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Notes From Sarah: Just Thinking at the End of a Long Day

Publication Date: 2006-10-08

Sarah's notes touch so many chords in my own teaching memories. As we saw with our last visit to Sarah's classroom, she has a big, generous heart. And here she gives us a glimpse of one of the greatest pedagogical principles: What is given is returned.

I feel at times a tremendous amount of self doubt in what I do within my classroom. Especially as a year begins to unfold, especially if I'm in new materials, chaos within the site, have students with severe or complex issues or am being asked to work outside of my ethical perspective. Sometimes I just wonder if I know anything at all.

Today started with my student Jessie presenting me with about 14 pictures she'd colored in a coloring book that she was given when she was in the hospital. She used to be loud and exuberant at 4 (I last saw her after her surgery prior to placement with me). Now at 6 and in my classroom she's quiet and fairly silent in work situations,but very enthusiastic about "sharing time."

But something else is also going on now too, she's doing a lot of giving.

Stickers for all of us from a page recovered from a trash , pictures colored for us, she's recycled her homework "reward" Oreo's to me, gave away one of her little Ritz cracker put together mini sandwiches from her snack pack yesterday. Lots of generous giving. At four she liked to ask me to get her things when we visited together, I taught her sister who is 6 years older which is how we met. She'd ask for a book or money for a hot dog, or for me to call up Heaven and get her Mom back.She asked me to take her to my house. She asked me then to take her swimming. And once she asked me for an elephant. We'd put our noses together and rub them. I'd say, "Oh Jessie, I wish I had an elephant in my pocket." And she'd laugh at me.

All I could think of to say about her Mom was, "I know she's watching over me, watching over you."

Well watching today she asked for something but it was a little different, she's getting older. Changing as we all do. She asked me if it was alright if she colored in her coloring book, when her work "was done". That got me to feeling a bit sad. My daughters had so many of those books, oodles, and I recall the way they would blast through them, especially the ones you could put the water all over and a picture watered to life. So I went out with a bit of my money tonight and bought about 80 coloring books at a good price to make a lunch time "Coloring Club". I have Sheltered Immersion children who need to practice language skills and it would seem somehow appropriate to sit together and chat and color...Jessie says she is partial to Mickey Mouse and Sponge Bob.

I used to loath coloring books, but I'd get them for my girls because they'd ask for them, and we did so much art anyway.As teens now I dearly miss those days so long past. This is probably the first time I got some coloring books and felt genuinely appalled at all I have and how little some have. I'm loathing myself for my advantages taken so often for granted. Having had the childhood of a girl allowed to play, color, violet pick, know trees and forests, dahlias and dogwoods, picnics for birthdays, coleslaw and tie-dye....it all seems to dictate to me my beliefs and meanings.Then I watch Jessie, listen to her interactions, note her budding generosity and kindness and realize that from the arms of these really enormous obstacles lies the potentials and glimpses of truly great human capacities. Like her empathy. Image bound as always kept visualizing all day from Dicken's Christmas Carol those two children under the cloak or robe of Christmas Present, was it "ignorance and want"? Clinging, skeletal, the result of humanities inability to reach out to one another consumed by greed .

When I went in to have my staples removed after the second cancer surgery it was fairly uncomfortable and I wasn't in the best place ...mentally. After all I'd had major intestinal surgery in July and a tumor wrapped through my small intestines and by October I was back doing it again. I had an incision down my tummy and no ab muscles really working, so recovery was hard work. The appointment was rather grim carrying with it the lab report piece. Suddenly I heard, "Mrs. Puglisi", so loud and there was Jessie, at 4, in getting her check for her surgery, an operation I never knew about on a huge infection on the side of her face. She was getting her staples out but she looked at a bit of my tummy, no one else in my life would, and in a matter of fact way just softly patted my arm. Just this soft pat. Kind of a "it's like this is it" reassurance of understanding. Jessie's like that.

Among other things it's her gift.

I'm always talking about teaching. Talking. I'm always focused on teaching children to work out of strengths rather than to drown in weaknesses. Of late , at years' start, I'm carrying and dragging too much my empty cup. And then a little girl will fill that cup with the joy and kindness from her cup. And her cup is filled with some coloring pages and an old Oreo and the boundless desire to give her teacher a supportive pat.

Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing. Jessie says her Auntie says I do a lot of "thinking out loud" but she followed this with a very solemn, "but she says you have the softest heart in pillowland."
I gotta tell you this little child is the closest I've come in a long while to seeing living divinity.

And among my many worries is how to keep that little piece of joy able to remain so real and so much her true self. It's causing me to look very hard at what I'm doing, why and to ask myself some very real questions.......among them, can I use everyday as if this day means the most of all our moments?


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