Today. two days after Labor Day, used to mark my annual rebirth as a teacher, the first day of the school year. With it dawned my first chance to meet a new cast of characters - my new fourth graders and their parents. The year would be an opportunity for me to refine teaching techniques and methods, to train student teachers, and to set in motion my own little plan to make the world a better place. Raising the tide in the little known ocean called “4T” intended to lift all the little boats upon it and affect all the ports they’d call upon.
In my second year of retirement, here’s a commemorative re-issue of an essay I wrote in September, 2000. The essay was published in the Brookline TAB and recorded to air on WBUR-FM.
They are mine. They arrive in all sizes, shapes, colors, temperaments, and dispositions. And in these first tentative minutes of the new school year, something happens between me, a veteran elementary school teacher, and the children who will become my new charges, my new fourth graders.
It makes me think of the process called imprinting in which certain birds, after pecking their way out of their shells, assign the first living thing they see the role of parent and care-taker, the force that will rear them and then send them off into the big world. For me, these first minutes launch the process in reverse. At first sight, I'm the one bonding with my young students, taking them under my wing to nurture them, lead them, and create a unique community with them. Total commitment.
They are mine. Their excitement ripples to the classroom walls and returns to wash over us again. How will it turn out this year, for friendships, for accomplishments in this grade which they’ve heard features probing questions, longer books, and lots more writing. And in fact it's the same with me. I, too, am hopeful and excited about how it will turn out for us.
They are mine. When I assemble them in our first class meeting, I am at once looking at who they are now and who they will be in June. I know our destination, and I know that we must map the route and build the road there together. On the way, the lessons I teach will have as much to do with how to live life as with the fourth grade curriculum, and be useful to them beyond the horizon of this June. They’ll have me with them only that far. After that, they will have only my compass. They’ll fly away on their own.
They are mine. And here’s the irony. In fact, there are several fourth grades in our school. As I walk by those other classes of ten-year-olds, they pale in comparison with mine! My own students always seem to have more personality, to be more creative, more energetic, more sociable ... yes, more lovable. I’ve been challenged at times to do it but I can find something to love about every single one of my students. The irony is that if on this first day, one of those other classes of children had pecked their way out of their summer shell and into my care, I would have forged the same connection with them! A blind but potent force of nature is at work here.
They are mine. They will win me over with their accomplishments, delight me with their bravery as they take on the challenges I set before them, and they will warm me with the pride they feel as they experience their own growth..
They are mine, yes, ... and I am theirs.