back to the classroom

imitation is the highest form of flattery

A month before Luke was born, I stood in my classroom at the end of a long but fulfilling day. My body was exhausted and sore. It was June and I was 8 months pregnant. Our kindergarteners were preparing for summer vacation in the ways kindergarteners do: with an uptick in meltdowns and a dramatic decline in patience and tolerance. And I was preparing to become a mom for the first time- attempting to preserve as much of my energy, both physical and emotional, for myself and the nearly full-grown baby inside of me. But even with all of that going on, with my body aching and my mind racing, I was immensely nostalgic for what I was preparing to leave behind. Because Luke was due in July, I’d planned to take the following school year off. I didn’t know when I would be back in the classroom just as I didn’t know the day he would actually arrive or the ways in which motherhood would shape me.

It was a special, perhaps even sacred, few days wrapping up that school year knowing I might not be back in the classroom for some time. We’d accomplished a lot with this group of students who were equal parts creative, clever and challenging. As I stood there amongst the rolled up student paintings and the leftover art projects ready to be sent home for the summer, I was overcome with gratitude for my work. It was by far my best year of teaching. We hit our stride early and there were moments that truly felt magical in that room. Perhaps it was the intimacy of sharing my pregnancy with 17 five and six year-olds. Or maybe it was just that I had been teaching long enough that it all sort of clicked. Maybe it was the groove my assistant, Emily, and I found together. Most likely it was all of those things and more. When I think about that year I can think of many, many moments where our classroom hummed along at its own steady rhythm guided by the brains and hearts of the seventeen children who occupied it as we stood back in awe.

I held all of that in me as I stood there preparing to say goodbye and head out into the wilds of motherhood. I deeply feared that I might not find myself back in that place for a long, long time. I couldn’t picture motherhood so it was impossible for me to picture motherhood and being a teacher. When our director, Barbara, stopped into the classroom to check in that day I burst out, “I’m not done teaching!” Of course, I was saying it to myself, not Barbara. A message from my current self to my future self. As I grew nearer to Luke’s due date I sensed I was also stepping further from my identity as a teacher. I wasn’t entirely wrong.

But then Luke came and he filled me up in so, so many ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I spent the first 9 months of his life as his full-time caregiver. I missed my classroom and my professional identity in moments but was fully consumed with being Luke’s mom. I’d cleared a space for this baby and I wanted to sit in that space together for as long as we could. At 9 months, though, a job offer sort of landed in my lap and I went back to work part-time as a special education teacher working with individual preschoolers with disabilities. I was happy to be back at work, thrilled to have something part-time and not all-consuming, but I wasn’t all that fulfilled. I began to miss the community that teachers create within a classroom. I missed that moment in late October when you glance around the room and realize, “this is working.” I missed the ebb and flow of the school day and the school year. I even missed staff meeting, and not just the snacks that accompanied it, but my colleague’s voices and my own passionately working out challenges together.

When we arrived in Austin two months ago I embraced the bonus time I was getting at home with Luke but was eager to find my next job. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for so I looked far and wide. A few weeks ago, I saw an opening for what looked to be a dreamy kindergarten teaching position. I was immediately excited and then almost as quickly, worried. How could I give so fully to a classroom and also have space and energy for Luke?  But I went ahead and applied anyway because I could not ignore that part of me that longed for the classroom. That part of me that identifies so strongly with teaching and learning with a group of children. That part of me that wants to talk until late in the night about social justice and change.

I don’t have the answer to how I will give fully to a classroom and to my child. I don’t plan to have the answer anytime soon. I’m going with my gut here. I’ve accepted a kindergarten teaching position for the fall and could not be more excited. I’ll never be the teacher I was before Luke was born because motherhood continues to shape me. I am more patient and less flexible. More open-hearted with stricter boundaries. I will see each of my students as someone’s sweet baby and then I will run home to my own.