Last summer I was checking into a hotel when a young man working there asked me: “Are you Miss Hart?” I am, of course, but I knew he wasn’t just confirming my name. It took me a moment, but then I knew: This was a former student, one of my first-graders from years ago.
“I’m Andrew!” I remembered him, a brown-eyed towhead who spent a year in my classroom nearly 20 years before.
“I remember you wore a blue dress and sang songs about peanut butter and jelly,” he told me.
In his adult face, I could see in his eyes the child he once was. He was eager and shy, and taken aback to see his first-grade teacher out of context.
I can still remember their names and faces today, 20 years later. I forget dentist appointments, sunglasses, where I put my keys, but I can remember the names of the first-graders who sat in my classroom 20 years ago.
And I will remember my kindergarten graduating class of 2018 as well. I will remember singing Do Re Mi on the public bus during our field trip to the bus station and I will remember the puzzled bus riders who joined in our familiar song. I will remember when Shiloh lost her first tooth, and when Lucy tied her own shoes, and when Tristin made a paper ring and asked Margo to marry him on the carpet during snack time.
I will remember the many works of art I have been given.
“This is you Miss Hart!” they tell me as they hand over their masterpiece and I tape it on the wall behind my desk.
I love these renditions, where I often look huge and heroic, long eyelashes and a huge red crayon smile. Everyone should have his or her portrait painted by a 5-year-old child.
I will remember their voices. Each voice is small and urgent and desperate for acknowledgment. And I do my best to answer each one. If you are in my classroom, you would hear me say “I hear you,” not necessarily answering or solving each issue, but giving that child a tiny moment of acknowledgment so they can move on and know they have been heard.
In kindergarten, we measure our time in days, weeks, months, seasons. We review the order of things. “If today is Monday,” I ask the Calendar Helper of the day, “then tomorrow will be…”
“Tuesday!” They shout triumphantly. And once again, we have solved the mystery of time, until tomorrow.
We measure our time in lost teeth and snowy days. We measure our time in reaching milestones, such as a tying our shoes, gripping a pencil, zipping our own jacket and being able to hold the heavy door open. We count the days of school with Popsicle sticks. We are nearing 149 days, which is our last day, and the day my kindergarteners will head out of my classroom and into first grade.
And when I meet these small graduates years from now, I will remember their eyes. Those don’t change. Through haircuts and braces, growth spurts and stormy adolescence, in their eyes I will see the child they were.
When Andrew stood before me, now 26 instead of 6, I could see the sweet, mischievous first-grader who will always hold a tiny place in my heart, as each of my students do. I was touched to know that I had a place in his as well.
Congratulations to all our graduates this month, from kindergarten to high school to college. As you head onto your new adventures in life, I hope you remember the path you traveled and all the milestones along the way. Whether you learned to tie your own shoes, or achieved your master’s degree, congratulations — with love from your many teachers — on your accomplishment.