After nineteen years of teaching in a large suburban district of twenty elementary schools, I moved to a small rural district with two elementary schools last August. I had spent most of my previous teaching life with ten to twelve year-olds. During the three years just prior to my move I completed the course work for an administrative credential - the paper that would allow me to become a principal. I wanted to go to this new district to work with the principal of my new school, and to prepare to do an internship next year - the final step in completing my credential.
I spent last summer waiting for an opening to occur, and it did. Two weeks before the new year was to start. In third grade. If I hadn't been so sure that God had led me to this place, I might have hesitated at teaching children so young. I've always been a teacher who expected a lot of her kids, who ran a tight ship, who worked best with the high kids. Third graders are very tender and I was worried I might be too tough for them.
I said yes. And the tornado kicked in. In the amount of time I usually take to set up my room and plan for a year that is not too different from the year before, I applied for my job, waited, interviewed, waited, accepted my job, resigned from my old district, said goodbye, packed, moved, was oriented to my new district, set up my new room, attended inservice, smiled through open house and started school the week before Labor Day.
During one of those setting up days I found myself alone in my new room. The school is over 70 years old, so my room is huge by today's standards. From my battered old wooden desk with sticky drawers (which I love) I look across the room through a bank of windows that opens up the top half of one whole wall. My view is a sloping field that's part of our playground, and maple trees beyond that. As I reveled in the energy of this funky, spacious old room with its generous gift of light, I noticed a flock of crows flying by. For just an instant I thought I'd seen a flash of white on the wings of one of the crows. It could just as easily have been a trick of light, but I was intrigued. I accepted this bird as a sign - of what I wasn't sure yet. But it gave me a zing of energy and hope, and that was enough.
Throughout the year, I would see my crow occasionally. Always flying by my window quickly, so I would get no more than a glance. But more and more I believed he was special and truly white-winged.
The first part of the year was much more difficult than I anticipated. I was determined to be gentle and kind and serene with my new babies. Most days I managed that, but I was not prepared for how much energy it took to train them and to keep up with them and to stay calm. I missed my old school, my old friends, my old status with a homesickness similar to that of kids at camp for the first time. Everyone was pleasant enough at my new school, but I was the new kid and had to earn my place. My grade level team had a bad experience the year before so they left me to my own devices. My principal and I had been friends years before, but hadn't seen each other for almost a decade. And now she was my boss. I felt more alone than I had in years.
My white-winged crow, as it became more clear that the white was more than reflection, was a small comfort every time I saw him. He reminded me that miracles occur in the midst of day to day. He was evidence to me that it's possible to find magic in the most ordinary (or in my case difficult) of circumstances.
I started asking around about my crow. I was careful to ask people who had been identified as birders, but none of them had noticed such a bird.
So I asked my kids. They all, every one of them, swore they had seen my white-winged crow at one time or another. One of the most delightful (and most maddening) things I've discovered about third graders is their willingness to join a story wholeheartedly, whether they have actual experience in it or not. They want to have had the experience, and that's good enough for them. Their desire becomes reality instantly.
As the year progressed, I settled into the rhythm of my new life. I fell in love with third graders, and learned to let go of more control than I thought I still possessed. I began to make friends and to find kindred spirits on the staff and in my parents. I made some kids cry, but hugged them out of it, and made sure I got more sleep the next night. I learned how to make them laugh, and found myself belly-laughing with (sometimes at) them every day. I learned to trust their innocence and in the process began to rediscover my own. I discovered that just being was enough - I didn't have to prove myself.
I got glimpses of my crow frequently this spring. Enough to be certain that his wings do in fact contain white feathers. The wings look like the fancy dancing shoes certain men wear to make a statement of style.
Just a week ago I was standing in my doorway, calling my kids in from an extra recess. I was starting to miss them already - a gnawing ache that visits me every year at this time. Tears tickled the backs of my eyes as 25 bundles of pure life and energy bounded toward me like a pack of golden retriever puppies. I feel proud of participating in the tremendous growth they've accomplished in the last nine months. I feel sad for the kids I've missed the point of or not reached as deeply as they needed. I celebrate the connections we've made together and the fact that they really know they're the Best Third Grade. I wish I had their energy. I am so grateful to be their teacher.
Just as the last child went into the room (they always say best for last and hang back for the position), my white-winged crow swooped right across my line of sight up to the roof. I got a full look at both the top and under side of his wings. The white is real. He is real. The miracles of this year are real. I am real.