Whether we are conscious of it or not, we think and speak in metaphor. Metaphor is the picture language that lays track from heart to mind and back. Metaphor stirs the imagination and helps us mix what we learn with what we know. Sometimes metaphor sneaks up from behind, “Boo! You didn’t find me, I found you!” It grabs us and won’t let us go.
In February our third grade class started watching the Richmond Times-Dispatch “eagle cam.” We would check in and see how the parents, Virginia and James, were faring. We loved to watch the way they took turns sitting on the nest. We were thrilled to get a glimpse of the eggs during the “shift changes.” We watched them repair the nest with care. Twig by twig. We were mesmerized by the “real time” miracle that could not and would not be rushed.
At the end of February it snowed. Virginia, the mother eagle, weathered the storm and never left her eggs. Day and night she quietly sat guarding the fragile potential–her life’s work. In our third grade community, we began to feel like we were sitting on the nest. In March we watched the eggs hatch. We watched the mother and father feed their chicks. We held our breath when they were left alone and cheered when an intruder was chased away.
As spring came, we found more nests. Osprey nests. Robin nests. Cardinal nests. One day, as we walked, we found a broken blue egg with a yolky interior: a sad reminder that miracle and fragility walk hand in hand.
In May, the eaglets practiced and practiced and practiced flapping their wings. They took all the time they needed. One needed more than the other… and it wasn’t the one we would have predicted. Last week, when they were ready, they flew– first one then the other.
It is June. In the midst of celebrating college and high school graduations and weddings of former students of Room 204, I am now bracing myself to say good-bye to this group of third graders. They’ve been talking about how happy and sad they are at the same time. I tell them those are the feelings of getting ready to leave. They are flapping their wings. When they leave they will soar. They are ready. Off they’ll go. I will stay.
There are storms that threaten the nest. “Reform” is a storm that threatens the infrastructure that was begun by the true school reformers a hundred years ago. John Dewey was passionate about public schools as centers for experiential learning, shared inquiry, and informed citizenry. Could he have foreseen the day when an informed citizenry would say no to extra money for schools? People often forget that the “tough on schools” almost always translates to “tough on teachers and children.” Sadly, I am not surprised that citizens would overlook a cut in pay and benefits to teachers. I am surprised, however, that people are okay with increased class size. I had a brief conversation with Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) earlier this year. I implored him to consider the importance of class size. He responded that good teachers are more important than class size.
Here is the truth: every child deserves a good teacher AND a reasonable class size that supports and encourages his or her class participation. We can teach our children to flap their wings, but conditions have to be just right for them to fly. Public education is a precious part of our nation’s infrastructure. It has been built twig by twig and is in constant need of repair, refining, revision, and yes, reform. True reform, like education, is a real-time miracle that cannot be rushed. It isn’t that we’ve gotten it wrong. It is that we are still working on getting it right. Miracle and fragility walk hand in hand. Good teachers (and there are plenty) guard the fragility and bet on the miracle.
This is the week that I celebrate the 19 miracles before me, my students. On Friday I will say good-bye to each of them. I have loved being their teacher and I will miss each of them. Experience has taught me this: I will also love watching them soar.