By Carey M. Palmquist, senior vice president for eCommerce at First Book
Imagine waking up every morning as a teacher in a Title I school.
You’re doing this because you want to. I mean…right? You had this incredible notion of giving back, of mentoring, of profoundly changing the lives of the kids you teach. In college, you learned about curriculum and classroom planning, about the bountiful resources available both in your classroom and in your school library, and even in the community library. You have a vivid picture of extended learning at the child’s home where you can recommend the best bedtime stories and engage the parents in the PTA, in the project-based work you’re doing, in complementary skills that will teach empathy, inclusion, and the value of education.
Wait. What happened? Where’s the disconnect? What country is this?
You’re up before the darkness of night fades, not very rested after yesterday’s meeting with Bobby’s grandmother. You learned some difficult facts about Bobby and why he’s been missing school. So upsetting. Bobby is just a kid. You have to throw another load of filthy, smelly, tattered shirts, underwear, socks, and jeans into your washer. This is your third load of unfamiliar laundry since you got home last night at 9:30 p.m.
You grab a cup of coffee while the laundry agitates and the dryer warms your tiny kitchen. Then you grab a pen and paper and begin writing your list of what you need to fetch from the market on your way to school; soap, granola bars, a couple of toothbrushes, a box of tampons, a couple of cans of soup, some milk that doesn’t expire, and an extra pair of mittens. Christmas, one of the emptiest days of the year, is coming and temperatures are much cooler.
After you’ve thrown on your clothes, you grab that final load from the dryer and fold all three loads on your kitchen table while watching the top news story about education reform. Nausea in your stomach is so palpable that you have to turn off the TV. It’s just too much. Once the laundry is folded, you pick up three new backpacks that you keep on hand in your hall closet and fill each one with clean clothes. One for Bobby, one for Susan, and one for Jenna, worried that you’ll forget to tuck the tampons you’ll buy at the market into Jenna’s backpack.
Glancing at the clock, you realize that in order to be at school at 7 a.m., you need to bolt. You throw the three backpacks over one arm, grab your purse, your papers, and your cold cup of coffee and run out the door to your 1981 Toyota Camry. You pat the Camry on the hood and praise her stamina at 199,999 miles. She starts today, and you think only briefly of humming a happy tune as you throw your trappings in your trunk on top of the box of paper, pencils, and stickers you bought at Staples last night on the way home.
You round the corner to the market and hop out of your car rummaging for your list at the bottom of your purse. You go quickly, only down the aisles that you need, and grab your items off the shelf. As you check out, the grocer makes small talk, trying to be kind, but your head is already at school, and you’re willing your body to follow. You pay the grocer with your personal credit card, bag your own items, and fly into the school parking lot at 6:58 a.m. Relief. You made it. But there on the school steps, in the darkness, and pacing back and forth are Jake and his little brother. You had hoped to beat them there and get the lights turned on. These kids need the lights turned on.
There’s a quiet and sleepy exchange of “good mornings” and “how are yous.” Jake grabs his little brother’s pillowcase (makeshift backpack) and hoists it over his shoulder. They follow you into your classroom and take seats near your desk. You reach into the grocery bag and hand them both a granola bar. They devour them. Jake thanks you and asks for another with a promise to share it with his brother.
Just then your cell phone rings and it’s the school nurse. She’s talking to you about Jenna and wanting your assurance that you’ve gotten the provisions you talked about. She’s apologizing again that she has run out of feminine hygiene products and lamenting in her frustration. When the call ends, kids are beginning to trickle into the room and you are setting out supplies for them so they can draw or write or doodle for the next hour until school breakfast is served. You know full well that most of your kids haven’t had anything to eat since free and reduced lunch was served yesterday at noon. You can see it on their faces, sense it in their behavior, and know that it’s going to be a long day.
You surreptitiously place the backpacks with the clean clothes into the cubbies of the three kids and begin to organize your thoughts for the day. It’s 8 a.m. and your job as a teacher is just beginning.
Our teachers are everything. They are parent, nurse, mentor, confidant, social worker, disciplinarian, and teacher (when there is time). More often than not, teachers spend their own money on an array of items for their kids including personal hygiene items, books and winter coats, but also on classroom supplies and educational resources they hope will inspire kids to learn and grow. This is what we see the First Book member educators doing every day.
I know because I watched teachers do the same for my own foster children. I watched them put in time and effort and heart to make sure my kids could thrive. I know that we, as foster parents, couldn’t have done for our kids what those teachers did—because we’re weren’t teachers. We didn’t have the education and the experience and the practical knowledge. We could be their foster parents; we could make sure they were safe and warm and happy. We could make sure they were ready to learn. But we needed teachers to do the rest.
That’s why I come to work at First Book every day. Teachers, we appreciate you, not just this week, but every week. We see everything that you’re doing, and we appreciate you beyond measure.