Monday, May 28, 2007

Overdue Thanks

[My kindergarten teacher is retiring this month, and her colleagues asked former students to contribute their memories to a book for her. I sent in the following, and am killing two birds with one stone by also posting it here. Just be grateful I don't do the same thing with my grocery lists. I have changed her name below to protect her from the internet, which as you know is always going after retiring kindergarten teachers.]

The trouble with preschool is that no one respects you. It’s true that they’re all very kind and they let you dunk your graham crackers in apple juice, but they also crouch down on their haunches and talk to you in sweet sing-songy voices that make it clear you are not to be taken seriously. This bothered me. I was just as serious-minded as the next human being, and it was irritating that they didn’t acknowledge that. I suppose it’s possible that my fat cheeks and fluffy hair and the way I couldn’t bring myself to stop chasing that red-headed boy could have distracted them, so I really can’t blame them for their lack of perception, but I knew I was ready for the big time. The big K. Kindergarten.

Thank goodness for Mrs Rush.

I have never moved to New York and started a job at a prestigious ad agency, but that’s as close as I can come to describing how I felt starting kindergarten. Mrs Rush was a kind, glamorous leader, dispensing wisdom and sharing the secrets of the Grown Up World: Show and Tell. The Sand Table. Mucilage. Paste. All wonders, and all a part of the new, sophisticated world of Kindergarten. I remember telling my mother about mucilage one day after school, and being astonished that she already knew all about it. But she wasn’t in kindergarten! How could she be privy to the sacred mysteries? Now, did I know then that my mother had been a kindergarten teacher herself before my brother and I were born? Yes, I did. Did that sway my conviction that only Mrs Rush could know about such impressive things? No, it did not.

Mrs Rush gave us challenging and engaging projects, and we earnestly did our best. As we shared our accomplishments with her and each other, she was proud of each of us, every time. I admit that I still feel a surprising amount of personal pride when I remember the tinfoil boat I made to sail in the Water Table. One might even wonder if my entire career (industrial designer, artist, potter) can be traced back to that first satisfying moment when I looked up from sinking ships, sloshing water, blue plastic, and the herd of fellow five-year-old engineers and said to myself, “I have made something, and it is good.”

For me, kindergarten was a splendid combination of industry, loving kindness, and respect. Mrs Rush never spoke to us as if we were children, or at least that’s how it felt at the time. It’s only now, looking back, that I realize she must be one of the few people who know how to speak to children not as if they’re messy and/or adorable half-persons, but truly as if they’re children. As if they’re the willful, perceptive, curious creatures that children are, that we all are, when you really pay attention. So, from my inner five-year-old and my outer thirty-one-year-old: Thank you, Mrs Rush; Mrs Lencester; May. Thank you for paying attention. You are a fantastic teacher. Happy retirement.

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