Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When Life Turns on a Dime, You Discover Your Family

By on August 14, 2013

I want to tell you a little about what happened to me this summer, but I promise that it will come around and relate to school.  Cruddy hook, I know, but I wanted you to know there was a method to my madness up front.

In June, school let out.  I gathered my gifts about me (#1 Teacher mugs of every description, Starbucks cards, Sees candies gift certificates, and those really special handwritten letters that you keep forever.) I left my room in a somewhat cleaned up state, and headed for home.  It was a nutty year, as all school years are.  There was drama with staff, drama with transitions to Common Core, drama with the district.  It was all typical school year fare.  So I left with the hopes that the summer would rejuvenate my soul and recharge my batteries.  I left school and its drama behind, looking forward to greeting my 7 year-old at the end of each day of summer camp, spending more time with my 2 year-old, and maybe, just maybe sleeping in until 7:00am.  Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

I had some jobs set up for the summer that I was excited about, because it was my first summer of not working summer school.  I was helping to build the curriculum for a Shakespeare-themed website.  I was working on a series of workbooks on Common Core Reading Comprehension.  And I was also developing a blended class for two cohorts of 7th graders for the following school year.

Then I got sick.  I mean really sick.  In a nutshell, I contracted Typhus. No, not Typhoid.  Typhus.   I’ll let you Google it, and I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say getting plague from a flea bite was not in my original summer plans.  Anyway, almost 2 weeks later I was out of the hospital, down one vestigial organ, and my other major organs were just playing catch up.  Life had turned on a dime.

My husband and I barely had had time during those days to talk beyond discussing where the important papers were, making sure he knew all my passwords, strategizing how to keep the oldest child informed but not scared, and making sure to say “I love you” whenever we could.

But this post isn’t about the wonderful family that is my husband and my children. It’s about a different family that I never really knew I had until this summer.

Chicken Pot Pie The minute I got out of the hospital, the meals started coming.  First a Language Arts teacher brought her only recipe that she knew how to make, a child-friendly mac and cheese dish.  Then, the Computer teacher brought her chicken tortas.  A retired teacher brought her chicken and olives dish that her boys had once loved.  A PE teacher brought her husband’s favorite recipe, a chicken pot pie.  The food never stopped, the emails never stopped, the phone calls never stopped.  Nobody wanted to bother me, and they were all happy leaving things outside our door.  If my husband were home, he would open the door to people he didn’t know, some names I had never mentioned, all of these people, men and women, bringing food to help make this healing easier on him, on me, and on my kids.  Offers to babysit.  Offers to clean the house.  Offers to do anything we needed.  These offers were unconditional and humbling.

When you are a teacher, you see the ins and outs of people’s personalities.  Sometimes you forget that for those you don’t know well, when you see them only at meetings and gatherings, sometimes you only see their angry side or tired side or frustrated side.  You’re privy to the venting, the shouting, the baggage we all have that we all bring to every faculty meeting.  For a few weeks this summer, I got to see what it was like to be a student to these amazing people.  There was no venting, no shouting, no baggage.  There was only support.  There was only hands outstretched.  Only offers to help.

Sure I heard from friends and from colleagues with whom I work with everyday.  But I also heard from those I never see, never work with, never sit with.  And I realized that this was my family too.  I may not hang out with all of them.  Our philosophies of teaching may differ or we may butt heads on occasion.  But in the end, we’re family.

This year, I want to start the school year with no plans to take the bait that education sometimes puts before you.  As a secondary teacher, we can be quite segregated in our workspace and our objectives.  We are autonomous, but that can also mean we lose our empathy for each other.  I have to remind myself of that.

I am going to try to remember when I get angry or frustrated at a colleague that we always get more angry at our own family members than at anyone else.  That’s why your dad should never be your driving instructor.  I’m going to try to remember that we all share the same goal, that of educating our students in the best way we know how.   I might have my disagreements with fellow faculty and admin from time to time,  but I’m going to remember that, when push comes to shove, we are all a family.

My life turned on a dime this summer, and as a result, I learned who my family was.  My family is my staff.

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