Saturday, May 19, 2007

Flamingos: They Don't Teach You This in Teachers' College

Kris's mom came to see me yesterday. She stopped by my room before first period with a package in her hand. "Danielle wanted to come see you on Mother's Day with this," she said smiling ruefully, "but I told her not to. Then she had to go back to college, so I just decided to run up with it."
"Oh, she didn't have to do this!" I said, surprised, and started to open it.
"Nance, you probably shouldn't open it right now, " Deb said. "It's not that it's a big deal, but it's a little sentimental, and you might get emotional. When you see it and read the note, you'll understand."
"Okay, " I said. "I'll wait, then. But thanks. How are you, Deb? How are all of you?"
"Well, it's been three years," she said, "but it's not really getting any easier. We miss him so much. We got the results of his autopsy, you know. And we found out that, even if the marrow transplant had worked, there had been so much lung damage, we might not have had him much longer anyway. He did it for us, Nance. You know that? He was so tired. He only did it for us. We should have let him go. We just should have let him go."
I put my arm around her and tried not to let the tears which threatened begin to fill my eyes. "Oh, Deb, why go back and relive that decision now? That was your son. He was nineteen. Of course you wanted to try."
She smiled--smiled--at me. "If he had lived through it, he wouldn't have been able to play softball. He wouldn't have been able to play golf. He would have had to be on oxygen. He wouldn't have been able to do any of the things he loved to do. We just wanted him alive and that was all we could think about."
"Of course it was, " I said. "That's all any of us wanted."
"Well!" she said, taking a deep breath. "Dani saw this and right away thought of you. I told her I'd make sure you got it. So! Here it is. Nance, you look well. I'm so glad. Take good care of yourself. Promise me."
"I will," I said. "I promise. And you do the same. Give Danielle my love, as usual."
And with a wave, she was off.
Last night I was edgy, headachy, and so very tired. I waited until this morning to open the package. Inside was a note from Deb and two photographs, one of which was Danielle taking a photograph of a flock of flamingos, my favorite bird and the welcoming tacky-chic decor of my English classroom. Also inside was a silly flamingo bottle opener, one of the kind that has the insides of oil and water so that a bright pink flamingo perpetually floats aloft within. Part of the note reads:
...all Dani could talk about was how much you loved these animals & then we found the bottle opener in a gift shoppe right at our timeshare and the rest is history. I know she hasn't forgotten anything you did together, whether it was in class or in support of Kris or our family. Those are what pulled us through the worst part! Yes, 2 years after her graduation, the impact of you as a person/teacher still affects her thoughts and actions! So that is why I am so grateful that both of my kids were able to have you in their lives!! I know you are/were in both of their hearts!
Someday, I'll tell you about Kris. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about teaching, the career. The life of it. The way you are born into it. The way it becomes who you are. And the way that, no matter what college does to prepare you for it, no university course can ever prepare you for what I just told you about. Or the dozens of other kids in my heart. I wanted to tell you about someone else, too. But I think this post is big enough. There's time enough for all the rest later.


  1. Flamingos, Teletubbies, Daniel Day Lewis, those little Red Robins that lined your desk the one year, so many things remind me of you! In addition to remembering "writing things" every time I write a paper. You're one of those teachers that's really stayed with me, even though I've forgotten to really keep in touch. And I'm sure you've affected a lot of people that way, you're a great teacher and person.

    Is this comment to mushy and personal? It might be, so if you want me to take it down, let me know...that is if I can make it past blogger's verification step...

  2. Anonymous10:21 AM

    In the vernacular of the day, "I so totally identify with this post." Teaching is so much more than chalk and talk. It frightens me sometimes when I think of how just one careless comment might have a negative effect on a student. But more often I like to think that one or two things I have said will affect a student here and there in a positive way. Certainly I have learned a lot from them.

    In the short time I have been reading your blog, Nance, I would venture to say there are legions out there who remember you with great fondness, and not just because you might have taught them how to put thoughts on paper.

    I look forward to hearing more of that story one day.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Brian's shirt: Gawd, it was right out of the package! He must have had a delayed flight or something and literally had to rip open the package in the men's room, bung on that shirt, and step out to rolling cameras. Otherwise, you are right, there is no excuse for presenting the news in something that looks like a rumpled bedsheet.

  3. Hopefully this isn't taken the wrong way, but I definitely remember Nance with great fondness when I think about having class with her, and more as a great friend than just a teacher.

    I do remember Kris too, mostly as the class clown. I had a chemistry class with him, and he did everything he could to piss off the teacher (who I really wasn't the biggest fan of, so I found it funny). Fun times. It's so sad that he's gone, when he made so many people laugh. I definitely miss him.

  4. This is quite an intense post. I still remember so many of my teachers and how much they mattered to me and all that I learned from them. I'm not surprised at all that you are that kind of a teacher.

  5. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Nance what a great post! I got goosebumps from reading that for 2 reasons...first, lately I have been feeling VERY nostalgic! I promise you that I have thought about my favorite teachers at LEAST 3 or 4 times in the past week!

    Secondly, "The way you are born into it. The way it becomes who you are. And the way that, no matter what college does to prepare you for it, no university course can ever prepare you..." you couldn't be more correct! I never went to college with intentions of becoming an Case Manager/Advocate (I was a Business Major!), but after all the client testimonials, news paper articles, and the fact that I was only in my new city for about 3 months and my name was already buzzing in the service community, I wondered if it was a calling.

    Keep doing what you do, and do it proudly...I recently made...well I won't call it a mistake, but perhaps a hasty decision to get out of my previous line of work, and it's hard letting go.

    This post was very refreshing!

  7. jenomena--thank you. i remember you so very fondly, too. and the comment, obviously, has stayed. i can handle mushy and personal when it's not revealing and personal.

    ortizzle--i am currently on the interview team for a couple of open positions at our school. i find myself getting irritated at canned responses and candidates who have come to teaching as a "second choice" career when their first degree was in "psychology" or "sports management." it's so obvious that they picked education because it was a way to use up classes as electives and add on some ed. courses to get a saleable degree. i am so protective of my profession, and that's what the Flamingo story is really about. we are so very much more than just "weekends and summers off", which is what lots of people think.

    ih--lots of people saw that side of kris, but in my class he held a high B and worked his butt off. he loved the poems of walt whitman and could be very funny, but he definitely knew when to get serious. he asked to have a copy of The Catcher in the Rye buried with him "for something to read."

    anali--drop one of those favorite teachers a note sometime. believe me, you'll make his/her day. i save those notes in a big folder and on days when i feel down or frustrated, i grab one out. it really helps.

    fringes--i normally wouldn't, so you're welcome.

    tera--i'm glad my post hit you at at the right time in perhaps the right spot. and like i told anali, please take a minute to reconnect somehow with a favorite teacher to tell him/her how much of an impact he or she had on you. it really makes such a bright spot for us.

  8. Anonymous8:27 PM

    May 21st tie: OMG, Nance, that one is a WINNER. I love the colors. Regal. Classic. Etc. I won't go on because you have already said it much better. I can only add, 'May this one spawn more like it.'

    P.S. Thanks for your comment over at my place, BTW. I don't often speak on serious subjects, and I was afraid that one might have frightened some readers away, especially if they did not agree with me.

  9. Will do Nance...will do!

  10. This is the reason that I sometimes feel cheated when I talk to former students of yours. I feel like I missed out on something by not having you as a teacher. But I'm fortunate to say that there are teachers that I've had that I'll never forget and relationships that will last forever, even if only in my heart. You're such a wonderful woman, I mean that. And I feel greatful to have been a teacher in your classroom because then I get to hear the whispers from your current students about how great you are. I know that that is one of the biggest compliments a teacher can receive.

    I feel really lucky that I've gotten to know you better, I only wish it could have happened sooner. And if I may continue to be honest, I really do learn something from you every time we meet. Thank you, Nance!

  11. Ortizzle--I know. That tie was a keeper. Perhaps Brian got a few new ones for the birthday and is gradually introducing them into the rotation. I am keeping hope alive.

    And as far as the PS--hey, it's YOUR blog. If you start writing for your readers and not for you, then why do you even have a blog? you might even get a few new readers for any that you lose. but, i guess it's all about why you blog in the first place. i'll be there no matter what.

    tera--i sincerely hope you do.

    nina--oh my gosh. what incredibly warm, kind, wonderful things to say. i am so touched and moved by your comments. thank you so much. i know that you know how much it means to me, all of that.

  12. Nance,
    I have to agree with above comments that I do feel left out not being one of your students. Though I did have a few teachers at that same school who I remember fondly.

    Your blog comes at a great time too. I've finally started to reflect quite deeply on whether or not to go ahead and become a high school teacher. The blog highlights why I want to become a teacher and reminded me of all the great teachers I had over the years. I just hope that I will be able to fill their shoes. I hope we will be able to chat one of these days on that subject. I would love your advice.

    I have *finally* posted again. Should I make that a habit??

  13. danielle--welcome back to the dept! glad to see you've returned, and i hope your absence wasn't due to anything negative. thanks for the complimentary remarks. i'd be more than happy to talk things over with you sometime about your career path. joining my profession is a monumentous decision, and it is a career that demands much but has many rewards as well.

    do you refer to posting HERE or on your own blog? i'll zip over there and check it out. either way, yes, do make it a habit.

  14. i meant both, and realized that i didn't specify till after posting. too lazy to correct.

  15. Such a moving, poignant post, Nance. I could relate to part of it (and I am guessing that you know which part). My takeaway is that I'm glad that so many good people have had you in their lives. I'd like to think there are many, many teachers like you but I don't know that there are. There are some for sure and I was blessed with some exceptional ones during my education. I'm also glad that I was a teacher for the years that I was. I still miss parts of teaching to this very day but I know teaching is so much harder now than it was then. And still, there are folks who have the calling. I am grateful for that.

    1. Shirley--Thank you. I feel the same way about education and my teachers and teaching. I spoke to a young first-year teacher at the grocery store Wednesday as I was checking out. She had an interview later that day and was so hopeful. I told her I thought of the new struggle of teachers almost every day in this pandemic; I wished her luck in her interview and in her future. The light in her eyes and the animation of her face told me she was a born teacher.

    2. I'm sure your conversation with her was helpful, Nance. I hope she got the job and thrives in teaching despite its endless challenges. I am grateful there are so many who are born teachers and still willing to be there for our kids and for us overall.


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