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Teacher Gifts: Ritual or Appreciation?
Joanne Mikola
September, 2000

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Skipping School


I get derailed every single time. I steel myself to clean up and clear out my closet whenever I venture beyond the door frame. The boxes are now stacked waist high in the corner, musty files and shoe boxes full of past lives' momentos are begging freedom from the shelf above. As I push my way through the hanging scarecrows, inching closer to the corner, allowing a ray of light to focus on these sacred containers, the memories start popping unbidden into my vision. "I don't have time, right now," I tell myself, even as remorse settles uneasily on my shoulders. But I can only edit the time. My feelings untethered, running unbridled and away. "Now," they demand. 

My hand hovers over the unlabelled boxes, waiting for a sign, like playing the ouija board. A tingling sensation stops me by the cardboard folder in the absolute corner, edges frayed and papers yellowed. My teacher's memories. Now that seems so many lifetimes ago. 

I sink to the floor cross-legged and open the folder reverently, gazing only briefly on the resumes, advertisements still attached, interview notes and letters of acceptance. I scan the class evaluations, the photocopies of year end reviews, certificates and an "idea" file I started when the possibilities seemed endless and the time so restricted. But the most cherished, most heartfelt, are here at the back. The handwritten notes from students past. I cannot believe still, the accolades are truth. When they itemize things like "for the personal attention" and "unfailing energy" or "commitment to excellence," I still feel a fraud, just having done what seemed necessary for each at the time. I can still see their faces, hear their voices and laughter as they staggered towards progress throughout the terms. Their frustrations become my challenges, their enlightened euphoria I take as my own when, finally, the right chord has been struck. These crystallized moments seem the most important. Not the paycheck or the workload or the extended summer break. The joy that permeates the entire classroom, the enthusiasm contagious and rewarding in itself. A few scattered photos freeze another ghost class in view. All future stars shining brightly, filled with promise and expectations. Ahh... the lives I have imprinted. The next generation of experts, the haunting failures.

My eyes look up, blearily spying another related envelope. My concentration abruptly shatters as my three year old stumbles over daddy's shoes and falls into my arms. A fierce pudgy hug grips my neck, his cheek sticking to mine, and his sing song voice asking quietly, "Why you crying, mom?" I can only hug back and rock a little rhythm while the memories recede far enough to release their spell.
"I love you, my Ian."

When he is ready to let go, sensing no tickles this time, I can close the book and replace it, once more. Another year's worth of mental spring cleaning done. As he leads me by the hand, not quite trusting me alone just yet, I think, yes, this family does deserve the same enthusiasm, the energy and creativity that I once reserved for the classroom.

My students are still teaching me, though the layers of years and of dust grow ever deeper. Thank you, to all, once again.

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Submitted by:  © Joanne Mikola  I am a retired/expired Trauma O.R. Nurse who still thrives on blood, guts and crises. Give me a book, and I will relish every page. Give me a pen, and I can only stare hopelessly at the implications.
"I stumbled onto your site looking for end-of-the-year teacher gifts. I am homeroom mother for my second grade daughter's class. Ironically, I had just had a discussion with a mom yesterday about adequate  teacher gifts. I made the comment that our teacher, Mrs. Lunsford, seemed happier with notes from each student than any gift she has received all year.  Thank you for your piece on: Teacher Gifts: Ritual or Appreciation.  I love giving gifts to the teacher but I enjoyed reading your perspective on the subject." 05/02
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