Dear First Year Teacher Working at Target,
I hope you never lose the sparkle in your eye! You inspired us today! The high temperature in Fort Worth, Texas was 14 degrees. That is cold by just about anyone’s standards, but for many who live here, it is pretty much a shutdown, stay inside at all costs type temperature. In the last couple of days, the grocery stores have been emptied in preparation for the coldest week in years. Being in the school business myself, my and my wife, along with teachers and students all over the area, we were told to take everything home and be prepared to work remotely this week if need be. You were too.
Sure enough, Jack Frost hit Texas this week like he never has. Millions are without water, electricity, etc. and some are in dangerous situations because of the cold and isolation. At my house, we lost power for about 36 hours, but we are also blessed with a warm fire, plenty of food, and all the basic resources we needed. It was for us, a mere inconvenience but also a little bit of an adventure. Others weren't so fortunate, and we know it.
It is in that vein, that my wife and I jumped in the car to go to Target. That is basically how both blessed and spoiled we are. We used it as a way to warm up, charge our phones, and stave off boredom. And that is where we met you.
You may not even remember us going through your line. I am often the type that strikes up a conversation with the cashier. I sometimes get a chuckle from my wife and also an eye-roll or two from the people in line behind me, but I like to watch people and interact and see how they do their job. Often cashiers are friendly and pleasant, but other times it seems like they dread their job, and sometimes I don't blame them. This would have been one of those times. With temperatures well below freezing, everything shutting down, and people scavenging to get the last gallon of milk (or wine) it would be easy to want to go home and be safe too. But not you. You greeted us with a smile and asked us how you were doing. You seemed so young, or maybe I am just that old, but I would have bet you were a local high school student. I thanked you for coming in to work to serve us and mentioned that I hoped you got to go home soon because the roads were bad and more stores were already closed. With a smile, you said you had "volunteered" to work today because you knew others couldn't. That was my first "wow". Then you mentioned you had the day off today because you are a teacher! My wife is a teacher and I work in administration so we were both excited to hear this! You shared you were a first-year teacher and taught seventh grade! My wife has taught 7th grade as well and I chuckled as you both immediately began comparing notes. That was my second "wow". And then I saw it...
The first-year teacher sparkle. The one I hope you never lose. You shared how the year has been so hard. The students don't turn in their work, the middle school boys give you a hard time, you have had to learn to teach in-person and virtual at the same time, but you told us all this with an authentic smile. You shared how much you loved your job and couldn't wait to see your kids again. How you hoped they were warm and safe this week (even if they didn't turn in their work). Maybe it was because you didn't look like you are too far removed from middle school yourself, or maybe it was because you had that sparkle when you talked about your students, but there was a certain brave innocence about you that inspired us.
As we walked to the car, my wife and I continued to talk about you. We know how hard teachers have it this year, even if others do not. Then we talked about the young person that you appear to be. The kind of person that doesn't celebrate a snow day away from kids, but instead volunteers to work an extra shift at your "second job" because you know others couldn't. You are the kind of person the world needs to teach our kids. We reminisced on our own first-year of teaching. About how hard we thought it was, but knowing it was nothing compared to what you have gone through. Working two jobs (at-least) through a pandemic and learning all about middle school? And doing it with a smile and a sparkle. I hope you never lose that. Many start off in the profession with sparkle and somewhere along the line, some (fortunately not the majority) become frustrated and even cynical. They succumb to the frustrations of the role. Their dreams of changing the world crushed by unappreciated people, miles of red tape, and the struggles of a society that teachers alone can't fix. Don't do that. We need you.
I know firsthand how hard teachers work. I have known many who keep their sparkle throughout their careers and inspire thousands of kids. I hope you go on to become one of those. I hope that you always enjoy your teaching job and light up when you talk about your students the way you did with us. I hope you greet them at the door the way you greeted us, with a big smile.
I hope someday you don't have to work a second job to make ends meet.
I didn't catch your name and I will probably never see you again, but I hope I don't forget you. I appreciated your sparkle more than you could know. It inspired me. Your students and your school are lucky to have you.
I hope you got home safely last night and had everything you need. You deserve it. Thank you.
A grateful fellow educator,