My short essay was published in the Memphis newspaper in September. Thought I'd share it!
Kindergarten Teachers Watch their Gardens Grow
By this time of year, students of all ages are settling into a routine at school. Kindergartners, especially, have gone through major changes in the last few months. And so have their parents. They are glad their 5-year-olds are ready for some independence but reluctant to let go of leisurely time spent sculpting play-doh and aligning army men in the sandbox.
When I had babies and toddlers, some days seemed to pass at a sluggish pace. It was an endless cycle of messy high chairs, exploding diapers, and horrific fits at the grocery store. And sometimes it was the kids who threw fits. To me, kindergarten may as well have been the prom because they both seemed so far away I could scarcely imagine it. But as inevitable as kids learning to talk and then to talk back, the time for kindergarten arrived. On my son’s first day, I stooped at the door of his classroom to give him a kiss, relishing the thought that I might have a little more time to myself.
But a funny thing happened. As he walked away and the flashing lights on his Batman tennis shoes became dimmer with each step, I realized I wasn’t ready to let him go. I wasn’t ready to give him up to a teacher that he would be with more than me. Moreover, I didn’t even know this woman I was handing my child off to. I worried that she might get impatient because he usually ate his lunch slowly. And sometimes he couldn’t remember the difference between a “b” and a “d.”
But my apprehensions were quickly soothed. His teacher was a gentle, caring lady whose patience far-exceeded my own, and she made every child feel special. Twelve years later she’s still at his school, plugging away, enlightening little minds on the tricks of telling time and counting money—and often pulling baby teeth after class. There’s only one reason she spends year after year nurturing little ones—she loves it.
A kindergarten teacher is like a gardener who starts fresh every season with newly planted seeds. She enriches the soil with creativity, coaxes her seeds to bloom, and prunes with purpose. She spends time on her knees, cultivating the blossoms who flourish in fertile soil and toiling with the ones who struggle among the rocks.
Every year on the first day of school, a kindergarten teacher probably notices a little boy who meanders into her classroom looking as if he might cry. She takes his tiny hand and feels his small fingers curve cautiously around hers. More than likely it has been many years since that first boy walked into her classroom, and she knows from experience that a red popsicle usually cures the jitters.
Like a gardener, she knows there’s promise in every seed, a remarkable story waiting to unfold. She doesn’t know yet the particular qualities that make the little boy unique, but after some tears, crises and crumpled paper, she’ll figure it out as she always does. She understands that some of her tiny shoots bloom easily, with all the colors of God’s rainbow, but some take longer, often spurred by patient appeals, Kool-aid, and a few cheesy Goldfish.
She plans projects and pow-wows, and every year she teaches her apprentices how to be gardeners themselves. Scooping dirt with chubby fingers, they’ll carefully tuck bean seeds into white styrofoam cups and faithfully watch for little stems to appear. Then she’ll explain how to step back and watch them grow, just as she lovingly steps back and watches her students grow.
They tip-toed through her garden gate as tots, peeking their heads through the door like sprouts through dirt, and they will seem to wave good-bye at the end of the year all grown up. Velcro shoes will give way to carefully tied sneakers, and the stick people they used to draw will have fingers and clothes and cowboy hats.
She thinks of students she has nurtured through the years, adding by tens and learning shapes with sprinkles of humor and the fertilizer of praise. They are now young ladies and men. With her, they learned to make their letters—and years later, they’re learning to make a difference.
After ten months of tending, she’ll hug the same little boy who was so nervous the first day of school. She’ll take his tiny hand on the last day and feel his fingers now curve comfortably around hers. They will share an unspoken bond, and she’ll know that he takes a little piece of her with him as he leaves her garden.