Sunday, January 15, 2017

I'm OK with Second Place

Image Source: USNewsHealth

If you are around primary kids at all, you know it's all about being first, primarily to the dot outside the classroom. No amount of discussion can dismiss this idea. So with unyielding energy they bound toward the door, irregardless of the amount of ice on the pavement outside said door.

We all know winning (in all types of forms) feels fantastic. Case in point: the #1 reason for teaching kindergarten is the rock star status you achieve (hence the winning feeling). I feel like Taylor Swift, maybe an older Taylor, but Taylor none the less, as I walk the hallways, cafeteria and playground. Shouts of, "Ms. Foley!! Ms. Foley!!" pepper the air in high pitched shrieks. Running kids with arms outstretched and smiles etched ear to ear hug me with true, altruistic, love.

And I'm not talking just current students, but many of my students from all grades (K-5). Granted they get to 3rd and hugging is no longer cool, but I have a few die hard fans that still visit my room with great enthusiasm...marveling at the midget furniture that was once too big for them, smiles envelope their face as they talk of fun times in the kitchen area, sparkling eyes look at me with true happiness and say, "I miss you, Ms. Foley!"

It's the reason I have an open door policy. "Come back any time," I say then realizing it's typically recess time. But I sincerely mean it. Those kiddos get me through my toughest days as a teacher. They pick up the slack since there is only 1 me. They empty the recycle bin, they clean the tables, they hand out snack, they sharpen the pencils, for the pure joy of it.

So it was no surprise when one of my kiddos, now a fifth grader stopped by, clutching a Christmas card. "You are just the sweetest!" I said as a smile made it's way across my face. A quick hug and she was on her way.

I tucked my prize aside, saving it for later.  As evening approached I opened the handwritten card which started softly..."Dear Mrs. Foley, I hope you have a splendid Christmas" I beamed ear to ear. "Honestly," it continued, "you are the reason kindergarten is my second favorite grade (fifth/this year is my fav)! Merry Christmas."

I chuckled, out loud, several times (If you know me, it's what I do, sometimes at totally inappropriate moments. Luckily, I was alone.). I thought to myself my letter had a certain Dear John-esque feel to it. All those years in first place, only now to be ousted by fifth.

And then it hit me...why had I not been ousted years ago? Of course your kinder teacher holds a special place in your heart, but your heart is big, there is room for more. And my happiness turned a little gloomy as I thought about it. No, not every kid is going to click with every teacher, but my own education was littered with such great memories of connections teachers made with me.

I had Mrs. Chormicle, who I adored, for K and 2nd. I enjoyed Mrs. Skinner in 1st (although I was afraid of her daughter, the class para). I loved Mrs. Locke in 3rd who gave me her copy of, "Island of the Blue Dolphins." In 4th, Ms. Smith was divorced, with red hair, glasses, and an outgoing personality and I loved her. She was followed by Mrs. Dassler in 5th. She was a brand new teacher and I adored her. I even went as far as to solicit funds from classmates to buy cake mix and frosting for an end of the year cake I made for her.

I am guessing that's why it surprises me when students do not have a long list of favorite teachers. Since I had a good experience in elementary I think other students will as well.

I don't blame the teachers, but I do blame a system that says, "do more with less time, and hurry it up." A system that, due to class sizes and other constraints, depletes any time to learn, really learn about the students we teach and to connect to them.

I sometimes do it myself. I have so much to focus on, academic wise, I simply must move kids along, I don't have the time to hear what happened this weekend, or at home, or with their dog. But when I do allow enough time to listen I realize how much the students yearn to connect with their teachers. How needy they are to let me know that mom bought them a toy, that grandma is in town, or that their little brother is really mean. And so this last week I took extra time to let students blather on, uninterrupted, about life's moments and it made me smile, ear to ear.

Academics are important, but not without an emotional connection first.

So to the fifth grade teacher who took over first place I say, "Bravo! Way to make an impact!" I hope to be ousted more often. Second place is a great place to be.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your post! As a middle school teacher I know that feeling. By the time they graduate, they will remember the high school teachers, not us/me. But I know that if they were successful, then I had a part in it, and they SHOULD move on, they should be CAPABLE of moving on! Keep fighting the good fight!