Sandwiched inconspicuously between anxiety, fear, worry, sadness and relief live proud moments and the intense joy of parenting. Those moments erase the memory of the struggle. We’ve all experienced these at different times with our children.
Since the very moment she became a big sister, Natalie has aspired to be a teacher, never waivering in her determination or her conviction. Her younger brother was her captive audience for a year, until he was able to walk and voice his opinion one way or another. She continued to coerce him and her big brother and an entire classroom of colorful stuffed animals into playing school, complete with story time carpet, cubbies and her own desk. And she was always the teacher.
The only one of our children never to fight attending school, Natalie never questioned the work, determined even when things didn’t come easily (and they often did not), to get stuff done. Even as she grew, she continued to teach, instructing her brothers, her cousins and the neighbor children when possible and her own parents when no one else was available. Before she could read, she was reading us stories, teaching us to write and working on her classroom demeanor.
In high school, Natalie worked at a daycare, studied child development and went to get her AA in Elementary Education. Last week, she finished her internship year (2nd and then 5th grades) and will graduate from Towson University with her Bachelor’s next week. And she was offered a position in Montgomery County to teach 4th grade next year in a school as diverse as the one in which she started 18 years ago, coming full circle almost back to where she started.
She referred to her internship year as her volunteer job, the most intense volunteer work imaginable. But she knew she was in the right place when she didn’t dread working for free, even as she simultaneously both loved and couldn’t stand the kids. She learned that she can care intensely for her students, yet find a way to separate so that she doesn’t lose herself. She remembers every teacher she’s ever had, even the couple who left little impression because even they left an imprint, and she knows that. And she’ll take that knowledge to make herself an even better teacher.
On her last day of internship (and the day after she received her job offer), we were talking and she said, “I can’t believe they’re going to pay me to teach. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to do it. It’s the greatest job there is!” And the joy and wonder of this stuck with me because it is absolutely what you wish for your child from the day you meet them.
I’m so proud of and happy for this young woman not for the degree to be bestowed on her by a university, but rather for the tenacity, the focus, the joy and the will to keep moving forward even when no one else knew where she might be going.