"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.