“She quietly snuck in, not quite knowing her place. She found her secluded corner hoping to remain unnoticed. And, there she remained until she no longer did not.”
As most of you know by now, I actually passed my Para test. Still, in shock, I have no idea how this happened. The test consisted of 90 questions. Thirty for reading, thirty for writing and thirty for math. I was pretty confident I would ace the reading and writing. I missed two on each. However, I knew the math portion would screw me. I missed seven.
As I was taking the math portion, I was already preparing my “I failed the test speech” for everyone. Something along the lines of “Well, I need to pay more attention to my adopted 3rd-grade classroom because I failed.” I wanted to rip the band-aid off fast while trying hard to be funny and positive.
After the test, I was told to go to HR and wait for my score. Another fellow test taker was in there, waiting as well. Together, we waited. Together we waited for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the attractive lady behind the desk comes over and hands us each a piece of paper. The paper that has our scores.
My fellow test taker knew right away she passed. I, of course, had no idea how to read the scores. The attractive lady from behind the desk told me “You passed, do not worry, you can rest easy now.”
A part of me wanted to tell her “Are you sure? I mean you may want to go back and recheck my math.”
I passed. I still cannot believe I actually passed.
After picking up Vinnie and dropping him off, I made my way to the school. The school where seven years ago, this all began.
Gracie started first grade in this school. I actually had my choice between this school and one other. The district graciously allowed me to pick which school I wanted my daughter to attend since we were looking at some long-term learning delays. Naturally, I had to meet the teachers at both schools. This teacher would end up being a big part of Gracie’s education, of her development, I had to make sure the fit was perfect all the way around. As soon as I met “Mrs. Blake” I knew without a doubt that Gracie belonged in this school. I never even met the teacher at the other school. There was no need. Mrs. Blake and I had a bond from the moment we met. I owe her so so much.
Gracie started first grade. Sofia had one year before she would even start kindergarten. As Gracie quickly adapted to her new routine in her new classroom, with her new teacher, I would constantly annoy Mrs. Blake by asking her “What kindergarten teacher do you think would best fit Sofia?” “You know how I am, I am going to stress about this.” “Please, put in a good word for us!” I mean what can I say? I like to be prepared!
When Mrs. Blake had just about enough of me, she worked her magic. “Jennifer, come on in early tomorrow. I set up a meeting with all three kindergarten teachers. You can meet them, they will show you around their classrooms, and you can decide….even though we still have a year before Sofia starts.”
And that is exactly what I did. Gracie, Sofia, and I went in early the following morning. Mrs. Blake met us at the front doors and introduced us to the kindergarten teachers. Look, all three of them looked like they rather be any place else. I mean we were one year out and crazy me was trying to lock down Sofia’s kindergarten teacher.
It did not take long before I found Sofia’s “Mrs. Blake.” I knew the teacher I wanted for Sofia, and she lived up to my very high expectations.
Once Sofia started kindergarten, I was still a mess. I could not work outside of the home because Gracie had too many medical issues going on, yet I needed to do something. I needed to do something meaningful. This is when I joined the PTA. I felt I was both productive while being able to keep an eye on my girls from a safe distance. I would go to the school every Friday and help make cookies or popcorn. On occasion, I would do some cutting or make copies on the other days. It was a good system.
This worked well for me for two years.
Once Sofia was ready to enter 3rd grade, I found my crazy OCD come out. I did not know the 3rd-grade teachers. I was used to the primary hall. Third grade was all the way at the end of the intermediate hall. A hall that I like to refer to as “The Scary Hall.” I was now on a mission to find and secure Sofia’s incoming third-grade teacher, even though, that is not how it is supposed to work.
I picked up the position of PTA treasure, while still coming in every Friday to make cookies and popcorn. I made sure it was me who delivered the popcorn/cookies to each third-grade classroom. I was on a mission. I needed to see the teachers in their element. I wanted to see how they ran their classroom, even if it was just me delivering a box of cookies to their class. I needed that one teacher who would be the perfect fit for Sofia.
Mr. Connor. As soon as I walked into his 3rd-grade classroom, I knew. I just knew, without saying two words to him, I knew he was the one. His interaction with his students, the way he had his classroom set up, and my gut instinct, I knew without a doubt he was the one. Even knowing this, I said nothing other than “Mr. Connor, here are your cookies.”
I left his classroom and made an appointment with our principal, I spoke to Sofia’s speech therapist. I made it abundantly clear that THIS is the teacher Sofia will have.
Sofia started 3rd grade in Mr. Connor’s class, as I was in my second year as PTA treasurer. Over time, I got to know Mr. Connor, never doubting that Sofia was exactly where she needed to be. Gracie had moved on from Mrs. Blake. I found an odd yet peaceful sort of comfort with her new teacher, Mr. Vince, who happened to be on the spectrum himself. All was good.
Every morning, I would stand with Sofia and her class, outside. Whether it was a crisp Fall morning, chilly cold Winter or the hot humid days of Spring, I would stand outside with Sofia and her class waiting for Mr. Connor to open his door for the start of the school day. One time, I almost got hit with said door. Mr. Connor always made some grand gesture when he would open the door. He made the comment to Sofia “That would have been really bad if I hit your Mom with the door.” I will say my purse got hit by the door, that’s how close I was to being hit!
I always asked Mr. Connor if Gracie could take a shortcut through his classroom to her own. Usually, he would roll his eyes, because that was not allowed, but he would always allow Gracie to cut through his classroom to her own. You have to remember, this was also during a time when Gracie was not very vocal. We were all trying to get her out of her box. Every day, when Mr. Connor would begrudgingly allow Gracie to cut through his classroom, he would put out his hand “Good morning Gracie.” She would never shake it. Sometimes she would ignore him. Sometimes she would roll her eyes at him. Mr. Connor knew, he would say to me “Give it time, I can make her come around.”
By the end of the year, Gracie was going to Mr. Connor’s class at the end of the day to try to “engage” in conversation. This was set up by Gracie’s 5th-grade teacher. We collectively chose Mr. Connor to be “THE” teacher, because, in Gracie’s own way, she already formed her own unique bond with him.
This is when I realized Mr. Connor, well, he is in a league all of his own.
At the beginning of Sofia’s fourth-grade year, I was now a “Room Mom” in Mr. Connor’s class, while taking on the role of PTA President. A shift was taking place. I was developing a bond with Mr. Connor’s students. They were both funny and brutal. On occasion, Mr. Connor would give me the liberty to do an art project with his class, or read a story. There was a spark. A spark that I did not even know I needed until it was lit by Mr. Connor and his 3rd-grade class.
Actually, I have a funny story, one that Mr. Connor does not even know about unless he reads this blog…..which he better. One day, Mr. Connor had other obligations, so he had a sub. I knew this is in advanced, so I happened to schedule a chemical peel (for my face) on this day. Early in the morning, I went in to have my peel. I was assured that “no one would even notice.” They lied. I had my chemical peel, my face look liked I had been through a fire, but I also had obligations at the school. There was no hiding it. I had my dermatologist put makeup on me, but there was no hope. I was done.
I went to the school to finish up my own obligations, went into Mr. Connor’s class. As soon as the kids saw me, I heard “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?” I tried to bribe them to pipe down, no such luck. I remember I had to talk to the sub, who now is a permanent teacher at the school. I remember she looked at me with pity. The only thing I could think of was “Thank God Mr. Connor is not here to give me shit!”
I would consistently have a group of 3rd graders come up to me every day, giving me hugs, asking “Are you going to be in our class today?” I felt needed. And, ironically enough, Sofia’s 4th-grade class was right next door. It was the perfect setup. Mr. Connor and his team of 3rd-grade teachers, it just all worked effortlessly. Many times Mr. Connor, his fellow 3rd-grade-teachers and I would all hang out in his classroom during lunch and just “be.” All three 3rd-grade teachers could not be more opposite, but there was a strong bond between them all, a bond that I feel privileged to have witnessed first hand.
As the school year comes to a close, two of the 3rd-grade teachers move on to other schools. It sucked. It sucked because I do not like change. The fact that I am merely a volunteer and this has no effect on me what-so-ever does not escape me.
I remember one day, Mr. Connor and I went to good ol social media to “check out” the new incoming 3rd-grade teachers. Immediately, my guard went up. “Nope. I do not like them! I want Ellen and Donna back!” Mr. Connor would look at me, roll his eyes, and accuse me of being too judgmental (I was) We would then continue to scroll through the pictures of the incoming 3rd-grade teachers.
We are now in another school year. Sofia is a 5th grader. Gracie has found her groove in middle school. I am in my second year of PTA President and “Room Mom” to Mr. Connor’s new third-grade class. I was there on “Back to School Night” I was there on the first day of school. It was odd for me, seeing a brand new group of 3rd graders when I was so used to the class before. Two of the girls in the prior class actually wrote me letters over the summer. We just all connected. Connected in our own way.
I remember, maybe it was the second week of school. I am still learning the names of Mr. Connor’s new class. I was sitting at my work table, while Mr. Connor was doing what he does best, teaching. As soon as his new class was working on an assignment, I asked him “Is it normal for me to feel weird about the new class?”
“It always takes an adjustment period.”
I know I am going to get the date wrong, I always do. Mr. Connor has been teaching for sixteen years. He knows the road like the back of his hand.
The 2017-2018 school year went on. As I was finding less fulfillment with the PTA, I was finding more fulfillment being in his class, working with the kids. I came to adore the new third-grade teachers. One, an up and coming comedian, one a Mormon. Oh, the laughs we would have on lunch.
As the days started to slowly dwindle down, Mr. Connor approached me about becoming a Para. Actually, he encouraged me to go to school to become a teacher, unfortunately, that was just not going to work now. Between Gracie and her medical issues and Joe and his work schedule, it was not the time. However, being a Para, well that seemed more realistic. That I could do. Assuming I could pass the test.
I studied hard. I ordered teaching books, I took the practice test online, I did it all. When Mr. Connor was teaching his class fractions, I sat right along with his fellow students taking notes. Many times I like to take the easy road, but not when it came to this. I wanted to become a Para, and I knew, it would not come easily, so I studied. I studied hard. Sitting in the school foyer, waiting for Sofia to get out, I would have my book and highlighter, taking notes, studying. Whatever little free time I had, I was studying.
The day of my test, Mr. Connor texted me. “Let me know the second you have your results.” Well, the text came in literally the moment I got my scores. I had passed the test. “I passed! Not sure how, but I passed!”
By the time I got back to the school, every staff member I saw congratulated me on passing the test. Mr. Connor sent out an all staff email to let everyone know I passed. I believe it went a little something like this “New Para in Da House!”
There was now an end of the road in sight.
Mr. Connor made the very tough decision to not return to the school. He would be moving on to another district.
On one of the last days when we all had lunch together in Mr. Connor’s classroom, Mr. Connor, The Comedian, The Mormon, and myself, I knew, I knew this was the last time the four of us would all be in his room, having lunch. As was par for the course, Mr. Connor and I were arguing about something. The Mormon and The Comedian look at each other “I am going to miss you guys arguing over lunch.”
I am going to miss it too.
Just to be clear. Mr. Connor has changed my life. Obviously, I used an alias, because I do not want to embarrass him, but let me tell you, keeping it real. Mr. Connor saw something in me that I had not yet seen in myself. Mr. Connor pushed me. He made me work outside of my comfort zone. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. Mr. Connor saw my potential, and in his own perfectly “teacher” ways, he brought that mirror to my face and forced me to see myself in the same light that not only him, but his students as well saw me.
A fellow friend and I helped Mr. Connor clean out his classroom last week. As my friend and I were loading my car with stuff Mr. Connor graciously gave us from his years of teaching. The plan was, I was going to drop my friend off, and we would meet back at the school to say our good-byes. Well, through the art of miscommunication, that never happened. I never got a chance to say my official “good-bye.”
The thing is, Mr. Connor is one of those people you never say goodbye to. Like it or not, he is not getting rid of me that easily. As my own kids continue on their own journey, he will be the first person I text when Sofia is doing a graduation speech or Gracie graduates Highschool. When Sofia joins the track team or Gracie made another milestone, I will text him. When Vinnie graduates college, yep, you guessed it, Mr. Connor will know all about it because he was there all along the way.
So, although this is my farewell blog to the school that I have been involved in for the last seven years, this is not a farewell to Mr. Connor, this is a “See ya later!”
My final thoughts….To the school, I have grown so much since I first walked through those double doors as a young, scared, insecure mother who just wanted to make sure Gracie would be okay. The journey I have experienced is kinda life changing, and although I know I am just another face in the sea of 500 plus students and staff, you guys have change my life.
To Mr. Connor, the best is yet to come.
“She took her belongings and left, without any goodbyes, without any regrets, she left, finding comfort in knowing, it is time.”