Speed Racer


It was the best recess game of that year and all morning long the challenges were offered.  “I’ll race you at recess!”  The playground teacher was used to positioning herself at the far end of the asphalt yard, holding both hands outstretched in order to act as the midpoint judge.  Eager runners lined up on the opposite side, jockeying for position in line so they could pick their opponent in the line across from them.  One trip down, one trip back and your race was over—until you challenged the next kid and jumped back into line.  It was an endless loop of racing and bragging, recess after recess.

And there was one boy who just could not be beat.  He ran swiftly and effortlessly, low to the ground, with confident strides that brought him across the finish line first every time.   Some kids challenged him every single recess, sure that just one more chance to race would bring them victory.  Some kids changed places in line hurriedly because they didn’t want to face their certain loss.  Every recess, every day, Dalton was the fastest boy in the first grade.

One day in class, the subject of running came up.  I let them know that back in my own elementary days I liked to race as much as anyone.  I even told them about the fastest boy in my class, Justin, and that we were sure his secret to speed was the cool stripes on his favorite pair of shoes.  The kids were eager to know if I had ever beat Justin in a race–which I assured them I had not.  And then one of them, with a twinkle in her eye, suggested that we all find out if I was a faster runner  than Dalton.

Game on.

I wore my tennis shoes to recess the day of the showdown.  Even though I was a good 20+ years older than young Dalton, it did occur to me that perhaps this little kid might beat me.  However, I was ready to give it my best try and maybe win the playground respect of the first grade.  As we lined up at the start, the rest of the kids surrounded the asphalt, ready to cheer on their teacher and their hero.  The playground supervisor planted her feet at the other end and reached out her arms to the side before giving the countdown.

And we were off!  It took about everything I had, but I managed to stay ahead of Dalton the whole length of the playground.  I let a triumphant smile creep across my face–those kids were going to be so proud of me for beating the fastest boy in their grade!  I snuck one more look over my shoulder before slapping the supervisor’s hand and reversing direction for the trip back down to the finish line.  Dalton’s look of fierce determination confirmed that I was indeed outrunning him.  I turned around and made a dash to the finish…

What happened next is unclear.  It could have been an untied shoelace.  It could have been complete clumsiness. It could have been a rock in the way.  But whatever it was, it resulted in utter disaster.  I went down like a frantic falling cartoon character, hanging desperately in the air for a long moment, and then skidding to a stop across the asphalt.  I lay there for a long moment, stunned.  I heard the entire first grade gasp loudly in shock.  And I heard the pounding footsteps of Dalton crossing the finish line.  And then…

The crowd of children rushed to Dalton and picked him up, cheering his name and taking him on a victory lap.  Only a few of the tender-hearted ones came over to where I was lying in a heap and poked me to see if I were still alive.  The pain of losing the race was nothing compared to the pain I felt when I attempted to stand up, realizing that both hands and both knees were badly scraped up.  There I was, an actual grown-up person who had just skinned her knees.  The playground teacher was bent over double, laughing at me, but then managed to help me into the office where (after more laughter) the secretary bandaged me up with the “big bandaids”.  I did not beat Dalton that day, nor on any day after that for that was officially the last day that I agreed to run any races with my kids.

Last week, Dalton surprised me with an amazing honor.  He is a senior in high school now, and he selected me as the teacher who had most impacted him over all his years in school.  We walked out onto the basketball court together and the high school principal read out loud the essay that Dalton had written.  Yes, he did mention “The Race”—and he was extremely gracious in saying that perhaps I had “let him win”. Standing next to Dalton was the best honor I have had in my teaching career–and hearing his words of how our classroom was one of happiness and positive learning meant the world to me.

Oh…and it should come as no surprise that Dalton’s athletic career has shown him to be one of the best runners our school district has seen.  You can ask any of his first grade classmates–we could see that coming!  And I am proud to count myself as one of the racers that helped him along the way, back on that old, rocky playground.  With so many rocks. I’m almost sure there was a big rock…

Thanks, Dalton.  😀

I’m Losing It!

imageI just had a birthday.  Now that I’m getting “older”, I wondered if I should do a few things to keep my mind sharp–like working Sudoku puzzles or taking up crossword puzzles.  Then I realized I don’t need to go to that trouble.  I have my own built-in system for putting my brain through its paces!

I lose my sunglasses.  Regularly.

I have a sweet little pair of sunglasses.  I bought them in a little outlet store in Virginia while on a vacation shopping adventure with my aunt and cousin.  They are adorable, and they are precious because they remind me of that delightful week with my family.  I am happy every time I put them on.  I am also grateful every time I put them on, because I lose them.  A LOT!

Sunglasses are a tricky thing to hold on to.  They are easy to leave behind on a church pew (done that).  They are easy to put down on a shelf in a crowded store while admiring something that you just have to pick up to examine (been there).  They are easily overlooked on a dark car seat when exiting in a hurry (two weeks ago).  For a sweet little thing that gives me so much pleasure, this pair of sunglasses and I have spent a great deal of time apart!

And when the realization hits that they are gone, the fear is immediate–“Now I really have lost them forever!”  My brain goes into overdrive, retracing my steps and trying to imagine any and every place I have been with them.  Where do I last remember wearing them?  When might I have put them down?  How long have they been missing?  It is a fast and agonizing process.  I go through mental agony while I try to remember each little step, in reverse order, in the hopes that I can pinpoint the place that I left them.  Sometimes it is a short list…but sometimes it is overwhelming.  And each time it happens, I am just positive that I won’t get them back.

But here’s the thing…so far, I always have!  Kind ladies at church have put them in the lost and found.  After two trips and about an hour of searching every aisle at TJ Maxx they have been found perched at eye level in the stationery aisle.  Dear friends have mailed them back to me after finding them in the car.  And helpful little students have helped me search around the classroom when I just knew they had to be at school.

In the meantime, though–it is definitely a mental exercise!  I just wish it weren’t accompanied by those feelings of panic and despair.  A friend suggested I just buy a mannequin head and keep them at home on the dresser to enjoy, rather than wear them and continuously lose them.  I’m just going to keep working on my mental acuity–both in my frantic detective work and in trying not to lose them in the first place!

My sweet little sunglasses are a good reminder for me to enjoy the little things, because I am truly grateful every time I put them on.  I will have to remember that feeling, once I get them back.  I left them in my parents’ car last weekend, and now they are in Illinois.

At least I know where they are…

This time.




One Little…what?

imageBig decision, small decision…maybe deciding not to decide?  No, I want to decide.  It’s time to decide!  How will I ever decide?

Now that the new year has begun, I need to choose the One Little Word that will influence my little corner of the world—my approach to teaching, my professional and personal relationships, and my own introspective thoughts and reactions.  That is a big job for a little word, but it is an important one all the same.  I learned this year the impact that choosing a word that influenced my thoughts and actions could have.

My word this year was Grace.  My goal in choosing this word (or letting it choose me…) was in working to act and react with grace toward others and in all situations.  I know it did come through as a significant One Little Word for me because I caught myself countless times and reminded myself to act with grace.  Not only that, but my eyes were opened to the multitude of examples of grace all around me in the actions and reactions of others.

This year feels very different.  My hope is that I can continue to see grace in others and act with it myself, but now I know I need a word with more strength.  There are tough times ahead, and I need to be equipped.  I need to know how to respond to adversity.  I need to be able to stand up for myself and for others in a way that my voice is heard.  None of that comes easily to me, so I need a word that will reflect that challenge and encourage me.  I’ve seen lots of good examples in the OLW’s that others have chosen, and they are inspiring me greatly…but I haven’t hit on just the right word for myself yet.

Courage. Speak. Rise. Truth.  Work.  Defend.  All good contenders.  Or Faith.  Hope.  Give.  If I don’t get with the program, I will have to choose something like “Clueless” or “Indecisive”!   Remember when we thought we could outsmart the “three wishes” rule by making the third wish a wish for infinite wishes?  I need infinite words!

The right word will resonate with me, and I will know it when it happens.  I hope it hurries up a little bit, though!  Hmmm…maybe it will be “Patience”?

I introduced this idea of choosing a One Little Word to my students this morning.  They were excited about the idea and of course wanted to name their word immediately.  I had to convince them that it needed a little more time and consideration.  I think some of them might have wanted to choose “Eat”, and more than one were a fan of “Jump”…so I told them we would talk again soon and see where they were with their own words.  They are very curious about what I will pick.

Wait…”curiousity”.  That’s an interesting idea for a OLW.

One of these years my OLW is going to be “decide”, I just know it.  Clearly I need some intensive work on my ability to make decisions.  But for now…I’m taking a little more space to think about my OLW.  All I know is…it’s got to be a good one.  It’s going to be tested often in the coming days and weeks.


Don’t Go in the Snow

imageWinter Break is fast approaching and well-meaning friends from far and away are asking the same question…

“When are you out of school for break?”

Not until Friday afternoon.  That makes for a long week of trying to keep students focused and productive while they are losing their MINDS in excitement for Christmas.  How is it going, you might ask?

It’s only Tuesday.

Yesterday my kids had their first big recess after a substantial snowfall–enough to put our “Snowy Playground Expectations” talk on the to-do list.  It’s a clear and easy conversation:

  1.  Don’t pick up snow.
  2. Don’t play in the snow.
  3. Don’t go in the snow.  (Yes, even if you have boots.  Why?  Because it’s in the school handbook.  No, I don’t know who writes the school handbook but I suspect that it is our principal.  That would make an excellent persuasive essay–you should totally write that, and then maybe if you have great reasons and evidence to support them you will get to go in the snow.  With your boots.  But until you’ve written that—don’t go in the snow.)

They listened.  They understood.  They agreed.  They bundled up in their hats, coats, mittens, boots…and in one extreme case, a huge pair of snow pants that came up to the boy’s underarms.  They buzzed down the hallway, eager to get out into the fresh air after so many inside recess days.

As I surveyed the playground, I watched kids playing tag, shouting and running with friends on the blacktop.  A kickball game was in the works, although there were a couple icy spots to be avoided.  A few girls even managed to get the hula hoops going with their winter gear on.

And then I saw him…running wild and free, across the asphalt and straight over the snowbank.  Howling like a loon, one of my second graders ran gleefully through the snow in his tennis shoes all the way across the yard to the far fence.  Swooping in a big turn, he stomped his way back to where I was standing in disbelief and came to a halt right in front of me with a big smile, shoes and pants covered in clumps of heavy, wet snow.

And that is how it is going, two days in during the week right before Christmas.



Chicken and Fries

imageThe best Small Moment story of the week has yet to be written, but the whole class is encouraging their friend to write it down.  After all, he had our full attention when he finally told us why he was so mad.

He came in that morning with the biggest scowl on his face.  He stormed around the room, signing in for lunch, tossing his backpack and winter coat onto the closet floor.  He didn’t speak to anyone, and no one dared approach him.

I gave him a few minutes and then asked what was wrong.

“I’m SO MAD at my sister,” was all I could get from him.

His foul mood stayed put for the entire day.  His usual infectious laughter was absent from the classroom.  But as the day unfolded, we got a few more clues about what had happened the night before. Finally, just before we all went home he told us the whole story.

“My dad took me to Taco John’s and I got my own bag of chicken and fries.  When I got home my mom told me I had to take my shower, so I hid my bag under my bed because my little sister would want it and she is scared of under my bed.  When I got out of the shower and went into my room, her feet were sticking out and she had eaten ALL of my chicken and fries!”

At first, his friends were shocked.  And outraged on his behalf.  But then one started to giggle…and before long everyone was laughing–even the injured party.  Someone said “You should have put it up higher because she’s short!” And that made us laugh all the harder.

It’s true–time heals all wounds.  And soon my offended, angry little guy will be able to write the funny story of the night his little sister stole his chicken and fries right out from under his very scary bed.  And hopefully someone will soon take him back to Taco John’s for another order…


Fine Young Man

imageEach of the kids in my classroom is precious to me, for reasons as unique as they are.  One of them has stolen my heart completely, maybe because it has been such a struggle to earn his trust.

He is an inner-city child who has landed in the middle of rural Iowa.  He doesn’t know what to think of all the people who surround him in his daily life now.

He has been deeply suspicious and has preferred to keep his distance from students and adults alike.

He is quick to argue that we are all being very unfair to him, and his unspoken “because” hangs loudly in the air every time.

He tells me how the students in his former school “curse the teacher” every day.

He explained carefully all the places on your body where you die if they shoot you, but you survive if they miss.

He is only seven.

Little by little, he has started to change.  Over time, he has been more willing to put out feelers of friendship.

He stood right next to me during his parent-teacher conference, his squinting eyes daring me to say that he was bad in class.  His eyes widened when I talked instead about how he has grown so much as a reader that he has gone from a bit behind to meeting the end-of-year goals in just three months.  He didn’t dare look too happy in front of his stern mama, but he left with his head held high.

He laughs more and more in class, an infectious giggle and sometimes even a huge belly laugh.  His eyes sparkle with delight when he laughs.

He told me today with wonder in his voice that “almost everyone here is my friend”.

He came back in after all the other kids had left today and asked me if he could take some of my books home because he doesn’t have books at his house.  I gave him all he could carry, and told him to hurry home so he could find a good reading place.  He trotted down the hall with his backpack sagging down to his ankles, full of books.

How did I ever get so lucky to have such a fine young man in my class?

I have the best job in the world.

New Kid

imageThe minutes were quickly disappearing.  The kids had been sent out the door with backpacks full of papers and rolled up sweatshirts, and I was stuffing my own teacher bag and grabbing my keys, on my way to an after-school meeting.

The secretary came to the doorway.  “I just had a call.  You have a new student coming, and she is starting tomorrow.”

I stopped short, my thoughts whirling.  I don’t have a desk ready.  She needs a mailbox.  Where will I put her?  How will she fit into the small groups I have going?  Hey…what even is her name??  

As I drove to my meeting, I felt terrible.  This new girl is going to walk into a new school, meet a new teacher, be surrounded by new classmates, and there won’t even be a desk with her name on it yet.  How can I make her feel welcome?

Then I made the shift.  We will make her feel welcome with smiles and greetings.  We will make a place for her next to someone who is sure to be a kind representative of our class.  We are the fortunate ones–we are gaining a new friend.  She will bring a new voice to our class.  Maybe she has been places we’ve never been.  Maybe she has read stories that we’ve never read.  She will become part of our community of learners and bring new ideas.  Maybe she will even become someone’s new best friend.

Once upon a time, about 38 or so years ago, the new girl became my new best friend.  New kids are a blessing…not a stressing.

But I’m going to go in extra early and make sure she at least has a desk!