Without Words

My directions are the same for each birthday:  “The birthday child takes the first bite.  But not until they taste our words.”  The birthday child stands with me and hears our words, offered child by child.   And then we end with my words.  I say what I see, what I appreciate, what I know to be uniquely true about the gifts of the birthday girl or boy.  Words are a gift in Room 204.

I was sent out of the room on Wednesday afternoon.  When it was time to go back in, I walked up the stairs hearing my class sing “Happy Birthday, Mrs.Campbell.”  I walked in and saw tables carefully set with treats that the children brought in.  “Surprise!”

One child announced, “Mrs. Campbell takes the first bite, but not until she tastes our words.”  Another handed me a tissue.  Another explained, “We will each stand by you as you taste our words, just like you have stood by us on our birthdays.”

One after another my third graders  came forward to fill my cup with birthday words.  I knew that  each hug was about more than my birthday;  we were beginning our good-bye.

“Mrs. Campbell, your third grade teacher would be so proud of you,” one child said.

We ate the treats.  We played a class version of Bananagrams with Cheeze-Its that had letters on them.  We laughed.

This birthday ritual was a tangible example of children owning what they had been taught. I was so touched.  But where are the words?  I know words. I have words. I love words. The only words that come are from Marcel Marceau:

“Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?”

Thank you, Third Graders… for the beautiful book, for the beautiful words, for the beautiful birthday, and for the very beautiful year.

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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16 Responses to Without Words

  1. Libby says:

    this is so lovely, Annie. How wonderful to know you’ve touched your students in this way–that they want to give back to you what you’ve given to them.

  2. sara says:

    One of my favorite moments in your class this year was the day of Avery’s birthday words. I wish I could say I remember exactly which precious words you ascribed to Avery as you held her hands and looked deeply, directly at her, but I don’t. I was so profoundly moved by the words the other children offered to Avery that by the time that Mrs. Eason and you offered yours, the gesture had superseded the words. I’m not sure I knew that was possible– like a lot of things–until this magical year. Thank you, Annie. And happy, happy birthday.

  3. Jeannie says:

    Well, wouldn’t you know that right as I am retiring, you give the most wonderful idea for celebrating my students’ birthdays that I have ever heard. All I ever did was host a birthday lunch in my classroom for the children who were having birthdays each month. I will have to fold this idea, however, into the batter of my grandchildren’s birthdays, and, for that matter, even into the activities we plan for our yearly extended family beach gatherings. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, you wordsmith and lovingly creative colleague.

  4. Juliann says:

    I love that they gave you a tissue. What a great tradition.

  5. Theresa says:

    Incredibly moving. What a wonderfully thoughtful way to celebrate each child and now you too! Our school has moved away from traditional birthday food treats which I understand. However, I have been pondering and looking for new ways to celebrate birthday. Love this idea. Thank you for sharing ~ your words brought tears to my eyes.

  6. Lynnelle says:

    What a great birthday!!!

  7. Beth Belcher says:

    I wish someone had handed me a tissue before I read this entry. Your words gave me goosebumps and a lump in my throat. What a wonderful treat, and it wasn’t even my birthday!

  8. Lindsey S. says:

    This must have been such a rewarding experience!

  9. Charlene Scroggins says:

    This must have been an emotional time for you. As I was reading this I thought “what a beautiful way to spend your birthday!”

  10. Brittany Anderson says:

    This is very special and thoughtful of your students. You must have made an impression on them. I appreciate teachers like you, ones that make a connection with their students and so much passion that it passes along to the students.

  11. Stephanie Crews says:

    This is such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing! The connection you shared with your class has furthered my interest in becoming a teacher. I was truly moved.

  12. Lloyd says:

    What a lovely surprise from your third grade class! I agree with Marcel Marceau’s quote. When we are really touched by an act of human kindness, there are no words to describe it. Silence can be a big indicator of how we feel, whether it is great joy, anger, or sadness. When this happens, we have to be able to read peoples faces to know the difference between each emotion. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

  13. Lisa Benson says:

    I love the idea of individually celebrating a child’s birthday by telling them what you, and your students, appreciate about them. You are giving them a gift greater than any gizmo, gadget, or toy from ToysRUs. For them to return the favor is amazing evidence of how you have touched their lives.

  14. Gloria Maldonado says:

    Awwww!!! What a wonderful surprise from your students. It is a very touching story. I am sure you will remember this surprise for many years.

  15. Mallory says:

    How amazing! You are molding your students to become adults who appreciate words and what they can mean to a person. You are showing them how to build someone up, not knock them down. My mother has a quote on the bulletin board in her kicthen. “be careful of your words for they become your actions, be careful of your actions because they become your character, be careful of your character for it can become your legacy” I’d much rather be remembered for the way I treated others than any other accomplishment I may of had.

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