Chairs tell the story. I walk by the art room on the way to my room and what do I see? Three chairs lined up outside the door, looking curiously at me…. One chair says I am large and comfy. Look at my broad seat and my captain’s chair persona. I even have arm rests, but my best feature is my splash of color. This chair has dried paint all over it. I could only live in an art class you know. I lead a colorful existence. I am not your standard school system issue. I am unique
Next to the big splashy chair are two smaller unmatched chairs, still neither one the standard school issue. How could they be, this is an art room after all…..If it doesn’t make a statement, it doesn’t get a place in the hall, advertising what to expect inside. The art room is open and light-filled. The chairs are the harbinger of what lies within.
Yesterday was parent teacher conference day at school. Outside each teacher’s door there are chairs for parents to wait while you talk to another family in your room. Outside most doors, there are 2 chairs. Outside my room there are usually 5 or 6 chairs. All of them are the rigid maroon plastic that matches our school colors and doesn’t bend, like a PIP ( school board policy). They may not be comfortable but they are numerous and they cry out, “ Sit down, glad you brought the whole family” The chairs say “be comfortable, you may have to wait but when you see her, she will have plenty of time for you too. I knew you were all coming, and I am ready for you and welcome you.” Outside most rooms you will only see two chairs. In the regular mianstream program, most of the time only one parent, and sometimes two, comes. In my world, it is often a major family event,
Yesterday in between other parent visits, I had a visit from a parent whose son I taught years ago.. His mom walks into my class with his baby in a stroller to see me. We take pictures together. His youngest brother is at our school now. I wonder how it must feel to have children at the same middle school over a span of 18 years. The youngest is not in ESL. He was born here and is already the next generation within the same family. He doesn’t carry the same two worlds within that his older brother and sister did. His sister invited me to her quincenera, celebration of her 15th birthday. While her mom stands in my doorway the memories flood back. beginning with mass at a church, and a very formal reception at a hotel across from the entrance to Route 50. She had a court and the best dancing I have ever seen with teens so young. She trained them all herself in multiple sessions before the event. I was invited with one other teacher. She pulled us both out onto the dance floor for a special number where she danced with him and her caballero danced with me. We twirled small scarves in the air in a room exploding with joy and festivity. This was like a debutante ball happening in Spanish, with hearts bursting with love and well wishes.
Another family arrives, back to reality, to the moment. I drop my ephemeral scarf of reminiscence and squeeze the baby’s hand.as they leave and the family of a current student enters my room. Family after family come and fill my room with connectedness. I LOVE parent teacher conference day, maybe because I have amazing parents. I always feel I know the family so much better when they leave, and I hope they feel that way about me and school in general as well. We begin talking about the child at hand, my current student. We talk about reading levels, language acquisition, and current performance in class, as well as social emotional adjustment, and then we veer off wherever the family wants or needs to go. Sometimes we talk about difficult family reunification issues, other times we talk about special challenges that the child or family faces. Sometimes we talk about what life was like before they came here, or their hopes and dreams for tomorrow. At times we even talk about children in the family, some whom I do not even know, but the parents place them temporarily before me and want to know what I think about whatever issue is confronting them with that child. To be trusted so much and to be let in to the center of so many lives is such a privilege .
Only in teaching does one live so many lives beyond one’s own This is a profession which stretches us and fills us from someplace deep within with a sense of purpose and a love of life. I will always be thankful for the years I have spent, and continue to spend, teaching, laughing, crying and learning with my students and families. .
In ways we don’t even realize, we set chairs outside our proverbial doors every day subtly telling people what they will find within, sometimes helping us define it and discover it ourselves.