The first quarter is over. Report cards are out, and parent-teacher conferences are over. My students and I have memorized two poems and are working on another; we have memorized a psalm, an Irish folk song, several annoying grammar songs that never cease to be at the forefront of my mind; we finished Little House in the Big Woods and began The Trumpet of the Swan (this class is full of good readers); and we have completed many math lessons, history chapters, spelling tests, Bible stories, grammar pages, and handwriting. And still we didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to.
We didn’t plant in our little garden plots (this week, it’s going to happen this week), our nature journals are sadly lacking, our maps and coloring pages haven’t been glued into our humanities journals, and we aren’t completely up to speed with grammar. We haven’t read books outside or memorized the kings of Israel or consistently written in our reading journals or learned how to keep our tiny little room clean. The list goes on, and the “we” should probably be changed to “I.”
I know I can make tons of excuses for myself: I’m only twenty-two and I am a first year teacher, I’m not a mom and basically have to be one to sixteen eight-year-olds at one time, I have a tiny room and it makes transitions and discipline hard. These excuses are certainly true, but they shouldn’t be my comfort for not being as incredible a teacher as I always imagined I would be. I think I must have envisioned a perfectly neat and pretty room with little angels for students who never talked out of turn and always sat nicely and did as they were told. This, however, is not my reality.
We didn’t accomplish everything, but we accomplished much, and that has to be good enough. I cannot be bound to the curriculum, nor can I be bound to an ideal I’ve imagined in my head. Both are good and helpful, but neither is the goal. The goal, as I must remind myself, is the cultivation of virtue: growth in wisdom and self control, to embody truth.
I often don’t stick with my planned schedule. Something always gets bumped, moved, or pushed to the side. Sometimes this happens because the kids are particularly disruptive, but other times—and these are the times when I particularly enjoy teaching—plans get bumped because I decide to take a nature walk, we’re having good discussion, or we’re so immersed in a story the kids beg me not to stop.
Story times are my favorite. The kids get so enthralled with the battles, enchantment, and sticky situations these characters find themselves in. One kid is particularly expressive while I read. His face says it all with open mouth and wide eyes while he sits forward at his desk in rapt attention. His favorite are our Bible stories where we have learned much about the Kings of Israel and the mess they often find themselves in because they have strayed from God’s will. He often exclaims “Oh no!” and flies back in his chair hitting his head with his hand. He can’t bear what the character has done, or what he foresees happening.
One time I was reading Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader as our read-aloud, and we were at the part where Eustace turns into a dragon. Eustace, because he has read “the wrong sort of books,” does not know what a dragon is, or that dragon treasure is enchanted. The classroom door was open because of the heat, and I looked up mid-sentence and saw a first or second grade boy listening at the door in wonder. I smiled to myself and continued reading, and he continued staring, ever so slowly inching his way further into the room. I knew I should probably send him back to his classroom, but I couldn’t do it. He was so enthralled, and I let him listen. My justification was that if this little boy didn’t listen to this story now, he would probably not know what a dragon was and end up becoming one himself because he didn’t read the right sort of books.
Order and norms are certainly important for children, and for learning in general. However, sometimes norms can be broken, at least a little.
My class eats lunch with the sixth grade, but sometimes we have the lunchroom to ourselves. On one particular occasion that the sixth grade was absent, one of the little boys in my class thought it would be funny to come sit with me (they sit with me if they get into trouble, not for fun). He grabbed his lunch box and sat across from me at my table, giggling uncontrollably. His two other friends stared, laughed, then quickly followed, also giggling. The three of them sat across the table from me, huge grins on their faces, very pleased with themselves. We chatted for the rest of lunch, and slowly several other kids made their way over to sit with us. This has happened a second time, beginning always with the first three boys, then followed by more and more kids, all giggling with huge grins.
This disrupts our norm—the norm of sitting with the teacher when you get into trouble— but I love it. I love that when they have free time to themselves, they still want to be around me and talk to me. They often tell me stories, or explain their elaborate imaginative games complete with throwing DNA into the volcano at Yellowstone to bring back the dinosaurs.
I want to encourage their imaginations as they become more consumed with technology and less interested in books or nature. For some of these kids, their weekend stories consist of playing video games or watching movies without venturing outside, and I am saddened at the adventurous joyful childhoods that they are missing. However, many of my students continuously open my eyes to the enchantment this world holds. Their incredible sense of wonder and curiosity constantly draws me back to why I teach.
I often feel as though I am the one being taught by them. I am learning to find wonder in the small things again, to be curious about the simple, to be excited about the ordinary. I am reminded not to be bound by my lesson plans, but to participate in the curiosity of my students: their excitement and their play.
Teaching is re-enchanting the world for me.