By Jeff Hodges
Our daughter is a natural producer, director and performer. She says it was inevitable that she would become a teacher.
She discovered her avocation after college when she began substitute teaching to make ends meet. Two years later, with a graduate degree in Education, she was a teacher in a brand new public elementary school near the United Nations.
The first time she walked into the building she saw the security guard from her high school stationed at the door. “I almost turned around and walked out, “ she said. “I thought it was all over.”
“Oh Miss Debbie,” she pleaded, “You won’t say anything, will you?” Miss Debbie laughed. “Your secrets are safe with me, honey,” she said.
Because the school was so close to the UN, her preschool class was a polyglot of colors, cultures, and languages. In order to communicate with Fung-fei, whose parents were part of the Chinese diplomatic corps, my daughter would have to tell Ahmed, who spoke English and Arabic, to tell Aman, who spoke Arabic and French, to tell Lucas, who spoke French and Chinese, to tell Fung-fei that it was her turn to go to the bathroom and wash her hands. But with the innate facility children use to acquire a second language, by Christmas the whole class was chattering away in English, and Fung-fei was giving my daughter advice on how to teach the class.
I had the good fortune to become her occasional teaching assistant. The administration was happy to let me read to the kids, clean up after lunch, and tag along on field trips. But I never acquired that remarkable ability teachers develop to monitor all parts of the classroom at once—as evinced by my daughter hissing “Dad!” from across the room whenever I got too worldly or too scary with my pedagogy.
Every month the students immersed themselves in a different topic. For the “Construction Unit”, we took them on an unannounced expedition to a construction site near the school. All work stopped when the line of four and five-year-olds came trekking into the dust and debris. Thankfully, the foreman got into the spirit of things and came into class the next day to instruct the diminutive contractors on the basics of erecting a high-rise building.
For the “Medical Unit” the classroom became a clinic. In my eye exam I pretended not to be able to see the first line of the chart. My five-year-old optician was very concerned.
“Sound it out,” she said helpfully. “Puh! Puh! Puh!…
“P?” I asked.
“That’s right! Let’s try the next one. ”Kuh! Kuh!! Kuh!…”
“K!” I blurted out.
She patted my shoulder.
“See? You’re getting the hang of it,” she said.
Of course, for the “Grocery Store Unit” we went shopping. We walked to Trader Joe’s where an employee treated us to a comprehensive tour of the store. We visited each department, sampling cheese, lox, fruits and cookies and filled up a shopping cart with enough snacks and treats to last the month. At the end of the tour, our guide pulled my daughter aside and confided that this was the first time he had smiled since his son’s death a year ago.
Towards the end of the school year my daughter ordered a batch of Painted Lady butterfly cocoons, enough for each student to take a proprietary interest in their own chrysalis. After three weeks a rabble of butterflies emerged, and the budding naturalists hiked to a nearby park to release them. My daughter opened the mesh cage, and as an enraptured group of students, parents, and administrators looked on, each entomologist released their fluttering charge to appreciative gasps and applause.
As one can imagine, the sight of that cosmopolitan crowd in burkas and blue jeans, gazing heavenward with such avidity and hope, was a vision to behold.