(Editor’s note: The following, like all of my accounts as a substitute, teacher is best qualified as creative non-fiction. Though the account is true, the site, school, grade, or subject may have been modified. More importantly, the names of the students have all been changed.)
It was my first day at a school I had wanted to teach at since I first saw it nearly 30 years ago. It was the ideal of a rustic, rural town at the base of a mountain range, the Sierra Foothills, which extended well beyond the incorporated areas of Placer County.
Like its surroundings, the school itself was an amalgam of old and new with an emphasis on the former.
The architecture had not been updated since the 20th century. It looked and felt like a time before the advent of smartphones and social media. My IPHONE 12 PRO MAX never once held a signal. And yet, that was the beauty of it all.
My job was to teach 2nd Grade, Home Room.
For reasons I won’t go into now, 2nd Grade is my favorite.
SOME FACTS ABOUT 2nd GRADERS:
1. They stand in lines.
2. They don’t know what ‘lines’ are and never will.
3. They are ALL fragile in their own way.
I had just finished giving out the assignment: making wreaths out of branches they’d collected from the redwoods nearby, when I felt the tiniest poke behind me. I turned around and there was HOPE.
Big brown eyes framed with brunette hair. About two and half feet tall.
Damn if she wasn’t crying.
I leaned over as far as I could so she could whisper to me. I asked, “What happened?” In my most gentle voice.
She responded in kind, “I miss my momma.”
I will never forget the way she looked at me when she said it. I hugged her, as best I could, and said, “I miss my momma too.”
The rest of the day, I caught her looking at me, not smiling, observing.
To be honest, it made me wonder if I had crossed a line by sharing my feelings.
But then, as they all filed out at the end of the day, I suddenly felt tiny arms wrap themselves around my waist. I looked down and there was HOPE smiling up at me.
I hugged her back, best I could, and then watched as she walked down the old stone steps where her Momma was waiting and then, disappeared amongst the other parents and students.