a third grade class for a teacher on vacation for a week. As a substitute, you have to gain control quickly, but every now and then, there are classes that you just click with, and some you never will.
This was the former. Whenever I covered elementary, where the kids are still excited about school and eager to please their teachers and for the most part get along, I always tried to keep it fun, to be the type of teacher I wish I had.
I’ve got several notes and letters attesting to my success in this:
“MR. SMITH ROCKS, ” signed by Mr. / Mrs. _ ‘s class,
and other notes along those lines; a friend of mine once told me those were reference letters. I’ve held onto them for sentimental reasons, to remind myself that I once made children have a fun day.
Everyone should have a reference letter from a kid.
But THIS particular class, for whatever reason, just liked me, and I liked them. We were determined to make each other laugh, and they gave as good as they got, turning out to be a precocious group. But they worked, and being the adult(?) in the room, I never let it get out of hand, and they kept each other in line too. We had our quiet moments. It made them appreciate the comic stuff more.
And then one day, in the lesson plan, was an art lesson; the kids had to make something. There were instructions, and supplies, and children who were assigned to give them out. I carried out said plan with dread, because I am ham-fisted when it comes to that stuff, but the kids were into it, and I was responsible to see it done, soooo….
There they were, working quietly, when one of the girls came up to the teacher’s desk with her broken art project in her hands. She wasn’t crying or anything, but she was holding the papery thing out to me like a communion wafer.
I took it from her, looked at it for a moment, fixed it, and gave it back, and she returned to her seat, and finished the project.
Here’s the weird part: neither of us said a word.
It was almost a pantomime, except it was unrehearsed and unplanned. She didn’t know I was dreading doing anything to it, that I didn’t want to take it, and was going to send her to another teacher across the hall who was good at that stuff.
But for whatever reason, I didn’t. She brought it to me, thinking I was capable, and something in me thought that if a kid thought I was capable of something, then I should be the one to do it. And I did, and she returned to her seat with her faith unshaken in the fact that adults can fix the problems kids have; that they can be approached, that they are there to help.
I realized now why later I thought the paper looked like communion: because it was offered up in faith, and placed into my hands to fix.
She didn’t need to say anything, and she wasn’t worried because she knew I could see what she needed done, and she trusted me to do it. She didn’t know I was ham-fisted, she didn’t know I had limited knowledge; she wanted me to fix what was broken so she could finish what she had to do.
The silence between us, after all the laughter, just made the moment that much more profound.
At the end of the week, the class asked me if I would sit with them in the lunchroom. I did, and we laughed, and shared food, and stupid jokes (What’s yellow and goes click? A ball point banana; Why was the tomato red? Because it saw the salad dressing…)
And on Friday afternoon, before dismissal, they gave me a card signed by all of them:
MR. SMITH ROCKS. THANK YOU FOR BEING OUR TEACHER. YOU’RE FUN. WE’LL MISS YOU. ❤ Mrs. __’s class.
I still have that reference letter, but that one small act of faith will remain clipped to it as long as I live.