Thursday, September 13, 2012
One Turn of a Key
Come with me. I have something for you.
Such simple words, yet magical to the 5 year old me. The other children in the kindergarten class followed Mrs. Woodard and me to the door of the classroom chirping, "What, what? What do you have for her?" Speculations were cast out and unanswered. Candy? A puppy? Extra snack? Their collective insistence to know what exactly they were missing out on made me smile on the inside. As I walked hand in hand with my teacher down the hallway of the elementary school, I hoped my classmates were fooled by my outward look of indifference, laced with apprehension. On the inside was an ecstatic smile. She has something for me!
My heart raced as we traveled further and further away from the Kindergarten classroom toward the Big Kid hallways. There is something for me in the big kid hallway! Big kid drawings and essays cluttered the walls outside each classroom. I longed to read what they had written, longed to trace their cursive writing with my index finger, but there was no time for that. I was comforted by the fact that each hallway smelled the same; like Elmer's glue, pencil shavings, peanut butter, gravy and what I now know to be the scent of sweaty kid feet. If I could bottle that culmination of smells, I'd be in heaven. I allowed myself to skip. I did so as discreetly as possible, of course, so that I couldn't be accused of running in the building.
Mrs. Woodard gracefully side stepped through an open classroom door. I followed, timidly.
Big kids, some I recognized as my elder brother's friends, were gathered in small groups reading aloud to one another. Some of the groupings consisted of mixtures of 2nd graders and 3rd graders. It dawned on me that the children were sorted based on reading level and not by age or grade. How exciting! I was immediately drawn to their reading textbooks. I had read the majority of the stories in the 2nd grade book already. My brother often let me read through his book after he completed his homework in the evenings. The stories inside were much more appealing than the stories we read in Kindergarten. Is the something that Mrs. Woodard had for me in here? Or was this a quick stop on the way to our destination?
Mrs. BigKidTeacher came over to us. "This must be Jessica!" She lowered herself to my level and I cowered away. "How would you like to read with us?" Mrs. Woodard gently nudged me forward. She leaned in toward Mrs. BigKidTeacher and quietly said, "She has read every Boxcar Children book in the library. . .she may need the 3rd grade textbook."
The two teachers continued whispering, determining my reading and social fate. I caught snippets of the conversation as I inched away from them, my focus on the literature in the room. "Bored. Shy. Imaginative. Brother is down the hall. . .let me know."
Mrs. Woodard exited the classroom.
I was frightened of my new surroundings but the intoxication of reading out of the Big Kid textbooks overruled my fright. I sat down at one of the clusters of desks. The wooden and metal desks were temporarily and haphazardly rearranged from their normally orderly rows to allow groups of students to face one another. At once I became a pet.
The girls oohed and ahhed over me, "She's so cute! Sit here! That's Sam's little sister." One of the girls patted my head and tugged on my messy pigtail and I winced. "Oh, she's scared," the girl crooned. "Would you like me to read to you?" I could think of 1,000 other things I would rather be subjected to, but I said nothing. I felt like my insides were being ripped out; I wanted to get my hands on a 3rd grade textbook and READ!
Mrs. BigKidTeacher thankfully led me to another table on the other side of the classroom. "Students, this is Jessica. She is going to join our reading class this year."
She is? I am?! 3rd grade reading textbooks. Smile.
I felt very much like I had imagined Mary Lennox, Colin, and Dickon felt when they discovered the Secret Garden. They had something beautiful and sacred at their fingertips; something others may have appreciated but could not fully understand. The magnificence of their discovery was not the garden itself but what it did for them. Each one, in his and her own way, needed the solace and magic of the garden. Freedom.
Instead of sidestepping into the classroom, I envisioned that Mrs. Woodard had actually been holding a large, weathered skeleton key. Come with me. I have something for you. Crouching low to the ground, she had brushed tangles of vines and thorns out of our way, pushed on a heavy, creaking door, and. . . with one turn of a key revealed a glorious world of words and stories, characters, and history, the expanse of which was never ending.
The Big Kid classroom was my secret garden; strange, wondrous, and exciting. Although, I imagined it more like a dense jungle than a garden; still serene and protective, yet dangerous and adventure-laced. Until that day I had not known what I was missing. I was complacent breezing through age appropriate curriculum and supplementing with books from the library. Now, though, now I could never go back. I had my very own world with new friends and higher expectations. I was hooked.
Mrs. Woodard indeed had something for me. She gave me one of the greatest gifts in my life. She handed me a little freedom and opened the doors for future confidence. She turned the key and gave me access to a world that stimulated me. Every day that I skipped through the hallways to my Big Kid reading class I loved her more and more. Today, she still holds a special place in my heart.
"A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy.” - Edward P. Morgan