"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

Sunday, September 1, 2013


In the later days of August, as we sat on the patio absorbing the heat and ease of summer, we were often visited by juncoes just fledged and finding their way in the world for the first time. The newest fledglings were nearly unrecognizable as juncoes with their gray and brown tufts—more sparrow-looking than anything. I was only ever certain it was a junco I was seeing when it flew, because even from the beginning the white tail laterals were present.

Last week on Tuesday I welcomed twenty-three fledglings of the human variety into my room and my heart. Then on Thursday by the end of the day, seventy-eight more had landed in my classroom as awkwardly and exuberantly as any baby bird just out of the nest. We're doing rotations this year, which means I'm teaching writing and only writing to the entire fifth grade.

One hundred or so ten-year-olds. Not quite the people they came here to be. Still holding the roundness and fluff of babyhood, but with wings that work. Like mother juncoes knowing their fledglings need help finding food, the adults in these kids' lives still provide varying degrees of support as they move out into the world. Like beings everywhere with a newly discovered ability to fly, the kids flap and flutter with varying degrees of effectiveness.

When I watch a baby junco peck around in the grass or hit the jackpot with a fuschia berry, all the wonders of childhood are present in those new discoveries. And everything that he will ever be is present in that tiny body.

That's the thing I love the most about being a teacher. The deepest privilege of my profession. Each child comes to me only partially formed, and I get to see all of the potential of what they might be. Just as I know that adult juncoes are beautifully, crisply uniform with gray-black heads, buff underparts and darker backs, I see in each child the possibility of a best, pure, completely expressed person.

So many already have obstacles that threaten to ground them before they've even cleared the trees, let alone finding the whole width of the sky. Labels and life circumstances that have the potential to prevent the full expression of their being: ADHD, ODD, BD, IEP, 504; parents in jail, siblings lost to suicide, poverty, severe allergies, days that start with shame and beatings and no clean clothes to wear.

Before I ever meet the kids I see paperwork, hear stories, occasionally see pictures. None of those things come close to matching the people I meet. And while it's helpful to have the other information, to know what might be hindering flight so I can work around those obstacles, what matters more to me is the vision I get of who that child could be.

I know from my own life that childhood circumstance isn't the final word on how much potential can be fulfilled. And so I believe in the possibility of complete dream fulfillment for each of those not-quite-formed people who will be writing with me this year. Even knowing that not all of them will soar into the world on strong wings, for this one year I can give them a space where all things are possible and offer tools they can use to build lives where they have access to the whole wide sky.


DJan said...

I mean this from the bottom of my heart: they are so fortunate to have a mentor like you at this time in their lives, Deb. Although you cannot save each little fledgling, you will save some. It's a wonderful post, thank you for starting my Sunday with your message of love.

Barb said...

Hi Deb, Two of my Grands are in 5th this year - it's a wonderful age. I'm glad that you don't depend on the labels to define your students or mold your expectations of them. I, too, rose above what was expected - partly because of a couple wonderful teachers. Good Luck this year. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Deb, this is such a beautiful post. I admire your way of seeing your students. I know that it opens you to greater disappointment and exhaustion, but also, I'm sure, to great rewards. I wish you all the positive energy you need to inspire and sustain your kids and yourself.

yaya said...

I loved writing and I always enjoyed my English teachers..how I wish I had a class just devoted to writing! Your students are very lucky to have you and I can sense you're going to enjoy this year. I can't wait to see the final chapter of your 5th grade class in the Spring.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Aww a new year, fresh minds and love to go around. Good luck and may you receive many blessings--oh and keep your sanity. :)

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Your love for the growth of possibilities in your students comes across very professionally.
Having that many students during each day in such an important subject must be very challenging. They are still do young for rotation. It will be quite a challenge to reach each little soul but you seem up for it. Bless you.

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

As I raise my 4-yr-old grandson and read YA books for really the first time in my life, it's a challenge to differentiate between grade levels and to understand what children like to read. It's a new challenge for me. It's sort of like I'm in grade school again, trying to spread my wings. We'll see how it goes.

Terri Tiffany said...

How wonderful that you get to teach them writing!! Oh you will make such a huge difference in their lives and be a huge blessing! Wish I had someone who writes like you do to have taught me so many years ago.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, I'm glad to learn that you will be teaching writing. You're such an exceptional writer yourself and such a fine teacher that I'm sure you'll bring out from the children the stories that lie deep down within them and within their imaginations.

And just as they expand your world, so will you expand theirs as you help them see that the seed of being is within each of them and is realized leaf by leaf in the choices they make. Have a wonderful year as you live in the grace of their being and yours. Peace.

Gammary said...

took at long overdue look at your blog. I am so glad to see you are teaching writing and only writing. What a lucky bunch of fifth graders. I hope you grow with them...
love, Mary

Gammary said...

not sure of previously posted comments happened... I am so glad you are teaching writing and only writing. A lucky bunch of fifth graders and one lucky teacher to have such a resource of youth and creativity. Have a great year.