Molly sits at her flip-top desk with a iPad in hand and a huge desire to learn. She is spunky and inquisitive, surrounded by a warm and inviting classroom that is decorated with pictures and maps in bright colors that stimulate the imagination of Molly and her classmates. Those classmates range from ages six to seven as this is a first grade class, with subgroups of readers working on tasks at the same level and advancing at a pace appropriate to the individual's learning capabilities. The teacher is prepared, authoritative without speaking loudly, and respected by Molly and her peers. She tends to the children with compassion and care, encouraging the children to settle in graduated rows on the floor surrounding the rocking chair, sitting on their pockets so all can see, gently encouraging those who temporarily forget where their pockets are. The teacher, Molly, and Molly's peers, dressed in colors and styles popular in their community, sing a rousing version of the traditional alphabet song, the singsong notes bouncing off the classroom walls in charming synthesis. The observing guest speaker blinks back tears at the beauty of Molly's spirit, so in love with life and learning that it takes her breath away.
Suzannah sits at her flip-top desk with a Pencil in hand and a huge desire to learn. She is quiet and focused, surrounded by a warm and inviting classroom that is decorated with pictures and maps in bright colors that stimulate the imagination of Suzannah and her classmates. Those classmates range from ages six to thirteen as this is a multi-age group, with subgroups working on tasks at the same level and advancing at a pace appropriate to the individual's learning capabilities. The teacher is prepared, authoritative without speaking loudly, and respected by Suzannah and her peers. He tends to the children with compassion and care, even lifting one little boy onto his own rocking chair when another group of children comes in causing a space crunch. The teacher, little boy, Suzannah, and Suzannah's other peers, dressed in colors and styles popular in their community, sing a rousing version of a traditional song, the commanding notes bouncing off the classroom walls in brilliant synthesis. The observing guest speaker blinks back tears at the beauty of Suzannah's spirit, so in love with life and learning that it takes her breath away.
Both of these classrooms are in Indiana. Both Molly and Suzannah are young girls who have sat in one of the 122 audiences with whom I have been privileged to share my heart through the months of August, September, October, and November. However, Molly is in a traditional public school, while Suzannah is a student in an Amish school. Florescent lights versus a gas lamp, computerized bell systems versus a bell on a rope pulled to signal the end of recess, spellcheck versus paper copies of dictionaries on each desk. A world apart...or maybe not.
You might be wondering what I, the teary guest speaker, shared with both Molly and Suzannah since they were in such different situations. Part of my life story; braille, including reading part of a children's book written by my friend and Michigan Teacher of the Year Melody Arabo;http://www.melodyarabo.com/ information about guide dogs, including demonstrations with Nacho; and the affirmation that their lives will be richer and more meaningful with a blend of learning and hope to fuel their journeys. They both were engaged, curious, and enchanted with Nacho. I reached them both, and they let me know it.
I ponder who these two girls will become. Their futures are very different in some ways, with one existing in a world of ever increasing technology and the other rooted firmly in a culture that sees little appeal in technology. Yet, their futures are also very similar, with both girls being smart, happy, and secure in learning environments that match their needs as individuals who are growing up into strong, capable, intelligent women. In their own ways, they will both succeed; of that, I am certain.
Molly and Suzannah are just two of the thousands of little voices who have called out Nacho's name at the start of a presentation. Their lifestyles, personalities, and prospects are not mine to judge or shape but instead to honor and respect. In both classrooms, after I regained my composure following the gift of their songs, I both spoke and listened to myself speak, realizing in an almost out-of-body revelation that I could not receive a higher honor than being granted the opportunity to visit so many classrooms in so many different types of schools in so many diverse places. No one told me that this would be the most precious part of the Teacher of the Year role. I also have a global revelation when thinking about Molly and Suzannah. Our world is big enough for those of different cultures, religious beliefs, values, and expectations to love and learn with the dignity of personal choice. These two girls, different and yet so similar, both deserve that wide, accepting, limitless world.