Our neighbor Joe visits several times a week. Joe is eight years old, polite and respectful, happy, bright-eyed, a popular kid in our neighborhood. When he steps onto our front porch, he’s usually looking for someone to play with. Sometimes, his mother sends him to fetch his sister.
Joe knows how to knock appropriately, and he knows our doorbell works. Most days, he neither knocks nor rings. Joe prefers to chat with our dogs through the window, until I notice his voice and the dogs’ cheerful barking. “Mrs. Rogers,” he says when he sees me. “Is my sister here? Please tell her it’s time to come home.”
One mid-summer day, after he delivered his mother’s message, Joe said, “Mrs. Rogers, do you know there is a caterpillar on your door? A big, fat, fuzzy, white one?” Joe’s earnest expression made it clear that our front-porch situation was urgent.
I pressed my forehead on the glass door and gazed down, my eyes following his finger. Sure enough, a caterpillar was dangling from the door spring. “Yes indeed,” I said. “I can see it.”
“Well?” Joe awaited my response. The awkward pause gave him confidence. He could see I was missing his point. “Mrs. Rogers, don’t you think I should do something? And, by the way, Mrs. Rogers, don’t open the door. He’ll be squished.”
“What do you have in mind, Joe?”
“I think I should get a twig, and carefully move him, Mrs. Rogers.”
I agreed that was the right thing to do. “You can go now, Mrs. Rogers,” he said. “I’ll take care of this.”
It was hard to leave, but I did. I didn’t want Joe to think I lacked confidence in his ability to tend to the life of a fuzzy caterpillar. I can still picture Joe in my mind, though, his expression, his commitment, the natural way he noticed a caterpillar and cared. Weeks have passed. I will think often of Joe and the caterpillar as my school year begins and it feels like there is much less time to pause and notice small things. There is always time.
Joe will be in third grade this year; remarkably mature of him, I thought, to simultaneously observe a precarious situation and respectfully communicate with an adult. This year, I’d like to enter the classroom with Joe’s front-porch spirit. I’d like to remain in the ready-position, searching for the twig that will rescue the dangling caterpillars I learn beside every day.
I’d like to enter my classroom each day with my eyes as wide-open as Joe’s are. When fatigue or discouragement hit, as they inevitably do, I hope I have the good sense to sit down and observe the young people who hold so much hope and promise. It is not as hard as it seems to observe and quietly celebrate the purposeful work that continues to give the lives of children meaning and direction.
My teaching situation is delightful. I spend every day in a beautiful Montessori classroom, surrounded by teachers and administrators who care as much as I do. It should not be difficult for me to slow down, but it is. It does not require extra energy to keep my chin up and my eyes open, but it does require deliberate thought and movement. My heart-felt desire for myself extends both to those as fortunate as I am, and especially to all those brave parents and teachers who work in circumstances and environments that tax their souls:
May the children in your care bless and inspire you. May the urgent expression of a child remind you to believe in the importance of your work. May your faith in every child keep you engaged in the work of his hands and the life of his mind. May your observations of the children in your care bring you an abiding sense of satisfaction, peace, and great joy.