Twenty-three years ago a friend called me and said, “There’s an opening in the GATE (gifted and talented) program, I think you should apply.” And just like that my life changed.
I applied and was hired with credentials that my supervisor today would just scoff at and throw in the rejection pile. But way back then, I was hired. On June 1, 23 years later, with enough credentials to impress even a jaded supervisor, I taught my last day. My last day of waking up at 4:45, my last day of coffee with the custodian as he walks me to my room, my last day of opening the door and greeting each kid as they bounce, stumble and roll into our classroom. My last day.
I loved my job. I was always excited to share something new with my colleagues, with my class. I got up early because I could not wait to get to school, could not wait to open the door and welcome my kiddos. A class of nerdy, gifted minions. My nerdy, gifted minions. My people.
I was lucky to land where I did. After 25 years of wrangling cattle and living in Idaho's beautiful high-mountain valley called the Pahsimeroi, that life was done. But the stars and the heavens aligned. I was offered a job light years away from the animals and the range but, unknown to me, only inches away from my heart.
In 23 years I have had the privilege of working with phenomenal teachers, parents and kids. My district has given me countless opportunities to grow, expand and challenge my beliefs and skills. My colleagues have generously shared lesson plans, life skills, supplies, advice and wine. Lately, they’ve also been sharing that they will miss me and I treasure that even more than all of the dynamite lesson plans they’ve given me from Teachers Pay Teachers.
I wasn’t a typical elementary teacher. My first degree was art education; I never intended to teach elementary students. I asked a lot of questions. I disagreed vociferously about stupid new rules and regulations, wasted time and paper, and dumb-ass new ways to teach math, a subject that really hasn’t changed since Pythagoras. But I am a good worker and I tried hard to get ‘er done, as we used to say on the ranch. I don’t think I’m very special, never have, but this month, as the letters and cards and visitors rolled in I am starting to feel that maybe, just maybe, I did do something special. Maybe I did have an influence, maybe I will be remembered for more than just my cantankerous personality.
Some of the most poignant moments this month have been the unexpected letters from students and parents who long ago left the building. That they still remember me fills my heart. A student who is majoring in business because of our mini-economy class. A student who became a stock broker long after we played the stock market game in sixth grade. A child who came back as a grown women to tell me that her life changed in fourth grade, when she decided to not be a bully anymore and instead has become a counselor who will try to help other fourth-graders grow into outstanding citizens. A junior high girl who thanked me for teaching her grammar! Yes, you read that right, grammar! A sweet card from a former student says, “You are the reason I am an artist. You are one of the biggest reasons I am who you and everyone sees today.”
And you, my dear child and so many other children, are the biggest reason I am who you and everyone sees today. I learned from you as I was teaching you. I grew each year as we worked together. I wish I could have known half as much when I started teaching as I know now. Another student wrote, “What you taught me continues to influence me. You taught me the value of hard work, to respect people, and most importantly, the value of dry wit.” Dry wit was not a standard the district promoted, but how delightful that J. found it valuable in his takeaway from my class.
I don’t fool myself that every child I taught loves me or cherished their time in my classroom. I know there are adults out there that twitch or roll their eyes when they think of me, if they think of me at all. You cannot meet all needs all the time and I know there were times when I was not a good teacher, when I failed to find the right words or actions to meet the needs of the child in front of me. For that I apologize. In 23 years you have time to make a lot of mistakes. But as this month has graciously shown me, you have a chance to make some good things happen too.
Twenty-three years ago, I left the ranch and stumbled into the world of education. I was terrified and woefully unprepared. Friday was the last time I stood in front of a group of kids as their teacher. Thank you. Thank you to all the parents, children, teachers, school counselors and psychologists, principals, lunch ladies and custodians who have made my time in the classroom so rich. It’s been a great ride and I feel like along the way, at least some of the time, I got ‘er done.
Nadine Chafee taught in the Boise district beginning in 1995. For 10 years, she taught gifted classes for grades one through six, then a gifted third-fourth class at Valley View Elementary.