Friday, August 29, 2014

minnow by minnow

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When I was still quite a new teacher in East Harlem more than 20 years ago, I accepted the offer of a volunteer for my classroom.  He was an older man, perhaps 55, who had worked all his life running his own HVAC repair business.  Now, having sold it and retired, Sal wanted to try to something he'd always been interested in: teaching.

Sal came to my first-grade class regularly for about six weeks.  He was great with the kids and easy to work with, and everybody loved him.  I don't remember much about Sal's projects in the classroom, but I do remember what he said about why he had realized that teaching wasn't for him after all.

"In my work I've been used to walking into a building, figuring out what's not working, and repairing it.  You leave at the end of the day knowing that you completed the job.  But here in the classroom, the progress can be so slight each day, or maybe you don't see any progress.  There's a lot of waiting, and sometimes you can't tell if you fixed anything at all.  I guess I still need to walk in, see what's broken, and fix it."

That's obviously my paraphrase of Sal's wise assessment of his experience in first grade, and off he went back into his life--but his observation has stuck with me.  I'm not an angler, not a fly-fisher like my friend Mary Lee, but I'm joining her in her Trout of the Day project, and I guess that


what I am good at
is catching little minnows
kiss then throw them back


By this little instaku I mean that here they come swimming--
I reach in, catch them up midstream and plant a little challenge on them, then toss them back in to catch their breath and find their own next level.

And each day--even in this first week of school or maybe especially--I can see growth and change and progress in each child, and those little increments are enough to keep me feeling like I'm doing the right work for me.  I love it when Caty-Jean realizes she's safe and can step right up in the line with confidence.  I notice that Jake is thinking hard about which way his capital J should hook.  I see that Emara is learning to say goodbye to her twin after recess.  And look at Hector planting his finger on his lips and waiting for his turn to tell me everythingeverythingeverything all at once!

In this work, you don't walk in, see what's broken, and fix it.  It's a little more slippery, a little more daily than that.  It goes minnow by minnow.
 
For lots of hefty poetry keepers, Check It Out is the river to fish in today, with our host Jone.

5 comments:

  1. Heidi, there have been times when Sal's observation has felt very true for me, but somehow I keep trying. When I see that light of understanding in a student's eyes, I know I'm right where I'm meant to be. (It was our first week back too. June seems a long way off, but it will be here before we know it!) Have a great year!

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  2. "minnow by minnow" - I love that, Heidi! Sal seems to have a very this way or that view of the world. My husband is the same way - fix what's broken, only feel accomplishment by finishing something. Teaching is a long, hard process for all involved. Love your instaku, too. = )

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  3. That's a truly lovely observation, Heidi. I think teachers do need an anormous amount of patience - the rewards would only come after years and years for some, if at all. :)

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  4. I'm so glad you've joined me in the "Trout of the Day" progress. Focusing on daily positives and writing them down seems to be making a difference in my mental health already in this young school year. Having my students reflect positively on their day (in writing or sometimes just out loud) also feels like the seed of a snowball, gathering size and strength flake by flake.

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  5. Lovely observations, Heidi. "Kissing minnows" should be written into your job description. :)

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