Friday, June 11, 2010

Flashback Friday

Traditionally, I've closed the school year with a Jen's World ode to my sons' teachers. But I'm not writing a sappy end-of-the-school-year column this year, and you can read into that any way you like.

Instead, Flashback Friday features the column I wrote last year -- about two fabulous teachers who taught my kids more than they know.

* * *

I always get sappy at the farmer's market. It just makes me so happy.

For starters, the number of people who come out to support local farmers blows me away. Last Saturday morning, as I joined the throngs crossing Fourth Street, I found myself immersed in an electric hum of music, conversation and laughter. From young families pushing strollers to old couples walking hand-in-hand, everyone just seemed so glad to be there.

And why not? They were carrying bags of hand-washed onions and artisan breads, tomato plants and jars of honey, baskets of flowers and bags of fresh salad greens — all bought directly from the people who produced them. How cool is that?

I wanted to hug everyone there — but especially the farmer who was so kind to the elderly customer in front of me that he put his arm around the man's stooped shoulders, leaned in close to hear his request, and carried his purchases to his truck. I bought my tomato plants from that vendor for that reason alone. It's also why I had to forcibly restrain myself from screaming, "I love this place!" on my way out.
But I'm always emotional this time of year. It's the end-of-the-school-year thing. It gets to me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited for summer vacation — for lazy mornings and long bike rides and afternoons at the pool. But, oh, the goodbyes.

My sons have had, once again, excellent teachers in the Rochester public school system. My nine-year-old's teacher, Mr. Heins — whom Christian calls "the best third-grade teacher ever" — impressed me from the start. Way back at "Meet the Teacher" night last August, Mr. Heins told a room full of eager-faced parents that we were welcome in his classroom any time, that he limits homework so that we can prioritize family time, and that he expects a lot from our children.

But it got better. Over the course of the year, I learned that in addition to reading, writing and math, Mr. Heins also stresses the importance of ecology and environmental responsibility. That he encourages storytelling by helping his students publish their own books. That he rewards hard work with extra (and much-needed) time on the playground. And (I'd be remiss if I didn't add Christian's highlight): That he makes balloon animals for birthdays.

No, it won't be fun saying goodbye to Mr. Heins… but I hope we'll meet again when my seven-year-old moves up the grade-school ladder.

For now, however, my seven-year-old's final schooldays mark an even more poignant ending. By an incredible stroke of luck, we've had Bergen's teacher, Mrs. Hansen, in our lives for three years. She was, after all, his big brother's kindergarten and first-grade teacher, as well.

Mrs. Hansen is patient and positive, has a terrific sense of humor, and treats her students like people — which, when you're in first grade, is a very big deal. But mostly she really cares. She doesn't want her students to "get by." She wants them to succeed — and she works her butt off to make sure they get the tools to do that, whether it's extra services or extra face time.

Saying goodbye to Mrs. Hansen reminds me of that part at the end of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy tells the Tin Man that she'll miss him. She tells the Lion that she'll miss him. And then she tells the Scarecrow that she'll miss him "most of all." That's how I feel. I'm going to miss all of my children's educators — but Mrs. Hansen, I'm going to miss you most of all. (Warning: This is the part where I get weepy.)

Thank you, Mrs. Hansen, for being an advocate for my children. Thank you for encouraging my boys to work hard and to aim high. Thank you for convincing them that they are smart and interesting and capable people. You have given them a foundation that will inform the rest of their lives.

Maybe my children don't realize how fortunate they are to have had Mrs. Hansen and Mr. Heins teaching them this year. But I do — and I couldn't be happier. Or more sad.

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