Friday, June 8, 2018

dodging the snowflakes: reflections on a year

Nope, it's not over yet!  Our last day is next Friday....

but this year of 2nd grade was summarized and celebrated yesterday with a simple presentation to families that highlighted social studies work (biography projects with an emphasis on timelines) and a poetry collection by each student.

Here I pause to give a loud shout-out to my daughter Daisy, now 19 and a rising college sophomore, who spent her day yesterday working with each student to order their poems and select a title for their collection.  If not for her, there's no way her beleaguered mama would have pulled the whole thing off, having fallen a little behind with the work of the last 8 weeks.

Daisy being interviewed by 8yos about what college is like
How, you wonder?  How was it that all morning of the presentation we were writing what each student would say instead of "In December blah blah blah" as we had rehearsed since way back on Tuesday?  How could I be in the position of helping each research group finally add the citations to their biography projects at 1:30, with parents arriving at 2:30?  There are several reasons, but one of them is my friend "Edward."

Daisy allowing herself to be bested in a race by 8yos

This most instructive year has included having the anguishing experience of watching a child fall apart.  In February, right around the time of the Great Second Grade Shift, Edward began to have episodes that I first thought were based in physical discomfort.  Not apparently temper tantrums (although he had always been, along with all his skills and strengths, a little prone to frustration), these were episodes that I thought might be related to lack of sleep, or hunger, or low blood sugar, or thyroid issues.  The heavy breathing, the red face and oozing tears, the clenched fists, the kicking off of shoes, the agitated body movements--there was a day I actually thought he was having a seizure and called the health room for emergency support.

But the episodes were brief, and Edward would bounce back and return to his work, showing his creativity, warm heart, intuitive understandings, superlative physical skills, persistent attitude.  And yet the attacks became more frequent, more agonizing, requiring more and more of my time to help Edward breathe, take a break, sit with me to complete his work.

Finally one day I got a clue about what was going on.  "How did your body feel after you drank that juice?" I asked, still searching for some physical cause.  "Well, it wasn't the juice that helped; it was really the water, but it didn't change what I was thinking," said Edward on the way to Music.
!!RED ALERT!!  "Hm.  What were you thinking?" I asked.

 "Well, I learned a lot in kindergarten and first grade, and I'm glad, but everything is getting harder now, and I feel like even kindergarteners and first graders are smarter than I am, and I just wish I could stop."  "Stop what?  Stop learning?"  "Yeah, but I know I can't, and then I think about 3rd grade and 4th grade and 5th grade and I just don't know how I can learn all that."

Folks, this child was having anxiety attacks--looking ahead to all that was looming, moment by moment and day by day, and "flipping his lid" with greater regularity and greater intensity day by day.  What I was seeing were panic attacks, pure and simple, except that none of them were pure or simple.  Edward, who will surely be an American Ninja contestant one day, began to resist recess, of all things.  As I walked outside with him one day to ease the transition, he explained that he didn't want to go because "it was over too soon and it was hard to stop playing" and go in to lunch.  This child was anticipating so keenly the pain of having his beautiful recess flow interrupted that he preferred to skip recess altogether!

The work I have done watching, listening, supporting, redirecting, recording, reporting, reteaching, helping Edward to "examine the evidence" and compare what he believes to be true with what is objectively true--that he is motivated and capable of doing good work each and every day--has been heavy, and also fascinating in a heart-rending way.  Some curriculum projects have been interrupted or abandoned, temporarily or forever.

And so we came to our Presentation Day yesterday with unfinished work that only got done with the aid of my daughter, and which included this poem by Edward.  In early May he set to work on Wixie to make an illustration for a poem he had already written, but then discovered tools that led to this illustration, which then led to this gem of a whole new poem.  This boy, who looks ahead to this afternoon, tomorrow, 5th grade, becoming unhinged with anguished panic about what he can't do--is the same boy who, in creative flow, can look back on a past experience of delight and capture it with unschooled energy, rhythm and word choices to make an adult poet envious.  Thank you, Edward, for all you have taught me this year!

The roundup today is with Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge.  Dodge on over there--we'll be having so much fun we cannot stop giggling!


  1. Thw power of poetry. Edward is a poet and an artist. Thank you for sharing his story and for helping Edward see. And by see I mean who he is and how to work through his fears. Teaching and teachers like you do so much good. I am glad poetry, too, became part of their lives this year. Did you learn any by heart and recite together? It helps. It really does, all by itself. No test, no pressure, no requirement to participate, no homework. They love doing it.

  2. First, three cheers for Daisy! And, God bless Edward. What a post full of his emotion and yours. It's so difficult to watch a child struggle and I'm so glad you took the time to talk to Edward about his thinking, to learn from Edward. The poem is a delight of second grade and a triumph over anxiety....I'm so grateful that you work with all our children. Steady on through the last week.

  3. Wow all the way around, Heidi. So much for you to figure out, so much for him to deal with. I hope his next teacher is as patient and thoughtful as you are. (Yay for Daisy!)

  4. People don't realize how much is involved in teaching, but this post is a great window into that. Congratulations on your work with this kid and all your kids.

  5. Our teaching jobs are not easy, but they are filled with heart-wrenching joy. A beautiful poem from Edward, a special recognition of a moment, and the way you have nurtured this child all come together in this post. I love Daisy and want to actually meet her one day. Hang on, my friend!

  6. Heidi, my heart is so full after reading your post. I am so grateful for the important responsibility and challenge we have as teachers. What a gift you are to your students!

  7. Dear, dear Edward. May you find a way to have so much fun "you cannot stop giggling." Bless you and bless your perceptive and responsive teacher.

  8. You have captured the complexity of this little guy with such grace and compassion. I'm so glad he had you for a teacher! And what a terrific daughter you have raised, that she was willing to come in and support you with their poetry and biographies! Happy almost summer!

  9. What an incredible job you teachers do - it's so much more than facts and figures, it's heart and soul. The world can seem like an overwhelming place when you're young, full of unknowns and challenges that can just feel so big and scary. Patient, understanding teachers are worth more than their weight in gold - they can absolutely change lives.

  10. Anxiety is a difficult thing to deal with, yet you were patient and able to extend an open ear and heart to Edward–he will probably carry this safe understanding you gave him forever. Beautiful poem and art. And what a trooper your daughter Daisy is. Wishing you all a wonderful summer break!


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!