If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a town, in my case, Danville to raise a teacher.
As a single mom with two boys, working can sometimes be a challenge, especially at the onslaught of a new school year. And especially when what I do for a living is teach.
"Why do you have to be a teacher?" my teenage son grumbles when he finds that for the next few months before he gets his license to drive himself to school, he will be dropped off to school each morning earlier than he wants.
My youngest, who is in third grade, bemoans his fate, too. Although conveniently, he attends the same school where I teach, he has to follow the same rules as everyone else and can't go to the playground until there is supervision, which means he's stuck in my class with me in the early morning until the bell rings.
"It's so boring," he says.
I enthusiastically share that he can help me get prepared for the day, read, draw, or God forbid, actually take time to do the homework he'll receive in the upcoming weeks. I am met with the same enthusiasm as a child awaiting immunization shots.
"Hey," I say, "I could have a job in the city and not be home until 7 each night."
"Well, at least you would be normal," my teen declares as he makes no bones about it. He does not understand why anyone would ever want to teach or have anything to do with school, at all.
Yet, I love what I do. And I am proud to say I do what I love.
Wednesday was the first day of school and my newly acquired students would never believe that I, too, was nervous and excited about the start of a new school year.
When I went to pick up my class as they lined up outside the gates, I clearly saw, right away, those students who seemed calm — mostly those who had me before or know me. I could also see trepidation, nervousness, and insecurity across faces of children whose fear of the unexpected can get the worst of their imaginations.
There was the girl with the big brown eyes in a matching purple shirt and ribbon, perky from a good night's sleep.
There was the boy, with his New York Mets hat who clearly struggled to get out of bed to officially end his summer.
In the line that spanned 31 new fifth graders, there was a sea of brand new shoes of every kind.
Mainly, there were young people in front of me who, like me, had a boatload of emotions that scanned the oceans of uncertainty.
I could make a difference in helping them see that although the boat was still docked, this would be a journey where safety is critical and everyone would be required to wear their safety vests. The risks, as there will be risks, would be completely navigated with assuredness.
Teaching requires so much more prep than anyone would ever imagine.
Planning begins when the last school year ends.
Sure, there are the "superficial" duties, such as creating name tags, labeling folders, decorating the room, organizing supplies, and the endless tasks that make a room look like it's ready to go with trees and butterflies and sports stuff and in my room, surfboards for "surfing into fifth grade."
But the vast majority of the work is planning meaningful lessons, projects, and objectives that meet curriculum standards. That means collaborating with peer teachers to make sure we are all on the same page in moving students from where they are to where they need to be. It also means differentiating instruction to meet the needs of a multitude of learners.
Before the curtain of a new school year rises, behind-the-scenes is a delicate balancing act that requires many to make it all work.
I am grateful for the colleagues and administrators that make themselves available at the stressful countdown, to troubleshoot what feels like the most sticky situation.
In addition to education colleagues, it is the support of family and friends, people like my sister-in-law Tina, who help by watching my son so I can prepare and go to meetings. She then greeted me after watching my son on the first day with a bag full of everything I needed to make dinner for my boys when I returned home.
There's my dad who gave me extra money to help buy school clothes and yearbooks for the boys.
There's my ex-husband, willing to take on a few extra hours to help while I am at another meeting.
There's the son's girlfriend's mother that drives my teen to high school so he can talk to the counselor about switching out of his classes as we learned last year, that A period is a bad idea for someone who has a hard time getting out of bed.
And there's the barista behind the Starbuck's counter who doesn't balk when my credit card was declined because I messed up on my accounting (that last month of summer can be a bear when one does not receive a paycheck), yet I still walked away with my much-needed iced chai.
And of course, as frustrated as my boys can be that their mom is a teacher and it sometimes comes with a small price they have to pay in patience, deep down inside, they know I love what I do.
Regardless of how they feel about my job, I'm hoping the real message I send and that they'll someday understand, is to pick something in life that you truly love to do because it will never feel like a "job."
Instead you will do what you love and get paid for it.