I’m currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama; after lusting after this book, life got in the way and I ended up putting it down for an extended period, more than once. But there really is no excuse not to read, in lockdown! Though that makes it sound like a chore, and this book is far from that.
From the earliest chapters, one fact is made plain. Mrs Obama is proud of her roots and her story (rightly so!) and nothing will ever change that. She recounts her chronology with unflinching honesty and an intelligent reflection that reinforced that strange, inherent trust I always had of the Obamas.
Becoming has certainly made me think, and made me reconsider how far I could go with enough hard work. I’m not aiming to be First Lady, not by any stretch, but I really admire Mrs Obama for her work in and for the community in Chicago. The impact she had on ordinary lives was small at first glance, but in real terms, for real people, she made an immeasurable difference. She returned to her roots and used their strength to support and shore up others.
That’s what I see myself doing as a teacher. I went to school, I had teachers (you can read about some exceptional ones here) and now I’m going back to school every day (save for the absolute mess of a situation we currently find ourselves in) to build roots for the children I teach.
I took the dreamcatcher down from my class notice board on Friday. This was the beginning of a grim process I’ll be continuing this week – stripping down the classroom for the children’s return in June, and bringing it all home as I won’t be returning in September.
The dreamcatcher has been up since August. I bought it on holiday in Majorca last summer with immediate intention that it would go in my classroom. I have a feeling now that it may end up moving with me to hang in every classroom I teach in.
More than once this year, I shared the story of dreamcatchers to various groups of children whose attention was captured by sparkling beads and colourful feathers. I told them that the beads capture bad dreams and while the feather release good ones into our classroom, and that when I was little girl my mum hung a bigger one over my bed to ward off recurrent nightmares. Sharing that little piece of me felt special for me and for the children.
There were plenty of other little mementoes in my classroom that provoked conversation like this. My roots were as fascinating to them as theirs were to me, and reciprocal sharing brought us closer.
They wanted to hear all about my dog, and cautiously asked why I had taken down her pictures in November (Millie passed away at the ripe old age of fifteen.) They positively fizzed in January when I showed them photos of my parents’ new puppy, and exploded with stories of their own pets – including a dog “the same colour as toast”, an adorable description I hope never to forget.
The little fairy propped on the corner of my desk often drew comment, and I took pride in telling that she had been a present from one of my teachers. There followed much speculation over whether the fairy spent every night fluttering around the classroom, only to return to her same resting place each morning.
Of course, we choose carefully what we share, but I think as teachers we have the power to leave part of ourselves in every life we touch. I know there are parts of those who taught me that I always carry with me, and I often wonder if these thirty children will look back on their Year One experience and remember the part I played. What of me will stay with them?
It’s a powerful and beautiful fact: teachers can have roots everywhere because we have the potential to reach a lot of lives. Not even directly, sometimes – I know of the passion my dad’s French teacher possessed, from stories he has told me.
The roots we lay in the classroom are significant and long lasting. It is a privilege of the job: we are part of our pupils’ stories.