On Christmas Eve my 98 year old grandmother unwrapped her gift from my parents, a framed picture of one of the kindergarten classes she taught many, many years ago. At some point recently she'd shown my mother a small snapshot of her and the many, many students in her morning and afternoon kindergarten classes and told my mother that she wanted it blown up and put in a place where she can see it everyday because it makes her happy.
She didn't ask for a picture of her great granddaughter, who happens to be named after her. She didn't ask for a picture of our family all together, pictures of her own children, or even of her dogs (they had a lot of dogs over the years). She wanted a picture of her class.
I leaned over her shoulder and listened as she pointed to each child, telling stories about the kids who were naughty, the ones who were silly, the sweet ones, the smart ones. Although she couldn't remember all of their names she certainly remembered their personalities.
This is what it means to be a teacher. For 10 months out of a year we become fully committed to a small group of little people. We think about these people day and night. How will we get them to read? To sit quietly? To understand fractions? To be good friends? Lately we even lie awake at night wondering how we will protect our students from terror. Our classes stay with us forever, becoming as much a part of the story of our lives as our own family. So much so that 70 years after they've come and gone we will still remember them.
My own fridge is just starting to have more pictures of my own daughter than my former students. Every morning as I get my coffee I still smile at students I taught 7 years ago. At this point they may have forgotten about me, but I can't forget about them.
I often forget I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmothers have always been my grandmothers- growing up their stories were about my parents and their siblings. I thought of them as good cooks, great book-readers, and fun play partners. I forget that they too dedicated a part of their lives to the classroom. I'm looking forward to going back to my grandmother's to hear mor stories about her kindergarten classes.