Always the Kids

The final bell had rung, the halls had emptied, and a small 6th grade boy struggled with a Trapper Keeper, three heavy textbooks, and his trombone case. One or the other kept falling out of his arms.

“Can I help you with some of that?” I asked.

“Yes, please,” he answered.

“Are you trying to make the bus?”

“No, my mom is waiting for me. “

So we made our way together down the long hall, chatting about school, his homework, his family’s plans to celebrate his grandmother’s birthday that evening.

He was open and trusting because even though I was a stranger, I was obviously a teacher.

I delivered him with a smile to his mother.

It was a small encounter, but a significant one for me. When I turned away, I felt that I was part of the staff, a teacher of children again.

In another school, a teacher came to me and asked if I could help an 8th grade girl in her study hall find a library book. “She’s read all the Wimpy books, but she says she doesn’t like to read. I know it’s not in your job description, but could you help her? I’m not an English teacher.”

Of course I would try. The student and I went to the library. I had never seen a Wimpy book, but quickly learned that the series features engaging graphics and fairly large text in a font that replicates a child’s printing. The Wimpy books are humorous stories about a middle school boy whose struggles are the same as the ones the kids who read these books experience.

“What kind of stories do you like?” I asked. And she responded in the way I expected.

“About real kids. I don’t like made-up stuff.”

So no Harry Potter (She didn’t even like the Harry Potter movies), no vampires, no princesses, no science fiction. The school’s library had graphic novels—but only classics like Robin Hood and King Arthur.

“Can you tell me why you don’t like to read?”

She was unusually aware. “It’s the way the print is on the page,” she said. “It’s all blocky and together.”

Sure enough. Every book she rejected had conventional print. In every book she liked, the spacing between the lines was wide and the right margin was not justified.

We found several books that met her requirements. She picked one, and I took her back to study hall. On the way, she told me she is supposed to get glasses.

In my own high school, where just a few months ago I was the one at the front of the room, I had a chance to co-teach with a colleague. It was an AP history class, and we were working with the students on writing thesis statements, the first step in learning to write the elaborated but precisely constructed essays that will be required for students to earn a high score on the tests they’ll take in the spring. We had planned the lesson well, and my colleague is a star, so instruction unfolded like a ballet: perfectly choreographed, graceful and smooth in its delivery.

And yet, my very favorite moment came when a student who had grasped the concept of a thesis and the way each part of the statement previews a point that will be developed in the body of the essay, raised her hand and asked, “But what if you don’t know the information?”

My colleague and I chuckled.

“That is what all this means. You will have to do the job of learning.”

And we, the job of teaching.

In my new role as an instructional coach, I have met with teachers in secondary schools throughout my district. I’ve talked with them individually, in small groups, at whole faculty meetings. I have met outstanding educators and seen some spectacular teaching. I have been warmly welcomed, my calendar is full, and I feel valued and productive. I love supporting other teachers. I love my new job.

But there is something I have to get used to.

I wrote in August about my “phantom limb”—my impulse to plan lessons, develop units, create curriculum. Now that school has started, I’ve discovered another missing limb—and it’s the kids. Interacting with them makes me feel like a teacher. So I’ll grab every chance I get to co-teach, to find library books, to carry trombone cases.

I am a teacher.

I always will be.