About twelve years ago, I remember that some of the parents of my students brought in a birthday cake for my birthday. The children all sang happy birthday and when the children asked how old I was, I jokingly told them and the parents there that I was 21 again this year.

On Monday of the next week, one little girl in my classroom marched up to my desk as soon as she arrived. "You lied to me" she huffed. Surprised, I asked her what she meant. She indignantly replied "I went home and told my Mama that it was your 21st birthday and she said "Ain't no way that woman is 21!"

You'd think I would have learned my lesson; but not this kindergarten teacher. Six years later, I remember a similar birthday celebration. The parents again brought in a cake and sang happy birthday to me with the children. Again, I told the children when they asked my age that I was 21 again tthat year. One little girl sitting and enjoying her slice of cake turned to the child beside her and declared "That's amazing! Mrs. B is the same age as my Mamma. I guess my Mamma is older than I thought!"

These days if asked, I just say "no comment"!

In the early years of my career we used to use a phonics program that included inflatable letter people. Whenever we would introduce a specific letter, we would put the inflatable character outside our classroom door and have another teacher knock on the door. The children loved this routine and looked forward to the time when it would be their turn to open the door and welcome a new letter person into the classroom.

I will never forget the day T... excitedly went to open the door when it was his turn. He flung  the door  open and yelled " Oh no! He's dying!" Sure enough, Horrible Harry had sprung a leak since my assistant had filled him with air less than fifteen minutes before.  In no time flat, he looked more like the wicked witch that melted in The Wizard of Oz.

I got a new student one year right after labor day. Have you ever heard the phrase "he has a chip on his shoulder?" Well, this kid came in carrying the entire tree on hers. She was mad at the world and didn't mind letting anyone know it. She wanted no part of the other children in the classroom and did everything she could to let them know it. Even though she wore mismatched clothes and her shoes were too big, nobody and I mean nobody, messed with her. She was like a pit bull in a china shop when she got angry.

One morning she came in and I thought it was a different child at first, not because her demeanor had changed, but because her attitude had. She was so happy and talkative. When we went out for recess, she came to sit beside me on a bench and excitedly told me that her mother would be coming to see her that day. I knew she lived with an elderly grandmother, but I had very little details other than that. The child could barely contain her excitement. She told me that not only would her mother be coming to see her but that she was bringing her a bicycle. She went on and on about all of the things they would do that afternoon. I was genuinely excited for the child and could not wait to see her the next day.

The next morning, it was as if the happy child I had witnessed the day before had retreated to some far away place. She looked more sullen and angry than ever. When we went out to the playground, the child ran up to me and buried her face in my chest and cried her heart out. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it but she did not. I decided not to press her and just continued to hold her and let her get her feelings out.  I did  call the emergency number listed for her when we got back in the classroom. This woman in turn told me she would have the grandmother call me.

I finally got a return call from the grandmother late that afternoon. The grandmother suffered from a lot of health problems and was in her late 70's. The child's mother had been in and out of rehab and according to the grandmother, this child had experienced more upheavel in her five short years of life than many do in a lifetime. The child and her two siblings had been removed from the home and been placed with the grandmother who did not want them separated. She told me that her daughter just could not pry herself away from drugs and the courts refused to let her have the children back until she did.

The grandmother described to me how the child had waited all afternoon the day before for her mother's visit. She refused to budge from a window at the front of the house and stayed there until bedtime. Her mother never came. It broke my heart as the grandmother described how the next morning, the children found an old rusted bicycle thrown in the yard sometime during the night.

I decided not to broach this with the child. I did contact the counselor who in turn contacted a social worker. Eventually, the child began receiving regular counseling.  What I did do was try every way I could think of that I could to reach out to this precious little soul. Her sweet little spirit that had been hiding under all those hurt feelings slowly began to emerge. She would delight in the small treats I would bring her and started opening up to me. I went to some thrift stores and found some new clothes that had been discarded but still had tags on them. When I got them to her through the social worker, she was so proud of her new outfits. She started playing with the other children and appeared to really enjoy school. Her temper would flare from time to time but her tantrums weren't nearly what they had been when she first entered our classroom.

The only time I would see a setback was when her mother would come to see her. It caused so much turmoil for the child afterward that I finally called her social worker and reported this.

By  early January, the grandmother's health had deteriorated to the point that the child had to go and live with another relative out of state. I cried and cried the afternoon that she left and prayed that God would watch out for her.

That little girl would be in high school now. I wonder if she even remembers me or realizes how much she touched my heart.

Teachers in my school system could never predict when their room was scheduled to be painted. Do you think they would schedule it during the summer? Of course they wouldn't! They could unwittingly inflict more misery on some poor hapless teacher in the middle of the school year or a holiday break.

One year my classroom was painted while we were out for Spring break. I had to spend an entire week-end frantically putting everything back on the walls once they finished  painting which shortened my so called time off.

The day we got back to school was a day I will never forget. My assistant had taken the children to lunch and I was not on duty so I decided to pop some popcorn in the microwave in my classroom. Attempting to 
multi-task, I stuck it in the microwave and made a quick trip to the kid's restroom located in my room. I came out to a room full of smoke! My microwave had chosen this particular day to malfunction. All I could think of was that I might set the fire alarm off and that was something I did NOT want to do. I  pulled the smoldering bag of popcorn out of the microwave, and dropped it in the sink. After I poured water over it, I ran over to a window and tried to open it. The new paint had sealed it shut and it probably would have taken a crowbar to pry it open. Frantically, I tried the other windows. None would open.

My classroom had an outside door so I tried fanning the smoke out the door. I can't say that was one of my brightest moves since it hardly made a dent in the smoke that had filled the room. Next, I got the bright idea to grab a pair of scissors and a kindergarten chair. I ran outside to see if I could pry the windows open on the outside. Not known for my sense of balance, I toppled off the chair. I had on open backed shoes and when my foot slid sideways, my heel landed on a broken beer bottle hidden in leaves as I fell. 

Not only did I have a classroom full of smoke, but now I had a hole in my heel. I hobbled back into the classroom just as my assistant had walked the children back to class. Evidently her sense of smell was off that day or she was so frazzled from lunch duty that she dropped them off and headed for the teacher's lounge without a backward glance. 

As they entered the classroom, one child looked at me hopping to a chair  with a trail of blood behind me and screamed " Mrs. B is dying!" Another yelled "Ew! It stinks in here!" As the children continued to moan about the awful smell, I asked a child to go and get some paper towels for me. Instead of getting new ones, he grabbed some out of the trash. By this time the entire class had encircled me and seemed fascinated by the red stuff oozing from my foot. I couldn't believe the mess I had gotten into. Blood was pooling on the floor, my foot hurt something awful, and I had twenty-six little people moaning about the smell of smoke. What could be worse? How about the fire alarm going off right about then? 

I could imagine teachers started pouring out of their classes with their charges grumbling and complaining about the timing of an unannounced fire drill. I sent a child to find the nurse and finally convinced the child it was okay to ignore the fire alarm. Once the nurse came, she took one look at my foot and declared that I was going to need stitches and a tetanus shot.  She put a temporary bandage on my foot and told me that I had to go right then. I told her I could wait until the end of the day.

As I was leaving that afternoon, I overheard a number of teachers saying that they would love to find out who the culprit was that pulled the fire alarm. I didn't say a word as I exited the building.

By the way, it took at least a week for me to get the smell of burned popcorn out of my classroom and I ended up with fifteen stitches! I never eat popcorn for lunch either.

At one point in the public school system I was working in, the Central Office decided to implement Spanish instruction in Kindergarten. The teacher that was hired for my school was a very kind gentleman from Portugal who had retired from a university position and wanted to work part-time.

I remember the very first time he came to my class. He sat down in my rocking chair and gathered all of the children around him. He explained that he was going to be teaching them to speak Spanish and would be in our classroom once a week. He asked the children if anyone in the class knew any Spanish. One little tow headed blonde raised his hand and exclaimed "D.... does! He's from China!" The poor man looked so perplexed that he didn't know what to say. My assistant and I had to turn our heads so that the class would not see us laughing. Out of the mouths of babes......

Every Kindergarten teacher faces the task of teaching her new little charges the school rules during the first week of school. Raising your hand when you want to talk, keeping your hands to yourself, and walking quietly in a single file line in the hall are just a few of the rules kindergarteners are faced with learning as school begins.

I remember one particular year when I had a little boy J... who refused to say a word. His father had passed away during the summer and he was still coming to grips with the loss. His mother had asked me to be patient with him which I readily agreed to do. She was taking him to counseling and other than not speaking; he was a very sweet cooperative child.

One morning that first week of school, as we were walking down the hall, I exclaimed at how nice and quietly J.... was walking in line. I will never forget the child behind him turning to another child with a smirk on his face and saying "He don't talk NO way!"

Lunch duty is always a treat in elementary schools. You are up more than you are down opening milk cartons, handing out condiments, replacing dropped utensils, and wiping up spills.

One day, as I sat with my students, I was called over to help a child open his milk carton. When I got back to my seat, I took at drink of my tea. The child next to me asked "Does it taste good?". I told her that it did indeed. She smiled proudly and said "I stirred it for you!" Holding my cup in midair since I was about to take another sip, I asked "How did you stir it for me?" She smiled again and held up her index finger.

Another time, I brought a fast food salad. The child beside me exclaimed "Oohhhhhhh, I love those little baby tomatoes!" The next thing I knew she was reaching over and popping them in her mouth.

Let this be a lesson to all you young teachers out there. Never leave your lunch unguarded!

I have often had the pleasure of teaching more than one child in the same family. Once year I remember a little girl saying that she could not wait until we had show and tell that day. When the time for show and tell finally rolled around, she proudly got up in front of the class and announced that she had something to tell. With a big smile on her face, she looked over at me and said "I have known Mrs. B since she was BORN!!!" My assistant and I broke out in laughter until we realized that this sensitive little girl looked hurt. I had to explain to her that we were not laughing at her at all but at what she had said. Once she understood, she brightened up and enjoyed the rest of her day!

Every year I did a big unit revolving around the theme of bears. At the end of the week, I would have a teddy bear picnic followed by a teddy bear parade. Each child was allowed to bring in a favorite teddy bear for these events which generated a lot of excitement.

One year, when I asked if everyone had a favorite teddy bear, one little boy did not raise his hand. When I asked him about it, he told me that he had never had a bear. He lived in a homeless shelter so I called and left a message with the director of the shelter later in the day. I asked her to please return my call and let me know if the child did not in fact own a teddy bear as he stated. When she called me back, she confirmed that his mother said that not only did he not own one, he had never had one. She was a single parent with two other children under the age of five and was struggling to even feed her children.

That afternoon after school, I went out and bought the cutest bear I could find that a little boy might like. I put it in a large gift bag and brought it to my Principal's office the next morning. I asked if he could call the child to the office and tell him a package had been left for him anonymously. I had 24 other students and if I had shown favoritism to one, no matter what the reason, the others would have felt slighted.

I brought the child to the Principal's office and he looked wide eyed at the package. The Principal told him that it had been left in the office with his name on it. The child lifted the bear out of the bag  like it was a precious gem and hugged it tightly. It touched our hearts to see how much pleasure such a simple gesture meant to this child. The child beamed as he returned to the classroom with me and spent the rest of the day showing his bear to his classmates. I don't think he ever stopped smiling that day because he was so proud of his new bear.

I never saw the child without his bear for the rest of the year. It came to school with him and went home with him. He took such care of it considering his age and would lovingly snuggle up beside it during rest time.

He moved away from our school at the end of the year but he will always have a special place in my heart. I wonder if he still has that bear.