Blue Line Beauty

blue lines

Written by Frances Peacock

Honorable Mention essay, 2014, Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, http://www.humorwriters.org

I’ve seen all the ads for beauty products. Revlon and Maybelline spend millions making women pretty, but I have news for them: I don’t need any fixes. I’m forty-eight years old, and – I’ll try to be humble here – I am a vision of loveliness from head to toe.

If you don’t believe me, please raise your hand. I’ll bring my collection of portraits over to your seat.

It’s great to be a teacher. When a child draws my picture on a piece of notebook paper, I look like myself, only ten times better.

The child draws me as if I were a model in a fashion magazine. She gives me a slender figure and a pair of long, gorgeous legs. She puts me in a snazzy party dress with three- inch high heels. She glitters my lips. Sometimes she places a crown on my head.

She gets me all dolled up, and every inch of me – the shoes, the lips, the snazzy dress – is striped with the blue lines of the paper. I look fabulous in blue lines.

When a child hands me her work, I could accept it with a quick “Thanks, honey,” and pat her on the head. I might chalk it up as just a page of coloring, the creative diversion of a six-year-old.

Or, I can take a deeper look. I can stop for a moment and study it, and then I begin to understand what the child has done with her crayons:

She has sketched me, her teacher,  as the magnificent person she perceives me to be. She has endowed me with every good and glamorous attribute. She has turned me into a red-hot mama. Because she loves me.

It’s a wonderful gift when a child draws my picture. She uses her own crayons for the task, and crayons don’t come easy when you’re six. If a child runs low on crayons, she’s out of luck, and she knows it. She can’t grab the car keys and drive down to the drugstore to buy a new box.

Children guard their crayons like misers guard their gold. They share them only with people they trust, they don’t let them roll off the edge of the table, and they choose their coloring projects carefully.

A child’s handmade picture is a gesture of great value. Nothing compares to this compliment. Where else could I get such a spectacular glow? This stuff can’t be bottled, and it’s not for sale at the Macy’s makeup counter.

Ladies, next time you’re feeling the beauty blahs, I suggest you find yourself a six-year-old, and hand her a fresh box of Crayolas.

If she loves you, she’ll know what to do.

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Bring It In

santaWritten by Frances Peacock

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published on http://www.edutopia.org.

I’m going to close my grade book now. I’m taking it to the top of a snowy hill. I’ll sit upon it and go sliding down the hill. It’s the only good use for that book, now that December is here.

Christmas is coming, and my students can’t think about schoolwork. They’re too busy wiggling in their seats.  They’re tapping out Christmas carols with their toes. They’re giving each other reindeer names. They’re searching for this year’s “Santa’s Bad List” on Google.

I pass them math sheets, but they forget to fill in the answers. I ask them to open their English books, but they’d rather turn off all the classroom lights, close their eyes, and listen for far-off jingling noises. They don’t want to write their spelling words, they want to draw me a sketch of the elf they just spied out of the corner of their eye.

What is a teacher to do? I can’t compete with Christmas.  I can’t deliver the fanfare the children expect. I’m just an ordinary lady, holding some chalk. I don’t have Santa’s phone number. I don’t know where I’d find three wise men toting presents. I have no manger, I don’t know any shepherd boys, and I refuse to ride a camel.  I can’t measure up to a little baby in a stable, born beneath the brightest star anyone has ever seen.

So that’s that. I can’t make it happen. I don’t have what it takes. But the truth is, no teacher does. Christmas offers promises that teachers can’t keep.

It’s the children who know how to bring Christmas to the classroom. I picture it like this: they bring it in like it’s a big old pine tree. The whole class works together, they turn it on its side, and they shove it through the door. It looks like it couldn’t possibly fit, but the children know what they’re doing. If a teacher’s smart, she’ll get out of the way.

When the children bring Christmas, it arrives in its fullness. Its joy and wonder fill the room — big and beautiful — as high as the ceiling and as wide around as twenty small people linking arms. You can practically smell Christmas in the air. It’s better than anything a teacher could do.

And then something magical happens:  When the teacher lets Christmas in, the children love her for it. They take her by the hand, and they show her how the holiday should be done.

They teach her how to make fancy ornaments out of nothing but a brown paper bag, a few drops of glue, and three pinches of glitter. They show her how to take an old Reader’s Digest, fold all of the pages, spray on some gold metallic paint, and – voila!- that  magazine becomes a stunning Christmas angel.

They cue her when it’s time to pass out candy canes.

They steady the ladder for her and hand her the tape while she hangs a red and green paper chain that stretches the length of the school’s main hallway and flows all the way down to the principal’s office. They let her know — tactfully — to stop buying those stale wreath cookies from the gas station.

They give her a CD of a group of Chipmunks who can really sing the Christmas carols.

They tell her not to worry about checking papers right now. They say there will be plenty of time for the grade book later on. They suggest it might be fun to go sliding down a hill upon it. They take her to the hill, and they watch her go down.

They’re proud of all the things the lady has learned. They’re delighted with the Christmas they brought her. They’ve really delivered for this gal, and they know it.

They slap each other on the back, and they shake hands all around. They meet her at the bottom of the hill, they pick her up and they dust her off.

She tells them it was a fabulous ride. And then they all cheer.

Help Me Out

winter coats

Written by Frances Peacock

Honorable Mention essay, human interest category, 2008, Erma Bombeck Writing Competition,  http://www.humorwriters.org.

Winter brings wonderful things to a child – a new sled, a larger size in skates, and plenty of snow for playing. And teachers know another thing: winter brings coats with crummy zippers.   Ask any teacher and she’ll tell you. The cheap, plastic zippers come to school every year, and they cause a lot of trouble.

When a child is stuck in his coat, he comes straight up to the teacher. He looks at her with pleading eyes. He begs her to fix the zipper, to get it moving up or down, so he can hang up his coat and begin his day. He doesn’t know why his zipper won’t move, he can’t explain how he became trapped in his own coat, and he thinks he has done something terribly wrong. He fears he may have to wear the coat all day, and he wonders how he will ever go to the bathroom in that thing.

Luckily, the teacher knows the remedy – she goes to her purse and takes out a nail file; she prods, she pokes, and she sets the zipper back on track. Even if it takes fifteen minutes, she battles the zipper until she wins, and the teacher always wins – because she is fighting for the dignity of the child. This skill – freeing children form the confines of their own winter coats – isn’t something you can teach. It’s a maneuver you just figure out, and every teacher knows how.

I don’t know who would do this to a child. I don’t know who would sell a coat with a flimsy zipper that travels halfway and then suddenly stops… and splits…and strands the wearer in a drafty no-man’s-land, with no instructions for rescue. It’s hard to feel cute in your new winter coat when you’re at the front of the room and the teacher is trying to open you up like a can of peas, and the whole class watches as you get hotter by the minute.

The makers of the no-good zippers are causing children shame. I’d like, just once, to see one of those zipper-makers get stuck in his coat. I wonder how he’d like to sit in his fancy office and try to tug his way out of his hooded parka. I bet his body would start to sweat. I bet his face would turn red, and I wish the furry collar would tickle his chin.

I wish he had to go to the stockholders’ meeting that way, and I wish his secretary can’t get him out of that coat.

And I wish no one can find a nail file.

Lessons Learned

FullSizeRender (3)Written by Frances Peacock

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published on http://www.edutopia.org.

A teacher works for the future.

Every August, a new group of first graders enters my classroom.  I teach them how to read and write, I tie their shoes, and in June, I send them on to second grade.  As soon as I meet them, I push them ahead, swiftly:   “Onward and upward we go, children!”  It’s the way the system works.

But recently, for one teacher at another school, the process stopped cold.

She dismissed her students on a Friday afternoon, and on Saturday, one of them died.  The child was taken in an instant, from her family, her friends, and her school.

On Monday morning the teacher was faced with an empty desk, bewildered students, shock and sadness.

I can’t make sense of this.  I don’t know how I’d cope with the loss of a student.  But it seems to me that, along with the terrible grief, I would feel that a deal had been broken.

I’ve always had a quiet arrangement with my students.  It’s a one-sided contract I’ve never told them about.  If I were to put the deal in writing, it would read something like this:


I, the teacher, will have you, the student, in my class for one year.  After that, I may never see you again, but I reserve the right to spend the rest of my days entertaining hopes and dreams for your future success.


My students are heading off to do great things, I am certain.  I have visions of grandeur for each child:  The actress will go to her Broadway stage, the Supreme Court Justice to his bench, the Naval Commander to his ship.

When a student dies, those dreams are wiped away.  The hopes are gone.  The deal is off.

A teacher must look backward, not forward, to see that particular child:  She is sitting at her desk.  She is turning the jump rope on the playground.  She is crying because she left her gym shoes at home.  She is planning to grow up like the rest of the class.

But it’s not going to happen.

Every year there are teachers who lose students to illness and tragedy. I wonder how this changes them.

Those teachers have been reminded of how fragile life can be. They’ve found out that sometimes there is no next year, and the biggest days of a person’s life might be playing out right in front of their own desk.

I bet those teachers slow things down.  They probably don’t push quite so hard.  You won’t hear any of them hollering, “Hurry up, we’re late for science!” as they walk their class through the hallway.

They are the teachers who give an extra 15 minutes for recess, just because the weather is warm and the sky looks pretty.  They sit on the carpet and read three storybooks in a row, and only stop when their voice gives out, because the children are enthralled with the performance.  They let the class use up all nine tubs of poster paint, and they don’t worry about cleaning up the mess on the floor until after school.

These teachers know that the happy moments matter.  They know it’s their job to be joyful.

I see what a fine balance it is, to care about the future, yet also cherish a day of childhood.  To know that my first graders must be ready for law school someday, but other work must be done also – work that fills the soul in the here and now.

And so this morning, I have a different set of lesson plans.  I’m going to give everyone a diamond shape to trace.  I’ll pass out orange paper, wooden sticks, and string.

The spelling and math will have to wait.  Right now, tomorrow’s lawyers have some kites to put together.

Hi, Doll!

South Bend, Indiana

Written by Frances Peacock

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published in the Kappa Delta Pi Record. The article can be viewed at http://www.tandfonline.com/ukdr.

The best things I know about teaching, I learned from my dentist.

Dr. Brennan took care of my teeth from the time I was five years old, and that man had a way about him.  He must have known that some children, while they waited in the chair, found all kinds of ways to scare themselves silly.  I was one of those children.  I’d sit there and imagine the long, moveable lamp above my head was really a pterodactyl in disguise.  I’d tell myself that the crazy, swirling spit sink would suck me up whole if I leaned in too close.

And then Dr. Brennan walked in – no, it was more of a bounce – and the whole place changed. One flash of his big smile removed all my fears.

“Hi, Doll!” he’d say. It’s the way he addressed me at every visit, and it’s the first thing he taught me about teaching. He said I was a beautiful doll. He told me my choppers were the prettiest set of pearls he ever inspected.  His words were so convincing, his manner so genuine, that all of a sudden, I was delighted to be at the dentist. He made me feel great, and so I stretched my magnificent mouth wide open for him, and I never once considered biting that man’s hand.

Looking back, I know it didn’t have to go this way.  I’ve seen my old school pictures, and frankly, I wasn’t really a doll.  I was far from it. I was an uncombed, freckled girl with six colors of Crayola wax under my fingernails. I had choppy, uneven bangs that I trimmed myself once a month.  I smelled like peanut butter. I rarely brushed, and I never flossed.

I should have been just another youngster in Dr. Brennan’s chair, for whom his task was to check the molars, fill the cavities, and send home with shiny, newly-polished teeth.  He didn’t have to make me feel special, but he did.

Now I am a teacher, and my students are the dolls. When I use Dr. Brennan’s words in my classroom, I see the same thing he saw:  a child who looks up at you and smiles and soaks in what you’ve said.   A child who feels so charmed, so happy inside, that he’d let you take a pointy metal drill and run it right down through the middle of his tooth.  Or let you teach him to read.

After the drilling, Dr. Brennan took out the treasure box, and I learned something else about teaching.  He plopped that box of wonderful toys onto my lap, told me to pick something out, and gave me all the time in the world.  The Mayor himself could have been in the next room, waiting for a painkiller and a double extraction, but Dr. Brennan didn’t care.  There was a child here, and a present to be chosen, and the decision could not be rushed.

The  treasure box that I have is just like Dr. Brennan’s.  It’s a crate of whistles, yo-yo’s and plastic rings for my students to churn their hands through.  On Fridays I call the children to my desk,  one by one, to pick out a prize.  I give them all the time they need, in just the way Dr. Brennan showed me it’s done.

To look at it, that treasure box of mine is nothing fancy.  It’s just a bunch of toys in an old wooden container, an assortment of simple objects that cost a few pennies each. It’s no big deal at all, really. There’s nothing important about any of this, I suppose.

Unless you happen to like whistles and yo-yo’s.  Unless you’ve ever waited in a cold room, by yourself, feeling nervous and scared. Unless you’ve ever been showered with words of flattery while you swished cherry-flavored flouride around in your mouth.

Unless you were ever a doll, like me.