I still remember the first time a student said “Yes Ma’am” to me. It was my first year of teaching in Alabama. I was 21 years old. And my initial thought was, I am not old enough to be a “ma’am”. I almost told my students not to call me ma’am that year. I am surely glad I did not choose to do that. I would have certainly heard from their parents.
Teaching in the South as a Northerner is like accidentally putting your shoes on the wrong feet; it feels like something is different, but you cannot quite figure out what. It felt weird to be a ma’am. It felt even stranger to listen to the strong Southern accents and start to develop a twang of my own. I am still not sure if I will ever be used to the saying “bless their heart”.
But I am used to the South. And I am definitely used to teaching kids in the South. And boy, am I going to miss it. I will miss hearing yes ma’am every day. I will miss the smocked outfits on the kindergarten kids, the polite and thoughtful thank you notes from their parents, and the amusing Southern sayings I would hear at parent-teacher conferences.
Southern hospitality is the 2nd life lesson I will remember from my students. Being friendly and thoughtful is a way of life down here. Today alone I received a sweet, southern inspired present from a colleague and spoke with parents who are continuously saying thank you for teaching their children. I had sweet students give me hugs and we talked about how much we are going to miss each other. Southern hospitality at its best.
I am not sure whether Owen will be raised in the South. Whether he is or not, he will be taught to say “Yes ma’am”. I hope to lead by example and show him the thoughtful, southern hospitable ways. This is not to say that Northerners are not hospitable, thoughtful or friendly. I can assure you they are. But there is something special about a little kid in a monogram outfit responding with “yes ma’am” to every question asked.
I am thankful to be a part of this culture. I look forward to continuing to learn from it and grow with it. I also look forward to continuing to teach my Southern friends some Northern ways of my own. But for now, I will continue to put my child in smocked and monogram outfits and say “yes ma’am” when asked a question. And maybe one day, you may even hear me say “bless their little heart”.