Shoeless. Walmart mom pants hiked up past the belly button, khaki, with suspenders over a boys’ 14-16 blue button down church shirt. Women’s navy tank top turned vest, a straw fedora whose Budwiser embroidery was removed with force 12 hours previous. Barefoot.
Beside: all the same, but with less material and red checks instead of blue church. A one-handed hack job through the pants, shirt, and vest. Instead of a straw fedora: a black straw sunhat with the brim stapled up. Glasses.
Ladies. Actors. Teachers. Friends.
All week we conspired, eventually ending with an expensive trip to Walmart. Spirit week in Dumas gave us the gift of throwback Thursday. Britney and I threw back to somewhere near the 1840s, when Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were roaming the streets with mischief and dead cats.
At our prescribed 7:55am, we bumbled down the sidewalk to the cafeteria where the entire sixth grade sits waiting every morning. We giggled and hoped they understood who we were. We approached, pulled open the perpetually jammed door, stepped into the cafeteria, and witnessed 120 little heads turn, eyes on these young crazy teachers.
Strangely quiet, and then: applause.
Quite possibly the most polite, adorable, and heartwarming experience I have ever experienced as a teacher. The sixth grade welcomed us into the cafeteria with applause and call outs of “Hey, Huck!” “Hi, Tom Sawyer” and “Why you barefoot?!” (and, admittedly, a few scattered “Does Tom Sawyer drink coffee??”)
As I weaved in and out of children all day, the most common comment I got from kids and adults was a well-wishing that I didn’t contract worms or require a tetanus shot by the time I made it home. As I pranced in ill-fitting, too-expensive Walmart clothes, my sense of pride and love for my work and my students just swelled and swelled. Through the observation I didn’t feel prepared for, through the exhaustion of a long week, through the lingering ‘to do’ lists, through everything: wearing a costume was a constant reminder of the potential I and all educators have to change learning. To shape it, to use it, to be it.
Can’t believe it took me four years to muster the courage to do something like that, but at the same time I can. This year is transformative, maybe not in the TFA sense of the word, but absolutely in the personal sense. There is a huge, tight grip wrapped around my heart– protecting it or aiding it or trying desperately not to let it go, I’m not sure. It’s love wrapped in layers, confident in its existence but terrified of its lifespan in direct application.
Am I really going to leave next year? The idea of walking away from these tiny humans, of not teaching this (or any?) novel again, of missing out on the handfuls of kids that ask me to “please still be here when I get to sixth grade”, of my wonderful pen-pal volunteers not writing to any students– I ache with these thoughts. I drive by houses and think of what they would look like if I owned them. I drive by buildings and hypothesize their success as after school programs. I go to the grocery store and learn the cashiers’ first names, trying to remember which faces I’ve seen at conferences.
I think of ATC. I am so invested in the program, so enthusiastic about building my experience and trying a hand at management, of working for a university, of shaping a program that can impact so many classrooms, and it’s exciting, it’s exactly what I want to do. It’s a great idea for me professionally– but can I handle leaving my classroom for it?
I know. It’s eight months away and everything will move as it should. I just already miss my students so much, already feel separation anxiety from my town, my class library, my blue chair, the way students look at me.
One of my favorite parts of parent teacher conferences on Tuesday was a mom who came in and said, “She just loves y’all so much. She comes home and tells me everything. She said, ‘And mama, she even lets us take our shoes off!’”
I guess, to learn, we just need to free our toes. (Or that’s the beginning, I suppose.)