When I was starting my journey as an elementary classroom teacher, my eyes and ears were trained to search out problems. Who was having trouble decoding words? who couldn’t continue to build onto a pattern of shares or numbers? Which ones had trouble settling down? How could I help this one distinguish right from left? How could I help that one learn to tie her shoe? Of course, I was a teacher and this was my job – to help – assist – encourage – nurture. I focused all my attention on the problems. What wasn’t yet achieved?
As I gained experience, I relaxed into the role of a careful observer. I still nurtured students’ nascent talents, but my gaze increasingly became one of possibility. I was focused not so much on students’ weaknesses – the things they could not yet do. But rather set my mind and intention to what they could do, what made them motivated, what ignited their passions for learning. I had several mentors along the way who shared the same belief system. Carl Anderson approaches writing workshop conferences as opportunities for students to see themselves as writers. He recommends that during each conferring session, the teacher give the student a glow and grow This consists of giving the student feedback on something in their writing that works wonderfully, and also give a suggestion about their writing that will help them grow. Katherine Bomer also takes on this stance in her book, Hidden Gems, she encourages teachers to look for the surprising and fresh writing moves children make instead of focusing on the writers mechanical mistakes. This growth mindset rings true to me because in my experience more growth and opportunities arise from seeing possibility than from focusing on deficits.
I have been fortunate enough to be teaching for forty years. And with that amount of experience, I’ve seen young children who couldn’t stand still, had trouble learning to read, had undecipherable handwriting – grow into young adults who were accepted into colleges, including many Ivy League institutions. And later, those young adults became heads of real estate or financial companies, major athletes and artists, and promising entrepreneurs. They learned to seek paths that played to their strengths and challenged themselves to see beyond their weakness and stay intent on building their strengths.
The very first mentor I encountered in my life was my mother, Vivian. She was a talented artist, fashion designer, seamstress, and eventually an elementary teacher. Her creativity and determination became my source of strength in so many areas of my life. This month marks the fifth anniversary of her death. I miss her every day. I recently began reading Barbara Kingslover’s novel, Unsheltered. One sentence stood out to me as the main character, Will Knox, talks about the loss of her mother: “Really it was her mother she’d wanted to call right after the bad news, or in the middle of it… it had been her mother who put Willa back together. When someone mattered like that, you didn’t lose her at death. You lost her as you kept living.” When I read those words, I felt an instant connection to the author. “Yes,” I thought – “Yes,” that is what it’s like to lose a loving mother. Time has given me an opportunity to reflect not only on what I have lost, but also on what my mother gave me – all her gifts. And for that I am so very grateful.
I remember your ruby-red lipstick and dark eyes, You were the one who taught me laughter.
I remember the sound of your heartbeat as we cuddled Cozy together in the wooden rocker, It was you who taught me the power of stories.
I remember your hands pushing and kneading dough Into a perfect pie crust, You were the one who taught me patience.
I remember your cool cheek on my hot forehead It was you who taught me love.
I remember your fingers flashing over fabric: Folding… pinning… cutting… It was you who taught me perseverance.
I remember you standing tall, Bending down close, guiding and reassuring, You were the one who taught me kindness.
I remember you dipping into paint, Creating a world of color, You were the one who taught me possibility.
I remember your quiet calm in the face of pain, You taught me courage.
I remember your lasting embrace It was you who taught me acceptance.