Warning: total sentimentality overload.
It’s no secret that I love Dr. Seuss. I mean, how could anyone not?
I use his books often as a way of introducing my kindergarteners to English spoken more quickly than we normally talk to them, as you kind of have to read the stories quickly in order to hear and appreciate the rhythm and rhyme. The children may not be able to follow all the words, but the pictures and beat keep them focused while their brains pick out the words that they recognise and help them to understand what’s going on.
Anyway, last week, with the help of The Cat in the Hat and The Foot Book, I attempted to draw their attention to the rhyming words. They didn’t quite understand what I was trying to show them, so I didn’t force the issue. I just let the Mighty Seuss plant the seed, and have been surreptitiously dropping sneaky rhymes into lessons at every opportunity since then. Look at your book. Ohhh, look rhymes with book! … See you later, alligator! … Okey-dokey!
One of the best things I’ve learned in this job is that children are magical little sponges who soak up absolutely everything that goes on around them. One little boy in my 2nd year kindergarten class didn’t speak a word of English for his entire first year, and everyone had assumed he didn’t understand what was going on around him. He was well-behaved and quiet, and just sat there, day after day, listening to the songs and stories, watching the movies, observing his friends doing the action activities. He answered questions with a shrug or a blank stare. Then, one day last summer, I rewarded the class for good behaviour by giving them all a lollipop and letting them dance to their favourite song. I patted his head as he continued to sit quietly while the others bounded to their feet in excitement. He looked up at me with his usual serious expression, and then said in a clear voice: Teacher, thank you for the candy. This is my favourite one. I don’t want to dance. I just listen and watch my friends, it’s OK?
I nearly fell over in shock. Most of them start with a few random words, and then start putting two or three together at a time, until one day a sentence comes out. This child didn’t speak for over a year, and then spoke casually to me in practically fluent English as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Since then, he has become one of my best students, and one of the ones who chats to me the most comfortably outside of class. You really never know what’s going on inside their heads – but I’ve learned to assume that they’re taking everything in, even when there’s no evidence of it.
Anyway, to return to my original story, I came into school this morning and found myself being showered with cards and chocolate gift bags from all directions. Perk of the job. As I was having a healthy breakfast of instant coffee and heart-shaped milk chocolate at my desk, one of ‘my’ girls came in with her Valentine’s gift for me. It was the card she’d made in my art class yesterday, which they’d all taken with them to give to their ‘sweethearts’ or parents. This girl had instead written something inside hers and brought it back to give to me. I gave her a big hug and opened the card to read her message… which was this.
L is for love because I love you
O is for octopus many arms for hug you
V is for very very VERY big heart
E is for excited when is time for Art
I write the rhyme words, she said proudly, in case I’d missed it.
I couldn’t help it: there were tears. Fortunately this little girl is wise beyond her years and understood that she had not made Teacher sad. She observed my bottom lip wobbling and my attempt to hastily wipe the tears away, and said Hayley Teacher is happy cry?
I have been alone on Valentine’s Day, and I have been in relationships on Valentine’s Day, and now I am a kindergarten teacher on Valentine’s Day. Only one of those statuses has made me feel as purely and unconditionally loved, happy, and valued as I do right now. And yes, the wee sods are going to leave me and break my heart in less than a fortnight from now, but the annual painful goodbyes are a small price to pay for everything that comes before them and makes them so difficult.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.” - A.A. Milne
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