Hopefully A Mitzvah Part 2

The last week of school I taught three days.  On Monday I went down to the first grade classroom of the little boy who wore the bifocals.  I had brought three things to show him.  His teacher quietly called him up and then told him to go sit with me on the small classroom couch.  In a few seconds she joined us. He looked pleased to be getting some individual attention, which is what I had hoped.

Me:  I brought some things to show you.

Him:  He looked pleased.

Me:  Remember I told you that my younger daughter is a scientist?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  I brought you a picture of her when she was just about your age so that you could see her in bifocals.  Can you see the line of her bifocals right there?  (I trace the faint line in the picture.)

Him:  Shakes his head.

Me:  I know it’s hard to see, but it’s right there.  (I trace the line again.)  I also brought a picture of her graduating from college.  (I show him a picture frame holding three pictures, and point to the first one.)  Here she is walking back from getting her college diploma.  See how happy she is? (My daughter has an absolutely huge, ecstatic grin on her face in the picture.)

Him:  Nods.

Me: She studied both chemistry and biology in college.  Those are both sciences.  And this second picture is later in the day and there is my younger daughter, me, my husband, and my older daughter.  My daughters are 26 and 30 years old now.  And then this last picture is of both of my daughters together when we were out at dinner that night.

Him:  Looking at the picture with interest.  (Or at least he looks like he is interested.)

Me:  When I was teaching here in your room two weeks ago, I noticed something about you.  You like to keep your things tidy and in order.

Him:  Nods.

Me:  In your special Pirates of the Caribbean pencil pouch that holds your pencils and crayons and markers, I noticed that everything is exactly lined up.  And I noticed that you only keep one piece of work out on your desk at a time, and that everything has a place.  You like to keep everything in order.

Him:  Nods vigorously.

Me:  The big word for that is meticulous.  Can you say that?

Him:  Meticulous.

Me:  Can you say it again?

Him.  Meticulous.

Me:  That means that everything is kept carefully in order.  So I brought you one more thing. (I pull out a PeriodicTable I had printed for him and point to the top.)  See, it says “Periodic Table” here at the top.  (I knew that he would recognize the word “table”.)  You will learn about this in 5th grade, which is the grade I normally teach.  You see how the different sections of squares are different colors?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  That’s because the periodic table keeps the different elements in order.  Elements are things in the earth. (A slight simplification, but close enough.)  See, this is hydrogen, and it’s symbol is this capital H right here.  Hydrogen is in the air.  And here is carbon, and here is its symbol, a capital C.  Carbon is in every living thing.  Do you know what oxygen is?

Him:  Nods.

Me:  Can you find a capital O on the Periodic Table?  (I see his small finger hovering above Os, osmium.)  Just an O, no other letter.  (His finger searches for awhile, and then he finds oxygen, pointing to it on the paper, rather triumphantly.)  Right!  That’s oxygen. There’s all kinds of things you can find out from the Periodic Table.  You can search for it online, and you will find sites that are print and tell you about it, and you will find sites that will show you this same Periodic Table with all the colors.  Do you know how to google things?

Him:  Very emphatic nod.

Me:  Do you have a color printer at home?

Him: Thinks for a minute, then smiles and nods.

Me:  So you can always go online and print this up again if you want.  But here.  (I had him the Periodic Table.)  This is for you.  You may keep it.

Him:  (Eyes wide and very surprised.)  Thank you!

I left the room, hoping that the Periodic Table’s bright colors and orderliness had kindled a spark.

Hopefully A Mitzvah*

Last Thursday I taught in a first grade classroom.  As I’ve mentioned, I was initially a little nervous because I hadn’t taught students that little in more than 20 years.  But I found them charming and delightful to teach.  I noticed right away that there was a boy sitting right at the front with wrap around bifocals secured with an elastic strap around the back of his head. I am extremely aware of vision problems in children as my husband lost an eye at 6 years old due to a childhood accident, and our younger daughter was in bifocals at the age of 2.  And as a teacher, I know that any physical abnormality can isolate children socially, which of course can lead to problems with self esteem.  So I waited for an opportunity to go over to the student when he asked for help with his work.  After I had answered his question, I crouched down and said,

Me: I see you’re wearing bifocals.

Him, hesitantly: Yeah….

Me:  My younger daughter wore bifocals when she was little.  She’s 26 now.  She started wearing bifocals when she was 2.  How old were you when you started wearing them?

Him, brightening up:  3.

Me:  My daughter wore them from the time she was 2 until, umm… about 10 years old.  Then she wore regular glasses for awhile and then switched to contacts when she was in middle school.

Him:  Yeah??

Me:  Uh-huh.  And do you know what her job is now?

Him:  Shakes his head.

Me:  She’s a scientist.

Him, eyes widening:  Really?  (Pleased look on his face.)

Me:  Yep. A scientist.

Then, later that afternoon:

Me:  Do you remember what my younger daughter does?

Him:  Uh-huh.  She’s a scientist.

Me:  Yes, she’s a research scientist.  Do you know what research means?

Him:  No.

Me:  It means she gets to do science experiments all day long.

Him:  Wow.

Even later in the afternoon we were working on words that ended in “-ight.”  He asked me how to use bright in a sentence.  I responded, using his name,

Me:  You are very bright.

He blinked, took a second to process it, and then said with a surprised look on his face:

Him: Thank you!

Two days ago I saw him during recess.

Me:  I don’t know how much you tell your parents about what happens at school.  Did you go home and tell your parents my daughter was a scientist?

Him:  Yes.

Me:  Good!  I was hoping you would.

This is why I teach!  And hopefully I performed a mitzvah that planted a seed .

*Mitzvah is a Hebrew word meaning “commandment,” but is most often used to refer to an act of human kindness that is completely selfless.