This is my year of finding community. September was the most alone I have been in 20 years walking into a new school year. I had been a teacher for 22 years, but here, I knew nobody. Where I had come from? My heart was woven into the walls.
I spent the summer unpacking. Weeks and weeks and weeks. I knew the stairs well. I went up and down them countless times. I spent time at the staff room sink contemplating the world while waiting for water to boil. I drank my second morning coffee by myself. I memorized certain views from specific windows looking for something to ground me. My imagination was turned up high. Everything was about what would come.
There were children in the school each day as part of a summer program. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I marked time by the meals I could smell from the kitchen. Pancakes. Macaroni and cheese. Fried something. I listened to their shouts and whoops and happy conversations that wafted up the stairs and through my open windows. When I walked by them we exchanged “we are stranger” smiles. Recognition began to happen but no connections. That was for later.
I remember one morning in early November when the building engineer asked me if I was beginning to feel at home. I had been navigating my way through various stages of big change – excitement, confusion, grief, sorrow, calm. Yes, my comfort was increasing. I measured it by the number of children not in my class who said hi to me. This was my marker. Being recognized. Being greeted. Being known.
Now, it’s completely different. It doesn’t matter that I know only one of five rooms on the basement floor. I don’t know what Sports Day looks like. I still haven’t figured out where to find small envelopes, extra band-aids or the gym schedule. Numerous children are nameless to me but we smile at each other each time we pass in the halls. The names will come. The connections will grow. We will make some shared stories.
The kids I do know are everywhere I turn. My class. Of course, these children. We belong to each other. But there are many others. Looking up, I often find other children in our room.
“Why is C always in here?” one child wonders when C arrives in our room for the third time today.
“Because this is the book classroom and she is the book teacher. Lots of people come here,” another child explains, like this clarifies everything.
“And she dances,” he adds. Further clarification of I’m not sure what but it makes me smile.
This morning I noticed two boys in Grade 6 on the other side of the street. “Where are they going?” I wondered until I realized they were walking towards me. Ready to walk me to school with big grins and cheerful greetings. This was boy four and five this week that have accompanied me to school. One of them pointed out the art gallery where he saw a limo pull up and boasted that he got the autograph of the people who got out. Turns out he had no idea who they were but it was all pretty exciting. We stopped to admire the ice on a frozen puddle. They tried to lift it up and it crackled and sunk. They showed me which painted fish bound to the fence were the ones they painted back in kindergarten. They told me they came to Strong Start here before they even started school. Lending me some history as I have none. I will remember each piece.
I visit the kindergarten class on my prep. Two boys hug me spontaneously. One child offers me a piece of his snack. Little L tells me that her orange dress shrunk but she can still wear it. We both have orange dresses and have planned to be twins one day. We decide we will make it orange tunic day instead.
I walk through the art room and admire the work in progress. Cardboard birds. Wrinkled branches. Burlap landscapes. Nobody looks startled to see me. I offer the art teacher a coffee and she nods like I offered to bring her the moon. As I wait for the water to boil, I empty the dishwasher that someone forgot. I choose my two favourite cups. Months before, I was contemplative. Now I am busy.
Not lost in my head.
Not lost at all.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.