It’s back to school time, and I feel a wistful twinge as I wander down the school supply section of Walmart. I’ve been retired for almost a decade, but old habits die hard, and I add a packet of lined paper to my cart. I started teaching in 1975. Back then, before technological advances and our efforts to “go green,” we consumed a lot of paper. Teachers used a ditto machine to run off worksheets. I can still recall the smell of ditto fluid and how our hands got purple if we touched the still wet ink.
Along with the paper, I add a pack of pencils to my cart. On the first day of school fourth graders eagerly entered the classroom, found their labeled desks, and busily began sharpening their pencils. They chatted with friends they’d missed seeing over the summer, and as a rule were happy to be back.
Teaching required a tremendous amount of energy, but it also brought joy and laughter. I have fond memories of lunches in the teachers’ lounge where, in the fashion of Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” we’d share some of the cute things students said. I think of them as “funnies.” As I glance at the complicated school calculations on the store’s shelf, I recall one of the “funnies.” A boy rubbed his head vigorously and said, “I’ve been thinking so hard my head hurts.”
I leave the school supplies and wander past the shoes. Students often had brand new shoes on the first day of school. Another “funny” pops into my head. A girl, awed by the beautiful tooth fairy in her fancy white dress, wings, and tiara took a second look when she noticed the fairy’s feet. She turned to her teacher and whispered, “I never knew the tooth fairy wore tennis shoes.”
On my way to the grocery section, I stroll past the electronics and recall the story a music teacher told. When she pulled out an old record album, a student remarked, “Wow, look at the huge CD.” I find myself chuckling aloud while heading to the dairy section. I pick up a carton of eggs.
One of my favorites “funnies” happened while I had an incubator of quail eggs out in the hall. Part of a life science lesson, we discussed the development of the embryo and our plans to care for the quail chicks. I kept the incubator in the hall so the entire school could share in the experience. The day the fuzzy little quails hatched, a first grader brought her friend to the incubator and pointed inside. “See,” she said in a smug tone. “I told you they were quails, not whales.”
I’m smiling broadly now and a fellow shopper catches my eye. Should I explain that I’m reliving my career as a teacher? Before I can decide, the woman has turned the corner nearly bumping into someone reminding me of another “funny.” A student whipped around a corner, bumped into a teacher, and bounced off her chest. The student said, “Oh, you’d make a good airbag.”
I’m laughing aloud as I pass the optical section where I have another flash, this one more heart-warming. A co-worker told the story of a boy with new glasses continually taking them off. When my co-worker questioned the boy, he said he was trying to save them. He didn’t want to wear them out.
It wasn’t only students who came up with “funnies.” I recall a teacher complaining of a headache. “Worst field trip yet,” she said. “They were awful! They wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t do what I asked, and one even smoked.”
“What?” I asked.. “One of your students had a cigarette?”
“No,” the teacher explained, “I wasn’t talking about the behavior of my students. I was talking about the chaperones.”
Teachers today face many challenges. I hope they can find a moment to soak in some of the more light-hearted moments and to realize that we know how important they are and that we appreciate them. Best of luck for all those heading back to school.