Dedicated to Kate Nolan, Milford, CT
I started teaching Kindergarten in 1999. I was a late hire; the district needed to open two more full-day classrooms, and I was one of the two fortunate teachers that was hired that September.
Just like any kid starting in a new school, I felt a little out of place, especially since I was hired after all the teachers had started and probably knew each other from previous years. I was in Room 6 at the end of my hallway, and Kate’s room was across the hall from mine.
Over the school year, we became teaching buddies. Not by necessity, but more by luck. And what great luck it was! She was a tall, curly haired blonde and very organized. I am a short curly haired brunette and not as organized. I like to say that she is Type A and I am Type X…but between the two of us, we work buddy magic like nobody could ever imagine!
Kate is a special education teacher. By law, identified children need a certain number of hours with non-disabled peers as outlined in their individual education plan. Kate and I were well above the curve on this! We would get our children together for stories and songs after lunch, we had recess and center times together, and we would plan whole team teaching units. We would do Buddy projects on Fridays, where we would pair up the kids to create a theme based art project. We would marvel at how well the children would work together, nodding in agreement and saying to each other, “THIS is what they should be doing!” instead of the mandated reading , writing, and math work and assessing that gradually was taking over the curriculum for both regular education and special education students.
As each school year progressed, her kids became mine and mine became hers. We’d take pictures of our kids early on and keep them in our classrooms all year. Sometimes, my students would include hers to attend birthday parties, or hers would include mine. That’s when we knew we’d done our job at creating buddies! We’d share gifts around the holidays for and from each of our classrooms, and we created great memories. Our units on the Food Pyramid with Chef Mario and Chef Luigi were always great fun to teach. The Weather Girl video, when we were allowed to show videos, always put us in hysterics, but the kids really liked it! One year, we hosted our own Olympics complete with speed skating and medals, and another year, we worked with our extra active kids to race around the playground multiple times before actually going to play on the playground.
At the end of each year, I’d host a ‘show’. The kids from our classes would select their favorite songs to sing, I’d put them on a CD, and we’d make patriotic t-shirts and sing the songs for the parents. It was always a highlight of my year, and the integration of our kids always brought tears to our eyes when we’d sing songs like “It’s A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong or Celine Dion’s “God Bless America” using sign language.
We have been through many poignant life events together, too: 9/11 and the death of a dear friend of hers, my marriage and birth of my daughter, her daughter going off to college and getting her first teaching position, the death of her dad, the Newtown shootings, her nomination for Teacher of the Year in our district, and the death of my niece. All the while, we would comfort and support each other and carry on with our jobs as teachers.
When the school district was reconfigured to a K-2/3-5 model a few years ago, we were moved to a new school, and we were informed that weren’t going to be teaching together in order to integrate new staff and build a new school community. We understood, but we were devastated. We cried like little kids in front of our new principal when we heard the news. Even though we were going to be right down the hall from each other, it wasn’t going to be the same. We were buddies! How could we be separated? It was heartbreaking to us. Still, we soldiered on in our own classrooms, waiting for the year when we could work our team teaching magic again.
This year, we were finally given the “ok” from our principal to teach together again! The buddies were back! We were overjoyed!
But our new-found joy was short lived when I became ill with Lyme. I had to take a leave of absence from work that started in January 2016 and will continue to the end of this school year.
I have never had to take a leave like this. Even after the birth of my daughter, I was back to work within a few months. Kate has been a buddy to me through all of this. She’s sent me cards and emails. We’ve spoken on the phone, and I know she has been behind the scenes helping my subs (I had two because of the uncertainty of my coming back this year) with my kids.
It’s not often that you find a buddy at your job. But when you do, it’s a magic that can’t ever be replicated. Love ya, Buddy!