Written by M.J.C
Juliet was ready. It was the first day of the new school year and she was finally at her school of choice. Kimberley Stacey Ledoux Elementary – KSL for short. As she pulled into the small parking lot filled with parents and guardians dropping of kids, taking pictures, making illegal U-turns on the small neighborhood street, and parking in front of neighbor’s driveways and generally making a huge ruckus, Juliet felt the nervous excitement of the First Day of School, that she always felt.
Juliet was in her sixth year of teaching and she had applied to teach at this school for the past three years. KSL was a unique school in her city in that, although it was a public school, it was run and operated like a private school. Specifically, it was operated as a Public Waldorf school. It meant so much to Juliet to finally be accepted into the locally prestigious school with the unusual and controversial teaching methods – the Waldorf Method, it was called.
She’d only been accepted after she completed two additional years of schooling and training that cost twenty-two thousand dollars. What was more student loan money going to hurt anyway, she told herself, as she signed the loan papers.
She’d finally decided to take out a loan and get the extra certification after having been turned down the prior years due to lack of Waldorf experience. She felt it was unfair to require the extra experience since there were no other public Waldorf schools – “Where am I going to get the training for free?” she’d asked the District, her Union reps, her friends, and other teachers.
Nobody had answers and she felt left out, betrayed, and dismayed but the lack of concern afforded her by the dreaded powers that be. “I have rights!”she always ended her many conversations with when discussing Waldorf.
But she bit her tongue and decided to do whatever it took to get into this school so that she could prove once and for all that it was wrong to teach kids the way they were teaching at the school.
Juliet was trained in Common Core and somewhat in the tenants of No Child Left Behind. And she believed both methods were vastly superior to the “hippie teaching” going on at KSL. She’d prove it after just one year, she told herself.
Juliet pulled her car into the teacher’s parking lot and walked through the office, saying hello to the office staff, and noticing the small knitted pencil holders, felted rocks, and other homemade/school made arts and crafts. She’d heard about how the school taught kids useless “skills” like knitting, sewing, and woodwork, and now she saw some of the pieces for herself.
Not very talented, she thought to herself, as she continued walking to her classroom.
Juliet was in class number twelve, where the two fourth grade classes were located. Even though all teachers at the school were required to start with first grade, and then do what is called “Looping,” that is, following their class of kids from first through eighth grade, Juliet was assigned a fourth grade class because the school was expanding due to local demand. So Juliet would follow her fourth grade kids for the next four years. She thought it was insane that she would be stuck with the same bad kids for that long, but she also wasn’t that concerned because she knew it would only take one year to expose all the issues at the school.
Juliet quickly put her things away – lunch, bag of extra materials – schools never had enough the whispered to herself – books, various papers and forms, her phone, and her sweater on this warm late August morning.
Leaving her classroom, Juliet headed to the main playground where she was told the students lined up when it was time to start class.
“Oh, that’s when the bell rings?” she asked her partner teacher who also taught fourth grade this year. Juliet resented having to “partner” since she was very experienced and knew how to teach and run a classroom. But the gung-ho principal said it was a requirement no matter how much experience had. In fact, the principal’s words infuriated Juliet.
The principal, Mrs. Horn, was the long time principal at KSL and Juliet did not like her one bit. Oh, she was plenty nice, but Juliet saw right through her nice administrator facade. She’d seen enough principal’s to know that as soon as a week was gone in the new school year, they all turned into overbearing micro-managers who watched and reported on every little thing teachers said and did in the classroom. It was just part of the nightmare of teaching, Juliet told herself.
“Good morning, Ms. Juliet,” Mrs. Horn said in a too-cheery voice, with a fake smile, Juliet thought.
“Good morning, Mrs. Horn. I’m so happy to finally start!” I can be as insincere as any principal, Juliet thought to herself.
“We are very happy to have you. I know you worked really hard to get here, and I appreciate your effort and commitment to your training, continued education, your own personal growth, our school community and, especially and most importantly – our kids.”
Mrs. Horn then moved in to hug Juliet, like she did all new teachers on their first day, or when she intuited they needed it.
Juliet hugged back and thought: “Oh boy, that was weird” And: “That’ll never happen again.”
“Mrs. Horn, it looks like the bell did not ring; we are a few minutes behind already,” Juliet said with a hint of satisfaction.
“Oh, we don’t have a bell.” Mrs. Horn replied quietly. “Listen.”
Juliet listened but heard nothing.
And then she heard very soft singing. It was almost too soft to hear but as Juliet slowly turned around she could see the kids playing and making noise, like all kids, at first. But slowly the kids stopped playing and turned to the almost imperceptible singing.
Juliet saw her mentor teacher – Ms. Beth, standing at attention, back straight, wild curly hippie hair reflecting the early sun, and wearing yoga pants and comfy sensible shoes.
Ms. Beth was softly singing.
Juliet was standing just a few feet away and she could barely hear Ms. Beth singing but somehow the kids heard. And one, and three, and four at a time the kids turned their attention and their walking towards Ms. Beth.
Oh, they were still noisy but they were moving, not quite in unison, but also sort of in unison. Juliet’s class was also coming.
Juliet copied Ms. Beth and stood at attention.
Both classes of children lined up – maybe according to height, Juliet thought, and continued talking and laughing as Ms. Beth continued to softly sing.
Then Ms. B – as Juliet learned the kids called her – stopped singing and smiled the teacher smile. And the kids quickly but gradually began quieting and slowing their mfourth grade gangley movements.
Juliet stood with mouth agape. How could they do this on the first day of school? She thought and maybe also said quietly but not loud enough for Ms. B or the kids to hear her.
Now the kids were quieter still as Ms. Beth now stood perfectly still, only the occasional half-smile at one of her children who were now almost all quiet and still.
She is waiting for them to stop talking, singing, moving, and she’s doing it without saying a word, blowing a whistle, yelling at that one kid, or even waving her hands observed and said to herself.
Juliet was dumbfounded. And she fought back the hint of being impressed that was trying to surface in her emotions.
This is nothing more than indoctrination and the result of forcing kids to line up like little robots or something. I will not be impressed, Juliet thought as she pushed aside her initial feelings of being impressed.
“Good job children and welcome to the new school year,” Ms. B said to an enthused and excited group of fourth graders.
They all start out enthused, Juliet thought. Just wait until we are one month in. It’s all downhill after that.
“We will walk to the grass field for Opening Ceremony.”
And with just that one sentence, Ms. B. tuned left and started walking toward the large grass field, where a podium, speakers, rows of chairs, and the school band of eight-graders, all circled a straight path that was at the center of the circle.
The path was lined with flowers.
Slowly, all the grades of kids wound around and sat with their classmates to form a full circle of sitting kids, grades kindergarten through eighth, with the kindergarteners to the immediate left of the principal and office staff and parents to principal’s immediate right. The band was on the far side – at about 11:00 o’clock of the circle, and thus Juliet and Ms. B.’s classes were at about 8:00 o’clock.
The eighth graders were directly across from the first graders at opposite sides of the circle.
Parents stood or sat outside the circle and some were on blankets or portable picnic chairs. There was the usual chatter and picture-taking as the crowd assembled.
Then Mrs. Horn tapped the microphone one time. Then she quietly and almost in a whisper said: “Good morning KSL children and families and welcome to a new school year.”
Kids and parents alike responded with a hearty good morning and the band played some type of song that made the eighth graders laugh hysterically.
Mrs. Horn. went on: “We love our band. We love all our kids and we never stop appreciating that you allow us time with your loved ones so that we can all learn and grow together. It is an honor for us and we are grateful that you are here and you trust us with your kids. There is no higher honor and we do not take your trust lightly.”
She can’t be serious, Juliet thought. We need to start school, and we’re wasting time in a kumbaya circle.
“As you know,” Mrs. Horn continued, “We welcome our first graders into elementary and we honor them with our Opening Ceremony and Rose Ceremony.”
“May I have our beautiful eighth graders stand?”
The eighth graders, all knees, elbows, braces, laughter, inside jokes, and a level of familiarity Juliet had not seen before in her prior school, all stood.
“And may I have our lovely first graders please stand.”
And like a field full of butterflies the little first graders – who were not little in their own big minds – stood and used their magic to make all the adults smile, and real butterflies stop moving and pay attention.
“And our wonderful band, who practiced over the summer – thank you – will you play, please?”
The band starts playing and, surprisingly to Juliet at least, they sounded really good.
“The passing of the rose symbolizes the continuation of our community. Our incredible eighth graders leave us, but in so doing they have enriched us, and passing the rose to our fresh-faced first graders mean that our community will continue to grow and learn with passed on knowledge, experience and insights that only this group of eighth graders possess and can pass on.”
And with that, the opening ceremony started in earnest as one by one Mrs. Horn called an eighth-grader’s name and then a first-grader’s name, and with each pair called, they each walked to and met at the center of the circle, where the eighth graders handed a rose to a first grader, one at a time and in orderly fashion, as the band played.
After every first grader happily had their beautiful rose, and Ms. Horn said a few more kind words about the coming year, the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, and neighbors reacquainted themselves with one another and slowly the ceremony ended and the students followed their teacher to their appointed classroom.
Juliet was already in her classroom as she had grown anxious to start the new year and get out and away from the touchy-feely rose ceremony. I stayed to the end, and that was good enough. I need to get to work and the kids need to be read for a real teacher, she said to herself as she actually had to walk back out of her class to round up her kids. And when she did so she noticed that Ms. B’s kids were filing into her class with each stopping to shake Ms. B.’s hand and say “Good morning.”
“Oh brother,” Juliet said quietly, with her face scrunched up, as she rustled her kids into her classroom.
“It’s going to be a long year, but it will be worth it,” Juliet thought, as she tried to rearrange her room so that it more resembled a regular normal classroom and not like the unstructured mess that it now was.
Juliet was making it work in her new school and classroom. But she wasn’t enjoying herself like she did with her past classes.
The Waldorf method, as they obnoxiously called it, was loose and not defined enough, she frequently complained to friends and her fellow teachers at her former school.
“The teacher teaches the child rather than the subject.” Juliet told her friend and former coworker, Mari, repeating some of her Waldorf training mantras.
“Well, that’s dumb, Juliet. I told you not to go to that dumb hippie school.” It’s just a bunch of rich stay at home hippie moms who want to run a public school like a charter school.” Mari agreed and reminded her.
“It is, Mari. And my goodness, I can’t even get deep into my lessons without some parent showing up to “help” or bring snacks!”
And not cookies or cupcakes – treats that, yes, are bad and unhealthy, but the kids want those things. And, let’s face it, a burst of energy never hurts.”
“What do they bring then?” Mari asked.
“Well, fruit mostly. But also vegetables. And they don’t just drop them off. No. They often stay and start chopping while I am trying to teach. It’s crazy.”
Juliet was also struggling with Principal Horn. She would drop in unannounced and observe. That didn’t bother Juliet – teachers were always being observed. But Ms. Horn observed and the kids actually talked to her and involved her in the lesson. That was beyond annoying and unlike any of her past principals – most kids avoided principals at all cost. I miss those days, Juliet said to her friend Mari.
Even with her summer training, Juliet was having troubles adjusting. It wasn’t just the “teach to the child rather than the subject. The expectation that every child develops at his or her own pace, and that children move through different developmental stages in which they need different learning environments to thrive. Juliet understood these concepts, but strongly disagreed with each.
Juliet thought children needed structure and they needed to know how to pass required State and Federal testing so that they were prepared for upper grades, high school, and eventually college. They needed the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic. Juliet was good, even great at teaching to the test. That is what worked for her in school and everyone else. It was tried and proven.
Now she was tasked with learning to… draw! She had to learn to adopt to different teaching modalities, and to use those discreetly. She was frustrated. And it wasn’t just drawing the main lesson on the huge chalkboard, she had to learn to help her kids access learning through art, music, handwork (I hate handwork, Juliet frequently said to Mari), movement – they called it eurythmy, speech, storytelling – as if they were still babies!, and by fostering a connection to nature. Hippie stuff.
“Okay class, it is time for our morning verse,” Juliet said perhaps a little too loudly. She didn’t enjoy morning verse but it was required as part of the Waldorf way.
Waldorf schools were started in the late 1800’s by Rudolf Steiner, who was influenced by the works of Kant, Goethe, and other German idealists. Steiner called his own philosophy anthroposophy. At its center is the individual, whose independence and freedom society must encourage. His views are very clearly expressed in his 1894 book, The Philosophy of Freedom.
Principal Horn had taken over KSL some years ago. She was a former teacher in the District and after completing her extended education, became KSL’s third principal and most
determined advocate of the Waldorf Way. She helped push the district to move to a larger campus, started local outreach to improve the school’s diversity – she did not want the school to be exclusive to upper middle class white families – and she strong-armed the union to require teachers who wanted to transfer to and teach at the school, to have at least one year Waldorf training.
This was a major sticking point with the union due to the cost of the program at the local Steiner (Waldorf) College or local University. Undaunted, Principal Horn found a way to both get her way and help potential teachers get the training she required, but at a reduced cost.
Of course she didn’t do it alone, she worked with the Superintendent and others, but it was her force of will that got it done. Her efforts led directly to Juliet now being one of her teachers.
And Juliet was there to expose the fallacy of the Waldorf way. Unbeknown to Principal Horn, she had hired a teacher who opposed all that she stood for and fought for.
After finishing their verse, the students sat down and started coloring. Juliet did what she was supposed to but she didn’t support what was happening. Mrs. Horn looked on for a few more minutes and then left. She had also said the verse.
The class was coloring in their main lesson book. It was a task that the kids learned and started in first grade and every grade thereafter. The morning’s two-hour time blocks where the students engage in interdisciplinary thematic instruction was a lot of coloring, in Juliet’s eyes. The students all had over-sized paper bound books where the kids recorded their learning, in verse, creative writing and, of course, coloring. Basically, the kids were creating their own textbook instead of the school handing them a textbook to write in and destroy.
As Juliet thought more on it and as the class worked semi-quietly on their main lesson, Juliet paused her thoughts and watched her kids.
They were studying legends – Norse, Ancient India, Persia, Mesopotamia and others, and also religions that arose from those civilizations including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. The point of this study was to illustrate different perspectives and competing ways of life. This focus is to coincide with their own growing comfort with their bodies, and the pulling away from parents and piecing the world apart. This is also where they study fractions – pieces of things. It did make some sense, Juliet admitted, but the endless coloring still bothered her to no end. And the parents daily interruptions were beyond annoying, she dutifully reminded herself.
She’d get control of the class – and the parents – she thought, now that the first semester was winding down and she’d figured out how to navigate this crazy hippie school.
“Well hello, Ms. Juliet, Good afternoon.” It was Mrs. Beth. It was lunch and Juliet needed to run to the office to turn in field trip forms for the upcoming overnight trip to the Marin headlands. The students were going to study in nature, draw maps of the land, and learn about local wildlife, trees, coastal erosion, and weather patterns. And they were charting the movements of the stars. It was all too much for Juliet.
“Oh, hi Mrs. B. I’m fine, thank you. How are you?
“I’m enjoying this rain. My kids loved gardening in it this morning.”
“You let them go outside in the rain to garden? I thought we were both doing our main lessons for the first few hours today?” Juliet had taken a liking to Mrs. B. She was impressed even still by her ability to calm her children and be extra organized even though she didn’t look organized. She always looked like there was something on her mind that was… what was it, exactly? “Important. Whimsical. Subversive even? Juliet couldn’t pin it or her down.
“Probably all of the above,” Mrs. B. said to Juliet’s surprise and horror.
“What, uh, I, uh, did you, did you read my mind?” Juliet stammered.
“Ha ha, no Ms. Juliet,” Mrs. B. responded in her best sing-song teacher voice. I see you trying to figure out which cubby to put those forms in – top, middle, or bottom – they can literally go in any of the bins and the wonderful ladies here in the office will take care of them.”
“Oh, oh, yes, thank you,” Juliet said, and she hastily put all the forms in the middle cubby.
“But now that you mention it, what were you thinking? Hmmm?” Mrs. B teased.
“Oh, ha ha. Nothing really. Ha. Well, I did think about what we will do for our Friday Market this Friday. Do you have any ideas?”
Friday Market was a weekly fundraising event held after school each Friday all year. The grades and classes took turns running the market and each class kept whatever “their” market day made in terms of profits. The money was used to support class field trips mostly, but also other activities and supplies as needed. Most of the money, however, was put away for eighth grade when the students took a week-long trip to the Nation’s Capital or another destination.
“I do have ideas, Mrs. B offered. We are making jello-o cups, my kids are knitting eraser holders, and some are making beeswax figures, and beeswax candles. We are making most of those this afternoon.”
“This afternoon!” Juliet responded, with a bit too much volume, which caused the office staff to look over. “I’m sorry I was loud. I mean, it’s Wednesday and we need to finish preparing for our field trip. We have to outline what we will study, do pre-drawings, and I need to find books on this nature preserve so I can show them what to expect” Juliet finished, feeling satisfied she’d course-corrected her teaching partner so that she, too, would do these pre-field trip critical tasks.
“Oh my. No. Don’t do any of those things dear lady.” Mrs. B.’s hand was on Juliet’s shoulder and she was smiling. “Why don’t you bring your class over to mine this afternoon and we will make Friday market things together – the kids will love that – and then you and I can look at what we will do for our upcoming field trip. I will share right now though, our preparation is all on one page, since we don’t need to do pre-drawing – the kids will be at the preserve and know what to draw, and we won’t need books to show them what to expect – we will tell them, that way they can imagine it and “See” all they want. It is a much richer experience that way. You’ll see!”
And with that, Mrs. B. escorted Juliet out of the office and toward their classes where, as far as Juliet knew, they were going to watch the kids play with beeswax all afternoon.
Juliet was nervous. Tonight was her first series of student-parent meetings and she wanted everything to be perfect.
In her previous years, teaching at a normal school, Juliet both loved and hated these meetings. She loved them because she enjoyed the look on her kid’s parents faces when she showed them the positive progress reports. She’d break down each grade and the work and assignments that led to the grade. And even though parents had access to review progress reports online as the semesters went on, most did not and Juliet was okay with that because she wanted to explain everything anyway.
What she didn’t like was that not many parents showed up. Maybe only twenty percent or so. And those who showed up tended to get distracted by unimportant stuff like art on the walls or cluttered desks.
Juliet was ready though. She had printed all the reports and assignments. And the assignments were neatly arranged on a table in back of the room where the parents could move, left to right, and see each assignment’s written instructions.
Juliet was proud of how her room was set up and she knew the parents would love it, too.
Her first meeting was set for 3:30pm, and it was with one of her favorite students, Leah.
Juliet had met Leah’s parents and today her father was attending the conference. Juliet had been pleasantly surprised at the amount of parent involvement in large and small ways. She’d almost gotten used to the weekly or sometimes daily parent visit to deliver healthy snacks. In fact, she sort of started expecting it. Maybe even looking forward to it.
The kids certainly did, Juliet thought as she made her final preparations for her first conference, and still thinking about the food and snack visits.
The kids would instantly pickup when a parent shuffled bags, bowls, and other food containers into the class. Juliet had finally learned to give in and let her kids help with the cleaning and chopping for the vegetables. She’d bristled at allowing the kids to have and use knives. In fact she’d forbidden it for the first couple of months of school, despite the kids – and parents – protests. The kids said they’d been taught how to safely use knives since 2nd grade and they would be careful.
Juliet thought it was absurd but eventually she gave in, and it turns out, the kids were correct. They knew how to properly use the cutting knives and there were no problems or accidents or playing. Everything was fine. In fact, they’d orderly get up, organize themselves, assign duties, question assignments for clarification, and begin the tasks of cleaning, chopping, eating, and cleaning up their messes. By now in fact Juliet had taken to using this time to talk with the parent who was delivering the food on that day or week and she discovered she was able to accomplish a few things here or there while the children occupied themselves.
Her last visit with Leah’s dad – he brought assorted fruits, after asking about bringing cookies and other processed sweets. He knew processed foods weren’t allowed, but he’d ask every year, Mrs. B told her. “Just laugh him off and tell him to follow the rules,” she told Juliet. “He will follow the rules every time.”
Juliet noticed that he did in fact follow the rules every time. Oh he asked her if he could bring chocolate but Juliet laughed him off and redirected him just as Ms. B instructed her, and he did exactly like she said he would.
“Thank you, Jack, for bringing so much fruit. And the carrots. The kids love the carrots and I think they do just so they can chop them up, even though they don’t need to,” Ms. Juliet said to Jack as they stood to the side and watched the hustle and bustle of what looked like a miniature kitchen with half-sized chefs and sous chefs.
“That’s why I bring them,” he replied. And then he said: “I also sprinkle them with powdered sugar so the kids get an all-American treat.”
Juliet spit out her lukewarm tea — “You didn’t?” She said as a half question, half shock.
“No, I wouldn’t do that. Or would I?” Jack said with a smile.
Juliet thought not to dig deeper.
“Jack, I want to tell you how well Leah is doing. We will discuss at our upcoming conference, but I just wanted to let you know her writing, math, and sociology skills are progressing nicely.”
“Okay,” Jack responded.
“Oh, um, she’s doing really well. Very well.” Juliet thought that perhaps she didn’t emphasize the word “Well” enough.
“Okay, thank you. Enjoy the snacks and I will see you at the conference.” Jack said as he waved to his daughter and her friends, cracked a few jokes with some of the boys, and left the class.
He will be very happy when he sees her grades, Juliet thought, as she picked up and inspected a carrot.
Juliet saw Leah and her dad Jack come through the door, at exactly 3:30. She liked timeliness and she’d discovered that many of her parents were not timely people.
“Hello Leah, Hello Mr. Jack.” Juliet said, while shaking both of their hands.
They sat down at a table Juliet had set to one side of the room. Jack sat on one side and, as Leah started to sit next to him, he said to leah playfully: “Get away from me, girl. Just because your teacher is new here doesn’t mean you get to try to sneak and change things.”
Leah laughed and moved to the other side of the table, next to Juliet.
“Oh. Okay. Sure. Leah you can sit by me.” Juliet said, not quite understanding what just happened.
“Okay, let’s get started.” Juliet stated, as she opened a folder that had LEAH written neatly in the very center.
“Here is Leah’s progress report. I will read it to you, and then we can discuss after I finish.”
Juliet felt that she was in her position of strength now. She was in control and working on well-defined muscle memory. She was the Teacher. And she was in control of her environment, the message, the delivery, and structure, and the give-and-take of a session like this.
All her years of teaching and observing teachers as she was getting her credentials, had prepared her for these sessions. Whereas she had moments of earned confidence at her still somewhat new school, she was lacking in the type of confidence she had earned in her prior school. That confidence was earned through trial and error, test and re-test, summer training, mentors, observations, and seminars she paid for herself.
She was confident in this moment, though, and she had missed that feeling of being totally in control and doing exactly what you were trained to do and what you mastered.
Mrs. Juliet the Teacher was about to, as she overheard her kids say, “Spit Game.”
But before she was able to continue, Jack replied: “No thank you, Mrs. Juliet, I’d prefer Leah read it herself, as she did with Mrs. B. last year.”
Mrs. Juliet the Teacher was no longer confident.
“Ha ha ha. I can see you’re confused. I guess they didn’t tell you.” Mr. Jack said honestly.
“No…they did not.” Mrs. Juliet said. But then thought to herself: Ms. B. did mention that the kids like to read their own progress reports. But I just moved that out of my brain because it seemed too preposterous.
“That’s okay. Leah knows what to do, don’t you, Leah?”
“Yes.” Leah replied softly.
“Well, don’t look at me, start reading.” Jack said with a smile that Leah matched right back.
Juliet watched Leah as she began reading her progress report, section by section. And in the areas where Ms. Juliet mentioned what Leah could improve, Leah read those, and then stated that she agreed with the suggestion, or did not, and if she did not, then what she was going to do instead.
Leah stumbled on just a few words and pronunciations, and each time she patiently sounded out each word, and asked what the word meant. Then she continued until she was finished.
Once Leah was finished she looked up with a big smile, obviously self-satisfied with herself. But not for her results or Ms. B.’s comments, which were all good. No, she was happy about her reading and comprehension abilities.
Reading was a big deal at KSL and all Waldorf schools. The Waldorf way to learn reading is a slow multi-faceted approach. Reading instruction begins in first grade but children are not expected to read fluently until third grade.
Mrs. Horn said to Juliet when she asked if her new class had good reading skills: “We don’t get too worried or upset about it until fourth grade.”
Juliet was astounded. She’d of course been trained to understand this but she didn’t really, truly, believe it. Mrs. Horn went on to say: Ms. Juliet, it is a matter of the pressure and emphasis; they are taught to love language and love words before they are forced to demonstrate their ability of how much and how quickly.”
Juliet was incredulous. The kids were actually taught to write before they were taught to read. Her had been writing since first grade and at the time, and even into third grade, the kids were writing what they couldn’t even read. It was, backwards and non-intuitive.
And yet, Leah just read her progress report. Out loud, Juliet thought, trying not to show her befuddlement on her face that clearly showed befuddlement.
“Well, Mr. Jack, you must do a good job at home helping Leah read. She read that with ease it appears.” Juliet said to fill the silence of Leah smiling at the world.
“Ha ha. Yeah. No. We have never practiced reading. But, okay, I’ll take credit.” Jack half laughed and said.
“Oh, okay. Well, since Leah already talked about what she would do, how she agreed, and her progress reports clearly show she is where she needs to be; what academic questions might you want to discuss?” Juliet was looking forward to talking about Standardized Tests that were soon to come.
“Thank you, Ms. Juliet. And thank you, Leah, for all that reading. I thought you’d never stop.” He went on.
“Ms. Juliet. The motto of the KSL is “ Head Heart and Hands.” I know you’ve gotten all the academics covered. Thank you. My question is: How is Leah’s heart?”
Juliet was stumped.
All her preparation. All her printouts, and practicing talking points, all her work on academics and he wanted to know about her heart?
“I. Well. Hmm. Well, she’s a fast learner.”
“Yes. Thank you. Her heart?” Jack redirected.
“Yes. Well, Leah is.. A quiet learner. She gets along well and she is very calm and sometimes hesitant until she is certain – whether it is to answer out loud, ask a question, or even move about the class. But once she is certain, she is confident.”
Juliet was listening to herself and she was surprised. She continued:
“So, based on my observations, I’d say that Leah’s heart is honest to her abilities and it protects her, perhaps a little too much. I say that because I want her to act when she’s not fully certain. To allow her heart to open to the possibility that she may be wrong, and that’s okay. This is a safe, loving, challenging, wonderful environment for her, and her heart will be okay. And Leah will be okay.”
“Thank you, Ms. Juliet. That is what I was looking for.”
“Come on Leah, let’s go so Ms. Juliet can meet with the other parents and students. Good job reading, too. You can read almost as well as I can now.”
Leah and Jack laughed, shook Juliet’s hand and left.
Juliet took a moment to quickly review what had just happened.
She smiled, took a calm breath, and then readied herself for her next parent. This time though, she wasn’t worried about all her printouts.
Juliet was stressed. But she was also excited. She didn’t admit it out loud to anyone at school, though she suspected Ms. B knew – Ms. B. seemed to just know stuff. Juliet once asked her: “How is it you seem to know what I am thinking or feeling so often?”
Ms. B. smiled and simply said: “Yoga keeps me in tune with the energies around me and I have learned to listen to what those energies tell me.”
Juliet didn’t ask follow-up questions.
She was too focused on what she needed to do to help with the largest fundraiser the school operated: Earth and Vine.
Earth and Vine was held annually and, from what Juliet was told, it was massive. She thought that perhaps the teachers exaggerated a bit, but that was okay Juliet told herself and thus accepted.
Earth and Vine was held at a local event venue and included a silent auction – this was the big money-maker. Juliet was told that local businesses would provide prizes and gifts for auction – Juliet figured there would be dinner coupons, ice-cream coupons, and smaller items like that. She couldn’t imagine how they’d possibly sell enough of smaller items to make the “big money” the teachers bragged about and were expecting.
Juliet didn’t have time only worry about Earth and Vine, though. She was also planning an overnight trip – another one! – to an old Russian fort up the coast of California – Fort Ross.
This far into school year and Juliet still had not come to grips that she took her class on a field trip monthly. Monthly! They had visited the Marin Headlands – that was also overnight, and there was a huge rain storm that Juliet thought would ruin the trip but her kids, and parents, thought it was wonderful and instead of everyone whining, they just adjusted, played, laughed, got extremely wet, and bagged up all the wet clothes and socks. And, did the work they were supposed to do. The kids were used to being outside, getting dirty, and just being in nature – that was Waldorf, Juliet thought.
Juliet recalled Mrs. Horn telling new parents to the school, on one of the usual new parent classroom tours: “Don’t send your kids to school in designer or even brand new clothes; your kid will get dirty and they will go outside, rain or shine.” Juliet thought at the time Mrs. Horn was exaggerating.
Now Juliet learned that Mrs. Horn was one-hundred percent telling the truth. And not only did the kids get dirty outside, they sometimes got even more dirty inside the classroom. From drawing, crayons, markers, clay, beeswax, chopping and preparing food, to all the other handiwork done for knitting, painting, woodwork, and more, the kids were nonstop getting dirty. The “Hands” part of the Head Heart and Hands was literal. Very literal.
Fort Ross required even more planning than the Marin Headlands, though. It was further, the kids had character identities to assume, there were events and activities that aligned with what the settlers actually did at the Fort – twenty-four hour guards, cooks, militias, blacksmiths, families – and in-character letters to family back home, and so forth. All her kids had been assigned identities and as part of their pre trip study, they had written stories and made drawings of their activities.
Now they were leaving the next morning by 7:30 am.
Juliet had once been worried about transportation but everything worked out and she ended up with more than enough parent drivers. She also had more than enough food – they were planning to eat just like the settlers so there was a lot of soup ingredients – and of course she had to oversee sleeping arrangements – no easy task with fourth graders.
Juliet marveled at the persistence of the school, and parents, to ensure the kids extended their classroom and learning to the world around them. Most schools wanted to take field trips, but school funding was limited and many schools took few, if any. KSL didn’t get any additional funding – KSL parents bought into the goal of the school and Mrs. Horn that “children need exposure to accentuate what we teach in the classroom.” So the parents funded the trips. Just like the parents funding many other school events.
The parents operated a Parents Guild. It was sort of like a PTA, but different. Every parent was automatically a member and the Guild both worked with, and independent from, the school. Juliet was surprised to discover that it was the Guild who privately funded the language teacher, a movement/Eurythmy teacher, and a music teacher. The Guild also oversaw the major fundraisers such as Earth and Vine.
And Mrs. Horn played perhaps the most important role and one that many leaders wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do — she allowed the Guild to operate without micromanaging their activities.
Juliet appreciated the professional maturity, confidence, and awareness, that allowed a principal, or any leader really, to allow an independent organization to operate within her school and without her hand’s on oversight. Most leaders were too insecure to allow such autonomy.
Not Mrs. Horn though.
And Juliet had started to appreciate just how good a leader she was and is.
Oh, Mrs. Horn remained in charge and stayed informed of what the Guild was doing, and gave her feedback and provided value insight on legal, District, and other matters that helped. And she’d gently course correct when needed. And the Guild listened and worked with her. It was a symbiotic relationship that ultimately benefited those who both the Guild and Principal were most interested in: The children.
“This school,” Juliet thought, as she packed up from Fort Ross, “maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.”
The trip was a success for the kids. It again rained and this time the rain lasted longer, was wetter, if that were possible, and included wind blowing in off the cold Pacific Ocean. The kids, just like the last time, had a blast. Oh there were small injuries, and everyone was muddy and even though extra clothes were required, even those clothes were muddied and everyone was happy, tired, dirty, and stinky. It was just the right combination of learning, play, and nature. Just like KSL promoted.
Not all was good, though. Juliet felt herself getting sick as they packed up, and by the time they made the four-hour drive back to the school, she was full on sick.
“Ms. Juliet, are you going to be okay?” It was a parent, Tiffy, who led the Guild and who also did most of the organizing for all the field trips and other fundraisers.
“Ugh, this cold has really taken hold. I think I may be off tomorrow. I am going to try to get better in time for Earth and Vine. I have so much to do this weekend, too: I’ve got to clear out my garage to prepare to move; drive my daughter to soccer, take my own mother to the doctor, and prepare meals for my partner’s meal delivery service. I just want to sleep until next week.”
“That is a lot. I’m sorry you feel bad and that there’s so much to do.” Tiffy said warmly.
“Oh, I just have to power through.” Juliet said as she gathered her things and slogged home feeling worn down by the trip, sick with cold, and stressed about maybe not being able to attend Earth and Vine in a couple of days.
Juliet awoke the next day feeling even worse than the day before when she drank a cup of tea and fell into her pillows. She’d slept all night. In fact, it was now noon the next day and she had slept straight through the morning. She was behind in all her errands and tasks she needed to do.
“Oh, I have so much to do and I’m late getting started,” Juliet said to herself in a deep, groggy sick-sleepy voice. She gathered herself and made her way to her kitchen to make more tea.
“Good morning and good afternoon, sleepyhead.” It was Tiffy.
“Huh, uh, good morning.. I mean, uh, afternoon.. Uh, Tiffy?
“Ha ha ha. You are still asleep. And sick. Let me get you tea and a little medicine and you go back to bed?”
“No, thank you, I’ll..” Juliet trailed off, awake, but confused. Why was Tiffy here is what she thought she said, but all that really happened was she was staring at Tiffy, with her mouth agape and no words coming out.
“Ms. Juliet. You’re sick and need your rest. I asked the Guild to take care of your errands so you can rest and be well in time for Earth and Vine. Hopefully.”
“Yes. I did. We did. Everything is taken care of.”
“Yes, trust me, everything.” Tiffy replied. And then added because Juliet still stood starting with her mouth agape: Danielle drove your daughter to soccer and will bring her back; Amy is taking your mom to the dr – your mom is a delight, by the way, and before you ask, your partner, Jennifer, gave us her number and address; and I have helped prepare most of the meals for your partner’s meal delivery service, while she works. And I took the time to vacuum. Hope you don’t mind.”
Juliet was silent. And she was trying to make sense of it all, but her body told her: go to sleep; the Guild has taken care of everything.
So, Juliet sipped her tea, dragged her feet, and headed right back to her bed and fell right to sleep. Before she dozed off she had one last thought: I’m dreaming because this is unreal….
On the night of the Fundraiser – Earth and Vine – Juliet felt better, but not fully over her cold. But she’d decided she wouldn’t let a cold stop her from the biggest fundraiser of the year. She wanted to see if the hype was accurate, of course, but increasingly, she was just excited to participate and see the other teachers and parents. Kids weren’t allowed, in theory, but there would be some there helping to clean and serve and other tasks. Juliet learned that when KSL said kids were not allowed, they really meant, kids are allowed as long as they are working and occupied.
The venue was packed and the atmosphere was fun, light-hearted, and full of smiling parents, extended families, business owners, and teachers; many of whom were dressed up. Juliet walked around the room and made her way to the Auction Table – where many items that were to be auction were staged.
There were extravagant gift bags with boutique items, gift cards to fancy Spas and Salons, weekend getaways to Napa, San Francisco, Tahoe, and Yosemite, and other wineries. And more. There were trips to Hawaii, box seats at local and Bay Area sports teams games, restaurants, wine, bikes, and more than fifty other items. Juliet was surprised and just a little taken aback.
Where she had expected ice-cream coupons – there were ice-cream social for ten; and where she expected restaurant coupons – there were at least ten different restaurants represented among the auction items and the dinner values ranged from fifty to two-hundred dollars.
“Do you see anything you will silently bid on?”
It was Leah’s dad, Jack.
“I.. I hadn’t thought about it. But, now that I see this salon” Juliet picked up a flyer from a local salon – Space 07 it was called – that she’d heard about. The aesthetician there was said to be divine.
“I’m bidding on this salon package. And I’m going to win it.”
“Ha ha. I bet you will, Ms. Juliet. Good luck”. Jack wandered off.
Juliet looked around at all the parents having fun; the teachers dressed up and drinking wine – every teacher had a glass of wine, Juliet saw and that made her smile. And get her own glass.
“Well, it is good to see you up and about. I hear you were very sick after your field trip.”
It was Mrs. Horn.
“I’m better, thank you. This auction is… something else. Now I see why this fundraiser is so successful. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it is solely run by parent volunteers.?” Juliet stated as part question and part wonder, her voice lifting toward the end of her sentence.
“Our community supports us, Mrs. Horn started. The parents lead and they put in the work because they believe in our mission.” She said this honestly and proudly. “We could not do what we do without them. I could not do what I do. When we were concerned our school diversity was becoming too white, our parents and teachers went door to door in hispanic and black neighborhoods and recruited students to come to the school. We don’t just believe diversity is good and right; we live it and we took action to preserve it. And now we are much better and our job never ends.”
Ms. Horn was proud and sharing her emotion. Some of it was the glass of wine she held. But most of it was born out of the work she had put in. The roadblocks she pushed through. And the battles fought and lost.
“But you know.” Ms. Horn went on. “We didn’t just get hispanic and black kids and let them fail. We recognize there is a transition and an integration that happens that has shown to harm the achievements of these kids and we were determined to not let that happen. You can see the reports anytime you want, but I will share now that the academic success of our black kids – our African-American kids, surpasses all the other schools in the district. We have cracked the code and I am very, very proud of this accomplishment and I hope it can be repeated across the district.”
“You should be proud and thank you for sharing, Mrs. Horn. Thank you for…this.” Juliet said, waving her hands around.
“Thank our parents for this event, not me.” Mrs. Horn said firmly. “In fact, Mrs. Horn said while taking another sip of her white wine, let’s go thank some parents now.” Juliet walked away with Mrs. Horn and they made their way around the room, meeting, greeting, getting wine refills, and taking part in the silent action where Juliet screamed loudly upon winning the facial package at Space 07.
Juliet sat quietly observing and listening to a group of school neighbors and homeowners complain about the school. Well, mostly complain about the parents of the students who attended the school.
Mrs. Horn listened respectfully, nodding now and again, as she was accused of not caring about the neighborhood she had relocated her school to. A quiet, family centered neighborhood of good people, retirees, and families, the neighbors said, one after another, in between other neighbors who supported the school.
The leader of the neighborhood association, a Mr. Bedeuten, had asked the neighbors for a special meeting to address traffic, U-turns, and parking in front of driveways and on top of leaf piles. But before he let the neighbors speak he forcefully said that Mrs. Horn had ignored their requests to prevent parents from parking at all, and that she had turned a deaf ear to the neighbor’s concerns.
The tone was then set and each subsequent neighbor added complaints – some reasonable, others entirely unreasonable – to Mrs. Horn’s and the school’s responsibility.
Juliet watched Mrs. Horn maintain her composure while still showing smiles, laughing when the neighbors laughed, and just showing the same good emotional intelligence she was known for within the school and which Juliet had come to recognize and expect.
Finally, after the last speaker had said her piece – that the neighborhood used to be quiet, and now on school days, twice a day, it’s noisy, she complained – it was Mrs. Horn’s turn to respond.
Mrs. Horn had agreed to the meetings because she knew how important it was for a school that was imbedded within a neighborhood to be good neighbors – and she knew it was a unique and tough challenge as well. Good because kids were surrounded by homes and away from main thoroughfares and highways, and away from businesses. Also because the school was surrounded by trees, grass, and nature. But it was challenging because the school had been closed for some years and the neighbors had become used to.. nothing… and no one occupying the space. Older neighbors remembered when the school was open and that crowed seemed to adjust better to the school reopening. Newer neighbors though, had issues and seemed to really take issue with close to six-hundred kids filling the area, and their parents dropping off/picking up those kids.
Mrs. Horn had many reasons for wanting to move to this particular school. Clearly the size of the grounds – the school took up almost an entire city block/square, with a grass field, giant trees, and ample space for gardening, play, and space for grades K-8. The school needed to grow, and the former location could not accommodate the growth plans. And those plans were the direct result of parental demand to place kids in the school.
Mrs. Horn thought of the difficulty in opening the school. After a rough start that included finding funding by taking advantage of a creative designation that allowed a Waldorf could be considered “Special Education”, to convincing the District, multiple times, of the viability of the Waldorf method, and beating back lawsuits that sought to designate Waldorf as a religion. But once those challenges were met, the first principals had to recruit teachers to the new school – teachers with little to no formal Waldorf training and tell them what their mandate was before they accepted the jobs with the new school – a school that included only ten teachers and eighty-six students: They had one year to double the size of the student body or risk closing.
But the school didn’t close, it grew. So much so that it moved to another location, and even had a wait-list. Then a new superintendent was hired, Mrs. Horn was brought on and under her leadership the school’s growth rapidly accelerated, so much so that yet another move was needed. And the waitlist continued to grow as the first wave of graduating kids, later grade test scores, and parent testimonials spread throughout the district.
Juliet reflected on how Mrs. Horn never took credit for the school’s start, or moves, or even its success. She always deflected and pointed to her teachers – her teacher’s average tenure was fifteen years, with a few long-timers up to twenty-years. That type of teacher dedication and, a favorite Mrs. Horn quote, from a study that looked at Waldorf in general, and KSL in particular:
“Clarity of teacher and community vision helped empower the school to directly confront, and triumph over many obstacles that would have proven fatal to less committed schools and teachers.”
Now Juliet listened as neighbors said Mrs. Horn “didn’t care” and was “unconcerned” about their issues. Juliet knew those statements were factually incorrect.
But Mrs. Horn was like a diplomat at the United Nations – impassive, yet friendly; analytical, yet welcoming; and honest. She was always honest. And now she had the floor.
“Well. I want to thank you all for your beautiful feedback. I mean that. It is wonderful that we as neighbors can talk – and listen – to each other’s concerns and take them to heart. I want you to know I take what you say to heart and I share your feedback and passion with my parents and our kids. My parents entrust their beautiful kids to my teachers – I am not shy in saying I have the most dedicated teachers in the district. You are all welcome to look at the training the teachers undertake, on their own time, and in their summers, and to see them here early and late, and on weekends and holidays. We take our role as neighbors importantly as well, and that is why I am here with you.
I want to say: I hear you. I am listening and I will share your feedback with my teachers and parents.”
“How will you do that?” Mr. Bedeuten asked.
“Thank you, Mr. Bedeuten, for the question and opportunity to share my actions.”
Mrs. Horn went on to list all the actions she has and would take: newsletters, class meetings, parent volunteer drop off/pick up monitors, volunteer crossing guards, and more.
And I have partnered with our city’s police department for traffic enforcement to make routine inspections of our traffic flow both in the morning and after school.
Many neighbors were nodding now.
“Also, I had a lovely conversation with one of our neighbors, Mrs. Winslow. Mrs. Winslow couldn’t be here tonight – she doesn’t make it out too much, as some of you know, but she asked me to read a message to everyone today. If I may… Mrs. Horn unfolded a small piece of colorful paper:
“Dear Mrs. Horn.
Thank you for reopening our local school. It sat closed too long. There were times when it was open that I dreaded the noise, the cars, and the wild kids walking on my grass and picking my flowers. Oh how dreadful those kids were, I used to think.
Now I am older and retired and I look forward to the noisy bustle of the kids in the morning and afternoon. Oh, I still get angry when my flowers are picked, but I sometimes see the smile on a child’s face as they boldly walk across my lawn, pick my well-tended flower garden, and skip away as if they own the world.
[Mrs. Horn paused reading for a moment to catch herself from crying]
Oh to have that type of unstoppable boldness again!
Thank you for opening the school and being part of our community. I have enclosed a gift for the school; please use it to support your Arts and Crafts, and Gardening programs.
The letter was was signed with a beautiful signature that was from a bygone era.
“I have read this letter twenty times and I always choke up at that part.” Mrs. Horn said as much to herself as to the audience. Others were choked up, too, Juliet saw.
Juliet was too.
“Mrs. Winslow is a beautiful person and neighbor. And I know you’ll ask but she asked me not to say exactly what her gift was or is, and I want to honor her request and I am certain you all will understand. I will say it was significant and will greatly benefit our arts and gardening programs as she wishes.”
Mrs. Horn entertained a few more questions from the neighbors, having broken the tenseness by reading the letter, and she was about to jointly adjourn the meeting with Mr. Bedeuten, before she called the room to attention one more time:
“Before we adjourn, I wanted to address one more concern that was mentioned about not caring about the neighbors and neighborhood. I believe we are on the same page and in agreement now (head’s nodding again) and as such, I’d like to mention that I also grew up right in this neighborhood. And in fact, you are talking to a former student of KSL. I attended this school as a child and I am one of the kids who used to boldly walk across Mrs. Winslow’s grass and pick her beautiful flowers.”
Of all the events that happened this semester – class plays with costumes that were mostly made at school, set designs that were made at school by parents, the annual Pentathlon, three different Strings Concerts at a local high school, and a Dance Through the Decades dance that was also a fundraiser for the seventh grade classes, nothing impacted Juliet as much as listening to Mrs. Horn read the letter from Mrs. Winslow.
And learning that Mrs. Horn attended this school as a kid.
Juliet was harried. There was much to do and Juliet was feeling happily overwhelmed.
The school year had taken its toll on her. Not the kind of toll that wore a person down. No; the school had grown on Juliet and as the end of the year – her first year at KSL – wound down, she was mentally checking off all the things she needed to complete, just in the next forty-five days:
-Enter grades in the online system; with comments
-Help students complete Main Lesson book
-Finish review of standards for: language, math fluency, history, social science, and more
-End of year parent-student meeting and discuss some standards for next year
-All day meeting to review preliminary Standardized Test Score result
-Inventory, packing up class, garden close out, room clean up
-Planning the summer camping that hers and Mrs. Beth’s class did every summer (it really was like a family, she thought as she continued making her mental to-do list)
-End of year dance, final strings concert, one last class play
-Teacher grade meeting; plus all-grades teacher meeting
-Exit interview with principal
Juliet chuckled to herself because her list just covered two weeks. There was so much more to do, places to go, meetings to attend, reports to write, parents to listen to and share with, and on and on. End of year was almost like taking all year and cramming it into a month and somehow maintaining one’s sanity. And personal life.
Her kids found it funny that she had joined one of Ms. Beth’s yoga classes. But they also found it funny, and fun, when she had them stand, focus on her voice, and slowly stretch arms, legs, back, roll their necks, and inhale and exhale before saying their morning verse.
Juliet was slow to adapt to reciting verses in class. But overwhelming demand by her kids convinced her it was time to implement the KSL practice and get on board. Her feelings didn’t matter in this; her kids were used to verses and, more importantly, they loved the routine of sameness that an opening and closing verse granted them.
The expectation of knowing what to expect, each and every day, and throughout the day, was another hallmark of Waldorf and KSL. It was important to take the unknown, and the accompanying anxiety, away from kids as much as possible. Without having to worry or be stressed about the unknown, kids could actively think about the known that was coming and which they enjoyed. So verses were started late in the second trimester and Juliet saw that her kids were better off.
After “JuliYoga,” as her kids called it, the class spent the remainder of the day finishing their fourth book of the year that was read aloud in class. Juliet had adopted in-unison reading aloud after watching how successful Ms. Beth was with her class. Ms. Beth explained that while the kids read at home, and read a class book quietly, she also believed the kids were comforted to still be read to and, more, to participate in the reading.
Juliet understood the concept but didn’t immediately implement. She needed to think on it for a while. And that while took an entire semester. At first she just couldn’t find the time and, frankly, she was a little uncomfortable reading aloud, in unison, with her class.
But as the year progressed and she thought more on it, it did make sense. It was more of the structure, sameness, and common mission and goal that built and sustained the classroom community. So, Juliet acquiesced.
And her kids loved loved it. They loved every paragraph and every chapter. Juliet only read one or two chapters at a time and as a result the kids repeatedly asked for more. Begged for more. She had chosen Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, the 1960 novel based on the true story of 12-year-old Native American girl left alone for eighteen years on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California. The kids loved the story of the smart girl – given the name Juana Maria by the Catholic Mission where she was settled after being rescued, or found. She was also known as The Lone Woman.
The class would finish the book later this month. Juliet knew that some kids had read the book on their own, and she loved that because they still read along with the class. And gave spoilers that caused a lot of “shushing” from those who had not read ahead.
Juliet thought that it was pretty adorable when it wasn’t annoying. In fact, that statement pretty much summed up fourth graders, she laughed to herself.
Finishing up for the day, Juliet quickly closed up her classroom, thinking of all the packing and organizing she’d have to do after the children finished helping. They helped and made a lovely mess. But they had so much fun she just let them because she knew their parents had all signed up to help on the last week of the school year so although she was stressed, she wasn’t stressed-stressed, as she told herself as she glided into her seat at the meeting.
Today’s meeting was to hear the Standardized Testing results for the school year.
Mrs. Horn was sitting. They all were. They were in a circle. The circle symbolized the equal distribution of power and, the free flow of ideas, emotions, and energy. It was very anti-corporate America. Of course Mrs. Horn would never say such words, she just did what she did. Effectively.
“I want to thank you for coming. I know you have so much to do as we wind down our school year. I appreciate your time today. I will do my best to efficiently use your time so you can go home to your families.”
The teachers chatted for a moment and Mrs. Horn was quiet while the teachers slid into comfort after getting out their anxieties before Mrs. Horn shared the results.
Finally, the teachers quieted and then all looked to Mrs. Horn, who smiled that closed mouth smile principals learn in principal school.
“Our teacher retention is 97%, while the district at-large is 89%. I thank you for voluntarily coming here, fighting through all that Waldorf, KSL, your families and, most importantly, our kids present you each and every day.”
“Our suspension rates are two-thirds lower than the district and our suspension rates for African-American students was only 0.7%, vs. 7.2% for the district. Thank you for all your do for all our community of students.”
Okay, last thing and then you can happily and joyously read all the results online. Or, read my email summary.”
The teachers laughed and Mrs. Horn continued:
“At all grade levels we.. your kids, outperformed other schools in the district in ELA and Math, and… and.. We are outperforming the district across all demographics – middle class, disadvantaged, Latino, African-American, white, and on and on…..”
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The teachers were clapping, a few were wiping tears, and Juliet was feeling it – they all were as the meeting ended shortly thereafter.
Juliet noticed the band played much better than at the beginning of the year. The kids were happily running around the playground, parents and extended families lingered while taking pictures, laughing, and enjoying the warm June day. Juliet noticed how much her kids had grown, and how big the eighth graders – the graduates – were. Some were dressed up – boys in suits, girls in dresses and heels and makeup exploits shining on their young faces.
Juliet shared hugs and laugher with her parents, other teachers, and especially her mentor teacher, Ms. Beth who was as nonplussed as ever but showing signs of recent tears.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Juliet?” It was Ms. Beth and she was all smiles, hugs, and warm hands on Juliet’s shoulder and back.
Juliet silently reflected on her first year at KSL and the apprehension and doubt she had about the school and its goals. All those thoughts flooded back and expressed themselves as tears. Juliet was fully crying a happy, relieved, proud cry that she normally reserved for close friends and community.
Ms. Beth cried a little more. Then women held each other for a few moments. Then they were joined by some of their kids who started hugging them and then more kids, and still more before the kids broke out in laugher and foolishness reserved for the last days of school, Juliet thought as she untangled herself from hers and Ms. B’s kids.
“I see Mrs. Horn walking over to the ceremony area,” Ms. Beth said.
“I see.” Juliet replied.
Then the teachers, almost in unison, stood up straight, looked straight out to the playground, and patiently waited for their kids to notice. And a few moments later as if hearing something no one else could, the two classes of kids slowly and methodically began lining up, short to tall, in front of their respective teacher until all the kids were present and accounted for. And then the teachers continued to stand still while their kids wound down their voices and movements.
Juliet smiled and started walking over to the Ceremony, followed by her kids, Ms. Beth and her kids, and all the other teachers and kids followed along in orderly fashion.
“So please give a round of applause to all our award winners” Mrs. Horn finished, as she recognized perfect attendance, school test scores, fundraising efforts, and all the volunteers who made the school year successful.
Pictures and videos were taken and then the Passing of the Roses started.
As the band played the graduating eighth grade students lined up on the opposite side of the giant circle of kids and their teachers, and parents who were on the outside of the circle; while on the opposite side were the first grade kids holding roses to give to the graduates. It was a formal goodbye – just like the opening ceremony is a welcoming to the first grade class.
And like Mrs. Horn’s circle of teachers, this circle of kids K – 8, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and neighbors all shared the power that a village has. And that power is channeled through a group of dedicated teachers who selflessly give love, time, emotion, strength, and more love to the future citizens placed in their charge.
Juliet took it all in and wondered how she ever thought bad of the school and its mission. Then she thought of finishing her class packing, the camping trip, more meetings, summer training to learn the fifth grade curriculum, entering grades, parent conferences and so much more.
Juliet decided things were exactly as they should be.
“Before we leave, we will say a verse to end our year in unison of thought” Mrs. Horn said. All at once the kids and teachers followed Mrs. Horn’s lead and started reciting the verse:
Leave the familiar for a while.
let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcome season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.
Open, up to the roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
Upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
From: Hafez’s “The Subject Tonight is Love,” Translated by Daniel Ladinski. Poet Hafez (Shamseddin Mohammad, 1315-1390)
© Dear Dean Publishing 2018, All Rights Reserved.
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