By: Christine Tucker
Every day of every school year, I stand in the front of our school building waiting for my students. The first day is always a little bit different. Being in the "Escape Pod" behind the main building has its advantages. It is a long walk to the front of the building and I get to see so much.
It is 7:33.
I see the teachers in our school scrambling for all of: The Just One Last Things, The Just In Cases, The One Extra Copy, The Spare One of Everything that a forgetful student will need. The Last Cup of Coffee. Getting everything covered for all of the students while putting the finishing touch on every over-regulated and under-regulated balanced and assessed moment just so they can reach and teach each student. Teach them the best way they know how. Teach them the best way each student learns.
I see aides running right behind the teacher to make sure the I's are dotted I's and T's are crossed T's. And make sure that the leveled readers are available. And to make sure that the old pencil sharpener has been replaced with the new one. And to make sure that there are extra of the extra wide lined note books just in case another student not on their case-load may need one. And to make sure they are enough modified copies of copies just in case another student who isn't on their case-load is always under their wing…and to make sure...and to make sure...and to make sure...
I see the anticipatory excited worrying.
It is 7:39
I try to see the cooks but they are like a well-oiled-rapid-fire machine. Simultaneously, telepathically, unanimously and effectively they rise from their conference table in the kitchen, last sip of coffee, the hair nets go on and it begins. Slowly at first and then the steam kicks in. I think I see them as they pass through each other on hidden tracks. Cook. Bag. Stir. Bag. Chop. Bag. Slice. Bag. Stir, bag. Wrap, bag. Switch roles, bag, oven on, bag, behind you, bag. Burner down, bag, step aside, bag, restock, bag, coming through, bag, wash, bag, scoop, bag, hand to the right, bag, shift food trays, bag, don’t forget the Silk Milk, bag, on your left, bag, open doors, bag, restock, bag, behind you, bag, take an unannounced collective pause and a deep breath, bag. This small crew of food warriors prepares over 300 breakfasts AND keeps their minds-eye on preparing lunch. I will never see how they do all of that-I am not sure it is not allowed for mere human eyes.
It is 8:02
I see the Administrators, immediately stop all work and with warm welcoming smiles they compassionately guide and calm an overwhelmed parent and child in a quiet office.
It is 8:05
I see custodians collectively jogging their memories and tugging along a dolly for Just One More Chair and Just One More Desk for "Surprise Enrollment." Shuffling through the front hall, they agree there may be one extra desk on the stage. And one extra chair in the art room. They uniformly turn and head toward the Art room with the thought of circling around to the stage. There is a pause as they hear a crackle. I see One sigh as he reaches for the walkie-talkie on his belt loop. I see a knowing nod that comes with hearing the scratchy voice through the square speaker--"We have Two More. Make that Two More. One for room 314. One for room 502." With unspoken language, the troop of Custodians automatically divides at the fork by the cafeteria to hunt up furniture for the Surprise Enrollments. They all might have seen something-somewhere. I know they will find it.
I see the Custodians make mental notes as they scramble through the building on the hunt: The short water fountain by the cafeteria isn't bubbling as high as it should be. Double check the back door in the fifth grade wing to make sure it’s locked. The paper towel dispenser is low in the 4th grade boys’ bathroom. The hand-sanitizer in the third grade wing will need a refill by lunch. Not the sanitizer dispenser in the back of the third grade wing, but the one in the front of the hall by window with the moisture in the corner and looks as if it needs a closer look--it might need some caulking.
I see a custodian pop his head into a classroom and say a few words to a small conference of Teachers and Aides.
I see the conferencing Teachers and Aides give each other a Can Do look. Immediately, they set out with unwritten duties-- re-arrange rooms, gather supplies and make nameplates so any Surprise Enrollment will only ever know he always belonged.
It is 8:12.
I see Office Assistants in a crowded 25 x 25 office space overstuffed with necessary purposeful furniture and way too many unnecessary random people. I wonder, “How many people does it take to Surprise Register a single child on the first day of school? On average it looks like seven people.” The Office Ladies are a concentrated and collected mystery to me. Always with helpful and patient smiles at the rest of us whom have no idea the miracle of how they keep all 359 + Surprise 3 more ducklings in a row while simultaneously knowing where the exact registration/transfer/bus schedule/emergency card/folders/tape/staples/envelopes/addresses/and extra order forms are-and.... AND....they ALWAYS have a pen handy. How Do they do that? Just how?
It is 8:14
I see The Holder of All Electronic Mysterious Golden Key Codes to All Things Computer. I see her for a moment and like my passwords (which disappear as soon as I turn the corner) she is gone. And, much like my passwords which vanish into some random blankness in my brain (my old brain full of memories that beg for the return of carbon copies and mimeograph machines) she remains a blessing and an enigma. She is allowed to hide from me; there is a well-documented and healthy reason for her to duck behind a plant when she sees me coming.
I see the buses pulling alongside each other and assuming their position along the front curb.
It is 8:19.
I see Teachers, Administrators, Aides, Assistants, Cooks, Counselors, Custodians and the Nurse close their eyes briefly…in a collective silent moment.
I wait and I wonder.
It is 8:20.
I see the bus doors open simultaneously. There is a quiet moment that hangs in suspension. The bell rings and….
I see streams of little faces tumbling out.
I see these babies--no matter the age, they are all babies and must be fed and taught, and loved and taught and fed (the feeding-it is an Italian thing)-- tumbling and stumbling out of the buses.
I see all of them trying to wiggle into the school though one tight set of open doors.
I see a smiling Guidance Counselor, four feet away from the congested doorway, holding open the other set of doors and wave students to her. Her wave says what she always says, "Look this way. You have a choice. You can change your course. You can come through these doors." I see the entire tide of young students wholly switch paths and congest the newly open doors leaving the first set of doors wide open and without a soul under its eave. I see the Guidance Counselors smile grow even bigger because she knows, in time, they will figure it out.
I see the school Nurse at the ready with band-aids because there is always one or two skinned knees on the first day of school. I see her waiting with a soft heart and the Really-Bad-Stomach-Ache-Remedy because there are always three, or four, or seven really bad stomach aches on the first day.
I see all their little faces--new or returning, it doesn't matter: I see missing teeth and untied shoes, shirts on backwards and sneakers on the wrong feet, stubborn cow-licks standing straight up and forgotten zippers staying down, neat well-coiffed braids and radical bed-head hair, hats on sideways and hair ribbons untied.
I see backpacks: Some terribly heavy with Everything-You-Ever-Needed; Some terribly light with Not-Enough-At-Home.
I see a pint-size volunteer with a heart bigger than can fit inside a human body-grab up the babies and hug them. Some of the babies are taller than she is. "It don't make no never-mind, they like me because I am their size," the volunteer quips, "I'm gonna love them all." She grabs the first one rushing by and adjusts his backpack, gives him a big hug and lets him go. She grabs the next one asks her how her summer was, gives her a big hug and lets her go. She grabs the next one....
I see little faces: Painted with nervousness, apprehension, confusion, fear, panic.
I see little faces trying to hide little tears.
I see little faces: Bursting with joy, excitement, smiling at everything, shiny-happy little faces...
I see and I wonder of each one of those little babies, "What will become of them?" "What will be the deciding factor in this young beings’ world that she can build a happy life upon?" "What will be the tipping point for him that makes him stay straight and live a productive and happy life?" Isn't that just it? Don't so many people just want to be happy? Me, I want to be happy and rich-but unless I win the lottery-the latter is a flying pig. Surrendering to the obvious, I will stick with ‘Being Happy.'
I see a building full of generous, caring, compassionate, loving and knowing adults each of whom has just racked their bodies and their brains down to this moment to be ready for the next 180 days.
Because, that's all they get. 180 days. 1,100 hours in a child's life.
All of these people-the Teachers, Custodians, Office Assistants, Cooks, Counselors, Administrators, Volunteers and Aides—have just 1,100 hours out of the near 659,000 hours in a child’s life to make a positive, safe, enriching world for each unique child.
I see so many of these amazing people I work with and I know in this brief 1,100 hours out of 659,000, he or she will be remembered in a Lifetime as the 'Bestest- Most-Favoritest' (insert job here) E.V.E.R!
Can you see it too?