Guest post by Angela Abend
And there was Olivia, smiling as she exited the school bus in the rain with her classmates scurrying around her ready to start the new day.
Thank goodness for the small overhang that keeps some of the rain off their tiny heads as they practically skip down the long sidewalk towards the school’s side entrance.
The wind blew and the puddles grew around their feet; this was typical of a rainstorm on the southern coast of Long Island.
Then Olivia noticed it.
There it was, “caught” in a small crack of the sidewalk so far from its home ... a worm. It would be our Olivia destined to save it and to do right by this environmental injustice. I called for her to move along as I had no idea of the worm’s impending doom.
She stopped, the class stopped because of her, and they waited.
Then one set of eyes peering out from the hood of an oversized yellow raincoat called out, “Mrs. Abend, Olivia needs to save the worm ... now!” All heads swooped to look at the worm and then swooped a split second after towards me for a reaction.
This was now a teachable moment. Sorry moms and dads, there will be damp sneakers coming home tonight.
Some rushed for sticks as others just watched and cheered her on as she gently tried to remove the worm from the depths of the concrete to return it to the soil. HERE was a true lesson in collaboration, compassion, and empathy without the need for a boxed curriculum, neatly-packaged supplies, or a pre-written script to be read aloud by me.
How were they ever doing this without color-coded worksheets with neatly typed directions? Wait, no aim on the board? Won’t the academic world as we knew it soon come to an end?
An assembly line was formed with little confusion and Olivia’s worm was returned to the garden in a round-robin of cheers tinged soggy joy! Their self-assigned tasks were met with success and together they accomplished their measurable, tangible goal. They became a team because their teammate found value in the smallest of creatures. They looked to me to give the nod of permission and in that moment, every fiber of the Class Charter became alive.
They continued to skip, Olivia continued to smile, and they were ready to start their day with the worm now in its proper home. Who knew their first lesson would take place before they would even set foot into the building on that particular day?
As teachers, our greatest lessons are truly found in what we do and what we give our students permission to do each day in and out of our classrooms--not in what we say or scribble in a plan book late on a Sunday night. In addition, our students often see their classmates through our lens and if Olivia’s concern was important to me at that moment, it became even more important to her classmates.
Truly, the culture we hope to instill in our classrooms and schools stems from the hearts and souls of its teachers. No pre-packaged program, heavily publicized gimmick, snazzy acronym, or overpriced guest speaker on a Conference Day will surpass the daily interactions between child and teacher. It is a sacred relationship that is at the very core of the educational process. Every layer of interruption, nonsense, and noise chips at the opportunity to build this bond. Without the relationship, the rain falls and worms are washed away .... the teachable moment, forever lost.
And for Olivia, our naturalist, I would see her again one day. She proudly sat across from me at a local government meeting to help restore classrooms destroyed at our local Marine Nature Study Center during Superstorm Sandy. So I guess you can say, our Olivia continues to save worms ....
Angela Abend is a veteran teacher in the Oceanside School District where she is presently the gifted/enrichment specialist.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.