Janet Sheridan: For teachers

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Last August, a niece who teaches high school posted on Facebook, “Oh, hello, teaching anxiety. There you are. I was wondering when you’d show up.”

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Janet Sheridan

A week later, a friend in Alabama wrote, “I am going to start my 10th year of teaching next week. Can a person be full of excitement and dread at the same time?”

I remember the mix of anticipation and unease teachers feel as August begins. It sneaks up on novices and veterans alike, usually lasting only seconds, but capable of reappearing at odd moments until students enter their classrooms on the first day of school.

My vacation-is-over apprehension flowed from the need to wake up to a beeping alarm, dress appropriately and immediately, eat breakfast before hungry, leave the house on time and have my room and lessons ready at 8 a.m. for learners with differing levels of skill and need.

When the first bell rang and students flooded the halls, I knew I must put aside my private concerns — the car needs new tires; the dog threw up on the porch; my lower back aches — and become a teacher to students carrying their own loads of woe.

Teachers build relationships with from 18 to 150 students every year, depending on the grade level and subject taught. Each day, they manage an abundance of differing personalities, learning styles and levels of preparedness.

My deepest anxieties arose from the knowledge that I was ultimately responsible for helping my students achieve, judging their efforts fairly, knowing when to push and when to accept, and preserving their dignity, even as I corrected them.

So, off and on before the start of school, I was uneasy.

But I also felt an excited anticipation caused by knowing I had a job that was creative, challenging and gratifying.

I was never bored as a teacher. Even the most discouraging of days were interesting as I wondered why a well planned activity went awry, what inspired a courteous young boy to spit in the goldfish bowl, how I could better explain the concept of space, whether a talkative teenager would stay on task if I changed her seat assignment, where I left my glasses, when to stop an activity and why a blizzard hit on my bus-duty day.

And always there was laughter. I’ll finish with one of my favorite teaching stories. Forgive me if you’ve heard it before.

A first-year teacher in a fourth-grade classroom, I was clearing my desk of papers when Dino of the dark eyes, abandoning the art project that engaged the other students, brought his winning personality to the side of my desk.

“Mrs. Bohart,” he began.

“Mmm hmm,” I responded, shuffling papers.

“Mrs. Bohart, I’m missing my pen.” I misheard. I thought the cherub said, “I’m messing my pants.”

I stopped what I was doing, looked at him in alarm, then leaped to my feet, yelling, “Run, Dino, run,” astonishing his classmates by grabbing the innocent and pushing him to the door.

The restrooms were in the basement of an old, multi-story school. I towed the youngster down three flights, screeching, “Hurry, Dino, hurry,” before his increasingly hysterical message about a missing pen pierced my panic.

How do you explain your actions to a 10-year-old staring at you with gaping mouth and startled eyes? How do you explain to the bewildered students who wait in the classroom, wondering what sort of lunatic they’d been assigned to this year?

Well, first you apologize to Dino, and then you confess. Everybody laughs, and Dino stops by your classroom every year until he graduates from high school to ask, “Hey, Mrs. Bohart, remember that time you …”

As another new school year begins, I wish teachers well. I appreciate and respect them.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.

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