The children were running and playing energetically on the first hot day of spring. Beads of sweat were dripping from the foreheads of a few. The ongoing discussion in the line at the drinking fountain was, of course, the heat. Seven year old Jacob spoke up, his deep voice booming. “It’s not the heat,” he explained. “It’s the humanity.”
Kalista visited the class in anticipation of her first grade year.
Upon return from recess, another child came to me and reported that Kalista’s pocket contained a slug. I looked at her tiny short-short denims and asked her, “A real one?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Can I see it?” She opened the tiny pocket and I could only see darkness. I proceeded with my questioning.
“Do you have slug food in there for your slug?”
“Do you have water in there for your slug?”
“Do you have earth in there for your slug?”
“Do you think your slug is happy?”
“No. Maybe I should put it back under the tree,” she replied.
Still not convinced, I asked to see said slug. She reached her little hand into the tiny pocket and retrieved a baby slug.
I can truly say that no two days in my job are alike.
Six year old Chung-Mo was taking a reading comprehension test. The instructions were to read all the sentences and mark the absurd sentence or the one that “couldn’t happen.”
1. Marie and her friend took good care of her goldfish.
2. They worked together to feed it and keep its water clean.
3. “We have fun together,” Marie told her friend.
4. “I wish I had a friend,” said the goldfish to himself.
Marking number four, he mumbled, “This couldn’t be true! He already has a friend!”
I had the privilege of knowing a young and courageous family with whom I will always feel a tremendous amount of respect. Each member of this family touched my heart greatly.
I met them when their son entered first grade in my class. A few months before, they had lost a baby girl. She went to the hospital with what appeared to be a cold, made progress, and on the day she was to come home, she died.
Not long into the year, Daniel’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was going through the ill affects of radiation and spending more and more time in bed. One day Daniel came home from school and sat on her bed. “Mom,” he said, “You have cancer, right? Did you know that you can die from that?” “Yes,” she responded softly. Daniel buried himself in his mother’s arms. He cried quietly, not wanting to upset her. After awhile, his mom resumed the conversation. “Daniel, you know there are lots of ways to die, most of them unexpectedly. After all, no one knows when they cross the street if they will make it across safely, but that is life. We just don’t know what life has in store for us.”
Daniel took her words quite literally. “Mom, I was going to go to the park to play today, but you are right. It’s dangerous out there. I’m not going anywhere.”
Daniel sat on the bed. His mom said nothing. They sat in silence for a long time. Boredom and restlessness appeared on Daniel’s face. “Mom,” he said, “this is no fun.” “You are right, Daniel. You know, we have a choice here. We can live life and take our chances or we can just sit and wait to die.” “Let’s live life, Mom,” Daniel responded. “I’ll take my chances at the park and you read your book. See you later.”
So often we think that formal education is what counts, yet each moment offered to us is an opportunity to give or receive a lesson. I remember becoming conscious of this truth one day as I stood outside school after hours keeping company with a child who was waiting for his mom to pick him up. In the building nearby, people were busy preparing food in the “soup kitchen,” an offering to people in need of a meal. Our presence was noticed by a young man peering out of the window. Although he appeared to have some handicaps, he in no way lacked heart. He bounded out of the door like a St. Bernard puppy. He approached us, grinning from ear to ear. “Hi,” he said. “My name is Mike.”
He readily extended his hand to me. As our hands met in hearty handshake, I noticed Cory’s grimaced face. When Mike returned to the kitchen, Cory looked at me. “Didn’t you know his hands were greasy from his fried chicken?” “Yes,” I said. He looked at me with profound intensity, searching my face for a clue. This didn’t make sense to him. “Cory,” I responded, “he was extending his heart to me. I can always wash my hand, but I could never make it up to him if my heart didn’t meet him half way.” He looked at me, slowly nodding. A look of understanding registered. Judging by the expression on Cory’s face, that made perfect sense.
The volunteer from the natural history museum arrived to give a presentation to the children. She thought that she would be speaking with fourth and fifth graders. As she entered the room and saw a mixture of children in grades one through five, she turned to me and said with a measurable level of irritation. “Those little ones aren’t going to understand much of what I say.”
“I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” I responded.
A ways into her presentation she mentioned cells. She skirted the topic having been influenced by her preconceived idea that young children wouldn’t understand or have an interest. The hand of a first grader appeared. She called on him. “Excuse me,” he said politely, “but in what part of the body is this cell located?”
There was a first grader whose mother had spoken to me on several occasions about her concerns for her child going off to camp without her mother or father. During the first couple of days, I watched her at every opportunity to see how she was doing. She appeared to be having a wonderful time.
On the third day, I hiked alongside her. I asked what she thought of the trip. She rambled on about all the things she’d seen and done. She’d obviously rate this as a ‘10’ on the trip scale.
I said to her, “I’m so glad you came, Sarah. Your mom said she thought you’d get homesick and need to leave, but here you are, having a great time.”
“Oh,” she smiled sheepishly, “I just let her think those things. She always reacts when I say things like that. It’s kind of fun to watch her.”
One of the teachers had surgery on her leg which included a skin graft. In response to the inquiring minds of elementary children, she volunteered a look-see of the surgical site. As she removed the bandage, the pinkish skin appeared. “Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Matt. “They put the skin on inside out!”
One morning as the children entered the classroom, some rather hairy legs were noticed gliding across the floor. This multi-legged creature seemed oblivious to the commotion it had created. “A tarantula!” someone shrieked. “Oh the poor fella is out of his natural habitat,” said a more compassionate soul. “Let’s help to get him outside.”
They got a couple of dustpans to create barriers so that the tarantula’s only movement was in the direction of the outside door. They gently coaxed him, assuring him that his needs would be best met out of doors, perhaps on the playground.
On hands and knees, they patiently escorted him to the door. Quite a crowd had gathered by now. As the door swung open and the voices of children were heard on the playground, they were joined by Rainbow, our resident peacock.
As the tarantula stepped over the threshold and onto the cement, curious Rainbow stepped forward. And with one fell swoop, he gulped down that tarantula!
“I led him straight to his death!” bemoaned his temporary care giver.
The monthly science magazine did an article on the human eye which included an eye chart. A few students cut out the chart, carefully measured the distance between the wall where they hung it and the spot they marked off for a fellow students to stand and take the eye exam. After several children had taken the exam, Corbin invited me to have my eyes tested. I aced the letter part of the exam. Next were the numbers. I misread the symbol for number nine. After I left the scene, Corbin went over to his pals. “Hey, you guys,” he said, Lael only missed one. That’s really good.” They looked at him somewhat perplexed. “We didn’t miss any,” a child responded. “Yay, I know but Lael is old. Forty is old, and you know, the eyes are the first to go!” I think that we should be proud that our teacher can see so well.”