The Road Ahead

My final day of student teaching was a milestone, the exit marker on the road to finally being a teacher.

Kathy had quietly planned surprise gifts with the students for me on my final day.  Awkwardly, our term ended the last week of April, rather than running until June.  Since I still had three classes to wrap up at the university, I wouldn’t be able to substitute teach right away.  I couldn’t get my teaching certificate until those three classes were completed.  So while I could attend an early graduation (since there were none scheduled during the summer when I would actually complete my coursework), I could not skimp on the valuable piece of paper issued by the State of Michigan that would allow me to teach children without another adult present in the room.  Because of this, today was much more of a goodbye than it would have been if I had been completely done with school.

I had become so close with Kathy during the time we spent together teaching.  She boosted me up on the days I came in depressed talking about my mother’s cancer, and gave me the proper amount of girlfriend awe when my boyfriend showed up to help me hang up student artwork after school.  She was only seven years older than me, and while professionally the gulf had seemed wide when I started, we were like girlfriends who shared everything by the end of my time there.  It was going to be hard to not have her there every day to chat with about this and that.

And the students.  My sweet students that had actually learned when I explained a concept, not noticed when I totally screwed up the lesson on magnets, who had blissfully been unaware of my red cheeks the last few weeks as I struggled to stay focused while my mind played a constant soundtrack of What Will Happen Next.   When my sweet little Donna brought up the little tote bag that they’d all signed and decorated for me filled with a personalized pencil case and a plaque for my own desk in my own classroom, my heart nearly burst.

It was a long time getting here.  I had spent so many nights at home writing endless letters to all of those who had shared their lives with me and left.  I had felt lost and alone more times than I could count.   I was starting to realize that famous saying was completely true:  life isn’t about what happens to you.  It’s about what you do about what happens to you.

And this day, in this moment, I knew that I somehow had something  that would help me survive.  I had come through the dark tunnel that I’d been living in.  Something clicked in me in that moment, watching Kathy smile with pride at me and my friends in the hallway clapping as I walked towards the office one last time.  I was nearly there, I had almost made it.  As I looked at all of the faces, and thought about the ones at home waiting for me, and the friends who would call me later asking how my last day went, I knew that they were my map.  They would lead me to the place I needed to be, wherever that might be.

I still have that tote bag.  I use it sometimes, looking at the pink and purple names on it, and wonder who those tiny humans grew up to be, and where.  And I am grateful.


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