In late July, I was sitting in the cardboard box in a warm dark corner of a classroom, waiting for my owner to arrive. This is my 20th year of sitting in the box during the summer months, waiting for the voices to come back: adults, children, sometimes a classroom pet or two. I’ve lived in two states and been in over 15 classroom homes. To say I’m durable, flexible, and trustworthy would be an understatement! I haven’t given up on my important role in education, and neither has my owner. We have shared some good times and bad times, and as any human would admit, learned a few lessons along the way…
It all began in 1997 when my owner received me as a gift. She had received a new job as a preschool teacher at a private preschool. I wasn’t used a lot this year, except to hang up colorful artwork on the bulletin boards. It was a happy year as my owner was getting married, and the students learned their ABC’s and 123’s through art and music. There were many school days that the classroom remained quiet as the children went on field trips to local businesses and events to learn about their community. We all learned to value our parts of the community and to respect each member’s role in it as well.
The next year I moved up north about 45 minutes away to a small, quiet rural town with a small, bustling elementary school. It was an eventful four years in this little area. Families were involved in every aspect of school! My owner got married and had a baby. I even survived an earthquake—although I was almost buried under some books! Then on an eventful day, September 11th, I heard a lot of crying and children leaving to go home early. Parents were panic-stricken yet the teachers tried to stay calm. Sheets of plastic, duct tape, and MYSELF were placed by my owner’s door, and I heard talk about protection against terrorists. After about a week, the classroom went back to normal, and the families were back. Children were actively engaged in their learning because they observed their parents’ investment in their education.
After four years I went down to an urban school along a very large river. It rained a lot; it’s a miracle I didn’t get rusty. My owner had another baby, and she would bring him late at night to the classroom while catching up on work. One night I was stuck with this screaming baby as she accidentally locked herself out of the building! (Don’t worry, a teammate came to let her back in the building.) Our school was part of a new concept in education, called “The Learning Network.” Highly-effective educators were identified as coaches in specific content areas, and they would coach educators for half a day to become master teachers in these subjects. Coaches were only allowed to serve in this capacity for two years as the network believed that they needed to be fresh from the classroom to fully understand how teachers need support. My owner taught in a classroom that received writing support. She learned to always model writing when teaching writing skills. The students were always writing—journaling their new learning in every subject area and creating masterpiece stories—and they were only in first grade! The students’ reading abilities were elevated by the increased rigor and frequency of writing in the classroom.
My life got a little more heated after two years by the rainy river—we moved down to the desert in Arizona!! This is when my owner’s perspective of relationships changed. She began to understand that the only way to help people change is to really know them, including her students. One of those students was Mary. She was a very kind, sensitive little girl with a big heart. Mary was struggling with her reading skills, and my owner wanted to meet with her guardians to discuss how to help her further. Mary’s parents had left when the illegal immigration crackdown began, and she lived with her grandmother who only spoke Spanish. They didn’t have a computer or phone to communicate with, so a translator wrote a note in Spanish, inviting the grandmother to a predetermined conference at school. As the hours ticked by past the appointed conference time, it was understood that the family was a no-show. It wasn’t surprising, but my owner felt a sense of urgency as Mary was suffering academically. The next day, she sent another note, stating that if they didn’t come to a conference, she would stop by the house for a visit. It wasn’t meant as a threat but was perceived as one. The grandmother came immediately after receiving the note, and they had a great conference, although it was concerning that the grandmother was in visible physical pain. When asked about it, she replied that she had been involved in farm equipment accident, but she could not go to the hospital to receive help. Reading between the lines- she was an illegal immigrant. It was heartbreaking to see the pain she was in, but this devoted woman was staying in the United States to keep Mary in a school that could help her with her educational needs. Later, the teacher asked Mary why the grandmother came so quickly after she received the second note. “Abuela doesn’t want you to know where we live,” she replied, “you might tell the police.” Curious about what that meant, my owner followed her school bus a few days later, and watched Mary go to her house. They lived in an abandoned shack, with no windows or electricity. It was a bittersweet reminder of how some parents/guardians will do anything for their children to receive an education.
This year is yet another change in my surroundings. My owner has decided to make a leap from teaching primary grades to middle school!! She looked very nervous the first day of school, wondering if those “big kids” would like her and how they would connect. The first month went smoothly, and she is finding her groove as a Language Arts teacher for kids taller than herself! I hear her muttering, “Why did I wait this long to move to middle school? What did I have to fear?” Fear… the dread of the unknown that forces us to grip tightly to the comforts of what we do know… the evil enemy of the power of change. If only we took more leaps of faith, how far could we push ourselves to lead as educators, change-makers, and leaders?