My fifth-grade year began in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President, phones had cords attached, and it was a big deal if your home had more than one television in it. Mrs. Jackson was my teacher that year, and I am forever grateful and blessed for spending that year under her tutelage. It was the beginning of her career then, so she was a far cry from the strict rulers that I’d had in the previous two years of my schooling, who had taught for at least a hundred years each. She was young and pretty, gentle-hearted and thoughtful, and always gave the winner of the Geography Bee a lollipop. Today, she’s retired and enjoys time spent with her husband and family, and takes pride in her role as a Grandma. Thanks to the magic of the internet, we are Facebook friends….what a cool thing!
When I think about my fifth-grade year, I’m reminded of all kinds of ways it shaped me into the woman I am today. This was a year when I was teased a lot for having freckles, pale skin, and braces. A year when I forged one of the best friendships I’ve ever had, but also a year I lost some friendships because I wasn’t perceived as cool enough. All my life, I’ve heard this thing about how “You are where you were when you were ten.” Whether this is true or not, I do know that being ten and in fifth grade can be a big part of your most formative years. Every year is important, but your tenth year is the beginning of the bridge from your childhood to your wonder years. I’d be willing to bet that if you stop and think, you can point to something during your tenth year that shaped you in a significant way.
The reason this has all been on my mind lately is because my second born daughter, Sylvie, is currently halfway through her fifth-grade year. Last week, her teacher died, at the age of 49. His passing was sudden and tragic and has impacted so many in our school community. Two of our four daughters have had him as their fifth-grade teacher, and the impact of his life and death will likely stay with them for years to come. I’ve learned a lot about my motherhood over the past couple of weeks, and have been keenly aware of how tuned in children are, regardless of the madness of screen time and over stimulation that seems to surround this digital native generation. They are tuned in to the emotions around them, and if given the opportunity, they are tuned in to their own emotions, which is a crucial part of being human.
Facing and trying to understand death can be difficult at any age, but watching my children navigate loss (a few times), has taught me a lot about what our hearts and minds are capable of. The funeral for their teacher was last weekend, and it was beautiful, albeit emotional. The six of us attended, along with (almost) every member of the faculty and staff of our school, as well as some other students and families, and former colleagues were there to lend support to his loving family and friends. Being there to celebrate the life of a wonderful and well-loved man, is something I will always be grateful for, as it was so impactful and important to my daughters. To bear witness to his family, and the beautiful way they so boldly shared their faith to all present, in the midst of such pain and loss, is something my girls will carry in their hearts, for always.
There were touching tributes shared by colleagues and friends, and even two former students, whose charismatic and from-the-heart offerings, had to be a highlight for the family of such a beloved teacher. There were scrolling photographs from a life well lived, but cut far too short. The American flag that draped his casket, shed light on his years of service to our country, during his earlier days before becoming a teacher, and helped to define the rich and diverse life he had lived. The praise and worship songs that were led by his loved ones–with his step-daughter accompanying on her cello–were powerful and beautiful and were a testament his strong faith in God.
Learning about the faith he had and that he shared with his family, was such a sweet surprise in all of this. Because we attend public school, it is often times hard to know what faith practice a teacher follows, unless you happen to attend church with them. We learned he was a Christ follower with a heart for mission work, and that he and his wife (also a teacher at our school) even spent their honeymoon serving on a mission trip. Amazing!
Who we grow up to be, is in large measure, a result of many moments that shape us……big moments and small ones, happy and sad and everything in between. As a parent, helping to steward these moments for our children can be one of the most challenging efforts we face. Only time will tell how these fifth-grade moments shape my girls, but I am thankful for the example set by their teacher’s family and encouraged by the way they boldly displayed their faith for all to see. Sometimes that is harder to do than it ought to be.