This is the age I learned that I could not erase my mistakes in a way that created a neat, pointed eraser like Natalie could. In many ways, this is the age I first remember disappointment--the disappointment in myself that I saw reflected in the faces of the adults in my life. Of course I remember many other more wonderful experiences too.
When I finally taught in my own classroom of 4th grade students, I discovered what a tremendous and wonder-filled age that is. There are so many stories from this time in my live involving 9 and 10 year olds. So many. There is the Snizzardus, our class 'pet' that I invented so that the students would have something to take home and care for over the weekend (and give reports about on Monday). There is the story of thirty scarves I crocheted, one for each student one year and the girl who wore hers as belt for more than one year (fourth grade students are innovative that way).
The story I want to unfold here demonstrates how wonderful, compassionate and intelligent students this age are. In 2005 I moved to a new district in our state capitol city, Salem. This was a big move for me since I had been teaching in a very small district for the first 5 years of my career. I remember those first days in this big district and the feeling of 'walking on eggshells.' Since no one at the school knew me yet, I wanted to make a good impression.
So when a boy came to my classroom door, interrupting my math class, to say that I needed to call the office on the intercom because someone needed help, I hesitated. 'Couldn't he ask the neighbor teacher?' I thought, 'I don't even know how to use the intercom.' But the boy persisted and insisted that I let the office know someone needed help. There was a pause as I looked at him. And another pause when my math class, 30 faces turned toward me, silently watched to see what I would do next. I couldn't see a way out--I was going to have to use this intercom with my whole class watching and listening. I noticed Courtney raising her hand. I nodded her direction and she said, "It's really easy Mrs. Eicher. You just push the button at the bottom, then the office will ask you what you need. Then you tell them." She smiled.
So I walked slowly toward the intercom, turning around to face my class again before I proceeded. Courtney used her hands in a gesture of assurance, fanning her fingers toward me as if to say, "you can do it!" I followed the steps she had outlined and when the exchange with the office was done and I had breathed a sigh of relief, I turned back around to the class and received a round of applause from each one of them. I loved every child in this class. I hope this class learned from me as I taught them that year and I hope that the helpful lessons outweighed the unintentional and negative lessons.
I'm thinking of my own fourth grade class because the fourth grade class of Uvalde, Texas was filled with children as delightful, compassionate and intelligent as the students I was lucky enough to teach. Each student, a whole world all on their own. Each one with the potential of a seed. Any adult who has lived into adulthood is so lucky to have become the plant or flower that began with a seed. I am lucky. I just don't feel lucky to live in this world where a boy with an assault weapon, purchased legally, can stop every one of those seeds from ever maturing.
During my 18 years of teaching in public schools, I learned so much from so many students. In 2012, after the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, politicians began talking again about arming teachers. I made a vow to myself that if either of two things happened in the field of Education, I would leave the field. One: teacher pay directly linked to state test results (merit pay), Two: teachers expected to carry weapons. In 2013 I taught my last public school class because those two realities crept closer and closer.