I am finishing my first year (27th of teaching!) as a Gifted Specialist. I was hired last summer not because I have this special endorsement on my license, but because my principal wanted a seasoned classroom teacher in the position. Seasoned? I guess after this many years, I am seasoned but not quite done! There have been some lonely moments in this new position where I felt isolated from a team of teachers, but I have grown to love my new job.
A few weeks ago, I offered to teach enrichment lessons to entire classrooms, letting the teachers know that they didn’t need to do anything to prepare for the hour. Yesterday I went into second grade teacher Terri Wolfe’s class to do an AIMS activity that I had done long ago on candy counting, sorting, division and fractions. If you have been a teacher in the 1980s and 1990s, you might remember AIMS materials. They are engaging, challenging and very fun! When I walk in classrooms at my school, kids get excited and usually mill around me. It usually means that they are going to do a STEM activity or something out of the ordinary. Yesterday was a little different. Several were gathered at the door, peeking out, intently listening to Mrs. Wolfe talk to the Home School teacher as he introduced a new student to Mrs. Wolfe. “We’ll get started soon, Mrs. L. You know how it is. Always new, exciting things happening even with a few days of school left.” Mrs. Wolfe is retiring this year. When you are an elementary teacher, retirement doesn’t mean that you put up your feet the last week of school. I went ahead and started setting up. Soon, Mrs. Wolfe walked into the room with her arms around this sweet brown-eyed girl. “Class, Class.” “Yes, Yes,” the children answered. “Boys and girls, we are so happy to have Helen join our class, and we are going to make her feel welcome and help her get to know our school even if we only have three days of school left.” She spoke in hushed tones to two girls, “Would you both sit near Helen and speak to her in Spanish when she needs help?” They agreed. My eyes filled with tears as 18 children smiled, welcomed this girl to our country and helped her with her Skittles math.
Later in the day, I worked with some fourth graders on Little Bits. Google that name. They are the most innovative science material that I have worked with in a long time. It is way too simplistic to just say they are circuits that snap together. When the second rotation of students came, Mrs. Van, the fourth grade teacher, wanted the ELL students to have an opportunity to do the activities. I watched as the English-speaking students automatically chose to pair up with the ELL students. I have a feeling Mrs. Van has modeled that this is what we do at school, but it still amazed me. There were no complaints of “always having to work with him” or “I want to be with my friend” as I’ve often heard students say over the years. It was genuine and it was a beautiful nonverbal statement of love and kindness. I watched with interest a boy from Somalia, Muhammad, work with the Little Bits. I am sure that this little boy has spent almost his entire life in a refugee camp so to see these things magnetically connect, light up, make sound, and spin motors must have been a magical experience for him. To say he was engaged was an understatement. He was really doing his own thing and not following directions, but I learned a long time ago that sometimes it’s best to let kids go and not stifle their curiosity. It was when I showed the students how to use Lego structures with the Little Bits, that Muhammad found his niche. His face broke out in a huge grin, and he went to work on the Legos, creating amazing structures. I think it’s safe to speculate that he didn’t have Legos in the refugee camp. All of the children love when the Legos come out, but this was something fresh and new, and it was like all of us were experiencing the magical bricks for the first time through Muhammed.
What a gift it was to my soul yesterday to experience the graciousness of wonderful teachers and little boys and girls offering kindness, acceptance and hope to others. God bless the children and the teachers of this country.