Two weeks ago, at Cudahy High School, I stood on the stage for a teacher's retirement party. Even though my kids did not have this teacher, I was there. I wanted to be there. From working with her through the PTA, from seeing her hallways covered from ceiling to floor with student projects, and from talking to parents who loved her, I wanted to help with the event. I did not want to see a 43 year career at Lincoln school pass quietly.
The party was on a Friday night. The North Science Room was covered with circus-themed decorations. The auditorium was almost ready.
We spent nearly a month planning this. We were nervous. Would anyone come to this?
This teacher didn't know what to expect either. We heard rumors of her being nervous too. Why was it being held at Cudahy High School? Would anyone really want to say goodbye to their kindergarten teacher before she hung up her chalk?
We were hopeful but didn't know.
This teacher spent her career working extra hours before and after school. She made costumes for her students. She incorporated music, songs, and performances into reading and math lessons. She turned the halls outside her classroom into a rain forest. She got parents involved. She spent her own money. And most importantly, she remembered her students' names well into their adult lives. She not only taught these kids, she made them feel important. She made a difference. On that Friday night, my biggest wish was that people show up to honor the teacher who spent her life and career honoring them.
10 minutes before the event, my heart was pounding.
May was a stressful month. I was exhausted. We experienced setbacks in the party planning and my nerves had challenged my optimism. Will this event really be successful?
5 minutes before the event, people were walking in, mingling. Kids were sitting at the edge of the stage, swinging their legs. Circus music was playing. Suddenly, a loud voice from the door yelled, "She's here!" Everyone went to their seats.
People did show.
25 minutes later, a retiring kindergarten teacher, with tears in her eyes, stood in disbelief, looking at an auditorium of students and families clapping for her. It was a standing ovation - a standing ovation that put a lump in my throat that really hasn't gone away.
Sometimes I feel we live in a world where mediocrity is assumed, where if hard work does occur, it eventually becomes unrecognizable and disappears into the chaos of our day-to-day lives. I sometimes go through my days with tunnel vision. I see slow service. I hear people complain. I write emails that go unanswered. I get frustrated and fail to see that with every one unanswered email, there are 10 people who do respond. That with every complaint, there is also a compliment. That with every person who works hard and doesn't get recognized, there is a standing ovation.
So, as the auditorium of people clapped for their teacher. As this teacher stood in disbelief with shaking hands and tears in her eyes, I closed my eyes and with renewed optimism, I clapped. I clapped for my own teachers - who may not have gotten that standing ovation - but deserved one nonetheless. I clapped for people who have helped me - who may not have gotten an appropriate thank you. And I clapped at the knowledge that I can teach my kids that, despite setbacks, hard work does pay off. People will show. That standing ovations do sometimes happen to the most unlikeliest of people, even a kindergarten teacher who didn't realize the true effect she had on the people around her.
Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids in Cudahy. It was an awesome year.