John D. Rockefeller gave the money for the University of Chicago to be built. Suddenly, there towered an extraordinarily beautiful university in a field. It looked, with its spires, towers, and cloisters, as though it had stood through time with Cambridge and Oxford and La Sorbonne. Those institutions took centuries to build, but this one was done– just like that. Finished. Complete. And yet… at the dedication someone noticed there were no paths. Had this been an oversight? Could the work be complete without the paths?
The architect’s response: “How can I know where the paths will be, when I haven’t seen where the students will walk over time.”
I don’t know if the story is true; I heard it from a Chicago cab driver. But something in this story is true enough. I remember it every September. And I remember my former classes who have helped create paths that have remained as part of the way we do things in Room 204.
Recently, I got a letter from a college freshman at Middlebury College. He wrote the letter in alliteration and thanked me for teaching him poetry in Room 204.
Last weekend I was in Barnes and Noble and I ran into a fourth grade teacher. We stood in the parking lot and talked about books and life and teaching. It was a conversation we began when I taught her first and second grades in Room 204.
I went to the grocery store and the cashier smiled as she asked about school. She asked if I loved this new class, too. We both knew the answer. She had been a student in Room 204.
Last Wednesday, the children and I were walking after recess. A VCU student on a bicycle called out. I was delighted to see her. I introduced her to the children and explained that she had been in Room 204, too. I snapped the picture… past and present together– a path through time.
In September, a year stretches before us with the luxury of time. We take time and make time to build the rituals of reading and writing workshop; to explore the math materials; to play with the maps; to fine tune expectations; to learn the songs; to wander through the dictionary, the encyclopedia, the thesaurus, and the atlas. Many of the routines in Room 204 are paths created by the way other classes have walked. The first day of school is a signpost: “Begin here.” The paths take longer. We uncover old ways that work and discover new ways that work better. We walk together.