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As the days pass in my classroom with my second grade Poppers (that’s my class nickname for them this year), I often think about the gift entrusted to me with these children. If you were closer, I would invite you to visit so you could see for yourself. Instead, however, I thought I might share them with you by writing a little bit about them once in a while so you would get a glimpse of them and see them as I do. I hope this gives you a smile and some insight into the kids I enjoy teaching each day.
I’ll start with Aurora (not her real name, of course! And some other identifying characteristics have been blurred as well). Rory stayed home and learned virtually last year, so she hasn’t been in a classroom with peers since March of her Kindergarten year. She is a quiet, shy girl who very much keeps to herself in the classroom. She likes to work alone, and doesn’t interact a whole lot with the other kids yet. I’m hoping that will change and she will find herself with some nice friends.
My introduction to Rory and her family was on Meet the Teacher night before school started. She walked in with her dad and grandma. Her dad was holding a plastic Walmart sack filled with folders and notebooks in front of him as if it was his most prized possession, and her grandma was close behind, examining the classroom in every direction.
When I introduced myself, it became apparent that Rory’s dad had a few challenges of his own. He was very soft-spoken and clearly a very kind man, but a little bit confused about. . .many, many things. He first explained that he had so very much trouble finding out what school supplies she needed, so he didn’t have any for her at all. (He was at that very moment holding that plastic bag of school supplies). He had also looked everywhere for a supply list but could not find one. (He was additionally holding a stack of papers with the bag — all copies of supply lists.) He explained several times that she had no school supplies whatsoever and he had no idea what to get, even after I asked him if the school supplies in the bag were hers.
I started thinking that maybe I was the only one who could actually see the bag. I then tried another tactic, explaining that I had a lot of extra school things and would certainly give her anything she needed. He just continued to explain and apologize that he had no school supplies — while still clutching the bag of school supplies.
Meanwhile, Rory’s grandma was circling me, asking me to repeat my name and saying “Mrs. Gootema?” repeatedly. To be fair, I did have my mask on while trying to enunciate “Schuitema”, but still. No big deal, I thought, although she seemed fixated on getting my name right.
I asked if I could see what was in his bag, and he carefully removed the items one by one and told me what they were. I don’t think he equated any of them with “school supplies.” And he had also taken his mother’s sewing scissors, which she immediately reclaimed. After a great deal of explanation we established that the folders, notebooks, pencils, etc. were going to be just fine for Rory to use in class, we moved on to a new topic.
I was glad to explain to them that Aurora could eat breakfast and lunch at school every day for free. This opened up a very lengthy and complicated conversation that went circles around the word “free”. We repeated “for free” at each other for many minutes, and finally were able to cement the deal for them with her grandma carefully writing on one of the supply lists (that he thought he didn’t have) the words “free lunch free breakfast free for free all free”. All this time Rory stood silently listening and smiling shyly at me. I was sure that this sweet but incoherent family was sending me an equally sweet but incoherent child.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’m not using sarcasm when I tell you that Aurora is most likely the smartest person in her family. She loves to read, and tells me the most delightful (if a little vague) stories about the thoughts in her head. She raises her hand to share ideas in class, and she likes to play games on her computer.
It is clearly a very, very good thing that she is not learning all alone at home again this year — although I’m glad she was safe from COVID during that time. She is going to thrive with us and is very happy to be at school. She is starting to stand a little taller and be less timid around us, and she is overflowing with kindness. A few times just this week I’ve seen a mischievous sparkle in her eye and heard her giggle just a little.
If you would like to remember Aurora in your prayers, ask that she continue to grow in her confidence and find joy in being in school with us. A few extra prayers for her support at home won’t hurt! Her dad and grandma are taking care of her the best that they can, but I’m sure things are not easy for them.
The Meet the Teacher evening ended by Rory’s grandma carefully thanking “Mrs. Gootema” one more time, asking once more if breakfast and lunch were FREE, and wishing me a good year.
As they left, she was confronted with my nameplate on the door, which very much threw her for a loop. I tried one last desperate time, pointing across the word and emphasizing the S. “SSSSSchuitema”. To which she peered closely at the door, then shrugged her shoulders and said, “I guess the S is silent!” And then she marched off down the hall. “Bye, Mrs. Gootema!” I just smiled and waved.