I miss teaching.
Well, I have been teaching. I suppose what I really mean is that I miss teaching as I used to know it. When I left my preschool classroom in March, I thought I would be returning after a week of spring break. Toys were tossed into baskets and finger paintings hung crookedly on the walls. Almost six months later, after countless hours of remote instruction, professional development and classroom renovation, I am preparing to welcome my young students back to school. And despite the nerves and the unknown, I also feel excited. Because there is so much I miss.
I miss the dark stillness of my classroom before the children arrive. I miss the sensation of walking into a space that feels like home, imperfect and beautiful. I miss preparing the classroom alone with my thoughts and savoring the sweet silence before the crashing waves of energy burst through the door.
I miss the quiet reassurance of seeing my teaching partner’s coat draped over her chair on the other side of our shared desk; a piece of fruit, a familiar water bottle that remind me I won’t have to go it alone.
I miss the cheerful “good mornings” of my colleagues as they bustle down the hallway to their classrooms, coffee in hand and arms full of bags holding treasures brought from home. (How do teachers carry so much?)
I miss small feet running in my direction. I miss hands clutching crumpled artwork made just for me, the immediacy of dialogue without pleasantries, voices layered one over the other, hungry to show, to share, to be heard. I miss the tired, loving smiles of parents and caregivers. I miss bearing witness to the “one more kiss,” “one last hug,” the tapestry of rituals that bind us to one another. I miss the truly sacred moment when I assume the mantle of caretaker – the goodbye, the child in my arms, the tears of love. I miss the head resting against my shoulder, sad but secure, discovering that the world is a safe place to trust. And I miss the transformation that happens, abruptly at times, when the child bounds away from me, eager and ready.
I miss small feet running in my direction. I miss hands clutching crumpled artwork made just for me.
I miss the arguments, the miscommunication, the conflict that is born of learning to be together. I miss the uncensored expressions of emotion, the vulnerability and lack of fear in naming feelings. I miss those moments – so quiet, so subtle, that I sometimes have to lie in wait, like a hunter, to catch them – of spontaneous generosity, affection and kindness.
I miss the chaos and the noise. I miss the mess. I miss the lost mittens, the shoes on the wrong feet, the braids undone. I miss the coats that take five minutes to put on and two seconds to take off. I miss the Band-Aids – so very many Band-Aids. I miss the ice packs that soothe the soul more than the body.
I miss the spills. I miss opening a thousand individually wrapped packages of food. I miss the blue bin holding dishes waiting to be washed. I miss colleagues greeting my students with high-fives as they pass through on their way to the snack cabinet. I miss the steady hum of the washing machine and its cheerful little tune signaling that another load is done. I miss the constant parade of teachers with baskets of laundry, the “When did this load start?” “Can I leave this here?” “Will you pop this in for me?”
I miss the missing pieces. I miss the things that are broken or don’t have a place to go. I miss muddy, swinging sneakers that don’t quite reach the floor. I miss all the imaginary culinary creations that I am served each day, the little ways that my students find to take care of me. I miss those circle times when I surrender to the hysterical laughter that has taken over the group, as well as the times when I get so choked up reading aloud that I cannot continue, my teaching partner wordlessly taking over.
I miss the hugs. Oh, how I miss the hugs. From children, from co-workers, from parents and friends. I miss the countless, tiny expressions of love that we have created together through our everyday routines.
Wiping down the tables.
Putting away the nap cots.
Running the dishwasher.
Brewing the coffee.
There is so little that I am sure of, especially now. But I do know this: I am a teacher. The way that I teach will change. It has already changed, and it will continue to change. I prepare for those inevitable shifts, even as I stand sure in the knowledge that I will always teach with my whole self, with my whole heart.
And nothing – nothing – will change that.
Adrienne Holliday Meade is a preschool teacher, early childhood advocate, and education blogger.