While this particular school year will certainly stand out for its abrupt shift to home-based learning, this story may actually have greater resonance than ever.

By Tim Hayes

Dismissal on the last day of school. Hundreds of elementary-age students poured out from their school building, heading for buses or their parents’ cars, bursting with the joy that only the start of summer can generate in a kid’s heart.

But one little guy had a different reaction to the end of the school year. He looked afraid, sad, maybe even a little angry. And there, standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, as swarms of his sun-splashed classmates hollered and laughed all around him, he wouldn’t let go of his favorite teacher, Ms. Rita Jean.

A lifelong educator and specialist in helping young students with difficulties in reading, Ms. Rita Jean loved her work. She did not have a traditional classroom full of students, but saw small groups of children from each grade level who may have arrived as kindergartners with little preparation in reading skills, or who needed a bit more assistance and encouragement as they moved up through the various grade levels.

Ms. Rita Jean kept abreast of the latest approaches in reading and literacy, and brought many of those valuable tools to her students. Performance scores of her young charges routinely improved, and that proved how important her involvement with those kids really was.

But Ms. Rita Jean brought more than academic intelligence and interaction to her daily teaching. She was also a mother whose children were now grown and leading their own independent, confident, happy lives. And whether she did it intentionally or it simply came from her optimistic, nurturing personality, Ms. Rita Jean came to be viewed by many of her students as another mother in their world.

The lives of a portion of her students had inconsistencies regarding the adults available to provide care, living arrangements, even providing regular meals. When a child arrives at school in the morning hungry, tired, and stressed, learning can be a challenge, to say the least. Having a grown-up who demonstrates a caring attitude and a consistent sense of respect and encouragement to a child is like a dream come true.

So when school let out on that last day, the little boy hanging onto Ms. Rita Jean knew that it would be another three months until he could return safe to that environment where his views were heard, his growth was valued, and his self-worth would be affirmed – every day, in every way. Until he could see Ms. Rita Jean again, in other words.

We celebrate, honor, and express our love and appreciation for the women who gave us birth, who raised us, and who shower us with love, no matter how long we live, how many miles may separate us, and whether they’re with us in this life or the next. That’s as it should be.

But let’s also keep a space in our hearts alive for those women who fulfill the honorable, difficult, sacred, wonderful role of “mother” to those who may not have been blessed in quite the same way. Coaches, neighbors, scouting troop leaders, choir directors, and so many more.

All marvelous ladies. Just like Ms. Rita Jean.


Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes