Earlier in the night, one of my new colleagues asked if I felt ready. In my most braggadocios voice, I claimed that this and parent-teacher conferences are the nights I live for: seeing kids every day and educating them are not why I went into teaching-- it was because I love talking to the adults at Open House. We chuckled at how silly I was being, and that was that. The clock neared six and we all had to be in our rooms-- well, except for me-- I wouldn't see any parents until 6:25 since I only teach the one class.
When parents walked in, I did what I do every year at Open House. I greeted them as they entered and then they answered a few questions written on the board (What is something you know about me?, What is something you want me to know about your child?, etc.) as people all filed in and got settled. As everyone wrote, I announced that it was not okay to write "You had a lung transplant" for the "What do you know about me?" question, since that was probably the first story out of the kids' mouths at the dinner table that second day of class. We all had a good laugh, and then I spoke for a only two or three minutes about the transplant. With a mere ten minutes of time with these folks, I didn't want to spend too much of it on the Evin show. They care more about what their kid's experience in the class will be like this year, and that's as it should be. But as a I talked about going on medical leave, being on the waiting list, getting the call, all things I've told to individuals and crowds more times than I can count, I got to a part of the story I hadn't really told before, and before I knew it I was swallowing away a lump in my throat.
When I was on the waiting list, recovering, and especially when I was in limbo not knowing if I could return to my career or not, conversations with my wife (who is also a teacher) and colleagues often took a "I bet you don't miss this!" tact-- Open Houses, angry parent emails, ridiculous student behavior, parent teacher conferences where the ones you need to see the most don't show up, meetings (so many meetings!), standardized testing. It's a long list. I remember one particular conversation with Kayla, during the "limbo" portion of this past summer, and she told me that what I was longing for was an idealized version of our career-- that I'd been away from it so long that I was forgetting or ignoring what it might really be like to be back. She did this, of course, to soften the blow in advance in case the decision was, "No, Evin can't teach again..." She's good like that.
So, as I spoke last night, I told the parents that I was so happy to be back, even if it isn't at the high school, because there was a time when I didn't know if I'd ever do another Open House, or any of the other not-as-awesome-as-actually-teaching-the-students parts of the job. I didn't think that would make me cry, but it almost did. And the reason I became emotional is because I do actually like Open House. And I did miss kids acting a fool, talking to parents at conferences, and even meetings (so, so many meetings!). Because those parts of the job are the dross, yes, but they have to be sifted past to get to the gold. When I realized tonight that what I was in front of me, an occasion that many, most, my old self, would have discarded was, for me, a piece of that gold-- one I was unsure I'd ever touch again-- I choked back some tears. Then I wrapped up my opening speech before taking questions about what kind of writing kids would do and how much homework there would be. In other words, it quickly became a completely normal Open House.
In the end, I'm really glad this all played out as it did, because now I know I'll need an entire box of Kleenex to conferences in October. ;)