Well, it happened again. I cried at school the other day. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and I’m not at all surprised. In fact, I saw it coming weeks ago.
This is nothing new for me. I’ve been crying at school ever since I was in kindergarten. I went to five different schools in four different towns over the first five years of my career as a student. Back then, the beginning of a new school year always involved tears.
For five straight years, I was the new kid who didn’t know a soul on the first day of school. I cried because I was scared. I cried because I missed my friends. I cried because I felt completely alone. All of the other kids in those small-town schools had known each other since they were babies. To them, I was an outsider, which made it extremely difficult for me to forge any close friendships.
After I worked the whole school year to become accepted by my peers, my parents would pack everything up again and move our family to a new town in search of a better life—forcing me to leave my new friends behind, often without getting the chance to say goodbye. Those were the tears that stung the most.
In the seven years that I have been substitute teaching in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade at Southern Boone Primary School, I have always tried to be mindful of how lonely and scared young students can feel. My ability to forge relationships quickly, a by-product of my own experiences in school, helps me earn my students’ trust in a relatively short amount of time compared to how long it takes for regular classroom teachers to form a similar bond.
I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as Supersub, and if every superhero has a superpower, then mine must be my ability to quickly form a real and meaningful bond with my students. This skill serves me well when hopping from classroom to classroom on an almost daily basis. Having taught most of the students currently in the SoBoCo school district, I can honestly say I have more friends in school right now than I ever did when I was a kid.
As you know, every superhero has a weakness, including Supersub. For the last eight weeks, I have had the pleasure of working a long-term subbing assignment in a second grade classroom while the teacher, a dear friend of mine, has been on maternity leave. When the final day of my assignment arrived last Friday, my weakness was once again revealed.
My Kryptonite is the tears of second-graders. I discovered this weakness during my first year of teaching when I was hired to be a paraprofessional in a second grade classroom. I worked closely with the students every day for three months, and we developed a particularly close bond. The kids broke down in tears as they said goodbye to the first-year teacher and me on the last day of school, and naturally, the grownups who had grown to love them cried quite a bit, too.
I have cried at the end of para assignments and at the end of the school year a number of times since that day. Because I choose to sub exclusively in the primary building—the only school where I have ever felt that I truly belong—saying goodbye to second graders is especially difficult.
The group of second graders I have spent the last two months with started burrowing their way into my heart on the first day I spent with them. The boys and girls in Mrs. Gentry’s class are among the kindest, funniest, smartest, and most thoughtful kids I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with. As the weeks rolled by, I really began to dread April 19.
Last Friday, I tried to stay strong as the kids and I spent our final moments together, but when a few of them started to become emotional, the Kryptonite rendered me powerless once again. One particular student approached me late in the afternoon with tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t say a single word. She didn’t need to. I knew exactly how she felt because I felt the same way.
There are very few things in this world as precious as a child’s love. To have earned the love of one child—if not hundreds—since becoming a father and a teacher, makes me the richest man who has ever lived.
It always amuses me when I tell a class that I love them. They usually giggle and sometimes appear shocked by the revelation. When I told my class that I loved them last Friday, one incredulous boy asked, “What about your kids at home?”
I said, “I’ve got enough love in my heart for them AND for you.” I could tell by the looks on their faces that everyone believed me—and that the feeling was mutual.
At the end of the day, after saying goodbye to each of my students as they filed out the door, I stood in the middle of my empty classroom and cried. The most satisfying work experience of my life had come to an end, another school year was drawing to a close, and I was saying goodbye to a class full of my friends yet again.
I guess that’s the way things are meant to be for me.