Priscilla Parker walked into the empty classroom long before the first warning bell rang. It was her first job in a long, long time and she was nervous. As she rubbed her age-spotted, arthritic hands, she looked over the space.
Desks were in disarray, books were on the floor and a big blob of brown something was smeared across a pull-down map leaning against the wide expanse of dirty chalkboard.
Taking a deep breath, she thought of the last time she had a regular job. She was fresh out of college. She hadn't married Alvin yet. She hadn't had a family yet.
The wrinkles around Priscilla's mouth deepened as she frowned. The children were all grown up; Alvin was gone. The position was substitute only but she needed to take care of herself, she didn't have much left.
Receiving the phone call from the school district the day before, the woman thought she would have a panic attack. Could she sub for the regular teacher, Mrs. Rickert for the last two months of the calendar year? She had developed some complications with her pregnancy and decided it was best to take a leave of absence. Did she feel comfortable teaching World Geography to junior high students?
She wanted to say no. She wanted to say she had changed her mind. She wanted to crawl back under the blankets and hide from the world. She wanted her husband to be alive again. She wanted to not struggle. She wanted her normal, regular, routine life back.
As Priscilla sat in the swivel chair meant for the teacher, she thumbed through the day's lesson plan. She could do this, couldn't she? Doubt filled her mind. Adjusting her glasses and smoothing back her wiry, blue-gray hair, she saw the yellow sticky note clinging to the pencil holder on the desk.
RELAX. HAVE FUN!
The note was simple yet demanding. Was it an order? Was it meant for her? Upon closer inspection, Priscilla noticed it was curling on the ends and what looked to be a small coffee stain was in the top right corner. She was sure the words had been there for quite some time.
"Relax. Have fun," she whispered aloud.
The bell rang and groups of chattering teenagers began to file in. Once they noticed the substitute they ignored her, laughing, giggling amongst themselves.
Suddenly, a paper plane zoomed through the air, landing on a desk in the middle of the room.
"Who the heck threw this?" A young boy with a buzz haircut, a leather jacket and a crooked front tooth yelled over the din. He stood, his rugged look daring the perpetrator to confess.
"That would be me," Priscilla Parker announced as she adjusted her glasses again.
The teens looked at her with blank stares; a few girls on the back row tittered rebelliously.
"This is World Geography, correct?" Priscilla prompted.
"Yeah, so?" the boy with the leather jacket shot back.
"I would like everyone to take a blank piece of paper and write down all the places in the world that you would love to visit one day and then fold that paper into a plane." The teacher waited.
Each boy and each girl looked at one another in confusion; some began to shrug, some began to smile. Eventually, everyone began to write.
"Now, when you've finished, line up and follow me." Priscilla led the youngsters, books and paper planes in hand, down the long corridor and out into the bright sunshine. A slight breeze was blowing.
"Now, take that list and fling your plane as high and as far as you can." She waved her arm in a wide arc.
Again, the confused faces emerged but, one by one, the boys and girls did as instructed. Most of the planes caught the soft breeze and sailed on and on and on, becoming tiny white specks against the blue sky.
"You each have your whole lives ahead of you," Priscilla Parker explained, "and with knowledge and tenacity you can go anywhere in the world." She smoothed down her light green blouse and rubbed her fingers. "Like a paper airplane, life can have twists and turns and do things we never expected but if we relax, have fun and hang on it can be the best ride ever."
Excited murmurs emanated throughout the young crowd as they continued to look toward the clouds, hoping to catch a glimpse of their handiwork.
For the next half hour, Priscilla led a discussion on their hopes, dreams and potential destinations. She had captured their attention; their hearts.
As class dismissed and the kids returned to the building, the young man with the leather jacket realized he still held his new teacher's paper plane. He wondered what she had written. Where in this big wide world did Mrs. Parker want to go?
As he unfolded the plane, he read aloud: "I want to see the world through the eyes of my students." He re-folded the paper and shoved it into his pocket. "Cool," he exclaimed and shuffled into the school with a spirited smile.