"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Friday, June 14, 2013

Every Teacher's Dream

We sat at the table at the side of my classroom, two women of an age, watching a young man teaching a math lesson to my students. She was his supervisor. He was student teaching in another fifth grade room and had needed for her to see a lesson at that particular time and my kids were available while his were not.

I liked her right away. Friendly, but not too; respectful; interested and curious and clearly into kids. As we watched her charge explain division of decimals to my charges she whispered in an aside how well-behaved the class was. I sort-of-jokingly responded that they should be since it was May. Then I added what I always do when anyone notices, "This is such a great group of kids. I always seem to get the best ones. I really love every one of them."

The words she said next, with an understanding smile, have stayed with me: "That's every teacher's dream."

Because this is the class that had been every teacher's nightmare in the past. The one I wrote about at the beginning of the year, for which I believed the only way to success was with the help of Someone with more of everything than I possess.

And in spite the dire warnings from previous years, in spite of a principal who seemed determined to clip my wings at every turn despite my attempts to stay off her radar, in spite of countless days of forgotten medication (theirs, not mine) and the accompanying chaos, in spite of my being out for weeks late last fall—in spite of all of that and more, this was the best year of my teaching career.

As I pondered whether I would really classify this class as every teacher's dream, I realized that it all depends what the dream is.

If the dream is an easy year with bright, motivated, well-parented kids who are eager to learn, eager to please and easy to love, and whose test scores will make everyone smile—well that was not this year or this class. I have had classes like that, and remember them fondly, sometimes with nostalgic longing, but I suspect I'm not remembering the challenges at all.

If the dream is a year where everyone, including the teacher, grows far beyond previously understood possibilities; where at the end love is palpable and easy; where regrets are few—that was this year with this group of kids. Given the choice, I would never have chosen this combination of personalities and needs. But given the class and the circumstances, and my decision to accept the whole package with as much grace and love as I could, I am as grateful for this unchosen experience as I would be for any chosen dream coming true.

Wednesday was our last day. Yesterday they came to my house for one last afternoon of celebration. Seventeen of the twenty-five were there eating hotdogs and ice cream, running around in the rain shooting each other with squirt-guns, playing with Toby, meeting Bunkie (Alex hid), and talking nonstop. To each other. To me. To Walt. And laughing. There was so much laughter. Who knew that one girl with a whoopie cushion could be so funny? Or that squirts of whipped cream into baby-bird mouths could be so hilarious?

We ended the day with a walk to the park. My walk. To my park. With a handful of kids I learned whole new universes about love with. As they spread out in front of me in twos and threes, frolicking like puppies let loose for the first time, one girl held back and asked about the trail of hearts. I'd told the class that story the Monday after I discovered the hearts for the first time. And I told them when the hearts vanished. We shared the joy of my discovery and the disappointment of their disappearance together.

I reminded her that the hearts were gone, and showed her a tree trunk where one might have been. She pointed to the tree just ahead of us and said, "They're not all gone. There's one right there." And there it was, tucked in tightly, almost invisible, a lingering bit of evidence, and one final gift of the day. This teacher's dream come true.



17 comments:

Linda Myers said...

What a beautiful post, Deb. You must be a gifted, blessed teacher and woman.

Well, of course!

patricia said...

I love you and I love this post and I love so much how far we've both come this year. Hugs, my friend. I love your park too. =)

Barb said...

Hello Deb, So glad to hear that your school year ended on such a positive note. Sometimes, I have to remind myself not to have so many expectations or preconceived ideas and just find satisfaction in the doing and in the outcome. You seem to have done just that with this group of kids - proving that "a teacher's dream" is relative. What is one person's dream might be another's nightmare! These children will remember you and your big heart all their lives. Have a good rest! You deserve it.

DJan said...

This post made me cry, good tears, those tears that come when you realize that your heart just grew another size or two. I raise my coffee cup to you, to your class, and to the wonderful heart inside you. Oh, and to your new hip! :-)

Retired English Teacher said...

This post caused me smile in remembrance of "those" classes, while also having chills run up my spine when I read the ending. You are such a gifted teacher. Those children that seemed so difficult in the beginning of the year all must have benefited in huge ways from being a part of the process of growth that you all had. I don't think they will ever forget you, your giftedness, your love, your story of the hearts, and the heart that was hidden in the tree. This hidden heart is truly a metaphor for your year. Hugs to you. Enjoy your summer.

Linda Reeder said...

How is it that the ones you love the most are often the ones that were the most challenging. It must be the investment you have in each other through those nine months.
Reading your posts I can tell that you are a woman of rare talent and great heart.

JKS said...

I am on the brink of deciding whether to leave higher education for middle school-secondary teaching. Your inspirational post may have come at exactly the right time :-)

Jerri said...

The beauty of your writing and this story brought tears to my eyes.

Your gifts are magnificent, Deb. On so many levels.

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh wow. As I read this I kept thinking you need to write a book--about this year--about how you learned through this year and so did the children. This ending is perfect.

Stacy Crawford said...

I agree Deb, the tougher the bunch of kids the more you grow to love them. I've had that class, several times. I did not have that class this year, I had the more talented with higher scores they each have their advantages. I hope you enjoy your summer.

yaya said...

What a wonderful post..the best I've read about teaching. It should be given to every new teacher out there. Love can cure a multitude of ills and I bet your students felt that love from day one to the heart at the end of school year trail.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, today I read your posting about the last day of the school year and the class that gave you the gift of peace--or so it seems to me. I also read "Trail of Hearts." So much is coming together for you--so much merging of your life experiences into a whole that is a blessing from and on the Universe and on all of us who are One with you--the children, your readers, and your inner spirit. Peace.

Katie Gates said...

Once again, your lyrical writing brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Mark Lyons said...

This made me cry. It is a beautifully written reminder to all of us that sometimes the greatest joys we have in life are found in the least expected places. Those 25 kids were blessed with THE best teacher they could have possibly hoped for. They will remember this year... AND their incredible teacher for years to come.

I love you
Mark

Sandi said...

Lovely, lovely tribute to your lovable class from their loving teacher! I remember well our talks in September . . . and throughout the course of this year. Neither of us had what others would consider "dream classes". I ended my year in tears, as spoke to the families at our promotion, truly changed by those unmedicated, misunderstood, "substitute nightmare" kids! While every years there are some who linger in our memories long after they have moved on, this year it was the entire class. Lots of laughter, often through tears, will hold them close to my heart. Thanks for expressing so beautifully why we are teachers. Love you!

deborahjbarker said...

Ah, how delightful Deb and for the little girl who noticed the hidden heart - something to remember. Sometimes it is indeed the struggle and the challenges that make us realise how lucky we are and bring us all closer together. Your year group have certainly given you pleasure despite the challenges.
I await the birth of my fourth grandchild as I write, having just come out of hospital after planned surgery. As I face 6 weeks of enforced rest, I am set new challenges but am determined to enjoy every minute!

Laura said...

love that heart!!!