I’m finishing up our first 5th-grade writing unit, memoirs, with my students this week. I decided this year that I’m going to be writing authentic pieces with my students and up my own writing ante. I’ve been working with the students on the elements, craft, and purpose of memoir writing, including reflection, elaboration, and development. So, after a four-week writing process, here’s my piece and truth about the day I decided to be a teacher.
“I don’t want to go to first grade!” I yelled, slamming my spoon into my bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. My mother looked at me consolingly, but we both knew I had to walk out that door. Mom dressed me, and we, along with my two brothers, walked the two blocks to P.S. 42 in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
As we walked to school, I thought back to the year prior and recalled how I had cried every day of kindergarten. I had so many questions when I was five years old. Why couldn’t I speak Cantonese at school? Why did all the teachers looked different from the people in my Chinese community? I felt I didn’t belong in that classroom, 202, and it was a fight to finish the year. I felt like a baby- I was the only one to cry after the first month of school. My mom and a bunch of the other kids called me a crybaby, and I felt so alone. Fast forward a summer, and I wondered if first grade would be a repeat of that awful kindergarten year.
At the front entrance of P.S. 42, I held my mother’s hand for a minute, not wanting to leave. “You have to go in,” my mom said. “And,” my mother added, “you have to walk your little brother in, too.”
Trying to put on a brave face, I said, “Okay, Mom.” I waved goodbye and walked with my little brother into the lunchroom. Anxiously, I walked to the sign “1-212,” my new class, and waited with my new classmates for our teacher. A brown-haired teacher walked up and guided us through the lunchroom, up the stairs, past the principal’s office, and into our new classroom.
The sky-blue walls of 1-212 already felt calmer than the bright yellow walls of last year’s classroom. All of us kids milled around the entrance of the door as Ms. Sheridan called out names from her attendance sheet and pointed us to our desks. When Ms. Sheridan finally called my name, I quickly put down my things and followed the rest of the students to the classroom rug, where we were to meet together as a class for the first time.
Ms. Sheridan looked on at us with a kind face. “Hello, everyone! It is so great to meet you. My name is Ms. Sheridan, and I will be your first-grade teacher this year. I want to know your names, so I want you to go around and share your name and your favorite color.”
About a dozen students shared their names and their favorite colors. Nervousness built as I heard my classmates share “blue” and “green” as their favorite colors over and over again. I knew I had a different answer, and different was not good, especially after kindergarten. After what seemed like forever, it was my turn.
“Hi. My name is Annie, and my favorite color is yellow.”
Immediately, a number of kids behind me started to laugh. “Yellow?” one of my classmates exclaimed. “You’re weird!” I stood out as different, just like I stood out last year in school. Different was bad.
I pushed away the river of tears that was welling up in my eye sockets. I didn’t want to be a crybaby again this year, but all I wanted to do in that moment was cry.
“Annie,” I heard suddenly from the front of the room. I looked up in terror, not wanting anyone to call my name. It was Ms. Sheridan. I was scared of what was coming next.
“Annie,” Ms. Sheridan repeated. “My favorite color is yellow, too.”
I heard a kid gasp behind me. Another student said, “My favorite color is yellow, too!” No one was laughing anymore. I felt a smile creep up on my face. “Let’s keep going,” Ms. Sheridan continued.
I stared in the front of the room, surprised at everything that had just happened. First off, I couldn’t believe that the teacher had heard me. But mostly, I couldn’t believe that Ms. Sheridan stuck up for me.
A tear came down my face, but it was out of happiness. I really thought first grade was going to be as terrible as kindergarten. But, unlike last year, I knew I had Ms. Sheridan to stick up for me, and to protect me. I felt this year was going to be okay, because Ms. Sheridan would make it okay.
I was right about Ms. Sheridan- and I loved school from that point on. Our class made popcorn from kernels, shook heavy cream into butter and milk, and had Easter Egg hunts later that year. I became a master speller and rocked the math tests. I felt confident and proud of myself. And, most of all, I wasn’t crying anymore.
I will never forget the joy I felt in that moment- it was the first moment of kindness, generosity, and understanding I felt in school. Ms. Sheridan changed how I looked at school, and how I proceeded onward. I didn’t feel alien anymore.
Most of all, I knew how much one person could change someone’s life. It was one day of my life and a small moment, but from that point on I declared that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up.
At the time of this writing, I am in my sixth year teaching. I hope I am a great teacher to my students like Ms. Sheridan was for me. I hope my students feel as confident and proud as I did in first grade. Most of all, as a teacher, I hope to teach my students that they can make that big difference for others. It only takes one moment and one act sometimes.