Grace Trumps Perfection

I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be a day my students would never forget. I wanted the day to be like the Inauguration itself: Big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking. I hunted obstacles down weeks in advance– nothing would get in our way. No reception on the TV? No problem, we’ll get that fixed. The Inauguration scheduled during our lunch? Not a problem. We’ll have pizza delivered.

On January 20, We gathered on the carpet and read The Sweet Smell of Roses, a beautiful book about children who marched with Dr. King.  We talked about the power of words to change our world. We brainstormed words that have inspired change, and can inspire change. I told them that during the Inauguration, they would hear these words and others. “Listen,” I said, “And echo the words that have power for you. Say them out loud.” I wanted my third graders to hear, feel, and know those words. I wanted them to take those words as their own.

I called the Pizza place. They told me that twenty people had called in sick. they had no drivers. The man who answered the phones was making the pizzas himself. It would be hours before he got to our order.

I turned on the TV. It was big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking…until the sound went out.

We went to another classroom. My students randomly, throughout the room, echoed the words they heard as powerful.  I listened to their words as I listened to Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem:

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We went back our room and started on the “commemorative place mats.” Scissors were a blur in a haze of pictures and words and scraps.

We ate dessert first because it was a special day. And because the pizza hadn’t come.

Children cut red, white, and blue paper into strips; put words onto strips; put strips into chains. Word was added to word,  strip was added to strip,  chain was added to chain–longer and longer and longer.  Every word important. Every word adding power to the others. “Like citizens in a democracy,” I told them.

Day was done. Buses called. Children dismissed.

I am always struck by Room 204 in the afternoon. So suddenly still. On this day there was red, white, and blue everywhere. Scraps, like confetti, covered the floor. The parade was gone leaving silence in its wake.

It hadn’t been perfect, but what a big grace-filled day. Big. Wonderful. Groundbreaking.  It wasn’t perfect.  It was just right.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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8 Responses to Grace Trumps Perfection

  1. Wendy Martin says:

    Sounds like a great day to me!

    I made our “big kids” write in their journals that evening. After bath, the kids were in their beds and I was putting towels away, humming and singing an Aretha Franklin-inspired “My Country Tis of Thee.”

    I went into Josie’s darkened room to pull her shade down (we have a building right next door with bright lights). As the room became even darker, I started singing the Star Spangled Banner. Josie, from her bed, joined in (thank you National Anthem Project) and we just sang that song… in the dark.

    As mother/daughter our voices went so well together and I was amazed how well she held the tune. Toward the end I was so choked up I could hardly continue, but her strength and youth kept me singing. It was one of the most beautiful, patriotic things I can ever recall experiencing.

  2. Libby says:

    isn’t it always the way that as teachers, we aim for perfection, and we end up getting something that’s actually better?

  3. Lynnelle says:

    I agree with Libby! What actually happens on the days I want to be so perfect actually turn out not at all like I expected, but better than I could imagine.

  4. Lisa says:

    So did the pizza ever arrive? 🙂 I love the commemorative placemat idea. What a cool keepsake for them.

  5. VCU Professor Belcher says:

    I think your day sounded wonderful, mostly because you immersed yourselves in the wonderful WORDS of the day. Wouldn’t it be grand if powerful, positive words were used more often than physical means of communication? We know they can be just as effective. I bet our world would be a safer, more peaceful place.

  6. Stacey says:

    “I am always struck by Room 204 in the afternoon. So suddenly still. On this day there was red, white, and blue everywhere. Scraps, like confetti, covered the floor. The parade was gone leaving silence in its wake.”
    Beautiful lines Annie!

    BTW: I love Sweet Smell of Roses. Glad that you chose to read that one that day.

  7. Susanna says:

    Beautiful Annie!

    We encounter each other in words, words
    spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
    words to consider, reconsider.

  8. Elaine Belber (VCU) says:

    I think it’s wonderful that your students were able to witness such a historic event! Sometimes the best things happen when plans don’t work out the way we wanted. Not only will your students have so many words to associate with the Inauguration but also more stories to tell their grandchildren about the day as a whole!

    Your students will definitely be ones who will go out and change the world!

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