Sometime late last year, I decided I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. The people around me collectively had one type of reaction, and it was to give me words of encouragement but a face that said “Really? Of all things?”
I think the expectation has always been that I would take one or two or all of my creative passions and just run with it. People love to ask me about why I’m not majoring in photography or when I’m going to start posting on my YouTube channel again. I think my sharp turn into teaching was seen as a quarter-life crisis, during which I would come to my senses and regress into a life of so-called greatness. (“Your photos are just so good, you could definitely become a famous photographer someday!”) And somehow, against every insecurity I normally possess, I tuned out the noise. I listened to the support. I turned to my mom, and my best friend, and anyone else who would listen, because this was one situation in which I had to follow my heart above all else.
I ended up contacting my first grade teacher on a complete whim to ask if I could volunteer in her current class. I will forever be grateful to her for pulling the necessary strings to get me in, about three days a week, to a room in which an atmosphere of joy was the default. I wish I could tell you what it was like to physically feel tightness dissolve in my chest, to know that any feelings of doubt or anxiety I’d collected that day would be gone by the time I left the building. Working in her room didn’t just solidify my decision, it grew it; the idea became a dream which became my declared major for my second year of college.
I said goodbye to the kids on Tuesday of this week- their school year ended Friday and now they are on to first grade. My experience with them gave a whole new meaning to the saying that the days are long but the years are short. Their birthdays, their friendships, the math assignments they tell you they can’t do but finally conquer; you watch it go by like it will never end, and you miss it because you never fully realized it’d be part of your past. These kids and each of their little worlds become part of your world. Their lives cross with yours in a way that impacts you forever. Here are just a few of the lessons that my class taught me.
Time flies, but keep an eye out for the moments that make it stop.
1. Taking a short break is far more productive than trying to work through frustration.
2. A lot of life is actually incredibly simple (it’s often the adults who make it complicated).
3. Even from a young age, we all have the same capacity to love as we do to hate.
And last, but not least,
4. You can find a friend wherever you go.
I’ll be Miss Dalton for a long time coming. I’ll be the adult in the room, the conductor of little-kid craziness every day of my teaching career. But no matter how far I go, I won’t ever forget where it all started. The first moment I walked into that class, the room bright and new and shining like a dream. Hearing “Miss Dalton, can you help me?” behind my shoulder, watching the instant that a lesson clicked in a kid’s head, erasing a misspelled word and explaining how to sound it out... I know these kinds of moments will feel less important as I go through more of them, but I don’t ever want to lose sight of how they first felt: kind of amazing, at times frustrating, and above all, totally worth it.