Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Month: September 2016

Kindergarten Tragedy and Drama

In kindergarten tragedy and drama abound. When you are five, tragedy takes on a much different meaning than for most of the rest of the world. Yesterday afternoon, one of the tragedies faced by a young learner in my class was not being called on to share at exactly the moment the child wanted to share. The student was so upset I was shocked. Talk about wailing and gnashing of teeth! But, we were all just a little bit on edge after back to back days of emergency drills. My students performed pretty flawlessly for their first fire drill of the school year on Wednesday. For many of them, it was their first ever! They walked and remained quiet as we had practiced. I was impressed with how they followed directions during the exercise.

Yesterday, we had probably the scariest of all drills required in California public schools: run, hide, and defend. In this simulation, we practice what measures we would take in the event of an active shooter on campus. In some ways, students enjoy the exercise because we hunker down in the dark behind a fort that I singlehandedly improvise in the few moments between the beginning of the drill and when the administration comes to the door to check on my engineering skill, as well as the children’s ability to mute themselves and remain out of sight.

As with the fire drill, my students did a pretty amazing job, considering they are all of five or six years old and we were sitting in tight quarters on a tile floor for about 20 minutes. When students considered the purpose behind the simulation and the what would be at stake, a couple of them became afraid. But, I reassured them it was only a practice, although I was careful to not assure them they would never have to do this for real. Nevertheless, most of the students overcame their fear quickly and when the exercise was over, were immediately distracted by the novelty of inspecting fascinating things found on my desk, which they are never allowed to approach and for good reason–my desk is a catch-all shielded behind a fourth grader high bookcase. The students cannot easily see my unremarkable, metal teacher desk since it is surrounded by play kitchen furniture and the taller-than-them bookcase.

In addition to my lunch bag, travel mug, and school district issued laptop, anything that I can’t remember where it should be kept or that I have never seen before ends up on top of my desk until I can deal with it. Consequently, my desk is a virtual treasure trove of miscellany, including various magnetized objects. I imagine they are doing their best to figure out the tall person in the room and somehow to feel more comfortable with this newfound student-teacher relationship.

However, I cannot read their minds and I am not a psychologist, so it could just be that they are still learning about their environment through a hands-on approach similar to when they were crawling and would pop everything into their mouths. Literally and figuratively, I am simply the biggest thing in the school environment, which they are still trying figure out. I will probably never understand the mystery my students constantly strive to unravel because I do not remember experiencing this kind of mystique surrounding any of my teachers. But, throughout my teaching experience, I have come to expect the curious and sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny of these small ones and I try to remember not to laugh or startle them with my reactions to their questions or observations. Sometimes, without much success because kindergarten tragedy and drama abounds!

 

The Day Home Became My Own Address

The Day Home Became My Own Address

I thought of the day home became my own address as I was picking up some blackberries in the supermarket this week. The surprising price of this rare treat triggered a stroll down memory lane. When I was growing up, blackberries grew wild all around where we lived. We could go berry picking and eat our fill of blackberries for free.

Most often berry picking involved lots of thorn piercings before heading home with blackberry stained fingers and tongues, and at least a few berries in a bucket. The berries were inevitably plump and sweet. If they didn’t taste juicy and sweet enough in one picking spot, there were an abundance of other places to try. And, sampling was never a problem unless there was a much traveled dirt road near the patch we had decided to pick and the berries were dust-powdered.

Berry picking was usually a family outing and always meant something tasty when we were finished. Most often it was a The Day Home Became My Own Addressberry pie or cobbler, but there was usually the promise of some delicious jam at some point in the future, also. Although not always the most fun to be stabbed while standing in the blackberry briers, the rewards afterward were always sweet, much like the memories of my childhood home.

But, nearly seven years ago, the family home where I grew up in the country became a mere memory when my parents soldThe Day Home Became My Own Address it and moved “into town.” It was one of the hardest transitions I had ever faced. You see, that address had been my True North, my home address, for about 31 years. Although I had changed teaching positions and lived in Ecuador for years at a time, that address was where my stateside correspondence could always come to rest. When I came home from Ecuador or for a weekend visit from teaching, that address was the one place I could relax and be completely myself. The cares of the world fell away as I breathed the fresh country air while taking rambling walks in the woods, noted interesting fungi and other woodland treasures as I traversed the pine needle carpeted hills, examined scat to decide what creature had passed that way before me, or watched water skippers dance the glassy surface of the rippling creek as I explored its muddy banks.The Day Home Became My Own Address

In January of 2010, that address could no longer be home. Its loss was almost as painful to me as any person I had ever known. Those acres were the backdrop of a lifetime of precious memories, and the canvas into which my life tapestry had been stitched. And suddenly, it was no more. The fabric of my life seemed to stress and fray. Even though the new owners invited me back to visit, I never went because it would never again be my home. For me, there was no more home, just the new house where Dad and Mom lived. I always felt welcomed and loved there, as I still do, but the dear place where my memories were woven from childhood through adolescence and well into adulthood became nothing more than a memory, a Shangri La to be mourned and never again matched.

As with all things, the smarting pain has diminished over time, yet I fear I will always feel the loss of my beloved childhood home. But, home has found a new address. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but as I picked up the blackberries in the store, I realized that the day home became my own address had somehow come and gone without me taking note. Now, where I feel most myself is at my own address and not someone else’s. I do not have to drive a long distance or walk out through the trees into the quiet forest to hear myself think or reflect on life. Perhaps it is one of the rites of passage and I am simply a late bloomer. And maybe I will never really understand how it happened, but I am grateful to be well beyond the day home became my own address.

 

Falling in Love After Cancer

Falling in Love after cancer, or how I have fallen in love with life again. One of the rekindled loves in my life is teaching kindergarten. The past couple of weeks have brought an enormous learning curve. Who would have thought teaching five year olds could be such a challenge and joy? or so comical?

The first few weeks of kinder are grueling because almost all school behaviors are utterly unknown to these five year old people. Their well-developed sense of justice consumes an enormous amount of time with just listening to complaints about who said or did what unkind thing. However, now that we have a few weeks of experience with one another, I have begun to know them as individuals and that has made all the difference in the world in how we relate to one another. I know, amazingly, they sound just like big people!

I still marvel that a small piece of lint or tiny insect could utterly derail a lesson by capturing the attention of a third of the class in a matter of seconds, but I am also learning to use that short attention span to my advantage. It is amazing how an upset and inconsolable child can be readily redirected to examine a new project or something fun that might be more important than the current tragedy, (known to most of the rest of the world as a tempest in a teapot.)

Their joy in the simple everyday things never grows old. The excitement over a new pair of shoes or joy in learning to hold a pencil by pinching the pencil and resting it on the third finger. Today, the excitement of a student’s success with “pinch and rest” was only momentarily eclipsed by the sight of the pencil tip pointing away from the writing surface. A quick intervention and reteach righted the pencil and the student moved on to the task of learning to write his name. Since the first day of school, this student has told me he doesn’t know how to write his name. So, a couple of days ago, we began learning a letter that appeared in his name twice and he had already learned a third letter. That meant only two letters were unknown.

With great pride and enthusiasm, this student quickly learned the remaining two letters, wrote his name on a practice sheet, and proudly told me when he was done. Recognizing his excitement in the nice job he had done, I dashed off a note to the parents at the top of his name page explaining him learning the “pinch and rest” and then writing his name. Needless to say, it was an exciting moment. Heady stuff for the person teaching him to do it!

There are some little things about kindergarten that are equally satisfying. Even though most of my students are emerging literates, they love to draw a picture and write, (or wribble – scribble write) to communicate information or a story. Happily, not one of the students thinks she is unable to write. They are using the letter and sounds I have taught them to write unknown “words.” One student showed a string of letters on a page. As I reviewed the student’s writing with a fellow teacher, I noticed that all but one of the letters were letters I had taught in class. Again, I was ecstatic to see that my actions had direct, positive impact on my young student’s life. This could become addicting!

Whether teaching someone to hold a pencil and write a first name or watching the excitement on the face of someone who just learned the sounds we say can be represented by written symbols and communicated to others, it is gratifying to be part of such a miraculous process!

Falling in love after cancer is kind of like being a kindergartner all over again: it’s the seemingly small things that grab me!

 

 

 

 

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