The Magic of a Happy Ending

The last class of my day is always a sixth grade. Whether a member of the “blue” cohort or the “gold”—colors representing the school and the way 100% virtual students and “school-in-person” students achieve parity in time spent with a teacher—ending with the youngest kids is wonderful. I invariably walk away smiling, soothed by their relative innocence and their acceptance of effort on my part even if it doesn’t guarantee real success in teaching outcomes. They are forgiving.

Today we began class with one of those “babies” (keep in mind, eighth and seventh graders precede them) explaining to her peers how last Friday when she “stayed after” in our Google Meet, “Ms. Emerson and I talked about having a mini-virtual Halloween Parade on the 29th,” our last online meet before this revered holiday.

In the community where I teach, as in much of the Northeast, Halloween is second only to Christmas. The all-community parade is a sacred institution and FUN! In the past, people have lined the streets, adults, children, teens—this event brings out the spirits in the even the most jaded. So when this pre-teen suggests that we wear our costumes on that day and parade around our Meet space, wherever that may be, I am 100% on board. The small things are large in this Covid-world; joy must be cultivated!

Her peers are excited, eager to join in. Google Meet has met its match! We start our class there and end it here:

We are reading Prairie Lotus for the Global Read-Aloud. We have just completed Chapter 6. If you’re participating, then you know that in this chapter the main character Hanna is struggling with prejudice and feeling “other” as a “half-half,” half Chinese, half white. She has pleaded to attend school, but it has not been the dream-come-true she’d envisioned. It’s 1880 in a newly settled town in the South Dakota territory.

Her teacher, Miss Walters, sees the suspicion of her students as they regard Hanna. She tells each of them they will address the entire class answering this question: Where did you come from before you wound up here, in LaForge? The names of places mount on the chalkboard. It turns out that everyone is from somewhere else; they are all newcomers. And Hanna, as the only one from California, who has eaten many oranges, not just for Christmas or a party, suddenly becomes the vaunted one. She realizes this:

“As Hanna listened to her classmates, she glanced occasionally at Miss Walters. She made them—she made us see that we all came from somewhere else.”

(Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus (p. 65). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.)

After we finish the chapter, I give the kids several minutes to work on a novel tracker, to make brief annotations and give a chapter title where Park has only numbered. We come together and share. Then I say, “I made a text-to-text connection. Do you remember when we read ‘Eleven’ a couple weeks ago and the birthday girl was humiliated? I know it’s because I am a teacher, and we focus on what matters to us in a first reading, but I keep thinking about how different these two teachers are, how lucky Hanna is to have Miss Walters rather than that other one.”

The kids are agreeing. Then I say, “I want to always be Miss Walters, kind and perceptive, and open-minded.”

One of my students says, “Ms. Emerson, you’ll never be the mean one!” Oh, in these hard times, I can only hope that’s true.

I end by saying that we all have bad days, but together we will sort it out. We will be forgiving. That shared belief as we say goodbye, smiles all around, makes me thankful for my sixth grade finale.

Early to Bed; Early to Rise

I’m asleep in the recliner when my husband rouses me with a gentle,” Hey, babe, don’t you think you better go to bed?” Despite the obvious—I am after all, sound asleep—it’s only 7:30 p.m. and for most of my fellow Oregonians, bedtime is hours away.

“Man, someday soon I’m going to get through an entire PBS NewsHour,” I mumble as I rise and stumble to the bedroom.

“Probably not while you’re living on East Coast time,” he murmurs, and he’s right. Since I’ve started teaching in New Jersey, I am newly familiar with “shift work,” my stint beginning at 5:15 a.m. PST ( well, PDT until November 1st) and ending at 9:50 (gotta love school schedules)—unless I have to assist kids from 11:00-12:00 pm. Is this making you dizzy?

When my former principal called me about the job, she admitted, “We wouldn’t have considered it—except you’ve always been such an early riser!” My co-teacher and still-close-friend in NJ chuckled when we were discussing the offer in a later call. “You were crazy about all that grading, and reading. You can’t still be getting up at 4 a.m.?” Truthfully, 5 a.m. is my normal, no-alarm-necessary wake-up, and when I’m awake, I’m UP! So this new job hasn’t demanded that much of an adjustment for me. Except…

I had forgotten about those back-to-school nerves, that pit-of-my-stomach ache about the uncertainty of a day in front of my students. Sleeplessness is part of that, has always been, so rather than stress, and toss and turn, I get out of bed at 3 am and get to work, knowing that this will get, not easier, but more familiar.

Seth Godin published this great post on September 20th about how when we say, “I’d better get to work,” we equate that with the drudgery of routine, of “the measurable grind.” He suggests that our framing has significant power. “Maybe we’d be better off saying,” ‘I need to get back to making magic.'” I love that because that’s how I feel about my work, that “dancing with possibility” I embrace even with sleep in my eyes.

Let this year be one of magic-making for us all!