“One more day to get through” used to be the first thought that popped into my head when I’d awake. One more day to get up and go in and do a job I truly loved, but was in so much pain and so often out of breath while doing it . . . that it felt difficult to get up in the morning.
The days were long. I enjoyed the children I worked with. I loved seeing them make progress. I did the best job I could do and their improvements showed it. We all worked hard to learn how to read better.
In the spring, because I am a poet, I’d have a week when we’d read poetry. I’m a firm believer in the idea that it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you read! I’d read to them; we’d take turns reading lines. I chose classics like “Who Has Seen The Wind” that I thought they might see again later in life.
Although many teachers like to use the same story all week long, I’d find new stories for each day. I wasn’t just trying to teach them to read; I was trying to teach them to like reading. There was the story about the Gingerbread Man who was a LARGE gingerbread man, and when he jumped out of the oven, he chased the little old man and the little old woman instead of them chasing him like in the classic story.
We read fairy tales and tall tales. When I could find them on their reading level, we’d read biographies. We wrote together. My writing classes were not threatening or difficult. As with reading, I just wanted them to write. I’d start by telling them to draw a picture for me. I didn’t care what it was a picture of, just draw a picture for me. Then after they did that with the crayons I provided, I’d ask them to tell me about their picture. For first graders, as they talked, I’d listen for a sentence I thought they could write. When I heard it, I’d tell them that was a good sentence and to write it under their picture. For the Kindergarteners, I’d choose one of their sentences and write it myself. Sometimes I’d get a one word response. If that was all they felt like saying, I’d write that one word under their picture, or have them do it. The writing would progress from there, and by the end of the year, I’d have short paragraphs from the first graders and sentences from the kindergarteners.
I truly loved my work and had a method to my madness. My principal had also been a Reading Recovery Teacher at one time and she recognized the techniques I used and understood what and why I was teaching the way I taught. Others with less training stuck to one story each week and said I was playing with the children and not going by the teaching methods they’d been taught. They were right, of course. I was going by the ones I’d studied and used and knew would result in success.
I went back to school – grad school – at age 55 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Language and Literacy in 2007. Those were two of the happiest years of my life. I enjoyed the Language and Literacy Program at UNCW. The school is located at the beach, or close to it, in Wilmington NC. I learned a lot. I did one independent study where I designed a workshop for preschool teachers. I was allowed to flourish there and I did.
Armed with that knowledge and Reading Recovery training, I entered the Reading Intervention Classroom and enjoyed every day . . . until my health started to go.
My last year of teaching, I’d wake up every day with my first thought being, “One More Day to Get Through”. It wasn’t that I didn’t still love to teach. It was that I often didn’t feel well at work.
In the spring of my last year, I finally told the doctor how bad I hurt when I walked, when I stood, when I moved. I’d assumed it was just part of the aging process. and that everyone my age felt that way. I was wrong. It was Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy and it qualified me for medical leave. I’ve been home and away from my teaching career ever since.
My little old dog is delighted. We go for short walks – sometimes she simply walks herself around our small yard, but she gets me out of the house and into the sunshine about eight times a day.
I was not as delighted. I fussed, I complained and I was generally unhappy. I’d only taught 18 years of my life, but it was in my blood and I’d sit here and think what I’d be doing if I were at work. I’d wonder how the children who had been in my groups were faring?
But I quit waking up with the thought “One More Day to Get Through”. Some days I’d ask myself what I was going to do that day. It varied, depending on how bad my legs, feet, arms and hands were hurting. Some days I had scheduled doctor’s appointments. Some days I’d read my work emails to see what everyone was up to. It was a long period of adjustment for me.
Finally the school year ended and everyone else was also out of school. I quit thinking about what I’d be doing, if I were at work. I listened more to my youngest son who reminds me that “Where there is no way, God will make a way”. This is now my time to write, he insists. God has made a way for me to pursue my other love, which is writing.
Some days I write a four line poem. Other days I ramble on and on like this. I am working on 4 or 5 books that I started when I was teaching. The main one I am focusing on is about a blind man and yes, I know he is visually impaired, but . . . it will be explained in the book why I use that choice of words.
I am beginning – now in late July – to see “Back to School” ads. I am getting emails about setting up my room and new products available and I am thinking I don’t have to plan that any more. My last year my classroom was done in red and gold and I had some things from China, where my youngest son goes from time to time and I even showed the young children how the Chinese write. We talked about likes and differences between American children and Chinese children. We read books about world cultures.
This year I am not planning to set up a classroom. I’m finding that I don’t yearn to return to teaching like I did from late spring until school finally ended in mid June. I don’t wake up any more with the thought “One More Day to Get Through”. I wake up thinking of what I hope to accomplish today and I go where the spirit moves me to go. I am sure I will be outside at least eight times before the day is over. I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I’ll lie down when I’m tired. My days are easier and life is good.