Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reminders of what is Important in the Classroom

“It’s like a visit to the Pope.”  - Chris Sokolowski

Friday night I stood with my husband, Chris, against a chain link fence as we watched our high school football team play their Homecoming game. The entire day had made me smile. I have lived in this small town in central Illinois for most of my life. I did leave and move to Chicago for a few years, but then returned when we knew we wanted to have a family. The entire day was made up with moments that are woven into my own memories of growing up.

Homecoming week is a week filled with anticipation. In high school you are focused on the parade, the game, the dance. In grade school you are more concerned with what you are wearing for Spirit Week and the parade (CANDY!) at the end of the week. My student cracked me up with their wardrobes all week, from supporting their favorite team, to hat day, to wacky tacky/ crazy clothes (and hair!), to a day where they dressed up, it was highly entertaining.

It is Friday that I feel the real excitement. We head out to the parade around 12:30. The parade comes by with the band, the football players riding on fire trucks, all the different sports teams in various pick up trucks, the FFA on their awesome Charlotte’s Web float with their horse escorts, and then former classes in for their class reunions. The kids cheer, shout when they see people they know, and then scream with glee as candy is shot at them.

And then, it’s game time. We are undefeated this year and the games have been packed. Spectators filled the stands with people also standing against the fence, as we were. My own children were part of the mass of kids running around, pausing every once in awhile to see what the score is, but engaging in the social aspect of football games at the elementary age. And as Chris and I stood and watched the game, old friends from high school came up to say hi – in for reunions or just to visit, it was great to see so many people. Often our conversations would be interrupted briefly as a pair of arms would wind their way around my stomach and I’d greet a student I hadn’t seen in anywhere from one to five years. As I returned hugs titles would be whispered of what they were reading, shared without being asked. I’d exclaim over those books I knew, ask about those I didn’t. At one point when during one conversation I was pulled away several times to greet a former student I heard Chris laugh with a friend that it was always like this, that it was as if they were coming to visit the Pope. I turned back to them, laughing.

Last night I finished our crazy weekend at a wedding for a cousin. As he and his beautiful bride were talking to the crowd, I turned to Chris and asked if he felt time was flying. I clearly remember Will when he was little – babysitting at their house, trips to Disney. Watching the slide show of photos of the couple as they grew up was like being transported through time. It seems like time is only going to continue to speed up. And as we jumped and danced for hours at the end of the night, I spun around to face the person behind me, who was a student from my third year in Monticello. We both shouted with recognition and I asked where he was now.  When he said he was a junior in college, I laughed and told him how old he made me feel. We talked, shouted, for a few minutes. He reminded me of an old joke we had always shared in fourth grade, and then he gave me a hug and we parted.

I love small towns. I love seeing my students grow up before my eyes. I’m glad that as crazy as I feel the year often is – as rushed as it always seems to be – I know the relationships are ones that last. Those relationships are the ones that help me to get the students to grow as readers and writers in our year together. I know they are there because I feel those relationships in the hugs, words, smiles, and stories when I see students one year later, or ten. This weekend was an excellent reminder to me of what is truly important in my classroom, and I’m grateful for that.

If you’d like to see what Homecoming looks like for us, click on the video below.