Due to the fire, our 9th and 10th grade students missed six regular school days and the 11th and 12th graders missed three. We are, of course, being required to make those days up because everyone knows if a child receives 174 days of instruction instead of 180, he or she will be scarred for life, will fail all standardized tests for the rest of time (oh no!), and will be doomed to a life of ignorance and ineptitude. Pardon me while I pry my tongue out of my cheek.
Anyway, today is one of those make-up days. We normally have a teacher workday the day before Thanksgiving, which means we come in for an hour, sign the book, go to lunch at 9:30 and never return. But today was officially declared a regular student day for us, and since I’m not really allowed to travel to my regular holiday destinations this year, it was no big deal for me. Apparently that was not the case for most of my students. My first class, which averages 9-10 out of 15 students, had 3 students today. Out of 19 in my next class I had a group of 11, my largest class of the day. And in my last class, normally my biggest group, I marked 17 absent, which left 7. I had a quiz scheduled for today. Silly me, I actually attempted to give said quiz to the middle group. It did not go well. Have I mentioned that my classroom has no doors and a shared ceiling space? What was I thinking?
So now I am sitting at my desk staring at my seven students, who are writing thank-you notes to the PTSA, local university, and fire departments for everything they have done on our behalf in the past three weeks, and it occurs to me that I should do the same.
Dear Mystery Hero,
In these emotionally harrowing weeks following the loss of our school building, I’ve heard countless stories of loss from my colleagues. Robin lost the hand-painted wooden murals her students have added to year after year. Kim lost the laptop her husband bought her for their anniversary less than two months ago. Tina lost the scrapbook she made as a high school junior when her basketball team won the national championship. Craig, Lisa, and Charlie lost over 20 years of teaching materials. Tim’s small classroom zoo–Darwin the lizard, Monty the ball python, two other snakes, the turtle, several fish–probably suffocated before the flames reached them. Numerous people lost phones, purses, wallets, checkbooks, credit cards.
I was lucky enough not to be one of those people. Sure, I regret the loss of my teaching materials and the handful of personal books, videos and CDs I kept in my classroom. I will miss the posters I collected on my trip across the country 10 years ago, and that “Reserved Parking For Joan Baez Band and Crew” sign I took from a concert last fall. I’m a little wistful about my trophies from 6 years of coaching soccer, as well as that folder full of notes from students I’ve collected over the past decade. But the losses that were hardest for me to stomach–the ones that would have the biggest impact on me–were my jump drive and the school laptop I’ve been using for the past year. Five, almost six semesters of my life were on that jump drive, and almost every digital picture I’ve ever taken was saved on either the jump drive or the laptop. Ditto for everything I wrote for that creative writing class I took three years ago, as well as several assignments I created for my classes. For me, those were the toughest losses.
And then there was the brass bell. Mrs. Black, my 7th and 8th grade math teacher, gave me that bell when I “graduated” from junior high. She told me she knew I’d be a teacher someday, and that I could keep that bell on my desk and use it with my own students. It sat on my desk for about one month before I got tired of every hyperactive 9th grader ringing it as they walked by, so I put it in my top drawer. It served the same purpose there, though–to remind me that someone, once upon a time, believed that I had the potential to do this job well.
You had no way of knowing any of this when you went into my room last week, even though the fire marshall and the police deparment have condemned the building and threatened arrest to anyone who enters. You could have picked up any number of things, or nothing at all, for that matter, but you looked around my room and decided to salvage a few items. One of them was the school laptop. Another was my bag, and inside was my jump drive. And the other was my brass bell. When I walked into my classroom last Friday and saw the black trash bag next to my desk containing these blackened, smoky, soggy things, I couldn’t have been happier if Santa himself had walked in and handed me a new car and a million bucks.
I know I’m not really allowed to know who you are, because my knowing your identity could get you into some serious trouble. So I can’t thank you personally, but I send my thanks out into the Universe and hope they reach you somehow, in some cosmic way. I’ll miss those other things left behind in my room, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the things that you rescued, but mostly I am thankful for your willingness to put yourself on the line for me, and for many of my colleagues who also found mysterious bags next to their desks last week. Many heroes have emerged in the past few weeks, but today, you are mine.