End of School Tales from Room 406 and Beyond

By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols, a local elementary school teacher

I love the movie Parenthood when grandma describes riding on a roller coaster. She says, “You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.” Profound. As an elementary school teacher, I like the roller coaster too. It has all the feels. That’s what makes my days fun and memorable. Buckle up tight, remain seated, keep your hands inside the ride because here we go…

~ One precious first grader bought lunch. I helped her through the line, pointing out that she needed to pick one from here, two from here. There was a cheese stick with the fish. She looked at me and said, “I can’t have cheese. I get constipated.” I told her that was fine. She didn’t have to have the cheese. A few minutes later, down the line, she turned to me and asked, “Ms. Nichols, what’s constipated?”

~ Normally kind and thoughtful, my student  became forgetful and frustrated. We talked, at least I thought we did. He offered no answers, I kept trying. Eventually I learned that his parents had separated a bit before. No wonder. He didn’t know what was wrong, he was just hurt. After he opened up, it got easier. Life can be messy and it’s not always pretty.

~ I like to celebrate every accomplishment. When a very social child came out of the restroom without talking (for the first time all year), I asked her how on earth she did it. Her answer, “Because you love me.” Heart melt.

~ Around Christmas, a  mother wanted to teach her child about taking care of others. She asked if I knew anyone who needed anything. I happened to have a child in my class who came from very little. So that mother and daughter shopped, sorted through the daughter’s own items and came up with quite a haul. A suitcase was left near my classroom door with a note from Santa. When we took it inside and opened it, there were clothes, toys, necessities, more than this child had ever owned. But when she saw a baby doll that looked like her, she nestled it and fell to her knees crying. All she could say was, “Is this really mine?” More than one of us shed tears of joy with her.

~ I caught a student in a clear lie. Did you finish your work? Yes. Work was not complete. I inquired as to why I didn’t get the truth. I asked if he was frightened to tell me. His response, “No, I love you.” Wow.

~ After a tough few days of problem solving, where we all had to bear down to get through it, (such genuine pride, though) I found a note on my desk that read: “Thank you for pushing me. I never knew I could learn so much.” A teacher’s dream.

~ Celebrating my birthday one year, I leaned over to blow out the candles on my cake. The next thing I knew, there was a chorus of, “Your hair’s on fire!”. I patted the fire on my head out. We ate the cake, burnt hair and all. It was cake, after all.

~ I love to read aloud. Truthfully, I ham it up when I read. I love the stories and I want my students to love them as much as I do. After one especially dramatic day, one student raised his hand and asked, “Does it tell you how to say all those voices in the book? I mean how do you know?”

~ Thankfully, my dear friend and colleague happens to be a male. This benefits us both. Sometimes, we approach issues with the “mom and dad” roles; teamwork. When he has concerns with girls (shorts too short or tank top too small), I help him. When I need male input, he steps in with sage wisdom. We have a rhythm and it’s natural. Inevitably each year, he has a similar discussion with each group of boys. This discussion centers around the urinal. This talk has been dubbed the “Pee Party” talk. I confess I don’t know all the urinal rules, however I do know these because elementary school boys violate them consistently. 1) Do not touch another person while he is using the urinal. In fact, do not even stand close. 2) It is not necessary to drop your trousers all the way to the ground to adequately complete the task. 3) No need to line up three deep at urinal, the stalls still work just fine.

~ All the times I’ve mistakenly been called “Mom”, I consider an honor. A darling child once brought her toothbrush to school, laid it on her desk, and then asked, “Can I go home with you now?” I still have that toothbrush.

~ A new student joined a class down the hall. He was from Korea and in the United States for a year. Soon after he arrived it was his birthday. His older sister dropped by that morning and told the teachers in the hall. While his English was good, my “partner in crime” and I decided we wanted to wish him “Happy Birthday” in Korean. Sister stayed a few minutes and taught us. We worked so hard. We probably said it 12,000 times. When she assured us we got it “right”, we bounded down the hall to his room. Entering the classroom with gusto, we sprang to the front, interrupted, and proudly repeated the words we had just learned. Just for good measure, we said them a few more times. The child never even acknowledged our effort. My ever so subtle friend asked, “What’s wrong? Don’t you speak Korean?” Turns out, I have no idea what we actually said but it definitely was not Happy Birthday.

~ Parents can be such allies. Upon telling one mother that I thought we needed to look deeper into her child’s work habits, she answered, “You’re the expert. I just thought he was quirky. You see him compared to lots of other people his age.” Her willingness to consider there was more we could do made her child’s path clearer and smoother.

~ Parents are not always allies. Like the time a colleague received a note saying that a student “Lost the privilege of doing homework because of misbehaving.” What? Homework is a privilege? I thought it was a requirement. Another peer received a two-page letter explaining why the parent would not sign the home reading sheet each night. It was NOT parent homework. It was for the child. I am sure more words were used in that letter than it would have taken to sign the paper each night.

~ And this year, there is Emma. She immediately found a place in my heart with her shy smile and quick wit. A month into the year, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. (Click HERE to read more about Emma). Since then she’s been in and out of the hospital, receiving treatments. Not a day goes by that another student doesn’t ask about her. The children and I have bonded over our missing member. Families have reached out to offer any assistance needed. While I hope this NEVER happens again, the spirit of this group is unbelievable. Meanwhile, each time I visit Emma, I am amazed at her bravery, her fight, and her ability to laugh with me. I leave with a touch of sadness, a bit of anger, but an incredible amount of hope.

~ While at school, teachers have comforted children in the worst of circumstances, we’ve been thrown up upon numerous times, we’ve cried real tears while reading aloud a favorite book, we’ve counseled, we’ve nurtured, we’ve fed hungry ones, we’ve exercised with energetic ones, we’ve listened, we’ve talked, we’ve hugged, we’ve celebrated successes and we’ve cried at heartbreak. I wouldn’t change one  minute.

Life is messy. Filled with highs and lows; joys and sorrows; laughter and tears. Room 406 is a microcosm of the world around us. It all happens here, too. I am thankful that in this roller coaster of life, we do not ride alone.


4 thoughts on “End of School Tales from Room 406 and Beyond

  1. Anonymous

    Kelly! You make me proud to have taught beside you, happy to have known you as a teenager and a friend of my oldest son, and so glad you chose education over all those other careers you could have made so much more money doing. You are my favorite teacher!! Marcia Cox

    Reply
  2. Paula Warlick

    Kelly as a retired teacher and Emma’s friend, I am so glad you are a teacher! So caring and wise. Please continue to take care of those sweet … and salty little human beings. All of our students need someone like you in their lives.😍📚

    Reply
  3. Lisa Pekarne Lowe

    Kelly, if I lived in Winston and had young children I would want them to pass thru Room 406. You are the epitome of what a teacher should be! I’m so proud of your accomplishments!

    Reply

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