This post is the initial post in a new series Jody has created called Lessons Learned in the Little Red Schoolhouse which you can find by clicking here – subscribe to it on the blog’s site to get the weekly lesson emailed to you!
I never actually taught in a little red schoolhouse. Certainly not one as picturesque as that above.
So should I change the title of my blog? Am I being dishonest?
No, and no.
Because while I may never have walked through the softly falling snow on my way to a warm, fire-lit room full of students from nearby towns, all eager to learn from me (as displayed by the not-too-small pile of apples and notes of thanks on my desk, of course) – even still, I have always taught in a little red schoolhouse…in my mind, at least.
Or should I say, the idealized world of my imagination where I prefer to live. Does that make me crazy? Possibly. That harmless little vision I longed for – that pure, beautiful, innocent little red schoolhouse – has driven me to start five different schools.
So yes, I am a little crazy.
But I believe in my heart that the only way to get something done is to be driven, to be compelled by some vision that you are earnestly passionate about.
My First School Not in My Imagination…Well, Almost!
For me, ever since I was a young girl pretending to be much older, the only vision that drove me was working in a school.
My first little red schoolhouse began in my bedroom as a child where I played school day after day. When I could, I forced my younger brothers to be my students. (Maybe that’s why I became so keen on discipline!) Later, my sweet Daddy created a little school for me in the basement with three old-fashioned wooden desks – which I would give my retirement savings for now – and a blackboard.
Ironically, when I was 21, I started my first little school in a basement, in another little town in MinneSNOWta. It never became one of my official ‘big five,’ but at least it had snow, right?
When Reality Meets Imagination/Ideal
You know what no one ever talks about with the perfect little red schoolhouse?
The bugs. The long walk there (with no Starbucks or satellite radio or seat warmers). And the cold. Oh, the cold. The image of happy students learning by the fire is nothing but false advertising.
The unfortunate moment of realization came for me when at age 24 I opened my first ‘big’ school in Dallas. All I wanted to do was teach. That was it. I figured starting my own school was the best way to accomplish that goal.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
One night while struggling to understand my first quarterly income tax report, I finally broke down amidst a sea of legal paperwork encircling me. It was 3 a.m. and I was all I could think was, I just want to teach children. I don’t know anything about payroll, insurance, or taxes. What have I done?
With a limited budget, I had to wear all the hats. After a long day of being teacher, principal, secretary, business manager, admissions director, my own administrative assistant, and even after-school care provider, the tears just kept coming and wouldn’t stop.
This was not my dream. And it certainly wasn’t my cute little red schoolhouse.
My head crashed down on the ironing board while I was ironing my clothes for the next day – anything to take my mind off the paper work. Anything to put on a hat I could handle wearing. That night, all I could handle was ironing.
Despite the Cold, You Can Make It Warm – the Bugs, Now that’s More Difficult
So far I suppose this first “lesson” could be summarized as: don’t start a school unless you know what you’re doing first and have some help!
But the real lesson is this: the schoolhouse may never be that ideal you dreamed of, but you should never stop pursuing it.
Let me explain.
At that first school, yes, I wore too many hats. But there were many hats I donned that I absolutely cherish to this day.
My favorite one? Teaching, of course. But here is a surprise one. Gardener. We grew a lot of our food in our own garden there at the school. During recess, the children would gather some up, bring it to me, and we would clean and prepare it together. It was lovely and simple and everything I wanted from the little red schoolhouse – only much, much warmer.
And get this: we grew prize-winning squash in that garden! I loved it. The children, well, they would have preferred something else. You might say their ideals had to be ‘squashed’ a little as well.
Remembering Why We Do It at All
I may have been insane to start my first school at the age of 21 (if you count the basement school) or 24 (if you count the first ‘big’ school). Or that I was completely off my rocker to start four others after those first two.
But I wouldn’t take anything back. What I have learned, and who I have become, are largely due to my years in the little red schoolhouses I worked so very, very hard to create.
I hope you will enjoy this journey with me of looking back and remembering the cold walks, the bugs, and, yes, the always difficult ‘boards of education’ – all because of this vision I had.
Look at that picture again. Lovely, isn’t it? And worth it, too.