The Epicenter of Learning
I left the classroom many years ago, and until this very day, I can still feel the grieving and empty feeling of not having students to call my own. It is the kind of feeling that makes your heart pound and twists your stomach into knots. The thought of not being my students’ number one, made me sad. I always viewed the classroom as the epicenter of developing powerful relationships, learning, growth, and transformation. Each classroom within a school community is a special haven that is bubbling with curiosity, wonder, and joyful learning. Each one filled with its own special stories, inside jokes, and is made up of a network of unique personalities. Being a classroom teacher can be hard. It can be stressful. It can be emotionally draining. The responsibility can just be exhausting. But, after many years in education and having served in different roles including Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach, I am now certain that the classroom is one of the most magical places on earth!
Kidwatching as a Window
I can remember special qualities about most of my students because I always made a commitment to building relationships. With all of the formative and summative assessments, I was required to administer, “kidwatching”, a term I learned from the book, Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy Development by Yetta Goodman and Gretchen Owokci was my priority. I always knew that watching the way children think and learn proved to be meaningful time spent and was a window into their worlds. I studied their words, their actions, interactions, reactions to everything, and everyone around them. I would jot down EVERYTHING and then surprise them by weaving a detail or two into our conversations. To just hear my students say, “How did you know that about me Mrs. Kaufman?” made my heart explode with happiness. I thought about innovative ways I could motivate my students by tapping into their passions and interests. I thought about what I could do to make learning fun despite the rigorous curriculum I was handed to teach. I thought about how I could develop student agency so that the work they accomplished was purposeful and meaningful to their personal growth and development. I thought about the impact, legacy, and stories I wanted to leave as footprints on my students’ hearts.
An Email Surprise
I often think about my former students. I wonder where they are, what they are doing; if they are happy, and whether or not they are pursuing their dreams. I perseverate over whether or not they took something from their learning with me into the real world. I love sharing stories about my classroom days with my colleagues and the students in the classrooms I work in. It makes the work more meaningful when I can make those connections. Recently, as I was in the midst of answering a few work emails, I heard another email come into my inbox. As I glanced at the name of the sender, I had to blink a few times to actually recognize who it was from. It was then that I realized that it was from a former 2nd-grade student who was in my class 10 years ago.
Connecting the Details
Ben…how could I forget him?… inquisitive, kind, collaborative, confident, funny, joyful. Not to mention, he was an avid reader who knew where every single book in the classroom library belonged, even with his eyes closed! He could give you a detailed summary and recommendation of any book he read using the most descriptive language and sophisticated vocabulary. He loved to chat with his friends, even when he was supposed to be listening to a lesson… but it didn’t bother me, it actually made me love him more. When he had a thought or idea, he would impulsively blurt it out to me, to his classmates… whoever would listen! He had the most wonderful, supportive family. I remember his mom coming into the classroom to help me plan wonderful learning experiences for the children. I remember how kind she was to me which made her endearing personality creep into my heart. She had a special way of welcoming me into a new school community by leading with compassion and love. She made me feel at ease when I was missing my newborn baby (only 2 ½ months old at the time) like crazy. Ben’s Mom kept in touch with me for years; sending me holiday cards, updates about Ben, the family, their pets, and even sent me funny quotes and well wishes. She would genuinely ask me about how my family and I were doing, “just because”. Years later, when she heard that my community and my home had been devastated in Hurricane Sandy, she generously offered my family her apartment after we lost our home. This student and his family made a powerful impact on my journey and my heart. That special connection and bond will always be cherished.
The Legacy We Leave Behind
It was never my intent to endlessly collect kidwatching notes to earn a satisfactory observation report or get recognition from anyone else. It was always my priority to be a learner, a connector; a link that connects relationships to learning. Emails like the one from Ben serve as a reminder about why I wanted to be in education in the first place. It is the footprints we leave in students’ hearts that cannot be quantified or measured in a single snapshot observation, one conversation, or a moment in time. Relationships cannot be memorialized solely by the curriculum we teach, the assessments we administer, or the projects we assign. The footprints that are imprinted deep into our hearts are a collection of interactions and memories that have indefinitely touched the hearts of others.
My Video Response to Ben