Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Good Reminder

I am certain I’ve written about seeing Nancie Atwell speak before, although I can’t put my finger on that entry right now. To sum up, back in 2008, I believe, I had the opportunity to attend a Heinemann professional development seminar with Atwell in Chicago. As I sat in the audience she discussed the importance of relationships with our students. She talked of opening ourselves up to them, sharing our interests, our passions, our faults, our fears. It seems that she believed that when our students know us well, they will let us know them in return. It is then that we can really begin teaching. 

I clearly remember sitting in the audience, thinking of my students, and wondering how well they knew me. From that moment on, I began sharing more than ever. While I was close to my students before, it was nothing like how I grew to know my students after. I was amazed by how much they opened up, how difficult students became more manageable, how I connected with parents as a result of knowing their kids.

On Friday we wrapped up the first semester with my class and prepared for our holiday break. We’ve been together as a classroom family for eighty-three days thus far with ninety-two ahead of us, almost halfway through our time together. Friday began with conversation. One boy met me in front of our building, arms laden down with a heavy load of treats and gifts. I grabbed a box of cupcakes from his mom and we headed upstairs to drop off his packages. Upon entering the classroom, he handed me a gift – a brown bag with a drawing of a tree on it. He grinned at me saying, “Do you get it?”

“Thalia?” I asked. We have a tree that stands on the wall of our classroom each day of the year. A skinny Christmas tree gifted to me from a teacher when she retired. I leave it up year round and introduce the students to her when they first come in August. She is Thalia and protects our classroom boarder, just as she protects Camp Half-Blood’s border in The Lighting Thief.

“Look at the bottom,” he said. He had drawn a circle of pink around there. Our Thalia is encircled by a pink boa, left over from our Tea Party Rules Skype visit with Ame Dyckman. Hayden in my class had taken it when we were done and put it around Thalia’s base, announcing that it was there to resemble the dragon that protects her.

I grinned up at my student and then opened his gift. Caramel corn was on top, but he encouraged me to look below. There was a bag of Starbucks coffee. I pulled it out, smiling.

Smiling back he said, “I know your dream school has a Starbucks in it, but this way you can have it now in the mornings. There’s also a coupon attached for you to get a drink next time you’re running errands in Champaign.”

He quickly wrapped his arms around me tightly, squeezing, and whispered Merry Christmas before rushing out the door to morning recess. I was glad he had fled; the tears were now running down my face.

I didn’t see this kiddo smile much last year. This year he is kind, caring, and I absolutely adore him. Not just him, I love them all. Looking over things they brought me, or drew for me, or shared with me on Friday, I realized how well they know me. Starbucks, M&Ms, books, their artwork, hugs, words. They know what I like. Looking over their faces, I know them too. This is the good stuff, the best part of teaching, these people I get to spend my days with. Friday was an excellent reminder of why I do what I do.


Right before lunch I said to them, “Huddle up in position around the couch. One last picture for 2013.” I turned around to grab my camera from behind me on the counter, spun around on my blue stool and was faced with this.

 I look at these twenty-five faces and see so much more. Stories they’ve shared, written about, whispered when they are too hard to speak. I see laughter, jokes, comics, book shared. Ninety-two days doesn’t seem like very much time left with these people. Not enough time at all.