MY LEARNING SWITCH IS ON – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us. 

Nap time.001

Naptime is my least favorite part of school. Reading, writing, recess, arithmetic, art, and science—I like them more than naptime. Naptime, I dread.

Last August, on the first day of first grade, I dutifully reported to school. Everything Miss O’Connor told Mom I would need—I have. Crayons, in a middling box—not the big one that has a hundred colors and a built-in sharpener, check. A three-ring binder notebook with five dividers, check. Mom and Dad will see the notebook when they come to conferences. Pencils, a pair of scissors, and a small container of Elmer’s glue, check, check, and check. And, of course, I have the requisite three-foot by five-foot occasional rug to lie on during naptime, check.

Since the beginning of the year, I joyfully use each item as I learn the lessons of the day. During arithmetic I use pencil and paper. So far I learned to do simple addition and subtraction problems, then to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s, and most recently 2- and 3-dimensional geometric shapes. Worksheets from each of those lessons I keep in the arithmetic section of the notebook. Also in the notebook, in the writing section, are samples showing I can differentiate between words, sentences, and paragraphs, and am able to write complete sentences using subjects and verbs, basic capitalization, and punctuation. Elsewhere in the notebook are sections containing samples work I did in reading, science, and art.

No day passes that I do not use the supplies Mom bought me…even the rug. After lunch and recess, my fellow first graders and I go to our assigned places at the edges of the classroom. There I unfurl my rug and assume the position. It is in the back corner, next to Miss O’Connor’s desk. Lying on my back, eyes closed, I nap. Well, I sort of nap. Most days Alan, a better napper than me, quickly zones out. His rhythmic breathing I hear. Then soon after I hear the breathing of Julie and my friend, Cindy. With a head is full of thoughts, there is no sleeping for me.

I think about all the things I would rather do than nap. Give me a book to read. Provide me a piece of paper upon which to write or a picture to draw. I imagine eliminating naptime and make recess longer so that once, just once, we can finish our game. My learning switch is on. I want to calculate, draw, play, and experiment. Let me do anything but lay here listening to my classmates sleep.

Today, uncomfortably prone, hands and arms along my sides, on a rug that affords no cushion, I think, “Enough with naptime.” Trying my best to breathe rhythmically, albeit a bit heavy on exhales, a modicum of courage surfaces from somewhere deep within me. A scheme comes with it, as does an action. Slowly, ever so slowly—with no other part of my body moving at all—the lid of my left eye opens. Darkness gives way to light. Blurriness says, “Hello.”

One blink, another, and then another…focus finally catches up. Straight ahead, I see the square tiles on the ceiling. Slowly, ever so slowly my eye turns sideways. I see the window, then the bulletin board, desk…and then, yikes, I see Miss O’Connor.

Startled, I gasp for air. She smiles, puts index finger to lips, and winks. With every ounce of strength that my lean and lanky body can muster, I wink back and then slowly roll over. As I roll, I think, “She understands, thank God she truly understands.” Then I, for the first time, realize that teaching me is challenging and understand that Miss O’Connor needs her naptime more than I need mine. Letting her rest, I recommence my rhythmical breathing while watching thoughts race through my brain.

Many memories in my Heartland are of the teachers who shape my life. From lots of them, I learn how to do the things—addition, subtraction, subjects, verbs, and so on—that I must do in order to live productively. From some, I learn how to learn, and that learning brings meaning to one’s life. Only a few teachers teach me about teaching. Of them, Miss O’Connor teaches me an important lesson about meeting a student’s unique qualities with the flexibility and empathy so as to keep youthful passions ablaze. Miss O’Connor knew that I, with my racing mind did not fit into the naptime routine and did not try to turn off my learning switch so I would.

Going deeper, I understand that teaching is about giving. I know that students are unique and that the love and care a teacher gives makes a world of difference for them. I know all too well that some students, like me, are high energy, have active minds, and insatiable appetites for learning. We can be a teacher’s greatest joy and biggest challenge.

That is why teaching is also about getting. Getting quiet time to reflect and recharge, when and wherever possible. Getting the encouragement and support to be a difference-maker for students. However, the best that a teacher can get is acknowledgment from a student of the positive impact the teacher has had on his life. I am sadly remiss for not acknowledging the grade one teacher who, by leaving my learning switch on, kept my youthful passions undimmed. So, Miss O’Connor, wherever you are, please accept this heartfelt and long overdue, “Thank-you.”


Note: This is the twelfth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.