By Judith Silva Nee

We teachers are an odd breed, especially early childhood teachers like myself.  We often drive to work in a costume. If we’re on the phone at all, it’s emergency related and over a loud classroom din (‘Hello Dr. Welby…PUT THAT BLOCK DOWN!). We form friendships with other adults through snippets of conversations or a knowing nod between bells. Our lunchtime options are limited.  I happily eat mine in the car, rain or shine. It’s quiet there. 

Our work conditions often resemble the great outdoors. It can get so hot that I once got asked at dismissal if I’d gone swimming;  my clothes clung to my body from sweat.  I sometimes walk directly from the schoolyard to the beach for a quick plunge. When it’s freezing, we temporarily raid the donation box for layers of extra clothing. One particularly humid day, the walls and floors were slick with moisture. I recall more than one set of crutches were needed that week. A global pandemic finally provided the reason to fix the temperature setting of the building. I can’t say I miss wiping steam from my glasses.

Yet we endure. We’ll even whisper, ‘I get paid for this?!  after enjoying some moment that’s unlikely to occur elsewhere – like when a child watches you apply lipstick at the end of the day and gleefully exclaims, ‘Mrs. Nee! Sometimes you look pretty! And sometimes you don’t!’ Or when a five year old sneaks a wilted plant off the shelf and proudly presents it to you as a special gift. Or when you lecture the class following a difficult morning only to have a student raise her hand to say, ‘The asteroids killed the dinosaurs millions of years ago.’ Yes Emily, they did. Indeed they did.

That is the secret sauce of our profession – entrance back into the world of childhood. Who wouldn’t want to be five, eight, or eleven again? We spend our days outnumbered at least 22 to 1 by little humans decades younger than us. It’s either sink or swim. And so, like swimming, we  find the mind/body synchronicity that allows us to get the job done. But, oh boy, once we realize that our strokes and kicks are keeping us afloat, what joy!! 

I’ve run through the schoolyard with my pack in the sun and rain, looking for the rainbow.  Pizzas were delivered to the fallen Tree of G, a victim of lightning, as we sat among its branches to say goodbye. We ate birthday cake at the beach on a warm January day. This would be her only ever outdoor birthday party. Our battalion marched with small flags to the vandalized veterans memorial and saluted the heroes named there, certain they were once students at our school.

As scribes, we cheered passersby with messages on the windows like ‘6 more weeks of winter!’ ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’  ‘ High five a dad!’ When the Celtics lost we wrote ‘congrats to LA.’ When a local pol passed away, we wrote ‘Rest in Peace Jimmy.’

On opening day, we exit the school singing ‘Take Me out to the Ballgame.’ On April’s Fools,, we trick our families with fake mustaches. As owners and operators of the K1 store, we learned about numbers by buying tie clips and souvenir plates for our families.  I took the maiden ride down the slide of the new playground and when we weren’t climbing on that, we played classic yard games like Giant Step, Red Light, and London Bridge. We love to make ice cream from snow and snowmen after storms.

We learned there’s a solution to every problem, even if it means accepting that some problems can’t be solved right away. As Bostonians, we use the words ‘tonic,’‘parlor,’ and ‘frappe.’ I made up long, winding stories based on three random words pulled from a pack of cards. And if you can’t read a word by saying the sounds, try singing them..  We’re the boss of our thoughts, feelings, and bodies. And most importantly, our homework before going to bed is to think of something nice or good that happened during the day. There is ALWAYS something nice or good that happens, even if it’s just seeing a pretty flower or birds fly.

“How do you do it?’I get asked all the time. We transform ourselves. It takes energy and can be exhausting. We often have nothing left at the end of the day for our own families. Thankfully, they seem to understand. We give and we receive; it feels nice and good. I think of that before I go to sleep  – and how grateful I am to have been the K1 teacher at the Perry School for all these years. I will miss it dearly.