Sparked by Words

I finally found my calling in my senior year of college. Of course I intended to be a writer but before I started signing autographs in copies of my runaway best seller, I needed a job to pay the bills. I’d suffered enough soul scorching gigs to know I didn’t want to wait tables, work the phones on an answering system switchboard, burn plates for a printing company, or even manage a tiny art store on a street no one ever walked so no one ever entered. I’d done all those and a few more, earning enough to pay for plates of fried rice and cups of stale coffee.

So when my university offered a temporary teaching assistant position for students in their last semester of college, I took it. And there I found kids. Lots of sweet but very poor and sometimes very hungry kids. I hated the school system, a plodding curriculum that was certain to deaden any glimmer of affection for learning in any child, but I loved the kids. I’d found it, thank heaven, a goal for a career.

A few more divots snagged my steps along the way to teacherhood. I found myself newly married and working in a Detroit podiatry office (oh my God,) then newly pregnant and working in a Denver computer center (oh my Lord.) As a mom of two young sons, I supplemented our family’s meager income as an art teacher in the city recreation program, teaching little kids to paint pictures of trees and turtles and tide pools (oh yes.) I became an assistant resource teacher in an elementary school (on the right path,) then an artist in a commercial fabric design company (oh no.) Finally my chance came to gather my skills, invent a few others, and serve as the art specialist at a tiny private elementary school.  I’d arrived: I was a teacher.

No one, especially school administrators, knows what an art curriculum should look like so I was entrusted to create my own. Fortunately for every school where I ever worked, I was ambitious. I took more college classes, intending to earn a master degree in studio art and a teaching credential. From all these experiences I built an art curriculum that exposed my students to a range of media and techniques and taught them that the journey was everything, the finished artwork merely a byproduct of their explorations.

Despite all the skills I learned and all the classes I taught, every day was a frontier of unexplored territory. One of a small school’s best assets is that a teacher gets to work with the same students year after year, helping them find their strengths and interests, developing their proficiency. As a teacher I got to know the kids as individuals, to encourage their talents and dreams, sometimes to witness their foibles and peccadilloes.

Rhys was a beautiful child, at seven all giant eyes and peachy cheeks. He was also a handful, the center of every fracas. Gia was another little seven-year-old beauty, all long curls and sweet grin. She was the classroom angel, no matter what room she was in. At seven it’s hard to find a child who isn’t a baby-faced beauty, snaggletoothed smiles, matted hair, and all.

One day the commotion in art class centered on Rhys and Gia, a mess of paper, brushes, and pencils strewn on the floor around them. I called both kids to the front of the room and asked Gia what had happened.

She pointed at Rhys, her injured feelings as palpable on her face as the red juice stain on her blouse. “He threw all my stuff on the floor.”

I turned to Rhys and asked if he had dumped Gia’s art supplies on the floor. He nodded. Struggling to keep the irritation out of my voice, I asked why he’d done such a thing.

“Because she threw my things on the floor first.”

I asked Gia if she was the provocateur. Innocence blazing on her face, she nodded. Little Miss Angel had made the first naughty move, and Rhys the Imp had simply responded in kind. I told them to apologize to each other and then clean up the mess.

Rhys and Gia taught me something that day. The best little kid in class misbehaves at times, the little troublemaker gets labeled with an undeserved indelible mark if we’re not careful, and a seven-year-old is an adorable, endearing, mischievous person who benefits from adult moderation. Sometimes they point fingers at each other; sometimes they tell the incriminating truth. We teachers had best be alert.

There’s a lesson in all that: the little surprises we bring to our stories, making them true at heart.

 

Photo of child creating art courtesy Pixabay

 

Comments on: "The Best Little Kid in Class" (33)

  1. A wonderful lesson. Thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I understand entirely what you mean. I have a five and a six year old at home, and whenever there is trouble you have to peel back the events to get to the start. It doesn’t seem to matter who started it as they both end up being out of order. It’s getting them to understand it is the problem.
    I’m glad you found your calling. You must have a lot of patience!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was very fortunate. I’ve always loved art and then found that I loved kids. Not sure I have so much patience but I was often bullied by people – including other kids – who found me an easy marl to blame. Thank you for the visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t remember anything you wrote here beyond that you worked in a computer center. Really? OK, I’m going back to read more…

    Liked by 2 people

    • OK, Jacqui, I’m laughing. I worked for about 6 months at the Colorado State Judicial Department in 1975 when they were putting the entire state on a computer system. I mean everything – every single piece of legal documentation about Coloradans from marriages and divorces to deadbeat dads to traffic tickets to big courtroom criminal cases to implementation of state laws to civil system upgrades.

      I worked on an electric typewriter as a secretary/receptionist for a small specialized group of folks, and sometimes traveled with my immediate supervisor. We drove to some of the more rural areas of Colorado (there are many,) trying to convince the employees that they would love working on a computer as it would make their lives so much easier than the pen and paper input they were doing. Most resisted the idea though their resistance did nothing to stem the coming tide. We were just trying to let them think they had a vote.

      The computers were in the basement and they were literally bigger than a typical modern two-door freezer-fridge with lights, bells, whistles, and rolling tapes. A huge bank of the behemoth critters lined the walls and looked very space-agey top secret. Which they were.

      The computer programmers were a skuzzy bunch of anti-social geniuses who could barely write a single letter but programmed all the complex strategies for getting all the systems to work like clockwork. Really precise clockwork. And they regularly gave me their badly handwritten programs so I could type them on my electric typewriter – usually handed me about 15 – 20 pages of illegible, coffee-stained scrawl fifteen minutes before I had to clock out, telling me that it all had to be typed up and handed in by 5. A lovely bunch of irreverent geniuses, yes.

      Now, my dear friend, you may pick yourself up off the floor and breathe again. No one else will understand why my story is so ironic.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Shari, I’m originally from Denver. I think I’ve told you that, in fact. Back in 1975, Colorado still liked things a little slow. Denver was just starting to get out from under the impression of being the biggest cow town in the USA. I don’t think the Denver Tech. Center was even five years old yet. Nowadays, Denver is as confusing, congested, and emotional cold as NYC.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really love Colorado. I remember you telling me you were from Denver, Glynis. I lived there the last six months of 1975 so I know what you mean about cowtown meets the big city. Last time I was in Boulder, about four years ago, it was still a town full of Phds and cowboys. My son and his wife loved living there but moved because of careers. One of my closest friends used to live in Leadville – now there’s a town with an interesting history. Sad to know that Denver now has big city problems.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve lost count of all the jobs I had. The other day, I encountered a young man behind a counter who was feeling so obviously ‘too good’ for his job — then I realized what a gift it can be to go through trying times in terms of becoming appreciative of the good times, & what a burden it can be to be spoiled. I’m sure the kids you taught were very fortunate to have you as their teacher 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post brought memories of college, working in inner city Oakland, CA as a “teacher” (putting it loosely) in an “alternative” school for boys who had been “kicked out” (putting it politely) of public school. It mostly consisted of being chased around the room and being propositioned (putting it truthfully). Ah, those were the days . . . when I was young enough to run around the room without being caught.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Being a teacher is rewarding and I’m sure you have a million stories, Shari! I worked as a recreation leader at elementary schools, during and after school and even taught arts and crafts myself. I even introduced them to the color wheel! I tend to have more patience in adult education, but children are certainly charming when they need to be! Amazing all of your work experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love your end point about bringing surprises into a story. Especially when it comes to people, or indeed characters, who have been labelled before they even get started. I think it’s often the case that children (or adults) are often judged by past behaviour, rather than what they did on any given day. Anyway, I think it’s incredible that you found your calling and definitely think this story shows how good you were at it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Rivka. (Hope I addressed you correctly.) I was sometimes a very good teacher but I cringe about other things I did or said. No matter how many courses you take on teaching, we’re still human with human foibles. I miss teaching and would love to do it again.

      Like

  8. Never really thought about it, but being a teacher was a good training ground for being a mother. Happy you were wise enough to ask the right questions. I can’t tell you how many times this class clown was sentenced although he was innocent.

    Delightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sierramachado said:

    I’m always surprised when a good student chooses to act out! Being fair and responding to student behavior is one of the hardest part of teaching!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s lovely to get to know you a bit better through this wonderful post, Shari! I’m so happy you found your calling and I truly understand how sad you must feel to not work as a teacher anymore.
    As to that little angel – it’s surprising when one catches them being the one who started a quarrel but to be fair – we all have good days and bad days so they’re definitely entitled to mjsbehave sometimes too – who knows what triggered it in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Children are allowed to make a lot of mistakes when they’re little. There’s always the possibility with children that they’ll grow into thoughtful and compassionate adults. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing many of “my kids” grow up, and so many are indeed wonderful adults.

      Liked by 1 person

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