Time. This coming June will mark the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death. It was unexpected, which meant there were no opportunities to hold her hand one last time, tell her that I loved her or thank her for her love, support and selflessness. If there was any consolation, she did not suffer. She was, by nature, a kind, gentle caregiver. The thought of needing others to care for her would have been difficult for her to accept. Her sudden passing was, as the saying goes, “The way she would have wanted it.” Although, the sentiment did little to assuage the feelings of loss or fill the void her passing left behind.
My mom began her career as a bookkeeper. She was working at Drake Motor Sales in Gladwin, Michigan when she met my dad. She continued to work as a bookkeeper for various small car and boat dealerships until becoming a paraprofessional at King Elementary in Deer River, Minnesota in the early 1980s. Although she was a very capable bookkeeper, her work as a para was truly her life’s calling - minus playground duty!
It was fairly common to be in a store in Grand Rapids and have one of the students she worked with run up to her with a huge smile and wrap their arms around her in the kind of enthusiastic embrace that is the hallmark of young children. Her love for them was genuine. Their love for her was equally so. She touched lives. She made a difference. The work provided meaning in her life.
As I write this column, it marks the end of Paraprofessional Recognition Week. I have been blessed to work with many exceptional paraprofessionals over the course of my career. Some have had big, bold personalities, while others have approached their work in a quiet, tender nature – characteristic of my mom. I have been witness to the power of both styles in their ability to meet children where they are at, while providing emotional comfort, stability and support. They are often a lifeline to our students who face the biggest obstacles and challenges.
It can be easy to overlook their impact. They don’t tend to seek the spotlight or demand much in the way of accolades. They simply provide a nurturing and affirming environment for each child they serve on a daily basis. Helping students develop stronger reading, writing or math skills. Helping students develop organizational skills. Being there for students who sometimes struggle to control their emotions. Serving children who may need help with the most basic of needs. I can’t think of anything more powerful in the life of a child than a consistent, loving presence of a kind, compassionate adult. So as this Paraprofessional Recognition Week draws to a close, it presents a perfect opportunity to provide a truly heartfelt “thank you.” The work they do is amazing.