When second graders come into the classroom at the beginning of the year, that moment is so filled with excitement. They have special friends they haven’t seen in two-and-a-half months. That is a long time in the life of a seven year old. Oh, some have had play dates, but for most – the summer is a time of waiting to catch up with their buddies again. Some kids, when they meet up again, are shy for a few moments. They can see that friends have changed, right? Some have lost teeth. Some grew new ones. ALL have gotten bigger. Second grade faces don’t look quite the same as first grade faces. Hair gets that summer shine. Many are wearing new clothes.
The shyness wears off soon and they are back to being the best friends they left behind so long ago. Disney, camps, daycare, soccer, baseball, the pool, vacations. It pours out like a stream.
And with me there is a shyness that I know will wear off soon. There are several children whose brothers and sisters have been in my classes in the past. And some I know just from being around our small school. I went into their classroom at the end of first grade a few times to break the ice. Since these children were all in the same classroom last year, they all remember. We sang some songs. “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes”, “Tools Was a Baby Rabbit”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”. They will become the first songs we sing together this year.
But our time together at the end of their first grade year was just to get acquainted. We are essentially strangers. Strangers who must spend two years together reading, writing stories, solving challenging problems. We will laugh together and cry together. There will be joy and naughtiness, hard work and laziness, magic moments as well as boredom.
At the beginning of our time together they must put up with me telling them about our routines and rituals. They have to learn how to share a bathroom with another class, how to put books back where they came from and how to put up chairs without clonking someone on the head. They will be reminded of how to cough and sneeze safely (into the elbow, toward the floor), and must come to know what it means when they see the quiet sign.
Because I have done this so many times (35 new school year beginnings to be exact) I can see the potential here. I know we will catch lizards on the playground field and watch butterflies emerge from chrysalises. We will share who we are and as well as our dreams. We will come to know each other’s favorite animals, colors, shows, and families. I know we will write the stories of our lives together. I know the potential of our friendships. Will come to love each other. We will tame each other. They will learn to trust me and I will trust and depend on them.
It is quite like this passage from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry where the Prince meets the fox…
It was then that the fox appeared.
"Good morning," said the fox.
"Good morning," the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.
"I am right here," the voice said, "under the apple tree."
"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."
"I am a fox," the fox said.
"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."
"I cannot play with you," the fox said. "I am not tamed."
"Ah! Please excuse me," said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
"What does that mean--'tame'?"
"You do not live here," said the fox. "What is it that you are looking for?"
"I am looking for men," said the little prince. "What does that mean--'tame'?"
"Men," said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean--'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . ."
"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . ."
I know that being a teacher of little kids at the school where I teach makes me the luckiest guy around. I get to share my favorite books with my best friends and work together solving problems and learn about how the world works and how to try to change it to make it better.
I get to bear witness to the most amazing thing the world has known – human growth and development. I will see them develop as readers, writers, mathematicians, singers, scientists, historians. I will be a part of the growth of humor, capacity to care for others, and awareness of national and world events. I will watch them grow their hair long and then cut it short, I will see little teeth come out and big old teeth come back in their place. I will see shoes get too small and get to compliment them on their new shoes, bought just a little too big with room to grow (I’ll bet you can run fast in THOSE…).
I can look ahead and see the time when we have tamed each other. I see the potential energy in our relationships. I can predict the trust and bonds that will take place in a while. Because I have taught little ones for so long, I have faith that this beautiful group of children will learn to rely on me and have faith in my decisions.
Now I am still a stranger. We have not tamed each other. Ah, but we will.