At the core of teaching lies humanity.
Teachers don’t manufacture widgets or track currency fluctuations on overseas markets as they go about their daily business. Teachers spend their day interacting with some of society’s most interesting, creative, adaptive, vulnerable, courageous citizens. Children are capable of doing almost anything at any time. That’s one of the reasons that teaching is such a fascinating profession. You can have the same teacher in the same classroom with the same group of children and never experience the same school day twice!
To the teacher who views his/her students as human beings, rather than names on a class list, the complexity of the young hearts and minds that assemble in their classroom each day is what makes the job so attractive and interesting. Sometimes, an “interesting” day can be a tiring day if one of the students is angry or emotionally upset. Sometimes, an “interesting” day can be hilarious and memorable. The story of the best Teacher gift I ever received is one of those moments that come completely out of left field and, once you regain your wits, makes you smile for the rest of your life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when it happened.
I was teaching in a Grade 2 classroom in Courtice, Ontario. I had no gifted students in this class but, no hardcore, troubled behavioural children, either. On the whole, the class was comprised of nice, friendly, average kids. They were a good group. I liked coming to school each day and so did they. I got along well with all of their parents. In short, it was a good year in the wonderful world of Grade 2.
This story takes place on the last week before our Christmas holidays. If you have ever been in a primary-aged classroom the week before Christmas, you know that there is a higher than normal buzzing of energy to be found (and, I don’t mean from the overhead lights, either). If teachers were being honest, they would admit that that last week of school is not the most academically-intensive week to be had during the school year. But, just the same, maintaining some semblance of routine is important so, in between concert rehearsals and craft making, we still did some simple bits of regular work. One of the things that helped make up my “Holiday” unit was, of course, a set of spelling/vocabulary activities. We brainstormed chart paper filled lists of words that had to do with Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas. The kids searched for words in word search puzzles, they unscrambled mixed up spellings, they filled in the blanks, they typed stories on the computer and on and on it went. Well, since it was the last week of school and I had a group of kids that could go along with a joke, I created a worksheet of questions and answers that had, as the final question, the following: “If you were a millionaire and could buy Mr. MacInnes any three gifts in the world, what would your three gifts be?” I was hoping for answers like, “A rocket ship to go to the moon in”, or “A fancy sports car” or, “A trip around the world” but, instead, what I got back from this bunch of well-meaning but, average-joes was more along the lines of shirts, sweaters and pants. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of imagination that they had shown until I got to the worksheet handed in by a little girl named Megan.
Megan was a nice little girl with freckles across her nose that spilled onto her cheeks. She wore her blonde hair in a bob style. Her blue eyes sparkled whenever she smiled, which was fairly often. All in all, Megan was a good kid so, as I read over her answers, I was not prepared for what I saw when I got to the last question. She wrote, “I would give Mr. MacInnes a new sweater, a new pair of shoes and a g string.”
I read the first two parts of her answer with my brain in neutral but, her last answer snapped me to attention! I re-read her answer just to confirm that I had actually read what I had thought I had read. It turns out that I had! G-string! Wow! Where did that come from? I decided to check to see if she could have meant something else like “guitar” or “gerbil” because kids at that age can still be prone to phonetic and/or inventive spelling but, the spelling was clearly a “g” and a space and “string” spelled correctly. Needless to say, I felt the need to check into this so, as the rest of the class crafted or did whatever Holiday activity they were engaged in, I called Megan over.
“Megan”, I said. “I was checking over everyone’s worksheet and there are a couple of answers I’d like to read for me, if you would.”
She said, “Sure, Mr. MacInnes.”
I had her read her answer to Question #1 and #3, just so she wouldn’t realize what I was really wanting to know and have her think that she was in trouble or anything like that. She read her answers and proudly smiled at me as if to say, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Could you read #5, too, please?”
“Ok….. I said that I would give Mr. MacInnes a new sweater……….because you have a hole in your brown one. Did you know that?” I grunted a smile and motioned for her to continue. “I would give Mr. MacInnes a new pair of shoes…….because you have scuff marks on yours………and a g string.” She turned to me and smiled the same smile she displayed after reading the answers to Questions #1 and 3.
So I said, “Megan, I understand what a sweater is and the part about the shoes but, I’m not sure what you mean by a g string”.
She smiled and put her hand on my arm and sweetly said, “Oh, Mr. MacInnes, everyone knows that a g string is underwear.”
“Ok”, I said. “Then answer this for me, please. I understand why you would buy a new sweater to replace my holey one and new shoes to replace the scuffed ones but, why do you want to buy me underwear?”
She looked around to be sure that no one could hear and then she leaned in, “In my home, whenever Daddy or Mommy wear their g strings, they run around the house, laughing and tickling each other. It makes them so happy. I want you to be happy in your home, too.”
Well, what do you say to that? I smiled and gave her a quick hug and thanked her for thinking of me and my state of personal happiness. The story would have ended there except for a fluke of timing. During the month of December, report cards are prepared and sent home and parent-teacher interviews are conducted. Depending on everyone’s schedules, it sometimes takes a couple of weeks to get everyone to come in to the school to meet. As luck would have it, Megan’s parents were one of two interviews I had left to conduct!
So, the very next day, after school, Megan’s mother and father walked into the classroom and sat down. I had Megan’s work folder out and showed them some of her Math work, a painting she had done, some pictures she had drawn and, lo and behold, her spelling work that included word search puzzles, mixed up spelling words, fill in the blank sheets and, yes, a certain question and answer sheet that she had completed just the day before! I sat there and let them look at each sheet and then, the final Q & A sheet. I watched as they scanned down through the answers, finally arriving at the last question. I saw Megan’s Mom mouth the words, “sweater” and “shoes” and then, her mouth just opened and she began blushing furiously. Dad broke out laughing and looked down at the floor. I just sat there quietly for a few seconds, thoroughly enjoying the moment.
Then I said to them, “Don’t worry. Teachers hear far more about what goes on at home than most parents realize. The important thing to take from this is that in Megan’s eyes, she feels that she comes from a home that is filled with love and happiness. She feels that you both love each other and not every child can say that about their parents. You should feel proud that your daughter views you that way and that she feels so happy herself.” They both smiled and thanked me for my kind words.
I have gotten many, many gifts from families over the course of my career but, nothing comes close to the imaginary g string I received that year from little Megan. I wonder if widgets ever give gifts to the people who make them? I doubt it. Thank goodness I have had the pleasure of spending my career in the daily company of children. They are the essence of humanity and our society’s most precious gift.