I park my bicycle outside of a little book store in New Orleans and wander in. It is the only business open on Sunday besides the coffee shop down the hall. I weave around the low shelves of paperbacks and hardcovers, breathing in the scents. As I have done for the past 18 years, as a college student preparing to teach and then for the years I served as teacher, I stand in front of the children’s book section.
This time, a pang grips my gut, like a sucker punch. A pang that struck me occasionally as a teacher and continues, at times, to strike since leaving my position in the elementary schools. Instead of letting the feeling wash over me, I stand firmly with it. I begin to question it.
What is this all about?
Goonight Moon, The Runaway Bunny and Make Way for Ducklings peer out at me and are surrounded by other classics.
Teasing me? Questioning me?
Reminding me of failure.
Somehow I failed my students, I ruminate. I didn’t do all that I could to teach them about reading. There were so many techniques and strategies and tips that I failed to use and share. Guilt ices over my insides, leaving me feeling defeated. My feet are heavy on the floor as I start to turn away.
Hold on, I demand, facing the memories head on.
Did the kids laugh? Did they feel like running away like the bunny sometimes? Feel hopeful that all was well and they, too, were loved to the moon and back? Reassured to know they weren’t the only ones who thought there was a monster under their bed?
And wasn’t I the one to read these classics to my kids, evoking feelings and discussions from students year after year?
Didn’t I read in a hushed tone? Infused with enthusiasm? Mimicking voices of cats and cows, monsters and fairies? Bringing in props and puppets?
And how often did I hear, ‘Read it again, Ms. Sabourin’ as twenty-some sets of eyes locked in on me at the back of our cozy classroom corner….or under a tree…or crammed on the school bus?
What about all the times I opened up a prop box filled with scarves, hats, glasses, vests, dresses, and animal ears and hauled out the life-sized cardboard character cut-outs, turning over the dramatic reenactments to the kids’ imagination?
What is it they will remember most? Naming the seven comprehension strategies or the plays they put on, through which they lived those strategies?
I know that I touched kids lives in a profound and deep way, and largely in a positive way. I fought fiercely for their right and need to play, for kids to be kids, not corralled like cattle. Together we discovered the power of deep breathing, morning exercises, and community circles. We embraced creativity and curiosity. We walked in the woods and fed peanut butter-and-seed crusted pinecones to the squirrels and birds. We gathered to the steady rhythm of a djembe. We tip-toed to the chrysalis hanging under the windowsill, unbeknownst to the rest of the school kids. We mourned when someone or something knocked it down. We made mistakes and forgave each other. We celebrated our strengths. We sang, read poetry, danced, and baked.
Here I stand as the icy guilt melts away with warm memories of all that I DID do with and for my students. Scanning over the titles, my eyes land on the corral next to the kids’ books. Travel books stare back at me. Peru captures my attention first, a place that I am destined to visit. I smile at the transition I’ve made: from teacher books to travel guides. Here it is, laid out in front of me, reminding me of my journey. Though I left my role in the traditional classroom, I will always be a teacher…and learner… at heart. As I set off on my next adventure, I will carry the spirit of wonder, excitement, and awe that those six-year-olds so often showed me. And for that, I’m grateful.