It was the end of the day. We were getting ready to head out of the classroom to carpool and the rest of the afternoon at our homes. I had just finished reading today’s installment of Shiloh Season, By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The kids are into the book. In some ways it was a regular day. Sort of an average day. The kids had their homework written down, their backpacks packed and were dutifully putting their chairs up on the tables so the custodian could vacuum underneath the tables. It was a tiny bit hectic, but everything was going smoothly.
Amidst all of the noise and commotion, I heard one of my little guys say, “I love you, Mr. O.” Since I wasn’t exactly sure I heard correctly, I walked over to him.
“Hmmm?” I asked.
“I just said I love you.”
“Wow,” I said and I gave him a little hug. And a little noogie. “I love you too.”
That is exactly the kind of thing that changes a day from normal to extraordinary for me. I often say to the whole class that I love them. It’s usually at the end of the day, often on a Friday, when we are getting ready to exit. I’ll stop everyone, turn the lights off, and ask for complete silence. A little theatrical I know. “I don’t say this as much as I should. But I love you all. I am a lucky guy to work with you. Have a great weekend. See you Monday.” Something like that.
I didn’t used to say it out loud. When I was a younger teacher, I thought it was weird. Certainly I have never had a teacher who told me that she loved me. It didn’t feel right. The older I get, the freer I am about saying that.
But this is the first time in a long time that one of my kids said it to me in front of everyone. Out of the blue. And it felt fine.
I mean, why not? When you are with children for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for 180 school days, you get to know them pretty well. And I have these kids for second and third grade. That is 360 days, 2,520 hours, over 150,000 minutes together. That’s a lot of face time. We eat together at lunch, play together on the recess field, work hard together solving problems and creating stories. Kids who come in to me at the beginning of second grade are often reading pretty simple books like The Cat in the Hat or The Magic Tree House and leave third grade reading Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia.
Last week we finished reading The Music of Dolphins together. And some of them cried at the ending. So, yeah, we even cry together. When you are with someone for that much time, you can finish each other’s sentences. We know about each other’s triumphs and tragedies. We celebrate the birth of little brothers and sisters; know about each other’s passions, know each other’s families.
And the stuff we learn isn’t just about the 3 R’s. We teach other about our interests, our favorite authors, and our favorite songs. We write songs together, watch films together, tell each other jokes. We share questions and what is happening in the world. When I had to put my old dog to sleep a couple weeks ago, it made me feel good to be able to tell my students. They shared my pain, they eased my burden. That’s what friends do.
Last week, when we were coming in from the recess field and a vigorous game of dodge ball, we were chatting it up before entering the building. It was a bright chilly day, the kind of day when your nose runs if you exert yourself. We were all exerted.
“Hey, Mr. O., you’ve got something in your nose,” said one little girl.
“Yeah, it’s snot,” said her best friend.
“It’s all over your upper lip,” said the first, matter-of-factly.
I reached into my pocket for a tissue or a paper towel. Nothing. “Here,” said the first girl. She reached into her lunchbox. “It hasn’t been used yet.” She gave me a napkin. Believe me, I wasn’t picky at that point (pardon the pun).
That’s what friends do, right? I would have said the same to them. I frequently do. If I had told Sister Rachael Marie, my second grade teacher, that she had snot on her face, she would have boxed my ears without even thinking about it. And I surely would have never told her I loved her.
I don’t know many grownups who like their jobs as well as I do. I mean, how many people get to be with a big group of best friends all day, thinking together, challenging each other, solving problems, thinking about how the world works, learning to write in cursive, singing songs, reading favorite books and writing stories? Not to mention sharing lunch and playing dodge ball.
I have been doing this since 1979. Whew, it has been a good run.