They say you can’t go back again. The past is the past, so leave it there. It’s not so easy to do when thoughts of a deliriously happy time or place tug, tug at you, teasing with flashes of memories, sounds of laughter and smiling faces. The tempting triggers that lure you back for one more romp are at times, relentless.
In my retirement, I have become a big advocate of stepping into the unknown, of making the unfamiliar – familiar, of treating myself to the delicious buffet of life. This journey into the “great wilderness” has added depth and breadth to my already lovely life. I am a fortunate woman.
The “good old days of teaching”, that glorious time when my planbook included things like: parent readers, sharing time, plays, art projects, field trips, after-lunch storytime, and the ever-present recess, happen to be my triggers. With every article I read about Common Core, teaching to the test, stressed out students, and stressed out teachers, I mourn for the “good old days.”
I’m also a big believer in this advice: when confronted with something you don’t like – you can accept it, try to change it, or walk away from it. So, I decided to write another book, this time a children’s book that I KNEW would bring back a little of the magic that is slowly dripping off the pages of planbooks – through no fault of the teachers. I was convinced my leprechaun tale was capable of injecting a little bit o’ wonder back into the pressure-cooker days of childhood, just as it had for the thirty years I told the story to my classes.
Discovery in the Woods was published in mid February, and a few weeks later I was visiting classrooms and libraries, armed with my new book, freshly made leprechaun furniture, photographs, and a healthy dose of high hopes. This was the part of teaching I adored – back in the day – and oh how I wished for eager little souls ready for a splash of gold dust!
On my first day of author visits, after identifying myself, my destination, and my purpose, I was buzzed in, signed in, name-tagged and pointed in the right direction. The smell of cafeteria food reminded me I was in the right place. Then came the familiar hum of kids in the hall, lunch boxes clanking against the walls, the flurry of questions, the herding of these little munchkins into the classroom, then the click of the door as it closed. I sat in the rocking chair, the chair of honor, and looked at them, and they looked back … waiting. They were all mine.
What happened over the next hour was exactly what I had hoped for. We talked of little men with silver buckles on their boots, of cradles with pussy willow cushions, of friendships and loyalty, of woodlands and wonder. We listened and laughed, we questioned and understood. Those kids squeezed their eyes shut trying to imagine what this magical world looked like, and I kept mine wide open so I could watch it all unfold as I spoke. What was I watching? Their faces, their surprise, their willingness to take this ride with me through the woods with their imaginations taking the reins. True believers at every turn.
That day was a real blessing for me. I had the opportunity to do what I love doing, with teachers I love seeing, for kids who love dreaming. We let a bit of magic loose to tease and tempt, to invite and to convince that yes, you can go back again.
In April 2014, this essay appeared in the Buffalo News as: “Stories Bring Magic Back to the Classroom”