A Physical Reminder

For the first 16 years of my full-time teaching career I taught in a school that hosted a New Teacher Shower every spring. We actually included anyone who was new to the building (including pre-service teachers who were working in the school). It was a surprise and all of us who had been in the school before brought teacher goodies (some food, some school supplies,etc.) and new teachers walked away with a treasure trove of stuff. Plus we had food and a chance to just hang out and enjoy our time together. It was wonderful. I tried to get it going at my second school and we did it one year, but I couldn’t do all the work on my own to make it happen every year. Someday I hope to bring it back in whatever building I may be in at that time.

My first year, I was one of five new teachers to the building. (That was not the norm. Most years we showered a LOT of teachers.) A third grade teacher who was a close friend of mine made little flower pots for all of us with our names on them, decorated beautifully and filled with candy. Every year thereafter (at least for as long as I can remember) the fourth grade team (my team, at the time) continued that tradition.

My flower pot has held pens in my classroom for 21 years. I’ve had nine classrooms since then, five different grade levels, hundreds of students. It’s been a reminder to me of where I started. Of the fabulous people who supported me as a new teacher.

On Friday I tried to rearrange some things in my ‘desk’ area. I don’t have a teacher desk anymore, haven’t had one for quite a few years now. So I have a two-drawer filing cabinet, some drawers, and a bookcase to serve as my desk. I’m continually tweaking the space to maximize it and keep it as well organized as possible. In this process my flower pot full of pens ended up on a couple of small plastic drawers that were leaning at an angle, on top of a floor lamp that sits on my filing cabinet.

As my students were arriving, eating breakfast, responding to our morning message, and reading or drawing or chatting, I heard a crash. I turned to see all of the pens and highlighters scattered around the floor and my flower pot in pieces. A couple of students immediately headed over and began picking up the pens and highlighters.

I fought back tears as I thanked them for their help and picked up the pieces. I put the flower pot on my table, debating whether or not it could be glued back together. Remembering my friend Jill and how she had started a tradition that meant so much to me with these flower pots we all had. Flower pots that are now in classrooms all across my school district and neighboring districts.

I’ve been reading books in the Maisie Dobbs series lately as I walk on the treadmill at the gym. The title character was born in poverty around 1900 in London. She is in service to a wealthy family as a young girl and learns to read and has a hunger for learning. Due to many fortuitous circumstances she gets the opportunity to go to college. All of the servants with whom she works pitch in and buy her a lovely bag to use there. She uses it through college and for many years thereafter. In a book I read recently it is stolen and ends up recovered by the police but covered in blood and ruined. She lets it go.

I thought of that Friday morning as I looked at these pieces lying on the floor. I’m not good at letting go of things. I really wanted to rewind and start again. I wanted to glue the pieces back together. My students were so helpful and so kind. I didn’t want them to see how much this upset me. Finally I took the pieces and dropped them in the trash can beside my table. I could learn from Maisie and let this go.

The people who helped me in my early years of teaching aren’t going to change because I no longer have that flower pot. The students I taught will continue to do well (or not) regardless of whether that flower pot is in my classroom or not. The lessons I learned in all the years that flower pot was there beside me will still reside in me.

I don’t need that physical item to make all that true. I will remain the teacher I am with or without it. But I will miss it.

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