The white board isn’t decorated all that well…
It isn’t usually, I fully admit I’m no artist. Just a single word: POND, with the O turned into a little blue pond, surrounded with green reeds, a purple fish, and a little red stick figure with a fishing pole.The stick figured has a hat too. Red, of course.
Hey, I don’t have that many colors to work with.
The students sit in front of me, all decked out with rain gear, baseball caps, the boys mostly in camo, the girls mostly with those bright plasticy rain boots that may work puddle stomping in town, but aren’t going to be worth much when it comes to stomping through the pond.
“So, what do you think we might find at the pond?”
Snakes! Fish! Turtles! Mud! Salamanders! Water! Rocks! Ducks! Bugs! Crawdads! Leeches! Fish! Dragonflies! Turtles!
“Alright,” I say, writing down as many of their suggestions as I can remember. I usually cut them off when we start getting repeats, or when the answers start getting goofy. Goofy happens pretty quickly with fifth graders.
“Oh!” I hear someone say in the back.
I look up, and the little girl starts to talk. But she quickly stops, blushing ever so slightly. She covers her mouth apologetically, and raises her hand.
What can I say? I like when people actually raise their hands: “Yes?”
I cock an eyebrow, “are you sure?”
“Alright,” I look at the white board again, “let me ask you a question: where does a Giant Squid live?”
“Sometimes?” she asks.
“Maybe they do, let’s think about this. What kind of water is in the ocean?”
The girl thinks deeply, tilts her head to the side, and begins to chew on her lip. Deep in thought.
Another student chimes in, “salt water!” She bonks herself in the head, the universal sign for ‘I totally knew that’. A glare is expressed, but the eager little boy just beams at me, completely unaware of the little girl behind him.
“Now what type of water is in the pond?” I ask, making sure to look at the girl.
“Not salt water… freshwater?” she says eagerly.
“Very good, so do you still think you might find a Giant Squid?” I smile, waiting for her to make the connection.
“Anything can happen.”
By NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet (Flickr: Kjempeblekksprut – Giant Squid) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In working with kids, there are three constants in the universe:
- The weather will change at the absolute worst time,
- Somebody will find a new loophole that in your directions (it will likely be dangerous, messy, or completely counter-productive),
- There will be at least one class clown.
I’ve already identified the class clown in this group. Or clowns, rather. Three little boys in the back left corner. The short blonde one with the camo muck boots, one with the oversized Carhart and finally the boy who’s mom didn’t pack him anything but sweatpants and sweatshirts.
As we walk to the pond, these are the three little boys right on my tail for the entire mile. Going out of their way to break just about every rule I can give them. They don’t do anything outrageously bad, just a hundred little things that they all snicker at every single time.
It’s twenty minutes of constant:
“I said stay behind me, you don’t know where you’re going, do you?”
“Put the stick down. Yes, that stick. The one you’re holding.”
“No, I’ve never eaten squirrel.”
“No singing unless you dance to go along with it…”
“… okay, stop dancing.”
And then there’s that girl.
She’s on my heel too, but she’s quiet as a church mouse. She listens to the boys being loud and wild and trying to drive me insane, but doesn’t say anything. Even when a group of girls comes up and starts jockeying with the clowns for the right to walk next to me (I’m still unsure why its such an honor), she just stays back.
Never more than three steps back from all the drama and noise, but rarely adding in. Periodically she’ll look at me and smile with that ‘those guys are goofy’ expression. The only time she talks is when a friend of hers walks up to see what all that noise up front is about.
What I’m trying to say is that this girl is not a clown. I’m a clown, I know what one looks like. And she isn’t one.
So if she’s not a clown, that means she’s something else.
According to some of her teachers, she was quiet but very smart. Observant and good with her peers, but not the popular girl. Her classmates said similar things, in their own way.
“She’s nice. Really nice,” said one of her friends, without prompting, “and quiet. I’m not quiet. Why are you so quiet?” The girl shrugged, smiling. “Yeah, I’m not quiet. But she’s my friend.”
So from what I can tell, she was well… forgettable. Every teacher remembers the students that absolutely drive them nuts, or the ones that make them proud to be a teacher. And everybody remembers, at least vaguely, their best friend forever. Even the ones that weren’t forever.
So why write a journal about the forgettable girl?
Surprisingly, it’s not raining at the pond.
It will likely rain by the time we have to walk back to camp, but for the moment it just looks as if I should try and build an ark.
“Mr. Chris,” says the little girl, walking over to me, “I caught one.”
“A Giant Squid?” I ask.
“Yep,” she shows me her net, which contains something obviously not a Giant Squid, “or maybe not.”
“Maybe not,” I laugh, “you told me you were going to get me a Giant Squid. I want to see one by the time we leave.”
“What will you give me if I catch one?” she offers a shifty smile.
This catches me off guard, “Ummm… I’m I’ll buy you a coke.” The vending machine at camp might as well serve liquid gold for how the students always look at it.
“Really?” her eyes go wide.
“I don’t think I’m going to find one in the pond,” she says, dejected.
“How about this,” I say, “if you catch a Giant Squid anywhere. Any time in your life… I’ll buy you a coke.” Her eyes get wide again and a smile begins to form, “in fact, if you ever bring me a Giant Squid, I will buy you an entire coke machine.”
Her jaw practically falls into her net, “really? REALLY!?”
I smile and hold out my hand. She looks at it, takes it, and gives one firm shake, “remember, you promised,” and then saunters off to the pond.
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ~ Albert Einstein
This is why I’ll remember her: She’s a dreamer.
She is the future.
I believe that everyone starts out with an inherent sense of exploration, a sense of learning, a sense of… dreaming, I guess.
Whether that takes shape in the people who seem to be born with a paintbrush in their hands, or those who’ll publish twenty books in their lifetime, or maybe those who want to know why that bird likes that particular bush, or ones that want to set foot on every continent.
Dreams of bigger and better things. Of new images they can create, words they can fashion into tales, or stories they can fill their lives with.
I know those who claim we have lost this sense of wonder, exploration, or whatever you want to call it. They say the internet, the TV, smartphones, video games, helicopter parents, or pop culture has suffocated that fire.
But I’m an optimist at heart. I believe that everyone has that sense, has that deep seeded desire for something more, for something else. Who hasn’t looked at the sky and said “I wonder how many stars are out there?” or popped on the Discovery Channel and mused “I wish I could see that in person.”
Kids are the most open with this. They admit these feelings, ask these questions, and try to take in everything they can.
Adults are afraid of those things. I’ve had science teachers take notes while I’m teaching, and I’ve had parents tell little Johnny to ask Mr. Chris a question for them. Why? Because they’re afraid of not knowing, they’re embarrassed to admit they don’t know as much as me.
I’m the opposite.
If I have a question, I have to ask. I have to know why? How? When? Where? I acknowledge there are things I don’t know, much like the students I teach. Because we all started out not knowing anything, and how else do we learn?
That’s why I work with kids; Because they’re not worried. Why should they care if the dad next to them knows the difference between a Hellgrammite and a Leech? Does it matter that the Ph.D in Physics can’t catch a Salamander to save his life?
No, because they’re here to learn.
So why do the adults care?
I can’t answer that question, nor do I really want to. Because many people just cannot and do not understand this little girl. This little girl who, come Hell or high water, just knows she’s going to find a Giant Squid.
If only so Ranger Chris will buy her a coke machine.