09/15/2012 08:13 EDT | Updated 11/15/2012 05:12 EST

Dispatches From Down East: Why I Love Being a Kindergarten Teacher


It is snack time in the Kindergarten classroom. Everyone is getting out their lunch boxes and sitting in for the first nutrition break of the day. One little guy peeks into his lunch bag and sees that his mother has packed a pudding for him. The last couple of days, she has forgotten to pack a spoon. Life is busy in the morning for most mothers and fathers. This family is no exception to the rules. They must find, like most of us, that getting a balanced lunch packed is a major feat in and of itself.

Because the mother has remembered a spoon today, it is for the boy an added bonus. The little guy breaks out into an amateur version of the Hallelujah Chorus. "Hal-le-lu-la," he sings. Then repeats. "Hal-le-lu-la." I have to smother a laugh. This is a first for me. A kindergartner that sings the classics in response to a spoon being proffered. If this is the new standard for gratitude, where does one go from here?

Most days in the Kindergarten room unfold uneventfully. We read, we draw, we color, we eat. We play, we sing, we build, we rest. We learn. We make friends. We discover life. We discover and develop friendships. This community of learners is a microcosm. Each little individual living a life that parallels the bigger lives we live on a day-to-day basis, in the hustle-bustle adult world. Where imagination and wonder are often dulled. Where enchantment and education are an antithesis. What a rare and golden opportunity I have been given to watch life bloom, untouched. Unaffected.

If anyone had told me three years ago I would be teaching kindergarten, I would have politely laughed at them. If anyone had told me three years ago I would be teaching kindergarten, and one of my students would be my charming daughter, I would have (politely) laughed at them and then high-tailed it for the next bus out of town.

If anyone had told me I would be teaching kindergarten, and one of those students would be my child, and then added to that last part that I would love being that special Mrs. "What's Your Name Again?" to two consecutive sweet classes of the cutest little kindergartners this side of the South Pole, I know I would have looked that person in the eye and said, "Sign me up, pup."

You know you're a true kindergarten teacher when you can make rhymes fit on the end of any ordinary statement. Ain't that the truth, Ruth.

I am reading a Robert Munsch book to my students after quiet time is over, complete with dramatic actions, over-exaggerated emphasis and lots of expression. When I realize (for not the first time, but still...) that one of my callings in life is in drawing out passion and interest and understanding in people and allowing those individual life lights -- the joy that dwells within each and everyone with whom we come in contact -- to shine with radiance.

Even little people have the ability to shine their inner light brightly. I love watching little faces and listening to their laughter as I read an especially funny part, or watching them interact with a book with the wide range of emotions that even an infant is capable of conveying. (We all love a good book -- and Robert Munsch has been read in our family from Day 1.)

Those we call light bulb moments. When an idea is connected with understanding. Or when empathy is evidenced in a relationship. When unlikely, new friendships are formed. When impossible relationships are grown deeper, woven more tightly together. When the miracle of life is seen in a new-born and one realizes again and again that a heart is always big enough for more love. Always. Light bulb moments happen.

My students have light bulb moments all the time. Today, most of them properly read something for the first time ever. Ever. And this is what they read to each other: they read their name. They read their name out loud, as they tracked the letters and sounds with their tiny baby fingers. They read me their name. Yet another milestone witnessed in the life of a child. Light bulbs flashing everywhere! I felt like I was going to bubble over with joy as I watched them truly reading, beholding for myself this significant first in their four and five-year-old lives.

It is cutting-edge to witness a child reading for the first time. Right up there with the Seven Wonders of the World. I felt like I had watched Moses part the waters. It was that exciting. But that was not all. Other light bulbs were flashing on. I later watched a cute little gal befriend another beautiful little girl in her class with special needs. And I saw it again. The light bulbs turning on. When children realize that in spite of their differences, on the inside they are all the same, it is not just a light bulb that goes on.

Fireworks happen.

And once you have witnessed the miracle that is the learning and discovery unfolding in the five-year old mind, nothing in life will ever be viewed in quite the same way again.