Tuesday, May 25, 2010


There are some families in our school who have become notorious for needing extra-special love and care for working with their children. These families all tend to have many siblings in different grades, making almost every teacher in the school come into contact with a family member in one way or another. These are the families whose parents are difficult to get a hold of, or when you do manage to track them down they give you fabulous one-liners like,

"Condoms? You found condoms in my first grader's backpack? I don't know where he got those- we don't use them at our house!"


"what do you want me to do? Tell her what to do? I'm her mother."


"I'd be happy to come in and have a parent conference. Let me just get a pen and write down that time. Oh look- I don't have a pen. Nope, no pen in the whole house. Too bad, I really wanted to meet with you."

Most of these parents truly want the best for their children, but are overwhelmed with their jobs, their many children, trying to pay rent, feed their families, and stay above water. These are the children who rarely do homework, tend to need to repeat kindergarten, and need to spend a lot of time with the guidance counselors. They are sweet, wonderful children, whose lives just haven't exposed them to good problem solving strategies, immersed them in language and literacy, or prepared them for school's academic environment. Many of them come to kindergarten able to wash dishes, cook food, and translate for their parents' at the hospital, but have little idea of how to spell their name.

Today, during kindergarten free choice I walked by the youngest members of one of these families. He looked up at me with his bright kindergarten smile and said, "Hey, want to come to our show?"
Quickly he explained that he was getting his friends to put on a Knuffle Bunny Play like his brother had seen on Friday when the first grade went on a field trip. He was directing a whole of children around him to take part in preparing for "the show".

I smiled, said "of course" and then asked him what his brother told him about the play.

Turns out, the brother had the family spend the weekend re-enacting Knuffle Bunny The Musical over and over again.

The family who seems to never turn in homework, avoids parent-teacher conferences like the plague, has let us know that academics are not nearly as important as their children's survival- the children in that family spend the weekend acting out a book, not because it was homework, but because they wanted to.

I died. The first grader in question is the most notorious of this particular family, and the one brother who spent the most time meeting with our fabulous administration. The one who acts like he, at 6, is way too cool for this school stuff. Yet he organized the rest of his brothers to put on a play- a play he'd seen in school- a play based off a book.

On Friday I wrote about how awesome our field trip was, and how much the kids got out of it, and that it was an event they would remember forever. But to be honest, I didn't expect anybody who wasn't already an avid reader to go home and bring the play home to his family.

We can talk all about data collection, high standards, merit pay, accountability, and student outcomes until we've exhausted the subject, but until we find the spark for each of these kids- until we are able to inspire our most troubled learners, no real reform will take place. It's events like our Friday adventure that allow children to connect with the world, and motivate the learners we are so desperately trying to teach.


Jenny said...

You brought me nearly to tears with this. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My wife helped create the Knuffle Bunny musical. Your posts about the field trip were very moving (but perhaps not for the reason you might think). Tens of thousands of schoolchildren around the country have seen my wife’s shows, but very few teachers have taken the time to try to capture the impact of the performance on their students. Even fewer have done so with such eloquence.

In Henry James’ essay “The Art of Fiction” he advises writers, “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" You clearly are a teacher upon whom nothing is lost. Only someone who truly cares about her students would understand the significance of a girl’s wardrobe choice or a boy’s week-end theatrics. And only a teacher who knows how to truly listen would recognize a child’s vocal reaction as an expression of the show’s impact rather than a disruption that should be immediately hushed up.

So I was very moved – by how lucky your students are to have you as their teacher.