The Grandma Connection

Teaching begins with connections. Teaching over five hundred students every three days makes this quite a challenge. Sometimes it happens when least expected.

This was the case with one of my fourth-grade classes. It all started before Christmas break when one student called me “Abuelita.” We all had a good laugh. The end. That is what I thought…

https://pianogirlthoughts.com/2019/12/19/a-new-nickname/

Fast forward to the first week after the break. The previously mentioned fourth-grade class came to music. We reviewed classroom expectations and played several rhythm games. And then I heard it again- “Abuelita.” I laughed, “You guys are so funny.”

For the remainder of our class, their name choices for me expanded. Students were calling me Mom, Mama, or Grandma. I smiled and went along. Even as they lined up to leave, I heard, “Bye, Grandma,” several times.

I still didn’t give this much thought, until walking through the building one morning.

Some mornings, I like to walk through the building before my classes begin. My intention is not to interrupt, just to see students in their regular classroom. And for them to see me interacting with their teachers.

I took one of these walks one morning this week. A few students smiled and waved. I talked to a couple of teachers in the hallway.

And then I passed by that fourth-grade class.

They all started jumping up and down and waving. Their sweet teacher smiled. I peaked in the door and said good morning, apologizing to the teacher. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Everyone started calling me Grandma.

I suddenly realized this was a connection! A connection I could have never planned-The Grandma connection! Being an adopted grandma might not be so bad! 😉

Love to Hope

This was not the subject I planned to write about immediately following Christmas. But I could not ignore the story. A local news headline read, “Toddler critically injured by a gunshot.” None of those words belong in the same sentence, yet here they were again.

An innocent 18-month old baby, sitting in the backseat of a car, had been shot. I don’t know the whole story. Just that someone shot a gun into an SUV and a bullet struck the child.

The shooting occurred the day after Christmas, near my school.
I quickly checked the location of the incident, wondering if I knew the family. Faces of students immediately came to mind. Did they have younger siblings? I didn’t know.

Further investigation showed this specific apartment complex is not one of my school’s neighborhoods. But it was very close.

For a brief moment, I felt relief. And just as quickly, guilt. The reality is a child was shot. And whether or not I have any connection makes the story no less tragic.

I began to wonder. Would my reaction differ if I had known this child or family? Would my anger and sadness lead to action? And if so, what possible action could I take?

Too many unanswered questions. Too many stories repeated. Too many children left with overwhelming emotional scars.

Being a teacher, I sometimes witness the manifestation of these scars. Withdrawal, aggression, and fear top the list. All lead to an inability to connect with others. An inability to trust. An inability to love or be loved.

I teach in a building full of individuals who love every day. We set expectations while recognizing the need for grace. We challenge students while also advocating for them. We mostly smile during the day and sometimes cry at night. I know this is true in other schools as well.

So, how do we continue? Especially in the face of such heart-wrenching stories. We hook arms, grit our teeth, and hold each other up. Remind each other of our purpose. Offer reassurance that what we do each day matters.

We love in hopes of making a difference.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

” Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Loud and Clear

My house is quiet this first morning of Christmas break. But moments of joy from yesterday ring loud and clear in my mind.

The last day of school before the break is filled with treats, parties, gifts, and PJs. For teachers, a crazy mix of fun and exhausting! When the day was done, one quote came to mind. It perfectly described two events of the day.

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Buddy the Elf

As students entered the building, they were greeted by teachers singing and playing hand-held percussion instruments. Jingle bells, maracas, and drums accompanied various Christmas carols.

But the fun did not stop there. Once students were settled in their classrooms, one group of teachers decided to take this musical show on the road.

With instruments in hand and portable BlueTooth speaker in tow, we were off. Traveling through the entire school, past every single classroom. Familiar tunes of Jingle Bells, Frosty, Rudolph, and Feliz Navidad filled the air.

Students and teachers smiled their biggest smiles. Faces pressed against windows, students waved, some sang along. Some eyes even filled with tears. The joy was almost tangible. Most assuredly contagious and loud!

The second event occurred in my classroom. Not nearly as loud, but just as clear in its joy.

My kindergarten class was watching “The Nutcracker Prince.” During the movie, I decided to sit on the floor near the kids. Soon, I had five or six kiddos sitting right next to me, leaning in and smiling.

When the movie ended, I stayed put and asked all the students to move closer. Picture me sitting on the floor, twenty-plus little ones piled up around me.

I started to sing. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”. They all joined in. We continued with “Rudolph” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Their voices and smiles were precious. And once again, the joy was evident. It may not have been as loud as the morning caroling, but it was just as tangible and clear.

My hope is for students to remember our singing. And for the memories to remind them how much they are loved. A simple message delivered loud and clear. ❤

A New Nickname

Nicknames can be mean, intended to make fun of their recipient. But they can also be funny and endearing. I’ve had several during my lifetime. Spaghetti and Kelley Girl top the list. Each name attached to a person or memory.

This week I received a new one. And though I’m unsure of the original intent, I have no doubt about the outcome. It all began with a group of fourth-grade boys.

As students entered my classroom on Monday, I overheard some boys laughing and saying, “Abuelita.” I smiled, “They think I don’t know what that means.”

“Did someone just call me Grandma?” I chuckled. “I am not your Grandma, although I am old enough.” I smiled, assuring them I was teasing. The boys grinned.

Soon we were playing Christmas Song Bingo. The group of boys was a little chatty during the game. After reminding them several times to be quiet and listen, I decided to have a little fun.

With the help of Google, I discovered how to say, “My grandson talks too much” in Spanish. After repeating the phrase in my head several times, it was time to act. I quietly walked over to the boys, leaned down and said, “Mi Nieto habla demasiado.”

The look on their faces was priceless! We had a good laugh and continued with our game.

At the end of all my classes, I like to stand at the door and tell each student goodbye, have a good day, see you next time, etc. Today was the “Abuelita” class again. As they were leaving, one of the boys smiled, gave me a big hug and said, “Bye, Grandma.”

I have no idea whether or not my new nickname will stick. But if it does, I will answer. It represents a connection with another student. And that is what truly matters.

Thirty Seconds of Silence

We live in a busy, sometimes chaotic world. It is hard to be quiet. This is true not only for my students but for me as well. Recently, I experienced the power of purposeful silence during my first-grade class.

To introduce our lesson, I asked students to look at a picture on the Smartboard. A beautiful winter scene complete with a horse-drawn sleigh. I wanted them to tell me what they saw. If all went as planned, this activity would transition us right to “Jingle Bells.”

First-grade is at the end of the day. The kids were wiggly and chatty. Getting them to focus is not always easy. But I had an idea. I asked them to look at the picture for thirty seconds without saying anything. At first, students looked puzzled. But when I began silently counting, only mouthing the numbers, the room became quiet and still.

All eyes were fixed on the winter scene. And when I finished counting, hands started going up. Students took turns sharing answers and ideas. Some had surprising insights I had not even considered.

This was not something I had planned. After school, I thought about why this worked. I think part of it had to do with purpose. This wasn’t me simply asking students to listen or be quiet. I asked them for a defined amount of silence with a specific goal.

Granted, it was only thirty seconds. But that thirty seconds brought a successful time of sharing. And the sharing easily flowed into our singing and rhythm activities.

Before you envision a picture-perfect music class, things did get a little crazy during our next transition. I am definitely not Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. But that’s ok. I did stay calm in the chaos and class continued. Maybe because of that thirty seconds of silence?

I’m afraid I can’t take full credit for this idea. I think the inspiration came from Mr. Rogers. I’m currently reading “The Good Neighbor-The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” I also saw “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” last weekend.

I have always appreciated the quiet, kind demeanor of Mr. Rogers. When I need to feel calm, I sometimes watch his old T.V. episodes. Revisiting his work through this current book and movie seems to have the same effect.

I am particularly struck by his use of time. His actions are never hurried. One scene in the movie displayed this so clearly. Fred asked a friend to be silent for one minute, but with a specific purpose. The time was set aside to consider all the people who had loved them into being. Profound.

Granted, our studying of a picture in a first-grade music class may not qualify as profound. But it was certainly beneficial. And it opened my eyes to the power of defined silence with a specific purpose. Even if it’s only thirty seconds worth.

Be Still

As an adult, I understand the importance of being still. Not only to rest but also to listen. When I am still and quiet, important messages do not go unnoticed. A quiet “I love you” or “You’ve been on my mind” provides reassurance and security.

Being still is not automatic. It takes practice. Especially in our fast-paced, instant news world.

What about children? They need quiet moments, too. But if being still is not automatic for me as an adult…well, my expectations for students might need adjusting. Today brought a perfect example.

This afternoon, one young friend entered my classroom running at full speed. The other students were sitting down in rows at the front of the room, preparing for music class. But not this friend. He continued to run circles in the back of the room.

This student’s classroom teacher is kind and patient. She quickly noticed the situation and offered assistance while sharing vital information. The heartbreaking story immediately changed my perspective. Patience was going to be required.

My friend eventually joined the group. But near the end of class, I noticed increased restlessness. “Would you like to sit in my lap?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered with a little smile. Not able to relax, he soon asked to sit next to me instead.

When it was time to line up, guidance was needed. But holding my hand only brought resistance. Not ready to give up, I asked if I could pick him up. “Yes!” he replied and lifted up his little hands.

We played a game while we waited. One I used to play with my own children. I would say, “Are you ready?” Then I would pretend to drop him. Of course, I would “catch” him half-way down. He would laugh and say, “Again, again, again!”

This game was definitely not a still or quiet moment. And this friend definitely needs some quiet moments. Moments where he feels love and security. But those will only happen over time through meaningful connections.

Was our little game one of those connections? Maybe. I hope so. But I’m afraid it will take many more before this little friend can truly be still.

In the meantime, I think I need to be still and quiet. 😉

Full Circle

I’m not sure the exact time, place, or person that sparked Rachel’s passion for individuals with special needs. Perhaps it was noticing kids at school. Or maybe getting to know her friend, Chandler. More importantly, that spark continued to grow.

During junior-high, Rachel served as a peer tutor in special education classes. It was also at this time, she and I worked to develop a “Parent’s Night Out” ministry at our church for families of children with special needs. She also began volunteering in weekly Sunday classes and summer camps for individuals with special needs.

Rachel chose service-learning as one of her high school classes. This program allows students to spend time working in an area they are interested in for their career. She spent time each day working in the special education classrooms.

Even during these early experiences, I was amazed at Rachel’s ability to truly be a friend to all who crossed her path. No matter their ability to communicate, she spoke to them as she would to anyone else. She even reminded me on a few occasions that certain individuals were not little kids and should not be spoken to in that manner. 😉

When it came time for college, there was no doubt about her course of study. She would get a degree in special education. She even talked about how her dream job would be to come back to her own school and teach. Teach in those classes where she spent so many hours as a student mentor.

Her college years flew by. And now she is in her first year of teaching. And where is she working? The high school where she graduated. Those same rooms she spent hours in as a student.

Her very own classroom. ❤

Last week I was finally able to see her in action. She is right where she planned to be. Right where she is supposed to be. Teaching young adults who are often overlooked and ignored. Treating them with respect and dignity. Pouring into their lives daily.

Watching my daughter as the teacher? There are not enough words. It is like a beautiful full circle. No beginning or ending. No limits on where she can go or what she will do.