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Back to School

I loved being a principal. When you got tired of being on your computer or had been in too many meetings you could just walk down the hall and sit in on a class. There were some classrooms that were easier to be in than others but you had to be fair so you would go to all the rooms. In the rooms where the teacher just kept doing their thing were my favorite. A quick catch of my eye and me saying, “No, I’m just here to be with kids” and they would continue on. I would help with a math problem or sink into a couch and read a little, I’d do the art projects and even just chit chat. I would be with the kids. It was all I knew how to do. Make eye contact, give little pats on the back, engage in a conversation, share a little bit about what was going on with me and find out about them. Take there hugs and attach the love to my heart.

It was through knowing them that wen a little first grader was screaming at me another student asked if she could lend a hand. I said I would be happy for her to give it a go.

She looked at this little buddy who was out of breath, had called 911 to report that we were mean to him because he had to do math and simply said, “What’s going on? Can I help you?”

His breathing slowed and he took a deep breath. He explained to her how he did not enjoy math and that his teacher and I (the principal) were ganging up on him. He just wanted to go home. She continued to listen and told him that what she knows about me is that I would always just be looking out for him and math was required. That sent him off again and he screamed “I hate her!”

She just nodded and he continued, “I hate her! And the Sun Devils suck!” Knowing my love for the Sun Devils this adorable 4th grader shook her head and began to move away saying, “That’s just too far, little man, Mrs. Waters loves her Devils.”

Having the kids know me was the magic I needed to do the job every day. A job where the expectations were impossible. You had to bend to the will of the union, you had to support teachers who were bad for kids, you had to listen to enraged parents, and you had to take being hit, kicked and spit on by children. At the same time, you got to advocate for teachers to take on more responsibilities and move into their dream jobs, you got to witness the true bond a teacher can make with his or her students in such a small amount of time, you were able to witness families celebrate the joy that their children bring into their lives from plays and concerts to graduations and foot races. You got a million hugs. I worked in every type of building you can imagine from a K-12 building with 182 students to 1,000 kid elementary school and even a 100 person high school. The problems and hurdles were always the same. And so was the love.

There were always teachers that were burnt out and frustrated. Some amazing humans that the years had just worn down. You could see their spark and their why and when they were with kids the rest of the junk just melted away. I made it a point to see them with kids when I knew they had pushed my very last button with what they would and would not do. There were others that were actually stuck, they had become teachers because they liked school, they were good at school and they were absolutely overwhelmed by the behavior of students. Rather than leaning in and getting to know what was going on with the student, they would hold a firm line about what was expected and often found themselves at odds with the kids and/or parents.

For me it was a rock and a hard space because I was a kid that felt alone growing up, I felt like some of the adults in my life could have made me a priority so I always saw the kid side first, but I tried to listen to hear the rest of the sides. Sometimes the teacher was wrong and I would push on that; it was then that I did not like my job. I wanted everyone to put the kids first–it was my bias. Looking back I can see how fear and shame and exhaustion played into some of those teachers being the way they were; what I cannot figure out, even now, why taking the help was so hard. The only thing I can think is that it felt like I was judging, which I never would–the disconnect was on me, if they didn’t know me well enough to know I wasn’t judging I could have, should have, done more to open myself to them.

The same held true for some parents. There were the ones that I felt a heart connection with–those were the ones that saw their kids as who they were and saw that I saw them that way as well. Quick hellos and hugs in the drop off lane, time at baseball games and soccer practices, investing in those kids and families was such a joy. Contrasted with the family that would not let me talk to their 5th grader without a lawyer present, or the mom that the only way we could meet with her was to meet her 30 minutes away at her doctor’s office. I’ve been scared as a parent, scared for my child’s safety, scared about what might happen, I think I’ve even been difficult to deal with when it has come to my kids. And not over playing time or minor things, but things like respect and care, well-being and connection. I have to imagine those behaviors also came from fear and I wish I had been more equipped to help them with that then.

A writing lesson.

I loved being a principal and I miss it. I miss being called down to Kindergarten because I just had to see what they were working on, or being asked to read a book to 4th graders because a teacher needed a quick break, or even going for a walk after school with the entire teaching crew. I miss Friday football, and giving the ASVAB, I miss highway clean up. I miss sliding down the hill in the snow, the pack of kids that always ran around after school when their teacher-moms were in a meeting, I miss prepping for those meetings, I miss the tricky ones and the easy ones. I miss the job that the only thing you could predict in a day was that it would be unpredictable.

Even in the missing, I smile at the memories made and I don’t think I have it in me anymore but I sure did love it, even climbing on the roof to get a kid to come down–one of my favorite memories, because when he saw me on the roof he had the widest eyes and said, “Mrs. Waters, you can’t be here, it is so dangerous.” Yep, I know, let’s go.

So many sweet faces, so many amazing humans, I learned something from all of them that I hold close to my heart because on the daily we created a place where kids and adults were seen. I’d do it again, but I won’t do it still.

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