Two days ago I was substitute teaching at Yujin Gakuen Japanese Immersion school in Eugene. What a wonderful group of fourth graders. Maybe my best group of the school year.
The kids sat criss-cross applesauce around me on the carpet. There wasn’t any room for me to sit on the floor, but the rocking chair suited this body. I would have had to have a lot of help to get this now 55-year-old body off of the floor. And this way, I could see all of the kids as I read them a picture book, Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco. I love reading stories aloud, though I love telling stories just as much. Turns out the kids liked my stories.
Since the story is about an old woman who creates amazing art on eggs, I couldn’t help but think of my God Mother Barbara Clifton. She was one of the sweetest women I had ever met, and I felt blessed that she was my God Mother. Barbara, which also happens to be the name of the first born sibling in my family. I’ve never asked if my sister was named after Barbara, though I’m thinking that our families hadn’t met yet when my dad decided to build in Weston, Massachusetts.
I told the kids, and this wasn’t the first time I have mentioned her as Barbara Clifton was my inspiration to become a teacher in the first place, an elementary school teacher just like her, that she would find rocks and paint them. The kids were impressed by that, but when I told her that once she had painted a rock into a rabbit that was so life-like, a cat stalked it. This rabbit is one of my prized possessions.
Come to think about it, my half-day at this school, was all about Barbara Clifton. When I first introduce myself, I use a bird chirp that gets kids enamored. I don’t know if Barbara taught this to me, but she used to talk and chirp to her rocks and stained glass as I sat nearby watching her, totally fascinated by her artistic touch. She could bring the rocks to life because she treated them as such. When I chirp, this is my signal for the kids to quiet down. Every class always asks me how I do it. I don’t know. Sometimes I tell them that I had been a bird in a previous life. I tell them that I had a parakeet fall in love with me once, though I skip the meaning of when a parakeet bobs its head up and down and pecks your beak, or in my case nose. I tell the older kids, middle school kids and above, that I must have been sending mixed signals to Troy the Parakeet. I didn’t realize this until after I brought Wilbur home for her, and that’s all he did; he was not interested in me, but unfortunately, she was only interested in me. I never tell them that part of the story.
For all of the years I have substitute taught, last year was the first year that a first grader asked me if I had swallowed a bird. Does chicken count?