Happy International Women’s Day! Today I’m linking up with Story Sessions to write about “the girls we once were.” You should click over and read their beautiful stories as well.
I can remember standing at the bottom of the stairs in the basement of the house my parents still live in, asking my mom how to spell “box”. I can’t remember why I wanted to spell box, but it is my earliest memory of reading or writing, and from that moment on I couldn’t stop. I wrote my name on the wall (and was duly shocked when my parents figured out that it was me), and I read books faster than we could check them out from the library. It was during those years that we discovered that the library had a 50 book per card limit, so I finally had to get my own library card. I still have that card.
My brothers and I would play house in the basement, in cardboard boxes and in the pretend kitchen. Nathan would be the baby and I would be the mom and Robby would be the hunter (obviously). I would cook and take care of the baby and order everyone around. My mom wasn’t a stay at home mom, but that was the role I always wanted. To order people around and take care of them.
I started school and the reading and writing and bossing people around really took off. I was shy and smart and before long, confident. I made friends and the shyness went away. I grew into myself. I loved animals, I loved dancing and singing and writing and hugging and TALKING. My family, my teachers, my church, my all-girl summer camp, my friends… I had the most supportive environment a child could have grown up in. I dreamed about taking care of people, of being a vet (I think everyone goes through that phase), of having a family.
We found a home video a few years ago of my first day of third grade. In it, I come home after school and immediately start reading off a long list of school supplies and talking to my mom about where we can find them and when we can go. To her credit, she pretty well ignores me to talk to my younger brother about how his first day of kindergarten was. I persevered in pestering her and we did eventually turn off the camera to go buy some school supplies. I showed the video to some of my friends recently and they all commented on how little I’d changed.
The girls we once were are coming back to us now.
I have been incredibly blessed to never lose track of my dreams. Of course there were schoolyard bullies and unkind comments and teenage angst, but my family and friends have always supported me and I have never doubted that I am who I am, never lost sight of what was most important to me in life. Am I afraid of failure? Yes, of course. Will I survive if I fail? Yes, of course.
But I have the unique opportunity to teach third grade now, to watch these little souls who are at a crossroads in their existence, whose environment isn’t always what mine was. My freshman year of college I took my first education course and fell in love. During one of the first weeks of class, our professor told us that most counties decide how to allot prison budgets for the future based on how many children had to repeat third grade that year. The more students repeating third grade, the more money the prison system would need.
It was at once the most depressing and most hopeful thing I had ever heard. It is depressing because it means that so much of our lives is outside of our control. But it is hopeful because it means that good influences early in life: good teachers, good parents, good mentors, can permanently affect a child’s future.
I knew that day that I wanted to teach third grade. This year, there are 9 girls and 17 boys in third grade at my school. The boys are all boy: they love soccer and rough-housing and video games and experimenting with bad language, but they still need love and cuddles and laughs. The girls are quiet and well-behaved… and often overlooked. Statistics show that especially in elementary school, teachers unknowingly give up to twice as much attention and time in class to the boys because of their behavior issues compared to girls. With nearly twice as many boys in the grade, I strive to be conscious of this every day and to give concerted and intentional attention to my girls.
Last week, one of my girls stayed in for recess with me because she had been disobedient in class. With just her in the classroom, we talked about her misbehavior and what she could do differently next time, and I prayed for her. I remembered that I had liked her poem using her spelling words from the week before. I told her so, and she said, “I like to write stories, but even more I like to tell stories. I love to read stories out loud and get to do the voices and help someone else to imagine what it must have been like in that place, in that time.”
I told her she could be an author when she grows up, or a teacher, or a mom or whatever she wanted but that she should never stop telling her stories. I told her that I always wanted her to know that her stories are good, that she is creative and smart and worth listening to.
She smiled a little and said, “Yeah, maybe. Or maybe I’ll be an astronaut.” and skipped back out for the last five minutes of recess.
I was blessed to be loved through my childhood into my adulthood and so to have been able to hold fast to my dreams and my confidence. Every day I pray that I can inspire that same confidence in my students, especially my quiet girls and their strong voices.
Because the girls that we once were shouldn’t have to come back.
They should never leave.