Image to Image: The Evolution of a Teacher

By Sandy S. Lish

Mrs. Lish recently retired as a Family & Consumer Sciences educator at Billerica Memorial High School in Billerica, Massachusetts. She currently serves as the Extended Learning Opportunity and Internship Coordinator, where she mentors high school future educators throughout the school district.

The sounds of my squeaky sandals echoed throughout the dimly lit, empty hallway. The school year had finally ended, but not like any other. Instead of the norm, this particular day ushered in a new significance: the first seconds of my retirement. After cramming the last box of classroom keepsakes into my car’s backseat, I pulled away—but not without glancing twice at the school building in my rearview mirror.   

My mind journeyed back to a time when my childhood, like that of countless other educators, was filled with imagination and role-play. My small bedroom was magically transformed into a pretend classroom with strategically placed dolls and stuffed animals. My tiny fingers curled around an entire piece of white chalk as I scribbled unrecognizable letters on the little black chalkboard. On that day, I morphed into my preschool teacher.

My real preschool classroom was just as exciting as the one I created at home. The whiff of Play-Doh, molding clay, and crayons filled my nostrils the second I walked through its giant door. The room was large and somewhat intimidating, but my shyness melted with the teacher’s smile. Without knowing it, she planted the first seeds in my quest to become a teacher.

Over the ensuing years, I subconsciously formed a “Classroom Hall of Fame.” Among those top teachers, my superstar was Mrs. Carver, my sewing instructor. In her class, I fell in love with the craft of methodically turning fabric pieces into wearable art. By the time her class ended, I had envisioned a future filled with multi-colored threads, boxes of patterns, and shelves of textured fabrics.

Teaching, meanwhile, took a back seat when I located a design school out of state. Although my parents always supported my career ideas, I thought, This should be an easy sell.

Unfortunately, this time, they didn’t see it my way and quickly kiboshed the idea. They feared for my safety away from home—something my 17-year-old brain didn’t wish to acknowledge. I sulked for what seemed like days, not hours.

I partly accepted my parents’ verdict, but not without confronting the overwhelming and consequential waves of uncertainty. Mrs. Carver noticed my sadness and moved her chair beside me. “Are you okay?” she simply asked. Then, with a resurgence of hope, I listened to her words of comfort as she provided her empathetic and practical advice.

Mrs. Carver provided more than just guidance. On that day, she opened a window into the soul of a teacher and joined an ensemble of role models who represented the standard I decided to emulate as I pursued my education into adulthood.

Eventually, the day arrived when I, too, stood before a classroom filled with young, malleable minds. Sleepless nights and long days filled my usually empty calendar. Often, I questioned how I would survive through the first vacation break. I always did, though, with the help of mentors.

After that first challenging year, I realized the importance of support, not only for those seeking to join the teaching field but for the apprehensive newbies who lacked the confidence and courage to get through that first year on their own. For those individuals, I wanted to provide a life preserver through their most tumultuous waters.

By the twilight of my career, I had shared my classroom with student teachers, championed new hires into the district, and coordinated internship placements for hundreds of high school students. Along their roads toward discovery, I often asked, “Are you okay?” Before leaving on that last day of my career, when the last bell stopped ringing, I reached for a piece of chalk near the dusty chalkboard. Time moved in slow motion as I scanned the empty classroom before carefully scribing a farewell note. I wiped the dust from my fingers, walked to the door, and turned off the lights.

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