Lessons Learned In Combat

Why I Teach: A Reminder

Today didn’t start out in any way that led me to believe that it would be one of those magnificent teaching days, those days when all of the challenge, the effort, the difficult brain work feels so incredibly and assuredly worth it.

I crawled from under my covers desperate to dispel the remnants of the previous night’s migraine, only to experience that yay!/oh crap! feeling you get when you learn there will be a delayed opening at school (as in, “Yay! I don’t have to rush!” alongside “Oh crap! This messes up my child care/school plans!”). Rolling into the school’s parking lot with that strange everything-is-totally-off-now mindset, I had zero expectations that the day would turn out to be one of the brightest spots in my school year thus far.

First, I was forwarded a note from a colleague with whom I am currently collaborating on an inquiry project (known among faculty and students as “QPP,” which stands for question-, problem-, and/or project-based learning). We had been facilitating an exploration of Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy Presents series, and the students were deep into the messy process of creating their own nonfiction book on a topic that they had chosen to investigate further. The note had been sent to her by the parent of a first grade student, Adele, who had painstakingly typed it on her family’s computer the previous evening:

Adele note

Dear Ms. Spear and Mrs. Coppola, I love you two as a teacher. I love our QPP project ’cause it has a connection with my brain. I cannot tell you how much fun it is. I have been talking with my parents about it; they are sick of it ’cause I keep saying the same thing over and over. It is not fun hearing them say, “You already read this.” Love, Adele

Zap. It was as if I had been struck by a lightning bolt full of rainbows and bunnies. I had hardly had a chance to process the note before rushing to her classroom to facilitate that day’s work. Before barely twenty minutes had passed, I was helping one of the groups select facts about their topic to include in their nonfiction book when Brady, a classmate of Adele’s, looked up from his work and said, sighing, “Mrs. Coppola, I just wish the whole school could do this all day, every day.”

“What?” I asked him.

“QPP!” he said, smiling his first grader’s toothless grin.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Because it’s fun!”

And like the Grinch, my heart–by many accounts, one that can be somewhat crusty and cynical at times– grew three sizes. This, I thought, this is why I teach. These small yet significant moments–the ones that attest to the power of inquiry, of student choice, of subverting the poorly-developed initiatives of the so-called education reform movement–are proof that my colleagues at Rollinsford Grade School are fighting the good fight, as tough and as messy and as arduous as it is. To teach our students through authentic, meaningful work that learning is a worthwhile pursuit, that it can be joyful while also making these amazing connections in our brains…there is not a sliver of doubt in my mind that we are doing, and will continue to do, the right thing.

And when the papers fly, and the classroom hums at noisy levels, and I crawl back under my covers at night, exhausted and spent and praying that the pounding in my head goes away, I will clutch Adele’s note and Brady’s words to my heart and be reminded, once again, that this…

…this is why I teach.

Adele & Brady in kindergarten, March 2014
Adele & Brady in kindergarten, March 2014
My heart, today.
My heart, today.

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