I just came from dropping Jack off in his classroom for the first day after winter break. Normally, I don't go into the classroom with him, but today was different and not just because we've been on vacation for two weeks. Mrs. Peggy Howard, Jack's beloved kindergarten teacher, and her eighteen-year-old son, Cale, were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Mrs. Howard won't be returning to school or her family or anywhere else ever. Jason and I were still in shock when we told Jack the news just over a week ago. The only question Jack asked about it was, "When did it happen?" Then, he crawled in my lap and peppered me with anxious questions about what would happen in his classroom now. He wanted to know how the new teacher would know all the things Mrs. Howard did. We went on with our vacation after that, Jack distracted by fun with cousins and grandparents. We went to the funeral. I cried a little. Jack got antsy during the service, but Jason and I both thought it good he go for closure and understanding what happened to his teacher. This morning, in the dark early hours before school, Jack and I once again cuddled on the couch as he voiced his nervous concerns about the new state of affairs in his classroom. I reassured a little and listened a lot. After all, there is no great solution or fix for this terrible tragedy. Then, we went to school. Steiner Ranch Elementary has handled a horrible situation beautifully, from calling us personally to deliver the news to inviting parents into the classroom for the first day back. We parents listened to the counselor talk to the kids and met the interim teacher. She was experienced, warm, and reassuring. My initial concerns about the kid's continuing education dissipated. After all, one of the reasons we moved here is so our kids could attend Leander ISD schools, in the district where I once taught and have first-hand knowledge of it's quality.
As I kissed Jack goodbye and left the classroom, I knew he'd be okay. His teacher is gone, but he has a wonderfully stable family and the committed staff of the elementary school to see him and his classmates through. I held back the tears, though, as I hurried through the cold morning to my car. Being in that classroom, Mrs. Howard's absence was palpable to me for the first time. Jack hasn't expressed missing her yet, only anxiety over the classroom. It may hit him later, in a couple days or weeks, but I miss her. I didn't spend nearly the amount of time at the school Jack does, but the little time I did spend, I was so impressed by Peggy Howard. Having taught elementary school myself, I struggled at times to maintain patience and calmness in the face of the chaos that is young children. Peggy was a beacon of patience and the epitome of calmness. I so admired her demeanor and her genuine, calm smile. I thought, if I ever go back to teaching, I'm going to think of her. I'm going to try to be more like her. It does take a special person to teach kindergarten. Many people don't last more than a few years there, but Peggy taught kindergarten for decades. She loved it, she loved the children, and it showed. I realized this morning, whatever and whenever Jack feels about her, I am going to miss her, as a teacher, a person, and someone I admired. After I got done being angry at the drunk driver and worrying about Jack, I was left with only sadness that the world is being deprived of a wonderful, contributing person like her.
Peggy Howard will be so sorely missed by so many people, as was evidenced in the hundreds of people who attended her memorial service. I can't imagine her family's pain right now. I do hope, though, that it is some small comfort to know how many lives she touched. She lives on in her family and in all of the hundreds if not thousands of children she's made feel comfortable and loved on that very first day of kindergarten. Teachers like her are the reason kids learn to read and write and love going to school each day. She's the reason they feel safe there. She is the reason Jack and myself, both nervous about his starting public school, became so quickly comfortable there. I was not just happy, but relieved when I met her and knew she would be the one with whom my son would spend his formative kindergarten year. I know whomever the school chooses to permanently take over the classroom will be a well-qualified, loving person who leads our children to great kindergarten success. I will, however, always remember Peggy Howard as Jack's first teacher and an incredibly admirable person.