In a few short weeks families and teachers will begin back to school preparations. Stores have already begun displaying school supplies that boast of a fresh start. This year, I will not be returning to the elementary school where I began my journey as a teacher and I feel both the newness and hope of a fresh start and the pangs of grief and nostalgia as I leave something dear behind. I have already begun setting up my classroom and this new start is bringing up all of those feelings and memories of being new in my first teaching days.
The summer after I graduated from Messiah College, I had already felt the sting of rejection from a few school districts. I had no idea if or when I would land my first job. Somehow I trusted enough to spend an entire month of that summer working at the beach while still planning to move to PA permanently with friends at summer’s end. I guess I thought if all else failed I would substitute and make ends meet on my own.
In the middle of July, during one of the weeks serving in the dining hall at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference on Long Beach Island, I got a call requesting that I interview with the Lebanon School District. The principal made sure I knew it was the Lebanon in PA and not the Lebanon in NJ (as it conflicted with my current home address) and I assured him that I was planning to move to PA in August. I drove home from the beach soon after the call and made the trip to the school for my interview. I shook the principal’s hand in the office too vigorously, rattling his coffee mug and splattering the hot liquid all over him. Great first impression. I was corralled into the office with the two principals at the time and another second grade teacher. I was asked a plethora of questions and guided to a written portion of the interview on resilience. As I left the writing, I was called back into the office and asked if I was serious about this job because they were impressed. The principal intensely asked if I would rather teach in the city than at a suburban school before the teacher in the room scolded him for his unfair question. He meant it though, and in my 4 years of working there I have come to understand the weight of his question. At the time, I thought about how I had dropped the urban education minor in college thinking I wasn’t cut out for it and how just a few weeks prior I had driven through Lebanon with my then boyfriend, Cody, thinking it was too sketchy for a lunch date. But, I looked at them and honestly said that because of my faith, I trusted wherever God would place me and I would give 110% of my effort. Little did I know I would give 110% of my heart as well.
This past May and June, during my last few weeks at Northwest as I made the familiar commute across town and spent last moments in my classroom and now, this summer, as I set up my new room, my mind does mental gymnastics through my memories, performing backwards flips into of my first moments in Lebanon and through my time at Northwest. As I think of those first days, I can still feel the anxious lump that took up permanent residency in my stomach during that first year teaching just as palpable now as I consider my new journey ahead as it was then. I picture myself in the August summer heat at my new home amidst the corn fields, cutting out burlap banners and making signs for my new classroom. As I drive past Joann Fabric on Route 72 and as I pick out new fabric for the bulletin boards in my new classroom, I think of my quest for blue and green fabric to line my partition “walls” at Northwest. As I pass Staples, I think of my trip there to get writing notebooks for my Superkids. As I cut open the boxes filled with supplies in my new classroom and watch Broden scurry down hallways as I unpack, I remember the pile of furniture and materials in the center of my room then and the process of organizing and the hours mom spent helping to sort while I was at induction. As I erase my final words from the whiteboard, I remember when our thoughtful custodian willingly moved its location and then re-installed it without asking when it began to come out. As I wrap up my posters and alphabet chart and rehang them in my new space, I remember having my lanyard sucked into the laminator during inservice that first year. As I take down the signs for my tables, I remember slicing my finger on the first day of school when I went in early to put them up. As I meet new coworkers, I remember the ESL teacher bringing me a candy necklace on my first day and wishing me good luck. As I allow the tears to fall for all the students I will miss at Northwest, I remember the tears of being so overwhelmed that first year, 50% of them spent on how to manage pencils of all things, as well as from behavior and academic concerns and the general intensity of my students’ needs. As I drop off Broden to daycare so I can get my classroom ready, I remember when my mom came that first year to help me change the system for managing pencils (of which I had abut 5 different systems) and we spent the night dumping my students supplies into temporary ziplock bags until their more permanent boxes came. I purchased a dress from Walmart and stayed with her in a hotel instead of going home that night.
I entered Northwest Elementary School in the fall of 2014, Sarah Goetz, a single woman just beginning her teaching career and adulthood. I left Northwest, Sarah Meassick, a wife and mother, and a confident and capable teacher because of all of the challenges and triumphs I had at Northwest. Today, as my mind somersaults into these memories I don’t want to forget to say thank you. Thank you Northwest for taking an inexperienced me and turning me into the educator I am today. I’m so glad I got my start in your walls (I would say doors but we didn’t have those!). When I first came, I had passion and a vague understanding of what it meant to be a teacher dancing in my head but I knew so very little. Because of you, I now know how to assess students’ phonics levels to get them from Point A to Point B on the continuum. I know how to teach adding and subtracting three digit numbers with regrouping. I know how to calm a child, take attendance and deal with a cat-pee stained backpack all in the first ten minutes of my day. I’ve created a successful behavior system and kept up a grade book. I’ve done conferences through a translator. I can look at the standards and design rigorous curriculum. Thank you Northwest for giving me the chance, for taking a wide-eyed girl with big dreams and allowing her to become what she’s always wanted to be: A Teacher!