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Yes, I did retire from teaching school two years ago. However, I also signed up with substitute services. It’s been a nice little side job and my teacher friends appreciated having someone dependable to call on. Last November, I was asked by a friend who is the vice-principal at an elementary school to step in for a few weeks for a third-grade teacher at her building. We were still working online at that time, so it was not any problem. At the end of that first assignment, the teacher extended her leave, and then extended it at least twice more, until the first week of March when she submitted her retirement papers. So, now I drive twenty-five miles each way to finish out the school year. I just felt like I ought to finish it out because I had been their “teacher” almost their entire time in third grade. We’re a team. There are only five and half weeks left anyway, so I’ll be fine. Plus, I love their sweet little selves! It is a hazard of teaching. You bond with these small people! Occasionally, I grit my teeth over one or two children and just smile grimly to make it through the school year, but mostly, every one of them has a little place in my heart!
This week, for example, I got two little gifts. One boy brought me half of a peach pit shell. He was so excited for me to see it. It’s from his grandfather’s yard and the boy has told me about the peaches and how delicious they are. He gently laid the peach pit shell into my hand, and said, “You can examine it carefully later. It’s really just so interesting to look at.” He is the boy who asked me in early March if I minded “getting soil on my hands” and when I said that I loved to garden, the next day he brought me a little black seed and urged me to plant it at my house. (I did…but it hasn’t sprouted. Yet.) The other present I received was a small bag of green figs. We’d written a journal entry “Tell about a food that you really just don’t like to eat.” I talked about ripe figs. I don’t like Fig Newton cookies, either. So, within a day or two, one of my little boys presented me the fruit! He got them from his backyard and was so pleased to treat me with something he knew, for sure, that I’d appreciate. They listen…
I have received many thoughtful gifts over the two and a half decades that I was a teacher. I remember helping our children create gifts for their teachers, so I don’t know why I was so surprised when every holiday I was showered with things from my own students. They paid attention. I got lots of dark chocolate, gift cards for fast food that I’d mentioned once or twice as my favorite, and some truly adorable handmade doodads that were just wonderful.
Here is a story about another little boy who’d paid attention to my stories and he brought me a terrific gift. This happened in April, too, twenty-four years ago.
I met Jimmy in my second year of teaching. He missed the first day of school. When he arrived on the second day, he said it was because he didn’t know that school started yesterday. That should have been a sign…
Teaching was my second career. At this point in life, I’d already spent twenty years as mother. I’d gone back to college when my children were in school all day, because I knew that I’d be seeking full-time paid employment again some time, and I wanted to be qualified for a job that was salaried, not hourly. I chose teaching because I thought that it would fit into a mother’s schedule better. Obviously, I had no idea what being a full-time teacher involved!
Jimmy was a boy who knew he was trouble, but he didn’t really want to be trouble. One day, he came and asked me if he really had to go outside for recess that day. Since their recess was my lunch break, I asked him why he didn’t want to go.
“I just know I’ll get into trouble if I’m out there today. And I don’t feel like being in trouble.”
So, I ate my lunch in my room, and Jimmy sat on a floor pillow and played with a pattern block set I had. We talked a little. He was living with Dad in this county in Maryland with his little brother. Jimmy was in fourth grade, brother was in second grade. Dad was a Master Chief in the Navy, stationed at the base across the river from our school. I lived on the base side, but drove across the bridge to teach where Jimmy’s family lived. The Chesapeake Bay formed the southern border to both counties.
Jimmy’s mother lived in Virginia, with her new husband, and her new children at another Navy base. She had moved on, and the boys lived with their father, with occasional visits to see mom in her new life. I found out after we returned from a holiday break that she had brought the boys back to father days earlier than had been planned because she just didn’t want them with her anymore right then.
Jimmy and I had a fraught relationship. He was a mediocre student. He was wise beyond his years. He was stubborn, and mischievous, and thoughtful, and willful. Once he was acting out badly, and I said that I would have to call his father. That had no effect, because way back then, I didn’t even have a phone in my room—a call home would mean after school, from the office.
He shrugged and kept on being disruptive. I walked over to my desk, pulled out my cell phone from my purse, and looked up his dad’s work number. CELL PHONE?? No one had a cell phone back then. But, since my husband had been in Bosnia the previous year working with the Marines, and I was driving our daughter out West to college, I’d bought myself a cell phone so we could keep in contact during those occasional times when he could access a phone. Mind you, all this phone did was make calls.
I dialed his father’s number, left a message on his voice mail at work, then put the phone in my pocket. A few minutes later, my pocket rang. The entire class held their breath. I answered, listened for a bit, then handed the phone to Jimmy.
“Yes, sir. No, sir. Okay, sir. Yes, sir.” He handed the phone back to me. Dad said, “You shouldn’t have any more trouble today, Ma’am. Thanks for calling me.”
I did NOT have any more trouble that day. At least not with Jimmy, anyway.
After Spring Break, we returned for the final sprint to the end of the year. Jimmy came to me at the beginning of class and handed me a very nice booklet. It was the souvenir program from a boat commissioning. He said he’d spent some of our week off with his mother in Virginia, and that they’d gone to a cool ceremony where a new submarine was being launched. He knew I’d like it because he knew that my husband had been in the Navy, and he also knew where I’d grown up. He pointed out the name of the brand new Navy sub: USS Wyoming.
And that is the story of my most unexpected, and very cherished, and appreciated gift.Published in