When I was six years old, I had a fear of yellow school buses.
I used to hide in the back corner of my mother’s closet, behind all of her dresses and old bridesmaid gowns and on top of her hill of high heels, in hopes that she’d think she had a new addition to her closet rather than a child who needed to go to school.
“What’s wrong with the school bus, Kayla?” my mom would ask, pulling back each dress layer by layer, revealing my thick-rimmed glasses. Every week, I would react the same way. I would sit pouting in the closet, a jean jacket over my outfit for the day and a Tinkerbell backpack strapped to my shoulders.
“The bus isn’t red,” I’d say, tightening my grip around the red double-decker toy bus in my hands. “I want to go to school in one of these buses.”
My mother would smile and extend her hand into the closet to help pull me out. Reluctantly, I’d drag my feet behind her down the hallway and outside to the yellow beast’s open doors. Along the way, my mother would say things like, “Next time your dad goes to London, he’ll think twice about the presents he brings back” Or, “Tomorrow, your dad will be getting you ready for school.” Part of me hoped he would, because dad might let me stay in the closet.
I wouldn’t get on the yellow bus without my red bus in hand. My mother gave up trying to take it away from me after the first few days. Walking up those four giants bus steps, I’d pause and look back at my mother with one last pleading look before I trudged into the vehicle and hid in the first seat. My mother would smile, wave, muster an optimistic “Have a great day, honey!” with an apologetic nod to the bus driver before returning inside.
During the 10 minute drive to Cumberland Elementary, I’d prop my red bus on my lap and wipe away the tears hiding behind my child-sized bifocals.
Sixteen years later, the red bus has come and gone from my life. As a 21-year-old woman with one semester left in college, I still don’t like buses, but the fear I once associated with the bus has been replaced. These days, it feels like I’m afraid of a lot of things.
In a few months, I will be a certified secondary English teacher and a Goshen College graduate. As I finish up my last semester of classes and begin my job search, I’ve made my own version of my mother’s closet inside of my head. What if I’m not cut out to teach? What if I can’t find a job right away? How will I make a living? The closer I’ve gotten to the end of my career as a student, the more afraid I am to be out on my own in the real world.
It makes me think back to the days I was just beginning school. I would hate my mom on school mornings for wanting me to get the “full experience” of going to school on my own. What if I didn’t make any friends? What if my teachers didn’t like me? When the bus pulled up to my street corner, I retreated to the place where I spent the first five years of my life making up my own adventures, hoping I could go back to the way things used to be. It’s funny to think that children are often considered naïve. I feel like six-year-old me had a pretty decent understanding of the downsides of growing up.
But another thing I’ve learned is that in time, and maybe with the help of a red double-decker toy bus, you can feel just enough comfort and confidence in yourself to take that step.
My comfort and confidence has developed over the past four years studying at Goshen College. I’ve had the privilege of working with professors who have challenged me to ask the questions that have altered my perspective of the world around me. I’ve found comfort and support in friends who have pursued their own passions. And I’ve had the opportunity to ground myself in many experiences in the classroom as a student and in field placements as a teacher in training. My time at Goshen College has allowed me to become a passionate learner and a servant leader in my discipline.
At 21, my red double-decker bus appeared in the form of two high school students I worked with in a spring field placement. I’ve had the privilege of working with them all semester, and on my last day observing in their classroom at Goshen High school, two things happened: one of my students, who had been below the 10th grade reading standards, improved over 100 points on his reading Lexile score, allowing him to meet his grade level for the first time in his high school career.
At the end of the class period, another one of my students told me he was moving to a different school next fall, hoping to play football. I wished him luck, and instead of simply thanking me, he furrowed his brow and said, “Ms. Rip, will you be a real life teacher next year?”
“Yes, indeed,” I said.
He frowned, thought for a moment and then asked me to promise him something. “Well when you are a real teacher, apply to Central,” he said. “That way you could be my actual teacher before I graduate.”
Little moments like that remind me why I decided that teaching was a career I’d enjoy for the rest of my life. Although the thought of leaving student life behind me and taking on the role of a teacher is terrifying, I know that in time the challenge won’t seem so scary and that my unique liberal arts education has prepared me to be successful.
When I have a classroom of my own, I’ll see many yellow buses on the first day of school dropping students off, and I’ll remember that I’ve come a long way from hiding in my mom’s closet when the bus pulled up to my house. I’ll think of all of the relationships I’ve established in my journey to teaching with students, professors and classmates, and I’ll feel more ready than ever to begin a new adventure.