Life Vests

Our #compelledtribe group of educators was asked to reflect on a story about someone who loved you when you didn’t expect or earn it. Here’s mine:


It was “Just so”.


After coming in for nearly two weeks of 10-hour days, I had my room all set up for the new school year. There were carefully planned changes for how I was implementing technology. I re-routed and re-configured the computer stations. I’d adopted an entirely new classroom design. The bulletin board displays were all created, sized, cut, and now adorning the walls. I’d painted all of my books shelves, and re-organized hundreds of books by genre.

I was done. Exhausted. With three days to spare before the kids would arrive.


As I was leaving the building, my principal called me into her office. My internal siren was screeching.

I hate to tell you this, but I need to move you to the classroom at the end of the hall.

And that was that.

Now I knew she had all summer to figure this out, but I had never moved classrooms before, and I wasn’t about to complain. So now I’d have to spend the last two days of summer break taking down, and setting up my room. All over again.

The following morning I got right to it. Several amazing colleagues found out about my plight, and came back to the building, lending me a hand by moving all my stuff down the hall. They shoved it into cabinets, closets, and drawers. Once everything had been moved, I bid my rescuing colleagues adieu, and collapsed in the middle of my new, significantly smaller classroom.

Overwhelmed, anxious, and out of gas.

There was so much left to be done to ready this space for the 28 students that would burst through the doorway in a few days.

Taking a brain break, I checked email, only to discover that two new primary sections had just been added to our building. Our principal encouraged us to greet these new teachers at the staff meeting that would take place in two days – on the eve of “Meet the Teacher” day.

In my mind’s eye, I could picture these two brand new colleagues downstairs, working feverishly to set up their own rooms, equally as overwhelmed as I was. Probably even more so.

And a little voice beckoned. Go help them.

I silently offered that little voice a few choice, hurried expletives, and resumed the task of prepping my room.

Go on. Help them.

But I knew the voice was solely in my head. Only I had heard it. And those new teachers had no idea I was upstairs. The building was mostly desolate. So nobody would really know if I chose to ignore that little voice and continue on with my harried classroom re-model. Those newbies could sink or swim, and I hoped they would swim.

That was my response to the inner voice.


But I had been thrown several life vests in my time, and I couldn’t ignore the collegial kindness I had been shown.

By Janet. And Bob. And Ron.

Many moons ago, in my rookie year of teaching, I could have been left to sink or swim. It just so happens that I was fortunate to have been hired as a part of an amazing staff.

On that very first day, there was a card on my desk as I went to set up my room. Opening the envelope, I was greeted by a picture of a little boy, driving one of those Lil-Tykes cars. He was smiling confidently, beneath his cool shades, with the caption: “You will be going places.” I had never met Janet before, but she had written a beautiful card telling me what a wonderful addition I was to the staff, how honored she was to work with me, and what a blessing I would be to the kids.

Then our PE teacher, Bob, made a point to come by the room, welcoming me, telling me he had heard great things about me, and that he was eager to work along side of me.

Finally Ron cheerfully greeted me, offering to help me set up my room in any way he could. Even as he had to dis-assemble everything he had set up in his own room, and move it, on short notice, down the hall. He was leaving room 207 for a newly hired teacher. The new teacher that was supposed to be placed in room 208, but in the last few days of summer, just before the kids arrived, had been re-assigned by the principal to take Ron’s room.

I was that new teacher.

Ron helped me prepare my room, in the midst of tearing down, transporting, and re-assembling his own. Despite having spent several days of his summer break preparing his room “Just so”.

He didn’t let me sink, that day, many years ago. He took off his proverbial life vest, and threw it to me.

With that flashback, I submitted (albeit reluctantly) to the inner voice, leaving my room in disarray, and went downstairs to welcome my new colleagues. I gave them a warm welcome, and offered to help set up their rooms. I wanted to help them swim.

A year and a half later, there are still a few boxes jammed in my closets, and files missing in my cabinets, but hopefully I was able to, in some small way, pass on the legacy of collegial kindness. Hopefully, I was able to help them navigate the turbulent waves that new teachers encounter, buffeted the kindness I had been shown, by Janet, Bob, and Ron.

They tossed me a life jacket.

They taught me how to swim.

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