Four years ago, I walked into your classroom on the most bizarre fucking day, something I would come to understand is referred to as “Prairie Schoolhouse,” an approximation of what your school life would be if you were Laura Ingalls Wilder (except no one is tragically blinded after contracting scarlet fever.) So there you all were, a bunch of 8 year olds packed into one classroom in your jeans and plaid shirts, out of your minds excited because, fuck yes, the desks had been rearranged, BEST DAY EVER(!) Your teachers stood at the front of the room in maxi skirts and blouses, all Pinteresty braids and cowboy boots… and then there was the goddamn wet blanket sub, who predictably had missed the costume memo and was uncomfortably slouching in the corner in her Theory jumpsuit (believe me, I was as disappointed as you, I love nothing more than some historical pageantry.)
But then came the best part. As your classroom was no longer your classroom, but “Prairie Schoolhouse,” gone also were your sweet, hip modern teachers, replaced with the stern, modestly-plaited women before you, appropriately called: their last names backwards. The head prairie lady wrote these names on the board, to your delight. Ms. Nospmoht. Ms. Htims. Ms. Sbocaj (or whatever they actually were.) Lead teacher Name-Her-What’s asked me quietly what my name was again. I told her. She began to write: Ms. Kra… and then immediately erased it, informing the students that, since they don’t know me anyway, let’s not make it more confusing and just refer to me as Miss Park.
So you became the first students to ever consistently remember my name.
You know, I have been a substitute teacher these past one million years because I just need commitment-free money until I can actually support myself with my acting, or this delightful blog. Every year I hope that this will be my last spent teaching, that I can gain some traction in my life, start really living it. And four years ago, if you had told me I would still be doing this, still scraping by paycheck-to-paycheck, driving my shitty car, still searching for a way out, I just might have crawled under the covers of my bed and stayed there.
But something happened this year. Something that, predictably, requires some backstory: when you became the older kids on campus, I would jokingly warn the little kids who idolized you, “Hey, you better be nice to these guys, they’re special to me. I know you think they’re your buddies, but they were my buddies first!” And then, this year, one afternoon when I was having lunch with the first graders, a bunch of you came over, slung your arms around my shoulders and pointedly warned the kids sitting with me, “Hey, you better be nice to Miss Park. She’s special to us. She was our teacher first!”
What you didn’t know was, that day was the anniversary of my father’s death. And to have my own words given back to me in such a way, on such a difficult day for me, completely unknowing, you gave me something else, too. I finally saw that, all those years I spent agonizing over how my life was going nowhere, I had the privilege of watching you grow into the fearlessly wacky, fiercely loyal, thoughtful, unerringly kind individuals you have become, maybe even helped you become, in some very small way. That was four years well spent, and I do not regret them in the slightest.
I’m sorry for all of the math lessons I’ve screwed up, for your tests I graded wrong, for that time I accidentally laminated two of your projects together, and that other time when I used the binding machine to bind your children’s book upside-down. You have moved me to be better, braver, wiser, and more determined, because I wanted to be the person you seemed to have been misinformed that I was. And if I could protect you from all of the sad, scary, disappointing, shitty parts of life that will inevitably come, I would. Except that I know you will handle them all with a grace and self-possession that I still try for myself, that I will continue to try for, because I know you expect nothing less.
I don’t teach at your new school, so I don’t know when our paths will cross again. As lovely as it has been to watch you grow up, I absolutely will not be teaching for four more years, so this will be the first and last time I know students for as long as I have known you guys. Maybe someday you’ll come across this blog while looking for unreliable sources to cite in your research paper on Bad Teachers, and you may finally see what you all have meant to me. But it’s okay if you use Wikipedia instead, because I think you already know.