My heart breaks for the parents of the first-grade children killed in Newtown, Connecticut, a week ago and for the devastating loss to their community of so much innocent and vibrant young life. It’s an unimaginable nightmare for every family. How does anyone begin to cope with such inconsolable grief?
Just the day before the senseless tragedy I had taught a class of first graders in New Jersey. I thought about them when the terrible news broke. I’ve been lucky enough to have stepped in from time to time over the past three years as a substitute teacher for that grade. It is an assignment I always eagerly anticipated because it never failed to be educational while charmingly unpredictable.
Here are some of the things those children taught me:
• First graders will animatedly raise their hands when a question is posed, but after being called upon, they will invariably have no answer or have forgotten what they were going to say.
• First graders consider themselves to be much more sophisticated and mature than kindergartners, whom they call “babies.”
• First graders are supremely confident about their abilities, whether it is sports, academics, or the arts, claiming to be the best, the fastest, the strongest, smartest, and most talented in every area of interest.
• It’s toxic to stand behind first graders after lunch.
• First graders will interrupt the teacher’s lesson or read-aloud story to interject some personal comment unrelated to anything they have just heard.
• First graders never complain about the weather.
• If they know a sticker is the reward for good work, first graders will rededicate their efforts.
• First graders do not let correct spelling or punctuation get in the way of their writing.
• To hear them tell it, first graders are experts in anything you can name.
• First graders are unblinkingly honest when evaluating others’ appearances but indifferent about their own.
• On the hottest days in June, first graders will become uncontrollably manic during recess and then ask why it is so hot in the classroom.
• First graders will enthusiastically greet you every single time they see you in the course of the day.
• First graders are incapable of walking quietly in single file down a school hallway. Their preferred mode of locomotion is to skip noisily while nudging one another from point A to point B.
• If there is a puddle, first graders will walk through it rather than around it.
• First graders laugh whenever they hear the word “underwear” and consider “shut up” and “stupid” to be bad words.
• When asked if they have any questions, first graders will launch into unrelated anecdotes.
• First graders cannot wait to be a year older (or half a year older) but have no concept of an adult’s age.
• Upon completing some written assignment, first graders love to ask, “Can we color it now?”
• First graders are prone to hyperbolic one-upmanship.
• I have been invited by first graders to go bike riding and fishing with them, to babysit, watch a movie, and accompany them to their T-ball and soccer games.
• First graders will volunteer secrets about their parents that would mortify the parents if they had any inkling that such intimate information was being disseminated so offhandedly.
• Despite all evidence to the contrary, first graders will never admit to being tired.
• First graders believe anything you tell them.