. The teacher who taped laminated pictures of famous art above the sink and taught us to ponder the deeper meanings. The teacher who read aloud “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” after lunch and permitted us to beg for a few extra pages every day. The one who answered our birds-and-bees questions honestly with, “It takes a cell from the mother and a cell from the father.”
This teacher left such a handprint on my soul that while other kids were halfway to the pool on the last day to school, I was hunched over my desk composing lengthy, handwritten pleas for her to hold me back in fourth grade forever.
My teacher was special in an “I want to be just like her even if means I have to wear slacks” sort of way. To be totally honest, she was sacred. But here she was at Kmart buying socks.
It wasn’t until the day I stood in front of my very own class of fourth graders at Washington Elementary that two things struck me: Teachers do not know everything. And they have a whole life outside of school.
I found myself in a strange world. These bona fide 10-year-olds stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and then turned all their eyes toward me. I was their teacher. Just like Mrs. Niggemeyer was to me. It was not a privilege to be taken lightly.
Filled with resolve, I tucked those kids under my wings and poured my heart into teaching them everything I knew. I cheered at their Little League games, accepted invitations to family dinners and featured their faces on my Christmas card.
This was no ordinary career. This was my calling. And on the last day of school, while other teachers were halfway to the air conditioning, I sat hunched over my desk with crocodile tears, wishing I could hold them all back in fourth grade forever.
For the next few years, I bumped down to Kindergarten, never to teach fourth grade again. But those rapidly-growing kids never left my heart. There’s a framed photo of our wedding day on the family room shelf: my very last day as “Miss Baker” surrounded by my “kids” from Washington Elementary.
As Brase babies began to emerge on the scene, life outside the classroom demanded a front seat. I wished for a “pause” button so I could build my nest at home without missing a beat at school.
But that’s not how life works and that’s exactly why I’ve been notably reverent toward the astonishing invention called Facebook. One by one, my former students have “friended” me. I may no longer be reading chapters to them after lunch or rearranging their desks as a special surprise, but I can wish them “Happy Birthday!” and post encouraging notes as they pursue their own careers. Admittedly, there’s some fun in posting, “Be careful, boys! Your Kindergarten teacher is watching!”
If I step back into the classroom one day, I’ll either need to find a new balance or sign up for a reality show. As a teacher, the room in my heart is infinite. As a mom, I still need to buy socks. This, apparently, is an equilibrium that comes with experience.
Regardless, I firmly believe that teachers have larger-than-life potential to love and inspire. Their presence will be forever important—in the classroom, on Facebook or even at the local Kmart.
Amy Brase is a writer who has been blessed with many encouraging teachers along the way. Her daughter will be a fourth grader at Washington Elementary this fall.