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Sarah's Notes


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    A Bird in My Classroom

    October 27

    The thing I learned about today in my classroom. . . is that it's like a little nest with a very worn momma bird, sometimes. . . lots of comings and goings. It's very busy in our nest.

    It can be a place people feel safe to talk. Sometimes I'm lucky and we share and tell funny stories. Even when you are very still, unconnected, and dealing within your own disconnected dreaming, my class is a place where people come to be themselves and share a connection with this old worn bird.

    Today was just another day in the life of a teacher--a call from another state, a mom staying late, a child having a mom call over to ask for help with a church mission, students coming and going to say hello from last year-- each with a drop of water to fill an empty soul. Lots of "you were my favorite teacher ever, ever, ever"--the cheer of the teacher known by every little bird. It chirps through the days--with my "you are my very favorite child ever,ever, ever"--you wonderful love bug birdie replies.

    Are you surprised we sang "A you're Adorable" today with our sign language????? I'm not. And so today through the miracle of school I was reminded of how true community starts with a place of acceptance and welcome, sharing our burdens, listening, loving, having our hearts in good places, how much I need my Principals and principles, friends. What a joy it is to teach and how hard it is to help a bird in a classroom when it needs to fly free of four walls.

    The day was windy and dry as Santa Anas were blowing that feeling--if you don't have them I can tell you that Santa Anas remind me of the day Mary Poppins came to the neighborhood, high pitched and brittle with portending notes.

    I always lose and gain on Santa Ana days. Today I gained a new student, a nice little one from a six-month stay in Vegas who came in the door right as my children all "neededsomethingrightnowteacher" and about two minutes before an assembly. I gained a gift of perspective. I said this morning to myself very quietly inside my tired head. . . "Please don't make me go to the assembly." So our principal announced on the PA. . . "Go to the assembly." And once 6-year-olds hear the words "assembly" it's time to line them up.

    So we got in a minute or two late, sat in someone else's spot, ours was gone, though the Principal kindly said it was "fine" and got ready to see what was up. What was up was pretty fine. A young woman named Paula inspired in her life to reach out to children with all of her days and her Dream Foundation sang to us and talked to us with connection and a capacity to melt cynical thoughts. . . and sang "This Little Light of Mine." a song that my husband had taught my kids.

    This song is so wonderfully simple. We all own this tune. You have a light inside, it's your light alone, it needs to shine in the world for the world to find the way. And Paula talked of special, unique, you, and she talked of kindness. But then she spun her story. I love story spinners. Love that my class now in a month working with me is already changing, growing, can now sit and listen to a story spinner.

    This was the best assessment tool I've used this year. I love that I watched their eyes and watched their minds and they were completely there with her. . . and I especially loved Gabriela's retell of this story she spun. . . please let me share it. . . "There was a lady in a LA where a kid was in bad and fighting with riots. She was so scared, but not really, and he put the firecracker in hers face and she wouldn't stop seeing him for special. So she went and she started to love kids and to sing to them about dreams and she gives us lollipops and a CD if we mail the letter. But she is special because she likes us, teacher."

    Allow me a translation. Our performer was a singer named Paula who reached every child in our school today. After an incident in the time of the LA riots in which she was approached by an angry person who exploded a firecracker in her face saying next time it would be a gun. . . she then dedicated herself to children, to understanding and helping them in understanding they are special, to bringing forward a message they always matter and that the world is better for their life. "I am special." She talked of turning on your light, of allowing yourself to be good, of the need to be kind and to love oneself. It was a special time with lovely song and great showmanship, but mostly such good, good heart.

    I watched my class and this is the stuff that is special. I remember times we did this openly every day. Back in our room they all got "presents" from her and loved talking for a good bit about how we can all work together to make our experience as a class positive. It's October, our bonds are forming, we are working together for mutual success, we are showing each other kindness and courtesy. . . and we had a new child to practice what we preach on right now, so he was treated to a very fine morning and so. . . its a very good thing we went over to the assembly.

    We also went to the library today which was windy and rather sandy and a walk with books so there were grumbles and groans with an occasional, "Teacher you said I was first." But on the way in the room I noticed it smelled a little like very old fish so I opened our one window and door. . . and out poured my kids to go home to think about a rather fun day. . . blowing around like leaves.

    Several visitors stopped in to say hello and one of my Mommas told me the funniest story while kids came and went, ate candies, showed pictures, traded hugs, read cards, looked at things, played with Potato Heads, colored and just lingered at the end of our day..

    This talking Momma always does jobs for me, asks every day for a task, and is cheerful and kind. Five kids, single mom, two jobs, clearly in a very hard way financially working at Subway. She has a baby of two with her, so I was asking about him and she shared the story of his birth. . . and for some reason it made me laugh today. She found out he was coming an hour before he arrived.

    She worked double shifts right up to his birth, never realizing she was pregnant and with severe back pain was stopping in at the hospital for a quick check or some kind of quick relief, with her kids in tow, so she could get them to swimming and by 5 get to her next job. And guess what, she was dilated to 7 and they delivered.

    She was so worried over her job, she called the manager who did not believe her and fired her . . . for lying. The doctor who was cleaning up her new son vouched for her and named her son Adam but she added Joseph later. But the manager didn't believe that either. She said the whole time she was thinking about getting to the next shift and how she just had 20 minutes to get there. No thoughts of this new life yet hitting her, practicalities were in the way.

    She checked out the next day and in two days moved her apartment because she was unable to keep paying the higher rent. She's been on a waiting list for 11 years for public housing but now her sister is helping her. She also told of being so desperate last month she went to the grocery and told them they didn't give her hot dogs and buns so she'd have food for the last three days of the month...which she said was wrong but she felt God might forgive her.

    In that she has done quite a few jobs for me including cutting out word rings that I truly hate. I'm thinking God will forgive her. Now whether or not she'll forgive me. . . this I don't know. She said finally, "I'm not so much a believer though, I kind of have to be practical."

    Indeed. I kind of sat there just thinking. I'm thinking a lot these days. She asked me if I get to sleep because I'm looking tired this week and I said, "Well I'm having some trouble sleeping." She told me about sleeping 2 AM to 5AM because of the shifts. What amazed me was she was concerned for my sleep. And for me. I'm not sure that given her shoes to wear I'd be so magnanimous. We sat and laughed and chatted about her surprise baby. Our literacy theme is Surprise and she found that kind of funny. She said that having a baby you never even stopped to feel because you were working so hard was a heck of a surprise.

    If the baby is like the brother who is in my room, the world will be a far better place for his coming. His brother is an artist and a marshmallow but every morning he cries when Momma drops him in the room just as he sees her go. Momma tells me today this is "just his way." He is six and he cries because he worries that something might happen or take her away. It's something we are working on. I'm going to work on it very hard because tomorrow I may shed the tears that Matthew cries for this momma. A Momma that has to have the baby and get to the five o clock shift or lose her job for "irresponsibility."

    I'm crying as I've given her at least twenty jobs in two weeks for us and it might be that I was supposed to be washing her feet and helping her carry the burden. Thinking some more up not sleeping here tonight.

    As she left, a call came from another great Momma. Her son had been in the room during some of my chatting with Matthew's mom. She heard I collect Beanie Babies and wondered if I'd gather up a box, she is going on a mission trip to Africa again. . . and so made a note to self to try and remember. Her son was in my room last year. He has an angel's voice and a family of singers in a local church, musicians all and dearer my lord to thee all. I cannot say how much I appreciate her call. She and I cried together in our last visit over her worries for an older daughter who struggles with classrooms, compliance, getting along and who was busting balls as they say up in 6th grade. The arts save her children everyday and all of her children read, sing, draw, create, converse, test well and have a hard time in a world of assessment and Directed Instruction. It was good to hear her voice and to hear how happy she sounded. . . and kind of nice to think of 50 kids getting a load of Beanies if my memory functions.

    I bought myself a Beanie every time I had a medical test or blood work the last 5 years. I have maybe 1000. Slowly giving them to kids. Where I'm going one day you really don't need them, and when I look at them now can't help but wonder if I'd lost my mind.

    As I was thinking about all the work of grading, folding, focus walling, script previewing cutting, measuring arranging I hadn't yet done today, again, the phone rang with a call from my former Principal up in Oregon now. I so miss her. She is in the heart of Direct Instruction land. But it would be so cool to meet her faculty--they are in Whole Language land. And her teachers are holding their ground. She reads more than I, far better literature, and is the only Principal I ever had who could go head to head on any writer, theorist or place I wanted to wander to talking including to Archy and Mehitabel. It was pure pleasure to hear her take on these times and need for balance in literacy. Indeed, she "gets it." She said to me as she did before, "Keep an open mind." Yes, I'm trying. But I have my days. . . .

    The conversation ended happily with sharing of our family stories. And the flapping of wings. A tiny sparrow flew into my room. Flying and hitting windows and lights and lighting on every child's self-portrait, as I tried to help it out for two more hours. It caused me to run around asking for everyone's help and getting help but we couldn't help it out. People were as stumped as I trying to confront a tiny little thing that was desperate and frightened.

    I popped it popcorn, talked to another teacher and set up our Friday "integration," an arts time we are going to do with 4 classes. The sparrow flew and flew and I dodged and watched and called for help and sat and sat and wondered what on earth to do about the little bird that was beating itself senseless in my room. It hit walls, stuck his little foot into the ceiling tile, bounced on the glass. . . swooped and chirped and got so frantic and flew in circles all at the very top of the room while I waited and thought. Hoped for inspiration or idea, looked for a person to come take it out and failed to find janitor, secretary, net, or a way to get it to fly a bit lower and out the door.

    Finally, finally through the tiniest of cracks I managed to beat the window open. . . my only opening that is so very high and kind of impossible to open. And finally after another desperate hour it found its way. And then it was gone.

    And I turned around and looked out over 23 years of my teaching these little fragile birds. . . all gone to lives and homes this evening. I was so glad I decided to stay a little late and be in this moment. You can't script a little bird. They fly where they will. And leave the nest when ready. And we are left with our hopes. . . .

    "If you want to build a ship don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

    —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    2006-11-09 09:46:00


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