Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Oak Brook

                                 Charlie_and_the_Chocolate_Factory_original_cover (1)

Written by Frances Peacock

 

A book can make a wonderful gift for a child.

When a mother takes her daughter into a bookstore to help her choose her first chapter book, it can be a great occasion for both of them.

Unless you’re talking about a mother and daughter that I knew.  For them, the occasion didn’t go so well.

The girl was nine years old, and she detested the book her mother chose.  The cover was hideous, she hated the pictures, and the whole thing had too many pages. She swore that as long as she lived, she would never open that awful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The mother bought the book anyway.

Then, as they continued their errands through the Oak Brook Shopping Center, they found a bench to sit on.  The mother set down her packages, took off her tan coat, and told the daughter to take a look at that book while they rested a while.  The girl gave it a try.

To the girl’s surprise, the first page was pretty good. The second page made her laugh. Before she knew it, she was hooked. She read two chapters while she sat on that bench. In three days, she had finished the whole book.

By the time she turned ten, she had read the book again – four more times.

In high school and college, the girl would move on to other novels, but nothing would ever grab her the way that Charlie book did.

Now the girl is a teacher. She’s reading the book to her third graders.  Every day, they listen to two chapters. They fall in love with the story.   The girl buys 26 copies of the book, one for each student.  They act out a play about the chocolate factory.  They dress in costumes and paint a giant mural of their favorite scenes.

One evening after school, the girl calls her mother. She tells her about all the fun she’s having with her class. She says she was the one who started it all, back at Oak Brook, when she bought her that book.

But the mother doesn’t remember that book.  Or the Oak Brook Shopping Center, or even that her daughter is a teacher.

The daughter listens on the phone as her mother tries to remember. Many things are hard to recall now, the daughter is finding out.  Even the most important things – even the lovely, favorite book that she bought for her youngest daughter.

It’s really alright, though, the daughter decides, because the mother has still done something wonderful, hasn’t she?

She once bought her daughter a book she adored, and she never once told the girl to, for Heaven’s sake read something else instead of that same old Charlie book over and over again.

She gave her child a wonderful gift, and she never looked back.

The girl, thank goodness, kept going with that gift, so it hasn’t been forgotten yet at all.

A wise woman knows that love goes forward. She plants a seedling and helps it grow. She knows she’ll never sit under the shade of that tree.

The shade is all for me, and my 26 fans of the chocolate factory.

 

 

 

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

The Mind And The Hand

grace-cake

Written by Frances Peacock

“What the hand does, the mind remembers.” Maria Montessori

 If you want to watch a child learn something new right before your eyes, put an object in her hands.   Any object at all.

You’ll see her turn the thing around a few times. She’ll feel its grooves and edges. She’ll try to decide if it’s breakable, and she’ll wonder what would happen if she dropped it into a tub of water. She’ll ask you what it’s called.

After a minute or two, she’ll hand the object back to you, and she’ll be able to tell you all about it. She’ll know what it’s made of, how much it weighs, what it smells like, and whether it has any cracks or defects. She’ll tell you if she has ever seen anything like it before.

She holds it for only a moment, but the thing has left its mark. An object in the hand seems to go right through the fingertips. It forms an impression in the mind.  It becomes a memory that cannot be erased.

A teacher can actually open up a child’s hand and put in something for her future.

I give a child twenty wooden sticks. He’ll glue them together and make a flatboat just like the sort that traveled the Ohio River in pioneer days.

I pass a girl the plain white paper and the grey pastels that will become the sketch of a winter tree that her mother will frame for the living room.

I hand a boy the gold medal that says he is gifted in math.

I pass around a glass jar that holds a praying mantis. A girl will turn the jar sideways and shake it a little. She’ll look the bug in the eyes and say, “Hello.” She’ll pass the jar to the next person, and she’ll never forget that insect.

All ordinary items,  but one never knows what could spark something lovely – an idea a child might reach back for when he’s older, a happy memory he can build upon.

It’s a teacher’s job to find the proper things. I choose what’s good for my students to hold. I place things in their hands, and then I step back. I give them time to discover. Maybe they’ll treasure it.

It’s a big responsibility, to be in charge of little hands. The world is full of a number of things, and many of them are not for children.
In every classroom, the children trust, and a teacher discerns. I’ll put nothing too sharp or too rough in their hands. Nothing too heavy, nothing they aren’t ready for. Nothing that would hurt them or cause them trouble.
Never a stone if they ask for a loaf. Never a snake if they ask for a fish.

Nothing but simple gifts of love.

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Test Scores When You’re Eight

bird's nest

Written  by Frances Peacock

Everyone is worried about test scores.  Go to any corner of this country, and you’ll hear mayors, governors, and senators making speeches about students’ growth on standardized tests. It’s enough to give a kid a stomachache.  Children don’t care about those speeches.  They have better things to do.  They’re busy growing and learning.  Every child knows, there are lots of things more important than a test score when you’re eight:

If the teacher says you’re a sweet kid and a good listener.

If you’re better at skipping rope than you were a year ago.

If you can hold the door for the lady behind you, and say “hello”.

What you do when you see a bug.

If you can keep your shoelaces out of the mud.

If you can pick the weeds, not the flowers.

If you know not to sit in the sun with a chocolate bar on a hot day.

How you act when you receive a birthday present you really do not like.

If you can help your mother remember where she parked the car.

If there’s a science experiment you can’t wait to try at home.

If you can make something beautiful out of an oatmeal box.

Whether you keep on trying to get the ball in the hoop.  Whether you keep on trying to write your name in cursive.

If you want to know what kind of nest is in that tree.

If you put a lot of stuff in your pockets that you want to look at later.

If you’re friends with the lady behind the desk at the library.

If you’re beginning to figure out that everything good comes from God.

If you have a teacher who knows that you, little Suzanne in group number 3, are more important than any test score could possibly measure.

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Pezanowski’s

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Written by Frances Peacock

Today after school I’m going down to Pezanowski’s Funeral Home.  I’m going to plan my funeral and make all the arrangements.

It’s not that I’m dying – Heavens, no!  I don’t even feel sick.  I just want the free pencils.

My class needs pencils, and Mr. Pezanowski gives them out.  His pencils are shiny and black, with a little gold hearse below the eraser.  The kids will love them.

I’ll have a chat with Mr. Pezanowski.  I’ll discuss flowers or whatever he wants, then I’ll ask him for the pencils.

I’ll tell him I have 25 students and I’m giving a math test tomorrow.  I’ll explain that the school’s supply closet is bare, and the children forget to bring pencils from home.

What is a teacher to do?  My students have a pack-a-day habit with pencils.  First thing every morning, they start burning through them.  Write spelling words, sharpen pencils.  Solve story problems, sharpen pencils.   By lunchtime, their pencils are nothing but wee stubs.  They flick them into the trash can, then expect me to slip them a long, fresh one to get them through the day.  They’re hooked.  I hope Mr. Pezanowski can give me two dozen.

After the funeral home, I’ll head over to Lenny’s Car Wash.  I’ll order the Scrub and Buff, and talk to Lenny.  I’ll tell him my class loves his pencils – they smell like cherries, just like the interior of a newly cleaned car.

When I’m low on pencils, I pick them up all over town.

I’ll reach my hand beneath the grimy seat of a city bus, if I think there’s a pencil down there.

In the laundromat, I’ll tilt a washing machine on its side, and, using my foot, drag a pencil out from underneath.

One time at the airport, I made six trips through a revolving door, just trying to get my hands on a pencil that was rattling around at the bottom.  When I finally made the grab I was dizzy, and a cop wrote down my name, but I didn’t care.  I boarded my plane to Paris with a victorious heart.

I got really lucky the day I met a man named Mo.  He gave me 500 pencils with a slogan written on them:  “Midnight Mo’s Auto Parts.  We’ll find you a fender and paint it…FAST!  Just don’t ask where it came from.”

Mo said he wouldn’t need those pencils anymore.  His business had been shut down by the sheriff, and he was going away for five to seven years, then he plans to turn his life around.  I don’t know what in the world he was talking about.

The way I see it, any fellow who has 500 pencils to give a teacher is already living his life quite beautifully.

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Bending

President Obama

Written by Frances Peacock

This morning on the news I saw the President of the United States bend down, pick up a stick, and toss it to his dog.

And I greatly admired that man for that move.

He made it look so easy, as if anyone could pull it off, but I know better.  Had I been in the President’s shoes, that stick would have stayed on the White House lawn, and that pup would have been out of luck.

I’m a teacher, and teachers don’t bend.

We don’t have to bend.  Our students pick everything up for us.  Whenever I drop a piece of chalk, lose my grip on the lunch envelope, or let my reading glasses slip through my fingers, the result is always the same:  A child will come to my aid.

He’ll leap from his seat, take the object off the floor, and place it in my hand.  I’ll say, “Thanks a bunch honey,” or something like that, and then we resume our lesson.

This has been going on in classrooms for as long as anyone can remember.  It probably began a hundred and fifty years ago, in a one-room schoolhouse someplace.  The school master dropped his hickory switch on the dirt floor, and some kid wearing overalls hopped up and grabbed it for him.  It’s a custom that continues to this day.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t deserve such special treatment.  I’m a teacher, not a queen, and I really should retrieve my own stuff.  But who am I to defy tradition?

The trouble is, at this stage of the game, I don’t know if I could pick things up if I tried.  It happens to every teacher sooner or later.  If you teach long enough, you forget how to bend.

Maybe this is why some of the older teachers don’t retire.  They won’t have any students to do their stooping for them, and they don’t know how they’ll survive.

I think this is a bigger problem than all of us realize.  Did you ever go to the supermarket, and see groceries lying on the floor?  How do you think they got there?  Just today, I saw three cans of green beans rolling around at Kroger.

I bet a teacher had been there.  The cans fell off the shelf, and she didn’t know what to do.  She looked around for a child to help her.  Finding no one, she got in her car and went home.  Poor thing. She had no choice.  She’d forgotten how to bend.

Next time you’re at the store, and you see a can on the floor, do a teacher a favor, will you?   Grab it and put it back for her.  Somewhere out in the parking lot, a lady will be grateful.

Thanks a bunch, honey.

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Tennis Lessons

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Written by Frances Peacock

The new young teacher was crying after school.  All of us gathered around her.

“The students won’t listen,” she told us, “the whole class is noisy and out of control.”

Poor dear; we’ve all been there.  It’s hard to know how to manage a classroom when you’ve never done it before.

The teachers offered advice:   Give more recess.  Give less recess.  Pass out detentions.  Carry a rosary.  Pass out candy.

I told her to go play tennis.

The other teachers rolled their eyes and walked away.  Humph.  Not a sports fan in the bunch, I guess.  Oh well.

Alone with the new girl, I asked if she owned a racquet.  I told her to go find a wall and play against it, and she’ll learn everything she needs to know about handling a class.

Racquet back, bounce, hit.  Racquet back, bounce, hit.  She’ll find there’s a rhythm to it.

Tennis is about ball control:  Swing the racquet hard, and the ball comes back at you hard.  If you try to smash the ball, be ready to duck…you’ll get what’s coming.

The same is true with a teacher’s words.  Every new teacher tries to be tough.  They look at the 25 grinning faces in front of them, and they get scared.  They want to keep order, but they’re not sure how.  They hesitate to laugh or smile, for fear the room will erupt.

A teacher doesn’t have to be tough all the time, there’s a rhythm to it. A good teacher is strict when she has to be, but she doesn’t try to be the greatest enforcer of rules since Sister Henrietta Henry ran Saint Penelope’s Women’s Lockdown Prison. That approach doesn’t work.

Children are little backboards – they return whatever’s been hit their way.  If the teacher speaks softly, they’ll speak softly.  If the teacher is kind, they’ll be kind.  If the teacher reflects the joy of school, the class will play right along.

The best teachers lead gently.  They manage the game as a smooth back-and-forth.  They know that a group of happy children will do whatever you need them to do.  They’ll follow you anywhere, they’ll want to please you and make you proud. They’ll return your love with love of their own.

The tough teachers don’t last very long.  They spend a few years swinging hard at the backboard, then they wonder why children are awful, and they go get a job at Starbucks.

Sooner or later, every teacher figures out it’s smart to keep the class on your side.

Think of it this way:  Suppose you have a little girl named Venus in your classroom.  In the seat next to her is Little Serena.  Do you really want to talk tough to those two?  Are you sure about that?  They’re so pretty, and they’re sitting so nicely and quietly.  Would you really want to serve up an ace at one of them?

Not I.  I’d be as sweet as I could be…or else look out for the return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Essays From A Teacher

Gifts of Opportunity

Mother_Angelica

Written by Frances Peacock

This post is inspired by Mother Angelica of EWTN, who said we all have the capability to be great saints, “Don’t miss the opportunity.”

A teacher’s job doesn’t come with a lot of fancy opportunities.

Do I get to drive my own company car?  Only if it’s long, yellow, and seats 50.

Will I ever see my name on the front of the building?  If so, it means somebody’s getting in trouble for graffiti.

Is a promotion in my future?  Sure. As soon as Mrs. Jones retires, you can run the chess club.

All of this is fine with me. A teacher doesn’t become a teacher for the big opportunities, she does it for the small ones.

Opportunities.  They roll around the classroom like loose crayons, and if I’m smart,  I go after them.

Kindness.  In a room full of children, the chances to show kindness are all around me.  I place a bandage on a child’s thumb after he shuts his pencil box on it.  I  share my gloves  with a child who forgot his. I give a fresh piece of construction paper to a frustrated artist.

Patience.  In the classroom, the opportunities for patience abound.  I can give a slow reader all the time in the world.  I can smile and wait while a child pulls a mud-covered knot out of his double-tied shoelace.

Forgiveness.  There are moments that are made for forgiveness alone, where nothing else will do.  A rude word can be washed off a desk and forgotten.   A hot-tempered girl can have one more chance to be sweet.

There are millions of teachers in America.  Every day, we are all given the same  wonderful gift – the opportunity to practice those virtues we’ve read about in the catechism books.

Thank goodness for teachers?  I prefer to thank goodness for our students, our guides.  Blest are we when we are shown the way to imitate Christ.

Our students take us by the hand, and lead us.  They are the people who arrive late, with stomach growling, and we give them a granola bar to hold them together til lunch.  They  are the people who have no winter coat, and we buy them one at Wal-Mart.  They are the runny-nosed, wiggling-toothed bunch who ask us for a Kleenex, or a piece of tape to repair their shabby folder, and make us holy.

Every morning, the big yellow buses pull up in front of school.  The children hop off.  They bring us their homework, their notes from home, and their needs.

It’s a lovely and important gift, to have the chance to serve a group of children.  In the course of a school day, the moments come fast and swift.

Let’s hope we never miss the opportunity.