My feet hurt. I had been up since 5:30 that morning and it was now 6:30 in the evening and my feet hurt. As an elementary school art teacher I had taught a full day’s class load, which included three indoor recess sessions with hyper children because of the cold, snowy weather. And it was now Open House night.
I’ve been teaching for twenty years so I understood the good purpose of mid-term Open House. I usually would have been putting up student art work until the moment Open House started. But this year Open House night fell a week after a new rotation of art students joined my class. Brand new classes every 12 weeks. Because of weather closings I had seen these students for only four or five 30 minute class periods. We didn’t have finished art work to show. Most of my first few days is taken up with procedures and learning routines and rules.
So I was feeling a little off my game. But I was hiding my sense of irritation with not having a product to show and meeting and greeting the smattering of parents and students that came to my room. The main attraction at Open House is the Home Room. Fine Arts takes a secondary role, but an important one in my mind. But still my feet HURT. So I was mentally licking my wounds and feeling a little sorry for myself. “Nothing to show…What am I doing here?”, I thought.
I felt a soft tug on the back of my sweater. When I turned and looked down, I was surprised to see Angel (not her real name) one of my special education students. Small, slightly plump and with the endearing habit of ducking her chin and looking up at you with soft doe-brown eyes, Angel was no trouble. In fact, she was non-verbal in my class, preferring to intensely cover large sheets of manilla paper with her marker drawings and paintings in silence. Mainstreamed in a class of 24, I was often not focused on her activity, but had the sense that she was contented, accepted and productive. Those were my only goals for her.
So I was surprised to see her. And more surprised when her mother said, ” Angel insisted that I come to meet you. She didn’t want to go to a science or social studies class or anything until she came here. It is her favorite class.” I bent down to Angel and whispered ” Did you like drawing and painting in my class?” She ducked her head and looked steadily at me with her large eyes. “Yes.” she whispered.
It hit me with a soft, wet thud like a snowball in the chest that this was our longest conversation as teacher and student. And that my class was her favorite class and I never knew. And she had brought her mother to meet me. Suddenly my feet didn’t hurt any more.
I did feel humble and in awe of this little presence that I had underestimated. I realized that once again the student had taught the teacher.
Don’t worry Angel, I will not forget you.