I’m reading a book. This is no easy task for an elementary school teacher.
Since the first day of school, my brain tightly shuts by 8 p.m. and my eyes by 9 p.m.
This book, though, is for my heart. What elementary school teacher (or any kind of teacher) doesn’t need a book for the heart?
A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary by Brian Doyle is one of those kinds of books.
If anyone finds the miracle and muddle of the ordinary, it’s an elementary school teacher.
Here’s one such miracle. A quiet, thoughtful Danny, an immigrant kid from Mexico, drew and shaded a picture of a bird, an amazing picture, while he waited for his bus after school.
He did a #IWishMyTeacherKnew project for me and wrote, “I wish my teacher knew that I love to create.”
“Did you create your picture of the bird from your brain, Danny?” I asked.
“No, Mr. Barton, I created it from my heart,” he smiled.
Here’s a muddle. I was trying to get a class of fourth graders to write a who, what, when, where and why story of their best memory of summer on a deep afternoon on the third day of school. Muddle.
And here is one of those experiences that somehow combines both.
As I muddled out of my house after school to take out the trash, I miracled a flower on the rose bush. By “miracled” I mean that I slowed down, looked carefully and listened closely to the flower. And I was astonished at the beauty in the plain, the genius in the simple, and the wonder in the ordinary of it all.
Thanks Brian. Thanks Danny. Thanks, public school. I celebrate you.
A few days later, I instructed my group of fourth graders to choose three words from a character traits list to describe yourself. “Then tell me why you chose those words,” I said. “I’d like to know.”
“Would anyone like to share one of your words?” I prompted. Danny looked silently and thoughtfully at the words, then raised his hand.
He has a speech impediment and speaks in a wonderful blend of Spanish and English. I love to see his courage and hear his voice when he speaks.
“I chose the word ‘simple,’” he said, “Because there’s nothing special about me.”
I looked silently and thoughtfully at his words, at him. Sometimes my heart fills with … what? Wonder? Astonishment? Marvel? Yes, all these things, as I stand in the middle of my classroom in the midst of life.
After a moment of silence, I spoke. “Oh, Danny,” I said, “Simple is one of my favorite words! People who are simple are salt of the earth people. They give flavor to the world.”
“One of my favorite people, Albert Einstein, said, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,’” I continued. “Simple is a special word. And you are a salt of the earth, Albert Einsteiny, special kind of person!”
Cintia raised her hand. “Danny, you’re on the morning news team,” she said. “You have a lot of courage. You do a great job. You are a special person.”
After raising his hand, Garrett said, “Danny, I couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend than you. You are a special person.”
Jayden raised her hand next. “Danny, when I dropped my pencil box in the hallway, you stopped, bent down and helped me pick it up. You are a special person,” she said.
And as I looked into his earthy brown eyes, I saw his heart filling with … what? Wonder. Astonishment. Marvel.
The miraculous and the mundane, the simple and the extraordinary – all experienced, navigated and cherished in a typical day in public school.
A fourth grade public school teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.