Sometimes people come into your life and change you for the better. Sometimes people have a lasting impact on your perspective and outlook .
My co-teaching partner, Zondra, is one of those people.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sick. Really sick, losing extreme amounts of weight, unable to stand, only able to drink Ensure, in a wheelchair, back brace, and neck brace. I could not hold my head up without my hand or a brace. I crawled from room to room most of the time because if I stood up I knew I would pass out. I traveled from doctor to doctor, only to leave each office more discouraged than before, with zero answers. I was lost. Scared. In pain. Sick. Feeling helpless and experiencing a major loss of control as it seemed like my body was losing more and more functionality as the days went on.
All of this was happening in August, right before I was to return to the classroom to teach kindergarten and pre-kindergarten for another year.
I really, really tried to set up my classroom and attend the required before school meetings, but I only continued to get sicker. At this point, I was unable to take a shower by myself, let alone teach a classroom of 30 kids. That August, I learned a major lesson. I learned that life can throw curve balls, and no matter how hard I may try to push through them, some things are just out of my control.
After many conversations and appointments with my doctor, Larry, and my school district, I ended up being put on full-time medical leave indefinitely.
This was an extremely hard pill to swallow. Not only was I losing the ability to physically function, and I had no idea why, but I was also losing my professional career and everything I had worked for to become an early childhood Montessori teacher. I had no clue what my future would hold.
Being on leave, it was up to me to find my teaching replacement for the year, while I worked on getting a diagnosis, and how to function again so I could hopefully return to teaching, and my life in general.
The day it became clear that I was unable to teach, I was in the classroom with my teaching assistant, who had come in to help me set up the classroom. After being unable to walk around the room, I made it down to my principal to let her know I was just too sick to start the year. My teaching assistant lent me a lot of moral support that day. She also let me know that her daughter had just finished her teaching internship and was now a certified teacher. My assistant said she would go home that day and ask her daughter if she would be willing to take over for me while I was on leave.
This is when Zondra came into my life.
Zondra stepped into the classroom from day one ready to embrace it all. The school, the Montessori curriculum, the staff, the families, and most of all the kids. In the beginning, we would email back and forth, and I would send her ideas and plans to get her familiar with the routines and the curriculum, but after a couple of weeks, the amount of emails became less, the classroom was up and running smoothly, and I knew in my heart that my kids were exactly with who they needed to be. Knowing that such a loving, dedicated, and talented teacher had taken over for me gave me the peace of mind and the ability to focus all of my energy on my health. That year that I was out, I never once worried about my kids or the families, or how things were going.
That is all because of Zondra.
Zondra may not see it as a big deal, but to me it was a huge deal. Zondra taking over was the biggest gift I could have received while I was too sick to work. Further, I have learned one thing about becoming sick. You learn who you can turn to. You learn where your support lies. You learn that relationships can be everything.
Because of who Zondra is, this was reiterated to me time and time again.
Last year when I got the green light to return to teaching half-time, Zondra once again offered to teach the other half of the day for me. I knew that this amazing woman had truly become a living angel in my life. She continued to study the Montessori curriculum on her own time. She got to the point where she could look at me and just know when I was struggling (and often needed a good shot of salt). Teaching alongside Zondra was just easy. Our strengths complimented each other and we became a well oiled, co-teaching machine.
This school year, after my doctors and I decided that it would be best for my health to make my half-time status final and official, Zondra once again started the year with me. We fell back into our roles as “work spouses” working closely together each day. We were optimistic for the first couple of months that Zondra would be able to be hired officially as the afternoon teacher. After her obligatory interview, we realized it was not to be. One early childhood cert was standing in the way.
I am not gonna lie. I was crushed.
Me being Katie, and not knowing when to let things rest, I bugged and bugged and bugged my poor principal about what we could do. I even bugged our superintendent. I appealed to anyone who would listen. In my heart, I knew I had to fight for this person who had done so much for me. I was going to lay it all out there for her, whether it was the popular decision or not; whether it worked or not. I knew that if I did not fight for her, I would always wonder if I could have done more. Zondra was there for me at my lowest, and this was one teeny-tiny way I felt I could repay her for all she had done for me the last three years.
Anyways, I wish I had a different ending to tell. The district had to make the decision to hire someone else who already had the early childhood cert. Let me be clear…For the record, I hold no ill will or bitterness about this. I understand that a school is a business and they have rules they must follow. On the same token, I am human and feel many emotions about this change. I am sad to lose this person as my teaching partner who has been with me through so much. Who has kept me sane and who has taught me so much about teaching, myself, and life. As I sit here, with tears falling onto the keyboard, I am most of all feeling blessed that this amazing woman walked into my life when she did.
I said goodbye to Zondra yesterday as my teaching partner. My kids said goodbye yesterday to the afternoon teacher they have known all year. I know we will all embrace the new teacher, and the upcoming changes with professionalism, openness, and positivity. We will all work hard to make the best of the new situation. Because that is the right thing to do for everyone.
But as I close this post, I realize that the emotions I feel about Zondra moving on is because all of this goes way beyond the world of teaching. It is more about relationships. And loyalty. And compassion. And love. The things, that if you ask me, are what life is all about.
I am a better person for having worked and learned alongside Zondra. I look forward to continuing our friendship outside of the classroom, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for giving her all to me, the school, and the children. The relationship I have built with Zondra is a relationship that I will always, always, always hold close to my heart.
Zondra, you are my angel. I am here for you always.
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