Lesson From an Elementary School Teacher

One of the magnificent elementary teachers I have been able to observe in three recent days of school visits had a simple but wonderful task for her second and third grade high ability students. When they encounter writer's block, she told them to make a best/worst list, things that are really superb in their young memory banks and things that have been less than wonderful for them. Such a simple idea, but so unexpectedly helpful. I listened to this teacher validate a variety of answers and gently encourage deeper thinking in others. I even heard her walk with a young child whose "worst" was a frightening-sounding surgery the child had undergone; by the time they were done talking, the child recognized that the surgery could go on both lists as while it itself was terrifying, the outcome restored health and wellbeing, so it was both worst and best.

I marvel at the beauty of elementary teachers. There is something pure and graceful in their interaction with their students. They are not caught up in subject matter as much as the growth of the whole child. They do not baby the children but instead operate in an atmosphere of respect, compassion, and expectation all woven together. They stand before the most fragile of little beings who have not had years and years to develop strength and confidence, and they somehow find the way to make learning happen while still protecting and cherishing their fledgling learners. The flood of standards and elimination of enough time for specials like gym, art, music, and playtime would be on most of their "worst" lists, but their "best" lists are repetitively gorgeous: the children's laughter, the children's spirit, the children's resilience, the children's intelligence, the children's joy, the children's creativity, the children's potential, the children's love for learning. It is all about the children.

Nacho is not a child, but as the second and third graders constructed their lists, I couldn't help but consider a list for him while I rub his soft ears as he lay sleeping with two dozen energetic youngsters' just feet away. Nacho's "worst" list might read like this: splashes water everywhere when he drinks, sheds a lot, sometimes snores, can walk too slow when it is hot, will be stubborn occasionally when he gets some idea in his doggy mind. But, oh my word, his "best" list is similar to what those elementary teachers find in the value of reiteration: constant attentiveness, constant calm, constant loyalty, constant flexibility, constant kisses and snuggles, constant intelligence, constant willingness to forgive me, constant willingness to forgive himself, constant love.

Let me tell you, writing that best/worst list DOES free the mind...try it!

May we all walk with the spirit of an elementary teacher who knows both the best and worst of this education profession and still carries on because of the children, and may we all walk with the heart of a yellow lab whose constancy is as silky as the ears I absolutely must now go stroke again.