Every Once in A While


This is the long haul in teaching. From the enthusiasm and excitement of the first day of school in late August until the Fall Break in November. More and more on weekends I turn to my husband,who is a retired teacher, and say, ” Listen.” He says, ” I know, no one is saying your name, asking a question, tugging on your  arm…it’s quiet.”  I smile. He understands.

But yesterday, something happened that shook me out of my ” Oh my gosh, what now…” mindset. A small quiet fifth-grader, a slender wisp of a boy, did something so grand…..

We were at recess playing a game called ” Steal the Bacon”. Two classes line up at either end of the gym and when their number is called two children from either side run up and try to grab the “Bacon” (a cloth bundled to look like a slab of bacon ) and run back to their side without being tagged.  All children are included in recess games, so several students that have special needs are in the line-ups.

Not once, but twice, this quiet young man was paired up against a special need’s child. Both times, he let the special need’s child win, in a moment that was not too obvious but full of understanding. Both classes in the game applauded, no complaining. It was one of those moments in teaching that happens every once in a while and takes your breath away with its compassion. And in this bitter election season it gives me hope for humanity.

I asked the quiet boy privately why he did what he did. He looked up at me and said,” My mom told me that if someone is like that, it is my job to take care of them, to let them win if they can and feel good.” Good job Mom. I told him I was proud of him and gave him a 200 club ticket, something we do to promote unsolicited acts of kindness. So in this long haul up to Thanksgiving I am thankful to teach a child like that, to experience those moments and learn from them.

Image Pixabay CC0 Public Domain




Ten Things I’m Thinking Before School Starts


If you are a teacher, your mind is running at warp speed right now. I end up talking to myself. So here I am writing those rambling thoughts down on paper to get them out of my head.

  1. Do First Things First – I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey and while I will never be that organized I still remember to make a list each day and prioritize. What to do first? Things that will help your students succeed and keep you sane. The rest will wait.
  2. Ask the Question – At the Scavenger Hunt to introduce our newly arriving fourth graders to a new building I met a lot of parents and a few siblings I’d had in my class previously. I jokingly asked a big sister if there was anything I needed to know about the little sister. The mother then told me a vital piece of health information that I really needed to know. I would have received that info later with other documentation, but now I know early. Ask the question. “Is there anything I need to know about your child?” You will be amazed at what they tell you.
  3. The Two Things Kids are Most Afraid of the First Day of School – 1) Am I in the right place? I’m a Fine Arts teacher so students come to me from their core room. 2) Will the teacher pronounce my name correctly? School can be an overwhelming place for many elementary school age students. Harry Wong’s great book The First Days of School always helps me remember that. Check their schedule at the door and ask them how to say their name – takes care of Number 1 and 2. Put your name and your class someplace big and visible. Introduce yourself.
  4. Tell them. Practice. Make them tell you. – Imagine a little marquee running across each child’s forehead. It says, “What do you want me to do?” Answer that question. Make sure they understood by having them show you and tell you. Routines are your friend.
  5. Negative People are Energy-Sappers-Stay away from them. And don’t be one. Enough said.
  6. Have Patience and Compassion – Adults and children have reasons for what they do. Very often you don’t know the whole story. See number 2.
  7. Treat the Secretaries and Janitors with Respect – They run the building and can save your life in a myriad of ways. Besides it’s just the right thing to do with anyone.
  8. Teaching is a service industry. – You are there to serve a lot of customers. The students. The school administration. The parents. The community. Serve. That’s what they pay you for.
  9. Communicate – Talk to your coworkers and principals. Tell them what you are doing. Ask them what they are doing. They cannot read your mind and they are just as busy as you are. Listen more than you talk.
  10. Have Balance – Every day know that you did the best you could and that you now need to leave the worries and work at school. The people waiting for you at home deserve your best too. You will not be any good to them if you are exhausted or not mentally there. Be healthy. Do something for yourself every day. Sleep. Laugh. Work with a happy heart.

Humpty Dumpty Art

4h dIn searching for good projects for my special education students I came across this little gem on Pinterest. This combines a classic children’s poem, Humpty Dumpty, puzzles, a first-aid message and a little coloring to boot. A winner and they loved it.

  1. We talked about and recited the poem.
  2. I had an example puzzle that I put together in front of the four students involved.
  3. I had their Humpty drawn and cut apart with their name on the back. Their task was to put Humpty together, add a little TLC in the way of two Band-Aids  per egg (plus a little clear tape) and then coloring the figure as they wished.IMG_0268IMG_0269


Aching Feet and Angels


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.