As the school year begins to wind down and the light at the end of the teaching tunnel is no longer the size of a decimal point, teachers all across the country are gearing up for end-of-year state testing in whatever shape or form their state happens to dole them out as. After an absolute discombobulated, bizarre year fraught with quarantines, illnesses, absences, online journeys to galaxies far far away, and chicken nugget shortages, the teacher stress level is becoming quite apparent as the volume of caffeine consumption and liquid Tylenol IV’s increases.
To put it bluntly, we’re all losing our minds! I like to think teachers resemble the phrase “My mind is currently like my internet browser — 19 tabs are open, three of them are frozen and I have no idea where the music is coming from.” That’s me.
Districts across the country are scrambling to amass data to be used this next school year to form some kind of idea of what was gained and lost academically when the world came to a standstill a year ago. The rush to establish this data and get it all organized before the end of the school year is called creating a “baseline,” where a foundation of data is recorded to compare next year’s assessments and growth to. The methods and timeline by which the data is recorded is what causes teachers to “flatline.” This is when healthy brain activity ceases and teachers begin mumbling incoherently into their coffee cups while standing amidst all the orange cones in a corner of the PE closet.
Fortunately for us and many others who get up and trudge into school on dreary Monday mornings, there are people in our building who make coming to work enjoyable and worthwhile. I think I’ve written in past musings of my colleagues here at school and the “family” we’ve become over the years. One of those stalwart pillars in the front office of our school happens to be Vardee Cole, a resident in the neighborhood next to the school and employee of almost 23 years here at North Park Elementary. She started as a reading aide long before it became a recognized established position and transitioned into the office as secretaries moved or retired. I like to think of Vardee as one of those traffic cops standing in the middle of a huge roundabout in a major city, directing traffic safely through the intersection. If you can imagine the school as a big wagon wheel and the spokes converging at the center hub being the office, that’s where Vardee resides, rain or shine, to ensure the school day gets off to a good start.
The duties of a school secretary are varied and taxing, beginning with the accountability for all students and staff on any given day. Sending out the automated phone calling system for absent students, collecting lunch-count information, dealing with cranky teachers standing in front of the office copier mumbling “Call service, what does that mean?” and “Can I buy some stamps from you so I can get this in the mail this morning. Oh and I don’t have any cash so can I pay you Friday?” Mix all that in with students who come in with questions or wanting a Band-Aid or their quarter got stuck in the pencil vending machine or parents calling to ask “Is there school today?” and of course the never-ending requests for new masks because theirs “flew out the bus window.”
Vardee laughed as I asked what the most challenging part of her day usually is, and she replied, “Starting to work on something when I first get in the office and getting interrupted so many times I don’t get around to completing it til after school ends.” I think we all feel that way sometimes. On my carpool duty days, Vardee is always in the office visiting with the kids who are “leftovers” and waiting for rides, making sure everyone is on their way and accounted for. Going above and beyond her normal duties to ensure that our school is a fun, safe place to work in is what Vardee is all about.
We’ve had our share of tragedies and heartaches among our faculty and staff over the years, and our office staff, faculty and community have come together to support and soothe our heartaches. Vardee is chief among those we affectionately call friend. It’s a nice feeling knowing that regardless of our personal struggles and triumphs, Vardee listens to them all and shows kindness to everyone, both young and old.
As with everyone I’ve visited within our school about their varied responsibilities, all are in agreement that the best part about their job is the daily interaction with the kids and the adults, be it faculty or parents that they have each day, I heartily agree. I hope everyone has a Vardee like ours at their workplace. The world would certainly be a much better place.
It’s also nice to know that on those days where I’m struggling to keep afloat in the whirlpool of educational uncertainties, there is someone who I know will brighten my day with a smile and cheery “good morning!” Plus she knows exactly where to look for me when I disappear amidst testing chaos and comes down the hall to the gym with the keys to the PE closet.
Chad Hawkes is a fifth grade teacher at North Park Elementary School. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.