"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."Phillipians 4:7
My readings for the past two years have been mostly comprised of professional material... reading about reading and writing. I have missed ficiton. I have missed the empathetic feelings toward the breathing characters as they become my neighbors, the folks down the street, my close friends. Last fall break... I picked up a book titled Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I had read her Pultizer Prize book Gilead a few summers ago; as I tenderly lifted Lila from the stack of new fiction and read the inside flap, "... returns to the town of Gilead..." I knew what my next read would be. As I continued to read professional readings, Lila could only demand a small slice of my reading time. Just finished Lila by Marilynne Robinson... This is not a book review! It is a tiny slither of a slice ~ reflection of my teaching philosophy inspired by the words from Rev. Ames and Dr. Hiam Ginot. Towards the end of the redemptive story of Lila, Robinson writes... "the peace that passeth all human understanding." This line resonates within my spirit and soul. As a teacher, guide, facilitator, leader, role model for children... I realize the immense responsibility I possess. Everyday, I hold precious impressionable minds and spirits in the palm of my hand. (I am reminded of this Hiam Ginot quote, my mom handed to me when I began my teaching career.)
How do I balance this heavy-laden but passionate postion of power and honor...
in the lifted line from Lila... "...the peace that passeth all human understanding..." I must rest with the peace that when I lay my head down on the pillow every night... each child's spirit who has crossed my path that day has been lifted by my words or my actions.
This is why I teach. This is my mission field. I teach reading, grammar, word skills, but more than that; I teach the folks who will be leaders in my community... doctors, nurses, lawyers, moms, dads, policemen, firemen, video game creators... the list could go on and on...
Living breathing small humans are growing up in a world foreign to me. Teaching them to think for themselves, to read deeply and critically for understanding, to take in what society hurls and reconcile this to their lives with logic and reasoning. They, too, must be able to lay their heads on their pillows at night with the same feeling that affords me, most nights, to rest and rise again knowing that... "the peace that passeth all human understanding..." will carry them through their lives with this same philosophy whatever the path of their lives.
"Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality." ~Jonas Salk
This is what I know...
My hope for a bright future lies in the dreams, imaginations and courageous acts of my learners. At the beginning of this year, my hope began fleeting fast. This cluster of gifted and high-achieving fifth graders cried, doubted, whined, doubted complained, doubted, argued, doubted, cried, doubted, and whined some more. Feeling emotions with intensity and magnification... beginning days ended with wondering what disruption thenext day would hold. Imagining the fertile soil of a classroom community of growing learners seemed impossible.
Determined to disallow persistent doubt to harden this soil of learners, I dug deep for the long haul. Knowing that a caring and empathetic classroom were imperative for optimal learning, I realized this year would be one of my toughest challenges. Despite my daily sunny smiles and warm welcomes, I was met with slumping shoulders, grumpy grunts, and "rain on my day" attitudes. Every now and then I glimpsed signs hope: a returned smile or a tiny "Morning." My hope soared... imagining a classroom environment growing with compassion consumed me.
Determined to cultivate a cohesive and respectful learning environment, I pulled community building strategies from files, scoured the internet for new ideas regarding respect, studied anti-bullying lessons with heart-felt themes, and planned experiences to understand the value of empathy. We read and discussed literature about diverse communities, we wrote our thoughts about the characters' lives, and how their decisions and choices impacted others. We attempted to resolve classroom snippiness, snarky comments, rudeness through sharing and problem-solving. We read, we discussed, we role-played, we wrote... nothing seemed penetrate this tough outer covering. My hope for a caring garden of learners began to wane. In my dreaming, I realized more patience woven with less frustration was necessary for this crop.
Determined to persevere or just "make it through the next day" by putting one foot in front of the other...
I trudged through my classroom: bookshleves filled with books, sounds of jazzy Pandora, Tower Garden complete with water falling, round tables encouraging rich conversation, a classroom with Zen-like ambiance. Taking a deep breath, I summoned every ounce of courage I could muster. My expectations were still there, laying just beneath the surface. Testing, assessing, and checklists all showed little growth in areas of academics... reality of early retirement loomed.
Then all of a sudden, out of no where, I am beginning to witness emotional and social seedlings break this hard surface...sheepish smiles and sweet greetings meet me most mornings, kids speaking to one another with genuine kindness, where spiteful and ugly words were once spewed, their tone is becoming respectful in their disagreements. A love for learning is evident, the buzz of meaningful learning crowds the sound of peaceful falling water within the Tower Garden. Authentic questions and wonderings inspiring each other to read closer and write deeper. Dreams for this group of drought-stricken intelligent souls are becoming a reality.
Learners in 5A continue to experience disappointments, doubts, and dailly struggles, now with finese. The struggles these learners experience are extending their roots for optimal growth . Courageous acts of spirited individuals has transformed this, once-believed, hopeless field to a fertile soil; one that encourages care, empathy, respect. Eager learners becoming the reality I hoped existed. My hope for a bright future EXISTS in the dreams, imagination and courage of this year's fifth grade learners.
Yesterday I was using a mentor sentence from a book called The Snowglobe Family. Teaching life was rolling along... sentence analysis with revision sentences being created by fifth grade writers.
Next on the agenda, a brief lesson creating sentences using adverbs. Distributing base sentences to groups of students... "The dog barked." "The children played." My personal favorite: "The pig danced."
As I walked around the room noticing the usual sentence revisions with adverbs: "The dog barked loudly." "The children played yesterday." The dancing pig group extended their sentence as follows: "The pig danced happily." "The pig danced happily in the mud." "The pig danced happily in the mud yesterday." Thinking to myself, I have found the grand finale group! (The emphasis on the words "in the mud" is key because we have been working on adding preposistional phrases to our sentences... please keep this in mind as you continue!)
Share... share... share... Now for the dancing pig!
The group was ecstatic that their sentence was extended unlike everyone else's! So as we began analyzing the use of adverbs... I get to the words "in the mud". In my excitement for this group, I ask the students: "Okay, what is in the mud?" The response from the entire class, "The pig!"
I did one of those... SMH moments... then dove in again! "Let's try this again... What IS in the mud?" (All the while, I am using both hands creating "air" parentheses to remind them how we designate prepositional phrases in sentences.) Choral response from fewer students, just as enthusiastic but a litttle less confident: "Pigs!?!"
As I reflect about this teaching moment, I giggle and am reminded, with all the pressures and pleasures of teaching... God allows me to experience humor and keeps me grounded with the truth: I teach children not grammar, not sentence revision, not sentence analysis, not adverbs. Really, I teach kids who love to laugh and learn! Blessed!