A Yellow Disc

We have discs, attached to each of the 18 desks in the room.

Blue means I’m good, I’m working, I’m okay.

Yellow, the flip side, means I need help, I’m confused, but I’m still working, even while I wait.

Quiet work time is truly quiet now; no one dances around, hand waving in the air, panting exaggeratedly, just to make sure their desperate hand is seen.

Just turn your disc, go on to another task, another problem, and it won’t be long before a teacher appears, ready to explain the directions, check your work, clear your confusion and set you on the right track once more.

I’m rather a fan of the disc system.

But today, this afternoon, it’s nearly time for dismissal and we’re doing penmanship. Our weekly practice in patience, posture, and the neat, looping letters of the cursive alphabet.

We write in cursive all week long, and on these Thursday workbook pages, we refine our skills.

The procedure is simple.

Trace a word, write a word. That’s it.

And they go through, and I remind them about straight backs, feet on the floor, pencil hold, as I pace the room (I’m perpetually pacing circles around that cozy upstairs room).

They’ve no need for help because it’s all right there. All write there. Alright there.

But suddenly, there in the second row, just as I’m on my way past, a hand shoots up. Then, remembering, it slips down again, only to turn his disc from blue to yellow.

I catch his upturned gaze, read the faint look of concern in his furrowed brow. Under his long, thick lashes, dark eyes meet my own; I need you, I need help, he tells me.

And I stop right there, I always stop. And it’s an immediate pivot until I’m behind him, ready to answer, to help, to listen, even as I wonder that there could be a question pertaining to the cursive copying of words such as “ice” and “fierce.”

But then, just as I’ve bent my head, turned his page slightly to read where he might be, he turns, grinning up at me, his round-faced dimples nearly swallowing me whole.

I’m just kidding, I don’t need help! He laughs gently, amused at his own joke, chuckling at the way he truly had convinced me.

And I rub his head as I step away, smiling to myself even as he turns his disc back to blue once again.

And the whole conversation was twenty second, maybe less, but I want to remember it, I wanted to write it down.

Because, of course, I’ve completely fallen for that sweet boy, as well as every other love in the 4th grade. His silliness, his mischievous smile and quick thinking brought me joy, and I never want to forget that.

And deeper still, I want to hold onto the child’s trust in that moment; trust that I saw him. Trust that I would help him. Trust that I could help him. And in the end, trust that his joke, his miniature prank, would make me smile just like it made him smile.

Because he trusts that I’m kind, that I laugh, that I enjoy being there in that classroom.

And I hope he never loses that trust.

~Natalia

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All Its Own

Friday night: exhausted. So tired I can feel my body sinking heavier, deeper, into my chair at the dining table.

I was so tired.

Monday morning: slightly better. A new week calls for new energy and new enthusiasm, and eighteen 9-year-olds at the door do not take a break.

Monday afternoon: dizzy, lightheaded, balancing atop the stool I often drag about the classroom.

Monday evening: resting. I managed to stay asleep for a 40-minute nap, then moved calmly, gently through a bit of remaining prep.

Tuesday: better. The dizziness gone, the exhaustion subdued. But the planning, the work- of that, there is always more.

I’ve three desktop sticky notes devoted to To Do tasks, one updated daily with tasks to be done, preparation and notes and plans yet to be made.

Am I supposed to rest during the weekend? On the weekend?

That’s the puzzle I try to solve, every day.

Just as an ever-present reminder that I’m not on top of things.

I can’t do it all, or even part of what needs done.

I need a lot more strength than I’ve got.

And that’s a lesson all its own.

~Natalia

Bullet Point Post: The Fourth Grade Edition

• I’m required to journal every week, as a part of my student teaching requirements, and I’ve come to relish the weekly opportunity to process through the things I’ve seen, experienced, and learned.

• I also secretly dream of all those pages of reflections and classroom stories becoming a part of a book someday. Although I imagine there’s a wide range of experiences and wisdom I need to gain before anything I happen to type could be considered “book material.”

• I’ve been student teaching for seven weeks thus far, and the experience of teaching, of being in the classroom, has yet to lose its charm. I remain completely captivated by each of the 18 hearts in the class, and not a day goes by that I do not look forward to seeing them, and to what the school day might hold for us.

• I’ve been the sole teacher in the classroom this week, responsible for every element of the day, and have thoroughly enjoyed the odd sense of both increased freedom and greatly heightened responsibility. Of course, the wonderful woman whose classroom I have taken over is just a few doors away, and I treasure my conversations with her at the end of the day.

• Math class today featured a test for which we have painstakingly prepared, as we slogged through hours of long division over the past four weeks. As to the results, I’ll say that I am pleased with our mastery of the subject in the good moments, and reminding myself that the grades of my students do not directly correlate to my value as a person in the slightly less stellar moments.

• I really am proud of my little mathematicians, though.

• I’m on lunch duty this week, which entails the highly sought-after thrill of lunching with 50 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and also affords me an invaluable view into the lives and minds of the kids with whom I spend my days. I alternate between the 4th grade boys’ and girls’ tables (the natural- if occasionally awkward- gender mixing begins to occur in 5th grade), and the difference in mealtime conversation is literally night and day between the two tables. On Tuesday, I heard about play dates and fights with sisters, and about the time Lala’s mom made these really, really great tacos. On Wednesday, I heard about last night’s episode of Flash, discussed my favorite Star Wars movies, in order, and watched in awe as seven Red Velvet Oreos become one mega-Oreo.

• I’ll let you guess which meal was spent at which table.

• After having tasted them for the first time this past summer, I’ve allowed myself to develop a rather specified dependence on Combos. Specifically, the Buffalo Bleu Cheese flavor of Combos. More specifically yet, Buffalo Bleu Cheese Combos that are slightly stale and 100% frozen after sitting in my glove compartment for an undetermined amount of days prior. I really go for those.

• Although, I’ve not had any this week, and am wondering if I should carry my accidental abstinence further, into a kind of self-imposed, cold-turkey intervention.

• But I probably won’t because, well, I like them.

• Every Thursday morning, my kids turn in their Words and Sentences. Which are, as you might imagine, a list of their weekly spelling words and sentences written using said words. One sweet girl- the same angel who spent an entire week of recess attached to my side as I made my recess duty rounds, wrote 20 sentences about herself and me. She recounted (imaginary) adventures, stated preferences and distastes, and made jokes, each and every one with a reference to Miss Shull.

• Upon my return to the classroom (I grade Words and Sentences while they have art), I casually mentioned to her that her Words and Sentences made me smile. She beamed.

• I pray for all the kids, but on days like today, I especially pray for that one. And for myself. Because I’m living my life in large part exposed to these 18 pair of intent eyes, and I know they’re smart enough to see through what I do wrong, where I fall short, where I need to grow so much more.

• I pray for their hearts, and for mine. I pray for their futures, for their families, their friendships, their gifts. I pray for wisdom and guidance and a soft heart to hear what He’s saying, and go where He’s directing.

• And I thank God for them. That I do quite a bit.

~Natalia

What You May

My possessions are strewn about the floor, evidence of my recent move heaped in piles across the plush carpet. My laundry basket sits in the corner, the sleeves of a work shirt spilling haphazardly over the edges, faintly dirty cuffs draped unceremoniously over the plastic set of drawers containing much of my clothing. In the middle of the room, at the foot of my big bed, my bare comforter lies atop of pile of clothes, books, and other trinkets that have not yet found homes in my new room. The bed itself is littered with the day’s discarded clothes, my book bag, computer, and curriculum books for lessons I’ve yet to plan.

I’ve pulled the comforter cover- inside out- from where it was under the floor pile, and am attempting to stuff the comforter back in, when she appears in the doorway. Three years old, she clutches her scruffy kitty to her chest, dark eyes peering from under darker bangs. She’s used to my room upstairs, accustomed to knock first, and don’t touch the makeup, and yes you can climb on the bed. This is the first time she’s been in this room, since it’s become mine, and I allow her free reign, at least for the moment; I’m curious what she will do.

Her kitty abandoned on the floor by the door, she watches me wrestle with the comforter for a moment, before lifting the corner of the blanket, undoing the work I have done to stuff the unwieldy blanket into its floral cover. What are you doing? She asks, her tiny face tilting to study first me, then the blanket. I explain, and she moves, spins, twists my blanket further out of line.

Can you put that down please?

And she obeys, chattering all the while.

Her attention diverted from the blanket, which I’ve finally managed to contain, she moves toward the wall, towards the make-shift vanity that I’ve compiled atop my plastic drawers. She investigates my bottles of gummy vitamins, pushes my coconut lotion aside, until finally her little hands find my makeup bag. The holy grail of preschool exploration. She’s pulled my foundation out of its spot when I look up: No touching my make up. And again, she steps away, a slight hesitation in her step, but she listens, nonetheless.

I continue to work, organize, unpack, and she continues to flit about the room, her curiosity stretching much larger than her own tiny frame. Into the brown paper bag of food by the door. Into the pile of books and the hole punch balancing atop. Into my clean laundry, my skirts, my shoes.

And still I move her, reminding her of rules, creating new ones, redirecting, enforcing, badgering.

Finally, exasperated, she looks up, a shrug in her slim shoulders. Well, what can I do? She asks, hands, once more clutching her kitty, turn palms-up into a defeated shrug.

I sigh then, shake my head at my own oversight. It’s not the No, No, No that is most effective; I’ll not get anywhere- and neither will she- by constantly trying to beat her to the punch, listing all that she can’t, can’t, can’t before she’s had a moment to think what she can. Chagrinned, I sit back on my heels over the (gradually shrinking) pile of laundry.

Ah, of course, I say, an apology in my tone. You can do you work! I say, pointing her to the opposite corner of the room, where my pencil holder sits atop a bin of books. Her “work” consists of using every pen in the box to “write” on the scraps of paper that used to hold my own notes and scribbles. She’s diligent and focused when she does her work, and she perks up immediately when I suggest it. I follow her scampering feet to the corner, pull out the paper scraps for her, and watch her settle into her task, a faint smile of focus, of purpose, on her face.

I return to my tidying, working slowly to clear the floor, organize my space, and still her words sink further into my mind, my heart: Well, what can I do? And I think then, as I watch her write, play, imagine, there on the floor, that I want to be the kind of teacher, the kind of adult, the kind of heart, who tells a child all that they can and all that they may and all that they will, because there is a time for rules, and a time to comply, but there is yet more need to wings, for open space to create, to shine, to fly.

And that is what I want. For the children in my classroom. For the children in my home. And for three-year-old princesses with kitties in their arms and curiosity in their eyes.

~Natalia

Life Right Now {#64}

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Another weekend of action and moving. Another two days that make the five-day workweek seem restful.
Another 48-hour agenda of going and seeing, talking and experiencing, meeting up and visiting.

And I do not complain.

Especially when this weekend featured two days with The Jen and Mar; late night movie and breakfast tacos, lakeshore iceskating, and donuts in the back of a packed Stan’s.

And now, I set the alarm for 6:01am, and the countdown begins for another day, another week, another weekend.

But really, each day is unique and rah day is a gift, and I’ll take every one, just as they come.

~Natalia

Welcome Home

I see your brake lights before I see you, actually.

Driving west on 120, just past the intersection where I turn every morning, into the oblong parking lot of that precious Christian school.

Driving west on 120 in the space where it’s two lane, two way- the lake on one side (they call it Lake County for a reason) and a line of wide-spaced, Victorian homes on the other.

I’m the fourth car in a line of four, our parade lead by a gray Sedan rolling five miles under the speed limit. So I have time to watch you, for a moment.

The brake lights catch my eye first, their red shine stabbing into the surrounding darkness insistently, but not obnoxiously. The trees above you glow red, for a moment, and it’s another moment before I make out the shape of the car, there below the trees.

You’re moving slowly, up the driveway, the white circles cast by your headlights shrinking as you approach the house, until you’ve stopped, leaving two white spheres glowing on the red bricks, and the trees above still eerily red.

You’re home.

I wonder then, what you’re coming home to. I’m not particularly fond of dark houses in the night, but it’s not trepidation I feel as I watch you arrive, but rather an odd sense of belonging, warming my chest, settling contentedly in my stomach. You’re home.

I glance up as I pass, my gaze rising past the front door, searching windows for light, for signs of life and welcoming warmth. But the house is dark, the door is closed, and I doubt, for a moment, the cheeriness, the relief, that I stumbled upon as I watched you arrive just second ago.

I mean, this surely doesn’t look welcoming.

But that sense of home sticks strong in my chest, and I know that you’re where you should be, you need to be, you want to be.

So I drive on- what else am I to do, really? And you? Well, I suppose you open your door, you gather your things, you walk to the house. I’m already beyond, past, out of sight, but you unlock the front door, you push through, and there, in that deep-sigh, warm-air moment, you are home.

~Natalia

Makes Us Writers

Once a week, on Thursday morning. Between pledge and prayer, that morning tongue twister, and Bible, we have art. They canceled Art this week though. It’s because, we know, we have Spiritual Emphasis Week. Because schedules have been rearranged and teachers have their own kids in their own classes, and this week, we have no art.

I decide, on Tuesday night, that maybe we just might. Maybe we will have art. It’s only minutes after I’ve begun to wonder that I’ve become convinced: we are going to have art. And I will teach it.

Of course, I’ve wandered the hallowed halls of tens of art galleries in my life. From the Art Institute of Chicago to Paris’ Musee L’Orangerie; I’ve seen art. But my eye for excellence in brushstrokes and in hue is untrained, and I’ve no formal instruction in art. My drawings are rough, my characters are stick figures, my paintings- well, it’s been awhile since I painted anything, really.

But I can see beauty. In words and in phrases, in the little souls that fill the classroom, and in the One who made us all. I can see that, and these words here, these pages of things I’ve seen, things I remember, are a museum; not of what I’ve done, what I’ve said, but of wonder I’ve seen, and gifts He’s given. I don’t know art, per se, but I know beauty, and I’ve sunk deep into wonder, and those can be taught just as well as brush strokes, color choice.

So we set aside that Thursday morning hour, and when chapel ends, the calendar says ART and they are curious, intrigued. We look at the Little Dancer, talk about Degas and what he saw, what he captured, what might have moved him most. We look at paintings and real life models, and talk about the artist’s eye, the way it is him- or her- only who decides what to capture, what to communicate, what to emphasize. The artist sees with an eye, with a view, that none other share, and what comes from her-or his- brush, pen, hand, is as unique as the one they portray.

Then, an image on the screen before them, I give each student a paper, 8.5×11 inches of inviting white spread. They’re not going to copy, not going to follow the lines on the screen, communicating the exact details, exact image, exact feelings of the original artist- if even that were possible. Rather, they will show me. Show with your words, show with your pictures. Use your pen, your eyes, your unique gift to capture a detail- any detail- of this image.

They work, then. Heads bent over papers, some. Others leaning back in their seats, eyes roving over the screen, catching details like falling stars, hoarding them, treasuring them, savoring them. In the dim light, I wander amongst their desks, the white glow of the screen against my back. One or two, maybe more, shrug as I approach, their eyes wide with confusion, dulled with preemptive defeat.

I can’t draw, they tell me, looking up from blank pages, their pens clutched loosely in hands limp with uncertainty. Ah, I shrug definitively when they say this, neither can I. But I can use words- you can use words- anyone can use words. To tell me about what you see, what you want me to see.

Don’t draw, I tell those who shake their heads, shoulders slumped. Write. Write what you see. Write how you feel. Write what caught your heart, what broke your heart. Write the beauty that stopped your breath, and the mundane that kept you breathing. Use your words, child, and write it all.

And they do, a little. They’re learning. We’re all learning. But they are all- we are all- individuals who create, who see, who notice, who remember. And that makes us artists.

Makes us writers.

Makes us creations made in the image of God.

And that is our greatest trait.

~Natalia