K is for Kindergarten Teachers: The True Heroes of the Education System.

***Note: This is a re-print of a post I wrote in 2014. I re-printed it for the benefit of an American writer-buddy of mine who was lamenting about his first born child starting Kindergarten and whether or not he, as Dad, was emotionally ready for it all. I still believe every word of this post to be absolutely true!

When our eldest daughter went to school for the very first time, I was not able to go because I was a teacher and it was the first day of classes for the students at my school. However, my wife was able to attend.  Our daughter’s school is a small school, in a quiet community, nestled among a grove of oak trees. It is idyllic in many respects.  The school has, as one of its’ mandates, developed a high sense of community among all students and families and, as such, when you attend this school you, automatically, acquire an extended social network of educators and parents.   So, as my wife and daughter left their car and walked on to the playground of the school prior to the entry bell ringing, they did so in the company of almost one hundred other moms and dads and grand-parents.  The sun was shining that day. The grass was green, the school yard lush.  There was an air of excitement as older students re-connected with friends that they hadn’t seen since starting their summer vacation.  Parents chatted amicably. Teachers mingled with the crowd, greeting new students and former students, alike. 

Then the bell rang.   

The older students immediately sprinted toward the places where they were to line up to enter the school. My daughter took my wife by the hand and, together, they walked toward the spot where the Kindergarten children were to meet.  And, as they walked, my wife began to sob!

Our first born, our first-loved, our baby, was going off on her own and leaving us behind and it pulled on every heart string that my wife had within her.   A few of the other Moms, the ones who were used to the first-day-of-school routine, came over to console her.  Even my daughter’s teacher came over to let her know that everything was going to be ok and that our daughter was going to be safe with her.  In fact, she even called our house at lunch time to see if my wife had recovered from the emotion of the morning!   It is funny what a difference a small gesture like that can make.  When we stop and realize the humanity involved in this enterprise of educating children, it causes us to appreciate the humane treatment with which children (and, in some cases, parents) are accorded every day by their teachers and vice versa.  At the end of the day, how we treat each other is a measure of the calibre of our society.  When such treatment is built upon a foundation of dignity, patience and mutual respect then, everyone benefits.

So, as I think about my new friend going to meet his daughter’s Kindergarten teacher for the first time, I want to reassure him that she is walking into the next phase of her life in the care of an educational superhero!  For that is what Kindergarten teachers truly are!  They are miracle workers of the highest order.   In order to help you appreciate this, consider this:

My youngest daughter is four years old.  She is a lovely, beautiful, creative child and she is loved unconditionally by my wife and I. However, and it is a big however, she is far more work than her

older sister ever thought about being!  She is the child who gets tucked into bed at night and then, immediately starts singing at the top of her lungs, “Let it go!  Let it go!  Can’t hold me back anymore!!!!!”   When we are rushing to get dressed and out the door in the morning, she is one who routinely goes boneless and flops on the floor, seemingly paralyzed with the inability to put on her own socks!   She is her older sister’s tormentor during periods of quiet contemplation.  She touches things that aren’t hers, leaves trails of debris scattered throughout the house and she is just… just, beginning to master going to the potty on her own.  

So, just imagine if, instead of rushing out through the door in the morning that, instead, twenty-five parents knocked on our door and dropped off twenty-five other four year olds just like our own!!!

Twenty-five kids; some of whom would be crying for their Mommas, some of whom were not toilet-trained at all, some who were coked to the gills on sugar, some who were painfully shy, some who wanted to fight and some….well, most, who wanted your undivided attention at all times!   That’s what Kindergarten teachers face on a daily basis.   

So, to me, it makes what my oldest daughter’s Kindergarten teacher did on that first day of school, all the more remarkable.  When faced with twenty-five wild cards. Twenty-five ants at a picnic, my daughter’s teacher still had the werewithal to make a phone call to my house during her lunch break to check on my wife!  That act rocks my world!  

To me, as a teacher, I see how these Kindergarten teachers take, what appears to be uncontrollable chaos and, then, slowly, begin a process of transformation that renders, by way of artistic comparision, what I do in my classroom as simply being paint-by-numbers.  Through boatloads of heart, patience, skill and, a little bit of hocus-pocus, Kindergarten children begin learning how to sit quietly and listen, they learn how to tidy up and put things back where they belong, they learn to share and take turns and walk on marshmallow feet, in a straight line, when they move from the classroom to the Gym or to the Library.  In short, Kindergarten children turn into students.  That transformation from the first day of school, when they are akin to a bag of cats; to the end of Kindergarten, when the students are, well, students, as we envision students to be is, without a doubt, one of the most important and miraculous feats that occurs throughout the breadth and width of the entire education system!!!   For this, Kindergarten teachers have my undying respect.  They are my educational superheroes, too.

So, my friend, take heart, your daughter couldn’t be in better hands than she is with her Kindergarten teacher.  Cry, if so moved. You won’t be the only one, I can assure you of that.  And, maybe, just maybe, you will get a phone call at home, too.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

I will close by offering up a poem that was written by Robert Fulghum called, All I Really Need To Know I’ve Learned in Kindergarten.   This poem is famous in educational circles and acts as a prayer for all of us who teach but, especially, those who teach first.  It goes a little like this:

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned: 

  • Share everything. 
  • Play fair. 
  • Don’t hit people. 
  • Put things back where you found them. 
  • Clean up your own mess. 
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. 
  • Wash your hands before you eat. 
  • Flush. 
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 
  • Take a nap every afternoon. 
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. 
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. 
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. 
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK. 

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

A Kindergarten classroom is the heartbeat of our entire system.  Do you have any memories or recollections of your first days of school OR your children’s first experiences?  If so, please feel free to share those experiences in the comment box below.  As always, thanks for reading.  🙂


 

My Second Tuesday

Happy Anniversary to me! It’s my Second Tuesday. That makes today very special and noteworthy. For it was exactly one year ago today, after an absence of several years, that I re-started my blog. I re-started my blog on my First Tuesday. My First Tuesday was the first day of my retirement from teaching. It was, also, the first day of a new school year for my wife and two daughters which meant, for me, that it was the first time I was truly alone with my thoughts. I wrote my first post that day. It was called “The Brightness of the Light” and can be read here. That post talked about the joy I was feeling at being free to chart my own course in life. No more bells to answer to. No more bosses telling me what to do or when to do it. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I was free.

So, what did I decide to do on this, my Second Tuesday, you ask? Well, I am not sure if you will be surprised at my decision or not but, after dropping my youngest daughter off at her school for her first day of the new school year, I hopped in my car and drove………straight back to my old school!

I didn’t go there because I was having pangs of regret or longing for the teaching career that I had left behind. I went back to my old school to repay a debt of kindness. Let me explain. Tuesday, September 5, 2017 was my Final Tuesday. It was the last “First Day” of school for me as a teacher. When I arrived at school that day and entered my classroom, I was greeted by the sight of a jar of jellybeans on my desk. There was a note that accompanied the jar. The note said that there were 190 jellybeans in that jar; one for each day of my final school year. As each day passed, I was to remove one jellybean. As the school year progressed, the jar became emptier and emptier until, on the last day of school in June, 2018, I ate the final jellybean. The jar was now empty. My teaching career was now over. It was time to leave. The last thing I did on that final day in June was to take my name plate off of my classroom door. I put that name plate into the empty jellybean jar, walked out of the school, got in my car and drove away to a whole new life.

Before my final year of teaching began, I has suspected that there would be special and/or emotional moments along the way. When I saw that jellybean jar on the first day of school, I knew I was right. The funny thing about it was that the gesture was completely unexpected. The lady who gave me the jar of jellybeans is named Annette. While we had worked together for several years, I am sure we would both describe our relationship as being more acquaintances than dear friends. But yet, it was Annette and her act of kindness that started my final year off on such a wonderful note. And that, in and of itself, was an important lesson for me that year because it showed that my world was actually broader and deeper than I had imagined it to be. So many people did and said so many amazing things over the course of that year. I was truly and sincerely touched by it all. I will always remember my final year of teaching and those who were a part of it. And, it all started off with a jar of jellybeans upon my desk.

Well, as it turns out, this is Annette’s Final Tuesday. So today, I brought her a jar of 190 jellybeans. As I placed the jar on her desk, she asked me if I still found retirement to be fulfilling. I told her that I did. But then, I reminded her that she should treasure each jellybean and not wish her year away because being a teacher is as noble and special and important a role as any of us who have done it will ever play. I told her she was lucky to be doing what she was doing. Hopefully, today will be the start of a wonderful year in her life. Come next September, if Annette wants to share her First Tuesday with me, having coffee and ringing a bell downtown, I am up for that. But that will be her choice because, by then, she, too, will be free.

I got to see some of my former students before leaving the school. That was nice. Warm hugs and high fives were always the hallmarks of the best part of being a teacher; the relationships you form with the kids. But now, on my Second Tuesday, I got to experience the best of all worlds. I got to have the hugs and high fives and then, I got to drive away. No opening day speeches. No messes to clean up. No wondering where my summer vacation went an hour into the day. The sun is shining where I am. It is quiet and peaceful enough that I can hear the sound of the wind gently rustling the leaves of the tree in my backyard. I remain relaxed and at ease. It is my Second Tuesday and I am free.

My Best Teacher Gift Ever!!!

At the core of teaching lies humanity.   

Teachers don’t manufacture widgets or track currency fluctuations on overseas markets as they go about their daily business.  Teachers spend their day interacting with some of society’s most interesting, creative, adaptive, vulnerable, courageous citizens.  Children are capable of doing almost anything at any time. That’s one of the reasons that teaching is such a fascinating profession.  You can have the same teacher in the same classroom with the same group of children and never experience the same school day twice!   

To the teacher who views his/her students as human beings, rather than names on a class list, the complexity of the young hearts and minds that assemble in their classroom each day is what makes the job so attractive and interesting. Sometimes, an “interesting” day can be a tiring day if one of the students is angry or emotionally upset. Sometimes, an “interesting” day can be hilarious and memorable.  The story of My Best Teacher Gift Ever is one of those moments that come completely out of left field and, once you regain your wits, makes you smile for the rest of your life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when it happened.

I was teaching in a Grade 2 classroom in Courtice, Ontario.  I had no gifted students in this class but, no hardcore, troubled behavioural children, either.  On the whole, the class was comprised of nice, friendly, average kids.  They were a good group. I liked coming to school each day and so did they. I got along well with all of their parents. In short, it was a good year in the wonderful world of Grade 2.

This story takes place on the last week before our Christmas holidays.  If you have ever been in a primary-aged classroom the week before Christmas, you know that there is a higher than normal buzzing of energy to be found (and, I don’t mean from the overhead lights, either). If teachers were being honest, they would admit that that last week of school is not the most academically-intensive week to be had during the school year. But, just the same, maintaining some semblance of routine is important so, in between concert rehearsals and craft making, we still did some simple bits of regular work.  One of the things that helped make up my “Holiday” unit was, of course, a set of spelling/vocabulary activities.  We brainstormed chart paper filled lists of words that had to do with Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas.  The kids searched for words in word search puzzles, they unscrambled mixed up spellings, they filled in the blanks, they typed stories on the computer and on and on it went.  Well, since it was the last week of school and I had a group of kids that could go along with a joke,  I created a worksheet of questions and answers that had, as the final question, the following: “If you were a millionaire and could buy Mr. MacInnes any three gifts in the world, what would your three gifts be?”    I was hoping for answers like, “A rocket ship to go to the moon in”, or “A fancy sports car” or, “A trip around the world” but, instead, what I got back from this bunch of well-meaning but, average-joes was more along the lines of shirts, sweaters and pants.  I was a bit disappointed by the lack of imagination that they had shown until I got to the worksheet handed in by a little girl named Megan.

Megan was a nice little girl with freckles across her nose that spilled onto her cheeks. She wore her blonde hair in a bob style. Her blue eyes sparkled whenever she smiled, which was fairly often.  All in all, Megan was a good kid so, as I read over her answers, I was not prepared for what I saw when I got to the last question. She wrote, “I would give Mr. MacInnes a new sweater, a new pair of shoes and a g string.”  

I read the first two parts of her answer with my brain in neutral but, her last answer snapped me to attention!  I re-read her answer just to confirm that I had actually read what I had thought I had read.  It turns out that I had!   G-string! Wow!  Where did that come from?  I decided to check to see if she could have meant something else like “guitar” or “gerbil” because kids at that age can still be prone to phonetic and/or inventive spelling but, the spelling was clearly a “g” and a space and “string” spelled correctly.  Needless to say, I felt the need to check into this so, as the rest of the class crafted or did whatever Holiday activity they were engaged in, I called Megan over.

“Megan”, I said. “I was checking over everyone’s worksheet and there are a couple of answers I’d like to read for me, if you would.”    

She said, “Sure, Mr. MacInnes.”

I had her read her answer to Question #1 and #3, just so she wouldn’t realize what I was really wanting to know and have her think that she was in trouble or anything like that. She read her answers and proudly smiled at me as if to say, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Could you read #5, too, please?”

“Ok….. I said that I would give Mr. MacInnes a new sweater……….because you have a hole in your brown one. Did you know that?”   I grunted a smile and motioned for her to continue. “I would give Mr. MacInnes a new pair of shoes…….because you have scuff marks on yours………and a g string.”   She turned to me and smiled the same smile she displayed after reading the answers to Questions #1 and 3.

So I said, “Megan, I understand what a sweater is and the part about the shoes but, I’m not sure what you mean by a g string”.

She smiled and put her hand on my arm and sweetly said, “Oh, Mr. MacInnes, everyone knows that a g string is underwear.”

“Ok”, I said. “Then answer this for me, please. I understand why you would buy a new sweater to replace my holey one and new shoes to replace the scuffed ones but, why do you want to buy me underwear?”

She looked around to be sure that no one could hear and then she leaned in, “In my home, whenever Daddy or Mommy wear their g strings, they run around the house, laughing and tickling each other.  It makes them so happy. I want you to be happy in your home, too.”

Well, what do you say to that?  I smiled and gave her a quick hug and thanked her for thinking of me and my state of personal happiness.  The story would have ended there except for a fluke of timing. During the month of December, report cards are prepared and sent home and parent-teacher interviews are conducted. Depending on everyone’s schedules, it sometimes takes a couple of weeks to get everyone to come in to the school to meet.  As luck would have it, Megan’s parents were one of two interviews I had left to conduct!

So, the very next day, after school, Megan’s mother and father walked into the classroom and sat down.  I had Megan’s work folder out and showed them some of her Math work, a painting she had done, some pictures she had drawn and, lo and behold, her spelling work that included word search puzzles, mixed up spelling words, fill in the blank sheets and, yes, a certain question and answer sheet that she had completed just the day before!   I sat there and let them look at each sheet and then, the final Q & A sheet.  I watched as they scanned down through the answers, finally arriving at the last question.  I saw Megan’s Mom mouth the words, “sweater” and “shoes” and then, her mouth just opened and she began blushing furiously. Dad broke out laughing and looked down at the floor. I just sat there quietly for a few seconds, thoroughly enjoying the moment.

Then I said to them, “Don’t worry. Teachers hear far more about what goes on at home than most parents realize.  The important thing to take from this is that in Megan’s eyes, she feels that she comes from a home that is filled with love and happiness.  She feels that you both love each other and not every child can say that about their parents. You should feel proud that your daughter views you that way and that she feels so happy herself.”   They both smiled and thanked me for my kind words.  

I have gotten many, many gifts from families over the course of my career but, nothing comes close to the imaginary g string I received that year from little Megan.  I wonder if widgets ever give gifts to the people who make them? I doubt it.  Thank goodness I have had the pleasure of spending my career in the daily company of children.  They are the essence of humanity and our society’s most precious gift.

Driving Miss Leah

This past weekend, my daughter, Leah and her friend, Emily, travelled with me to The University of Guelph campus for our third annual trek to participate in The Science Behind the Magic of Harry Potter Festival. This festival is put on by the university’s Science department and is a wonderful way to introduce scientific concepts like Biology, Chemistry, Botany, Geology, Astronomy, Physics and much more, to eager young minds, all the while presenting it under the guise of the world of Harry Potter. There are costumes galore, as well as, games, food and contests…..all taken directly from J.K. Rowling’s books.

When Leah and Emily went for the first time two years ago, they were ten and nine years old, respectively. Life was still pretty simple for them. Neither had their own phone. No one they knew was “dating”. Neither had gone to an unsupervised party where there would be boys and girls together.  They were still very much children. Looking back, I realize I should have enjoyed their giddy silliness more during our two and a half hour long drive there and back. Those were innocent times. But, times change.

This weekend, I drove two pre-teens there and back. Those giddy children have evolved into quieter, more introspective young women. Since both knew what to expect when we arrived in Guelph, there was no nervous excitement filling the car on the way down. Emily sketched in a notebook and worked on an original story she was creating. Leah read for awhile and then listened to music on her phone. Neither wore a Harry Potter-inspired costume this time (Leah did wear a Hermione Granger t-shirt but, it stayed hidden under her hoodie).

Both girls enjoyed all of the activities that they participated in, as they have the past two years as well. But, there was one difference this year and it was this:  because I am the only adult accompanying the girls, I have always felt a sense of obligation to my wife, to Emily’s parents, to Leah’s Grandparents and so on, to document all of the super exciting, creative and informative activities the girls are involved in. So, I have always taken lots of photos to share with everyone later, when we are back home. This year, as I was taking photos, the following happened:  during one of the activities, Leah rolled her eyes, looked to the Heavens and said, with a tone of exasperation, “Dad! Will…you…please …stop!”

No one in the room seemed to notice, including Emily, who was busy completing her activity. But, I noticed. And, I stopped taking her picture.  Dad was embarrassing daughter, simply by quietly being Dad. This isn’t the first time this has happened lately. For example, Leah began attending middle school this year. This school has ten times the enrolment of her old school. I offered to go with her on the first day to make sure she got where she was supposed to be going. She refused and said I could go to the crosswalk with her but no further. Being retired, I have time to volunteer to go on class trips with my girls for the first time ever. Leah said, “OMG, Dad!  I’d die if you came on a trip!”  Leah is changing. She will be an official teenager in April.

Like all parents come to realize, there is a time when our children begin to carve out their own identity and create a life that is truly their own. Leah has just left the starting blocks on this journey. It is tough watching her go.

But, as tough as it is for me to observe it all, it must be far tougher to be a young girl growing up in today’s society. Both Emily and Leah are finding their lives changing in real time. On the drive back home, they sat in the back seat and started talking to each other about it. I was wise enough to keep my mouth closed and just drive the car.  We passed a mall on the way out of Guelph. This started a conversation about book stores (which both girls adore) and then, back-to-school shopping trips. This transformed into a talk by Leah to Emily about being at the newer, bigger school (Emily will go there next year) and then, on to the topic of shopping for clothes.

Both girls lamented the lack of clothing options they felt were available to them. Both complained about the pressure they felt to wear clothes that were too tight and body hugging, too short and revealing or else, too full of holes (such as in ripped jeans). Both girls lamented the seeming inability to find clothes that were soft, roomy and comfortable. Without saying it, Leah and Emily are beginning to realize the trap that society has prepared for young girls and that is the trap of sexualizing their bodies. Leah and Emily are bright, intelligent, caring and creative young women. They have much to offer our world. They are definitely more than the sum of their body parts. But, as we drove through the rush hour traffic at the top of Toronto, they both talked about how much they dislike the way fashion choices seem to force them into a role that they don’t want to accept; especially, in the eyes of boys that they labelled, without hesitation, as being very immature and annoying. It was quite a conversation.

There is power in the ability to make your own decisions. Right now, Leah is beginning to  experience what it is to make her own choices; the first major life choice being, pulling away from her parents. Whether it be spending countless hours in her room with the door closed and headphones on or else, finding it excruciatingly embarrassing to be seen in public with her Mom or Dad, Leah is coming to realize that the trail she must blaze is one that must be done on her own. It won’t be a pain-free process but through it all, I will be there for her if she needs me. But, for now, I will step back as she steps away and through it all, I have to trust and hope that she will grow and become the person she is meant to be and be happy and proud of who that person turns out to be.

In the meantime, I will shut my mouth and keep driving the car.

Change

I want to start off by thanking everyone for providing me with such a great list of word prompts. I have plenty of inspiration to draw from in the days and weeks to come. I promise to use every word, at some point, in the next few weeks. So, if you don’t see your story right away, not to worry, it is bubbling away in the cauldron of my imagination and will be ready soon.

I was challenged this very day by one of my writing mentors, Jo-Anne Teal, to create a 33-word post that revolves around the word, “change”. She said that she was going to play along by publishing her own post tonight. So, I found some quiet moments this evening and cobbled together the following piece of writing. i hope that you like it.

 

    

close up of apple on top of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The Other Side of the Fence

 

Once I was entrusted with the lives of young children. Now, my fingerprints are all that separate me from the predators. What a change being on the other side of the school fence.

 

If anyone wants to know the story behind this story, I will tell you in the comments. Feel free to ask. Thanks, as always, for spending some time in my world.