As Teachers Know, School Is A Home Away From Home

Aug 15, 2013

They're all grown up! As they prepare to go off to college in just a few days, these recent graduates came back to their alma mater to talk about it.

My kids are off to college. It is a bittersweet moment. I am – of course – incredibly proud of them. I’m excited for all of the experiences and opportunities that lay before them; but I am also sad, and a little worried, because they will be on their own and so far away from home.

I won’t suffer from empty nest syndrome, however. I still have more kids to help get into college, about 150 of them this year. I’m not referring to biological children, but to my school kids. And, for about 180 days that begin on Monday, school will be their second home, where they’ll learn, work, laugh, cry, write, calculate, interpret and grow up.

And we are an integral part of all that.

Students often give gifts as they go off to college. They do not realize that the greatest gift a teacher can receive is their students' continued success. This is the latest addition to my college memorabilia corner.

Teachers head back to school this week, to unpack, rearrange, set up and plan for the first day of school. I walked into school this morning, fueled with a double dose of caffeine, to send and answer emails and begin all the heavy lifting.

They call these days work days for a reason. There is a whole lot of work to do. There are desks to move, boxes to carry, activities to be planned.

And, as we sit down to plan lessons – juggling texts, secondary sources, standards and activities—it could all become a little daunting. Will I reach them?  Will they get this?  Is this rigorous enough? Is it too rigorous? Does this lesson infuse the common core standards? In the midst of all the work there is to do, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed, maybe even wallow a little in self-doubt.

Just as I was in the midst of all that, four of my girls sauntered in. Each of them is heading to college this week. Each spent a semester at their respective schools – Howard, University of Florida, Florida State University and University of Central Florida—to get acclimated. And each came back home, to their school home, to surprise me and to talk hurriedly and excitedly about their summer.

They wanted to tell me how well-prepared they felt. They wanted to thank me. These are the moments that teachers live for. They are the reason that we trudge to and from trainings and professional developments, why we learn and adapt for changing standards, tests and curricula.

It is not for higher teacher merit pay or for school grades – although both are nice – but for moments like these, when Aileen tells me, “I was one of the few freshmen in the class and I got an A,” or when Crystal says that she used her notes on Othello to tutor her friends and classmates, for the moment when Gaby said, “at first I was intimidated by their GPAs and SAT scores,” but then she realized – they all realized — how much they learned in high school. They realized that they were prepared for college, and best of all, they came home to tell me all about it.

They wanted to tell me how well-prepared they felt. They wanted to thank me. These are the moments that teachers live for.

I am preparing for my ninth first day of school. As kids can attest, it is both exciting and nerve-racking. What will Monday bring?  The only thing that I know for sure is that at each desk will sit a student who – whether she knows it or not — is building her future. My job is to help her shape it, to make sure that she, and all of her classmates have all of the tools that they need.

Over the years, I’ve lectured and graded, proofread hundreds of college application essays, helped students complete their FAFSAs, written letters of recommendation and have worn the dozens of hats that teachers do each day. I’ve been there to console them after rejections and losses, and to encourage them to push through.  I’ve been there to celebrate acceptances, triumphs and awards and to shake their hand on graduation day.

But most rewarding of all is hearing from them. Opening my inbox to find an email from a student who graduated in 2008 with exciting career news; running into a former student and finding them happy, healthy and successful; and, of course, welcoming a former student home for a visit as they talk excitedly about their lives.

Yes, most rewarding of all is knowing that we reached them. They learned. They navigated through the seas of adolescence, the drama of high school relationships, the trials and tribulations of pretests, post-tests, lectures, essays, assignments and that – through the cacophony of all that—they heard us, they listened, they learned, and they appreciate it.