I walked into the classroom hesitantly, eying the semi circle of small desks warily. In my classroom the tables were bunched together in tiny groups of three, this was different, not what I had expected.
Then again, nothing in the class was as I had expected. This room was much cheerier than my classroom. There was more light, more bright decorations on the wall, even the children seemed much happier.
The teacher interrupted my visual exploration of her room by gently guiding me to a vacant desk in the middle of the semi-circle. That was different too, my regular teacher would have just barked at me from her desk. I sat down and stared hard at the desktop. Then the girl sitting next to me leaned over and whispered a quiet hi. And the boy on the other side leaned in an hissed at me.
“That’s my friend Matt’s desk. He’s sick. Don’t take anything, he’ll know.”
He leaned away and the friendly girl just shrugged. I tucked my hands between my thighs and tried not to touch anything on Matt’s desk.
The day continued much like that, I was a visitor in a cheerful, welcoming classroom, but a visitor nonetheless. I hated my current school, my class governed by mean girls who had assigned me a best friend who didn’t much like me, or me her for that matter. My crazy, bitter teacher, who barked at us more than she taught us. And the sheer size of the school – huge and bewildering to a kid who was not only trying to learn to be an American girl, but who was also trying to learn the language.
My visit to this new school was a step towards getting me transferred from the bigger public school to the cozier and friendlier public school. And it was great. I loved that little school with its little playground and gentle teachers. I loved the kids there. Yes, even the infamous Matt who ended up in my class the following year and never let me live down the fact that a pencil vanished from his desk the day that I visited.
I was only at that school for two years before my family packed up and moved to another country. I went on to attend two other radically different schools before going on to college. I’d almost forgotten the joy of that small classroom until I picked up Phillip Done’s book Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind. It’s an at times hilarious, at times moving, account of his days as a teacher to a third grade class right here in the San Francisco Bay Area.It took me right back.
It’s clear from this book that Done would have been the kind of teacher who would have been right at home at that little school that I so loved. And now I’m looking into seeing where Phillip Done teaches, because I would be thrilled for my kids to experience the kind of warm inspiring classroom environment that he has created.
This post was written in honor of this month’s Silicon Valley Moms Blog book club and the inspiring book that we just read: Philippe Done’s Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind. I was sent this book from the publisher for review purposes. The opinions about it and stories that it has inspired are all mine.