Today I zipped myself into a black graduation gown.
I haven’t put one on for at least ten years, (minus the Professor McGonagall Halloween.) Even back in the day, when I taught, I rarely dressed. Instead, I corralled two little children while catching snippets of graduation speeches, soaking in inspiration. By the way, I don’t think that ever goes away, that desire to learn, to rise, be better.
Today I didn’t have to corral children or worry about childcare.
So I zipped myself into a black robe for graduation. This past year I taught one class of Anatomy & Physiology. I was a last-minute act of desperation: large junior class, not enough teacher. Could I teach a class for a year? My first thought: no way. What came out of my mouth was unfathomable: okay.
I said yes before fear could talk me out of it, because well, I just really love body parts. And saying sternocleidomastoid. I mean, does that ever get old? The fear came immediately after the Yes, along with what the heck are you doing? how are you just going to fit that into your day?
You see, I had found a peace and rhythm to being a stay-at-home-mom. I found there was always plenty of good work to do. I had reconciled my own inner angst of wanting to do even more meaningful work. I had a job. I was teacher in a different classroom called home. I have no regrets at all about this. It was absolutely the best decision for our family and I thank all the fortune cookies I ever ate that we could do it.
But baby girl was in second grade and one class a day, four days a week, was doable, right?
It was doable, but I won’t say it was easy. The hire came in late August. The syllabus was due the next week. There were more panicked what the heck are you doing? moments. Could I really remember the sliding filament theory (you know, bicep curl, sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), contraction. Say what?)
Well then, I would fake it ’till I made it. I decided right away that if I was going to teach, then I would be all in, even if there was no future class for me. I would prepare like it mattered, as if I were cooking and serving a 5-star meal. Which, in my case, was served in a body bag.
To do it right, A&P had to be a high priority. And I let it be. I had one year to be awesome. Bring it, then. It took almost all of my “extra time,” the time scheduled for writing, a dream I’ve been trying to build for years amidst potty-training (them, not me), laundry, and chauffeuring the wee ones. I was making a choice, but also wondered what sacrifice I was trading.
The school year began. I taught the sliding filament theory. I also observed something remarkable, something I must have forgotten. My colleagues were superheroes trying to pass as mere mortals. They flew to meetings, coached on athletic fields, washed dishes at lunch, and conducted extra help sessions next to ponds and on busses. They never had a weekend off. And they were always smiling. My admiration grew until it was overflowing. I was mothering while just teaching one class. What about the full-time teachers? Good golly.
Like any job, teaching brought stress, scheduling impasses, too much rushing, and missed elementary school field trips. But exasperation was outweighed by so much happy. I was surprised that it felt similar to when I had my fourth sweet baby; I had anticipated the work, but kindof forgot there would be so much joy.
When my students learned all the bones of the human body, we cheered together. I witnessed a shiny new confidence in their eyes. When they could name the muscle they had pulled in a soccer game, or confidently tell their surgeon about their anterior cruciate ligament, I felt a surging pride that outweighed all the discussions we had had about texting during class.
This morning I zipped myself into a black graduation gown. I put on the yellow neck scarf thingy indicating my science major.
I admit: I felt ridiculous. The hat. Oh, that hat! Pretentious, silly. Perhaps it was my own insecurity that I hadn’t done this in so long or that I wasn’t full-time, but I thought do I really have to wear this and march into the tent?
It was an oppressive and wet heat when we as a faculty lined up behind the seniors. It would be even hotter, more oppressive sitting under the tent. I felt inner and outer wilting.
Then the music began to play, a rousing and familiar Pomp and Circumstance that brought all the parents, grandparents, family and friends who were waiting under the giant dome of a tent, to their feet.
We began to walk. The seniors entered first, to cheers and whistles, to trumpets blaring, to those annoying ear-splitting air horns honking.
And then we as a faculty walked in, and the crowd remained standing. They didn’t just clap. They cheered. We passed person after person, parent after parent, and I noticed the great emotion on their faces. Mothers were wiping tears from their eyes. Fathers reached out to touch our shoulders. There was a look on the faces of mothers and fathers that said, thank you so much – for everything you did for my child.
As I walked with my band of teachers down the aisle, I was overcome, wiping away my own tears. I was both humbled and proud to be part of a faculty who gave all, who had been the shoulders that these bright, compassionate, wonderful kids had stood on to rise – and boy did they rise. And the crowd was acknowledging us.
The invocation was given by one of the wise ones named Bill Peabody. He said something like, “The most important people in your life are not the ones who have made the most money, have the highest degree, or have the most stuff. The most important people in your life are the ones who care the most.”
It was an honor to stand with a tremendously, deeply caring faculty, a faculty who are a bit unusual in the way they care so much. But I am equally as sure that most faculty at schools around the world would say the same thing about their colleagues. Teachers aren’t in it for the money. Oh no, it has everything to do with caring.
At that moment, among all the pomp and circumstance, I was so proud to be called a teacher.
“Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph: a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi