The Mind And The Hand

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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 his hands.

Any object at all.

You’ll see him turn the thing around a few times. He’ll  feel its edges. He’ll see if it has any moving parts.  He’ll wonder what will happen if he bounces it on the floor or pitches it against a wall.  Most certainly, he’ll ask you what it’s called.

After a minute or two, he’ll hand the object back to you, and he’ll tell you all about it.

He’s like a detective with the thing:  He’ll know what it’s made of, how much it weighs, every color that’s on it.

He holds it for only a moment, but the item has left its mark.

Something new has entered his world.

An object in the hand seems to go right through the fingertips. It forms an impression in the mind – a connection that wasn’t there before, and cannot be erased.  Now, there is a memory.

A teacher knows this.

I give a boy twenty wooden Popsicle sticks.  I see him build a pioneer’s flatboat.

I pass a girl plain white paper.  She sketches a bare winter tree.

I hand a boy a gold medal. He knows he’s the winner in math.

I pass around a glass jar that holds a praying mantis.  Everybody in the class will look the bug in the eyes and say hello.

Time spent with an object changes a person.  An experience has been added that wasn’t there before.  It will harden, like a layer of a rock, and it will last forever.

A teacher can actually open up a child’s hand and put in something for his future. The thing from the teacher becomes a piece of his history.  He won’t forget it.  He’ll build upon it.  He’ll grow up with it.  He’ll reach back for it when he’s older.

That’s why I’m careful.

An object in the hand leaves a mark on the soul.

It’s a teacher’s job to find the appropriate things. When I place a thing in their hands, they take them with them – out the classroom door, home to dinner, into their dreams.

The children trust, and a teacher discerns.

The world is full of a number of things…but what things are good for children?

I’ll put nothing too sharp in their hands.  Nothing too rough. Nothing their small hands aren’t ready to handle.  Never too big of a load.

The children are curious, and a teacher protects. 

I give nothing that brings them harm or trouble. Nothing that starts tears or causes worry.  Nothing to set them down a bad path.

It’s a teacher’s privilege and responsibility.

Never a stone if they ask for a loaf. Never a snake if they ask for a fish.

Nothing but things that will take them forward, with joy, to flourish, out into the world.

 

 

Test Scores When You’re Eight

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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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts of Opportunity

 

Written by Frances Peacock

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

Do I get to drive my own company car?   Sure, if you’d like to roll around in something that’s long, yellow, and seats 50. We’ll even give you a window seat.

Will I ever see my name on the front of the building?   If so, it means somebody’s in trouble for graffiti.  Please get a bucket of hot water and a scrub brush, and meet us outside.

Is there a promotion in my future?   Absolutely!  As soon as Mrs. Jones retires, you can be in charge of the 7 a.m. chess club.

All of this is fine with me.  I didn’t become a teacher so I could climb a corporate ladder in a swanky office downtown.  I’m not here for the big opportunities.  I’m here for the small ones.

Opportunities.  They roll around the classroom like loose crayons. They’re here all day, just waiting to be picked up.  If I’m smart,  I’ll notice them, and I won’t let them go by.

Kindness.  In a room full of children, the chances to show kindness are everywhere.  I can place a bandage on a child’s thumb after he shuts his pencil box on it.  I  can share my gloves  with a child who forgot his.

Then there’s patience.  A teacher gets plenty of chances for this one.  If I’m patient, I’ll give a slow reader all the time in the world, instead of moving on to the next person.  If I’m patient, I’ll smile and wait while a child pulls a mud-covered knot out of his shoelace, even if it makes the whole class late for music.

Forgiveness.  In the classroom,  with a little forgiveness, things can be made new again.  A rude word can be washed off a desk and forgotten.   A hot-tempered girl can have one more chance to settle down and be wonderful.  With a little forgiveness, every day can start anew… even if it’s 3:30 and it’s time to go home.

Every day,  I am  given a wonderful gift – the opportunity to practice some real-life virtues.  The same virtues I once read about in my catechism book are here, and being offered to me. Every day.  Whether I’m ready or not.

Thank goodness for teachers?  I prefer to thank goodness for my students.  Blest am I when I am shown the way to imitate Christ.

My students are my guides.  They take me by the hand, and lead me.

They are the people who arrive two hours late for school, with stomach growling.  Maybe I can give them a granola bar to hold them together til lunch.  They  are the people who have no winter coat. Maybe I can stop at Wal-Mart after school and pick one up.

Every morning, the big yellow buses pull up in front of school.  The children hop off.  They bring me 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. To do my best to offer myself, in any circumstance, with an approach filled with love.  In the course of a school day, the moments come fast and swift.

I hope I never miss the opportunity.

 

(This post was inspired by Mother Angelica of EWTN, who said, “We all have the ability to be great saints.  Don’t miss the opportunity.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Justice

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Written by Frances Peacock   

This is an author’s original manuscript of an article published at http://www.edutopia.org

Today’s newspaper carried a photo of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Most readers, no doubt, looked at that picture and saw nine wise and distinguished persons in black robes, the greatest legal minds of our time.

But that’s not what I saw.  As a teacher, I saw something else — I saw nine board washers.

I have no way to be sure, but I’m willing to bet that all of those judges, back in their elementary days, held the job of chalkboard washer.

Board washing is the most trusted job in the classroom.

A teacher doesn’t hand a water pail to just any child — she’d be a fool if she did. Ask any teacher and she’ll tell you –  it’s the most important decision we make. We choose carefully. We take our time.  We deliberate. We think, and then we think some more.

Every year on the first day of school, I take a good look at my new crop of first graders. I peer at each of them, eye to eye. I try to see into their little six-year-old souls. I search for the person who is up to the task.

I’m looking for a child I can send down the hall every day at 3:15. I want a child who can take that long walk, all alone, with bucket in hand, to the custodian’s closet. Someone who can stand at the mop sink, fill the bucket, and remember to shut off the water before he leaves. Someone who understands, innately, the perils of skipping while toting a load of water. I need a child who can hold a drippy, wet sponge in his hand and, at the same time, resist the urge to try out his curve ball.

The job is not for everyone.

The person will be on his honor, guided by his conscience. He must be capable and serious.  He must be a follower of rules and a rock-steady citizen. He must be a miniature Supreme Court Justice in size six pants.

It’s a lot to ask of a child, to have him walk out of the classroom, shut the door behind him, and deny himself the wonderful enjoyment of practicing his wind sprints up and down the corridors of the school. For most children, the temptation is too great, the freedom is too much, the custodian’s room is too far away. They’re in over their heads. The errand requires a measure of responsibility that many children, because they are children, are not ready for.

But there is always a child who qualifies. Every year, without fail, I manage to find my board washer. She is the sweet child with the peaceful manner. The child who sits quietly in the middle seat while the boys and girls around her are giggling their heads off. She reads during her free time. She gets every answer correct, but you’ll never hear her boasting about it.

She is the child who is ready to take on the first of many important assignments. A lifetime of official duties begins this day, with the teacher handing her a lime-deposited, hard-water-stained, metal bucket.

This is the kind of job that can take you places. The bucket in first grade could lead to another bucket the following year, and the year after that. One teacher will hear it from the next, that this is their go-to person. They’re glad to have a child they can trust, and they tell him so. With each step down the hallway, he walks a little straighter. He’s getting the message that comes with the bucket – that success is around the corner for him.

I like to pretend that I can know the future. I imagine my first grade kids as they will be years from now, after they have grown up. Greatness can begin at an early age. It can be recognized and nurtured. It can be spotted and encouraged. In a decade or two, when the greatness is achieved and the child’s picture is all over the news, everyone back at her school can be permitted to take a silent, subtle bow.

Every so often, the President of the United States is charged with the task of selecting a new Supreme Court Justice. If I may, I would like to offer him a piece of advice. There’s no need to consult with legal experts or comb through hefty stacks of resumes. All the President really has to do is invite all of the contenders into the Oval Office. Let them take a seat on the couch, and say to them, “Any of you who washed the chalkboard for the teacher, please stand and raise your right hand.”

And there you go, Mr. President. Somebody in that room will rise, I promise you. Then, all you have to do is get out the Bible. Swear that person in. You found her. She’s the one.