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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who Really The Teacher

Who Really The Teacher
(A diversion from the main topic... from back in the day when I was teaching in an early childhood center...)

In the end, there was no last hug, no promises to keep in touch, no fond farewell. She skipped away from her mother and down the hall, turning back only to throw me that happy grin. She was going home for the weekend with Mommy. That was her primary concern.

Alexa (a pseudonym) was my favorite. They - whoever "they" are - say that teachers aren't supposed to have favorites. That's bunk. Of course we have favorites. We try hard not to show it, but we're human. Like anyone, we have people we like, people we dislike, and people we just plain love.

I loved Alexa; still do. What a kid! She had that devilish twinkle in her eye, and she knew just how to make me smile. She looked at me and I'd just melt. We were lucky that she was so well-behaved, because I don't know how I'd ever be able to get mad at her.

Alexa and I had a powerful bond. I don't know, maybe it was a past-life thing. We'd lock eyes and it was if something in her spirit was talking to something in mine. No words were needed. She would smile first, and no matter how bad a day it was, I had to smile too. Other people were secondary. Even her mother, a lovely person with an equally infectious smile, simply didn't share in this bond. Or if she did, I never noticed.

I believe Alexa knew secrets about life that she was simply too young to articulate. It is one of life's cruel jokes that the very young lose much of their wisdom before they are able to communicate it. When I looked at her, I saw depth. I saw openness. I saw that life is supposed to be fun. She would catch my eye with a knowing look, as if to send me these coded messages, and then the moment would be over and she'd be a regular kid again. From Alexa, I learned that our purpose for being here is simply to experience the joy of living on this amazing planet with all these other incredible souls. That is the purpose, the "meaning of life." You either get it or you don't. Alexa did. Through her I caught a glimpse of enlightenment.

It is unfair, because all I really taught her was how to zip up a coat and write her name.

Nothing lasts forever. I was leaving the school. We had prepared the kids for weeks, showing them on the calendar which day was my last. Preschoolers don't understand abstract concepts like the future, and I knew the kids wouldn't truly realize what had happened until after I'd been gone for several days. Alexa was no exception.

My last day was emotional. She floated in and out of my preoccupation as I packed my things and moved the furniture. The day wore on and I ran out of mundane tasks to distract me. I started to crumble as my kids, one by one, were whisked away by their busy parents. Outside, Alexa played alone and looked alternately normal and troubled, as if something was wrong that she just couldn't place. She appeared periodically by my side, clutching my leg in silence or asking questions. "Why are your eyes red? Why do you have tissues?" Then she would disappear back into the chaotic throngs of playing children.

I watched her dig in the sandbox from behind my foggy sunglasses. Suddenly she stood and made a beeline in my direction. I prayed she'd walk right by. I'd cried enough for one day. But no, she climbed onto my lap and smiled widely. "I'm going to miss you." Then she simply slid down and wandered off to look for a bucket. She was the only kid in the class to say those words. Undone, I nearly fled the playground in sorrow.

Then the room was empty and Alexa was my last. She twirled around the open space, giggling madly. Before long I heard the dreaded footsteps. I chatted with her mother, barely concealing my anguish. I was falling apart.

And Alexa skipped down the hall and out of my life. Not so much as a goodbye. After all, she was just a little girl. She probably thought that it was all a funny joke, that I would be back Monday morning just as always.

I have to laugh at myself when I reread what I've written. You would think the poor child had died. Not so; in fact I am certain I will see her again. It won't be the same, though. Some part of me senses that her main purpose in my life has come to an end. She will grow older and forget, like all children do, and perhaps spend a lifetime trying to regain what she once knew. Maybe that is the ideal role of the teacher - not to give content or even skills, but to help people remember what their souls have always known.

To Alexa, a silly little four-year-old who barely knows how she has touched my life: may you be blessed.