Coming of Age in K-5: A Reciprocal Experience

I learned this past Monday morning at 9:33 that my life was changing. A four minute encounter began with a vibrating phone and a number I did not recognize and concluded with the deepest and most cathartic exhale that has ever issued from my lips. The 220-ish seconds between these endpoints included a proposal, an acceptance, some questions, and their answers. My entire trajectory and attitude changed with that brief call. I see now that there was purpose in my holding out.

Some might be thinking that I became engaged. I did, in a manner of speaking. Not with a person, but with a new job. After ten years as an elementary school librarian, I am transitioning to high school. This decision fills me with so many emotions but all the feelings of fear that people say I should have are strikingly absent. Instead I feel hopeful, optimistic, and certain. This change feels instinctively ‘right.’

Kindergarten to 5th grade has been my world for so long and reflecting on it, it is clear that my students taught me more about myself as a human being than I thought possible. It is because of them that I feel comfortable enough to move on to high school.

Each of us has an inner child and I wanted (and needed) desperately to reconnect with the 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 year-old versions of me and tell him, “You’re going to make it. You’ll be okay. You’re loved.” As a teacher, the foundation of my approach encompassed these three statements so that if even one out of the thousands of children that I have taught felt unable to make it, that s/he would not be okay, or felt unloved, that I was there for support.   

School was my oasis as a child. It was much happier, quieter, and less stress-inducing than my home life was. I retreated into reading books and creating elaborate alternate universes that helped me get by, mentally and socially. Once I had a friend from school over and he heard my parents arguing. When he questioned me about it, I told him that they were in a play and they were practicing their lines. I had used that a few times with different friends so I guess it was effective enough.

When I began teaching elementary school in 2002, my heart still broke for that little kid inside of me that I just wanted to hug and reassure. Through these 15 years, each of my students has made me realize some things about that inner child and each student has, in their own way, let him know that, “he’d make it, he’d be okay, and he is loved.” So upon reflection, what I was putting out to them came back to me--the inner me--that needed so much to be made whole.