Cathy Hadley was among the finest teachers who ever worked for me in my years as a Middle School Division Head. She taught fifth graders at a terrific pre-k-12, 300 year-old Quaker private school in Philadelphia. Cathy was as gifted and quick and nuanced a teacher as I've known. When I say quick I mean more than the fact that Cathy was fast to grasp ideas, content, and methods.
Cathy was Kid-Quick. Cathy was Classroom-Quick.
The woman was an absolute genius anticipating and handling the unexpected with firm grace when it might threaten a crucial learning thread. For instance, if it was appropriate for children to be listening at their desks to a peer's story or math solution and a potentially boisterous boy rose from his desk unprompted, Cathy, smiling, would be at his side anywhere in the room before the boy could stand straight. She'd place her arm through his and, do-si-do, twirl him about, sending him back on his seat softly, not a learning-beat missed. This was routine for Cathy and I bet you know teachers, smart, firm, gentle and agile, who've done that.
But I bet you don't know a teacher who did this--
At ten years old kids love Show & Tell in all its variations: very little says Look-At-Me! quite the way Show & Tell does. Cathy's kids were keen for it. I arrived in her room one Wednesday at nine anticipating a math lesson and found students finishing up sharing what they'd brought from home in today's variation which Cathy called
Show Me--Tell-Me: My Ex-ten-ded Fa-mi-ly,
linking the standard, fun-filled, activity to a broad theme on Families The World Over. Geography, some history, math (through currency exchanges), Ecology, and Literature all played in and today, so would a variety of knick-knacks, foreign-made toys, knitted sweaters, woolen caps, a passport, and other items.
And momentary mayhem.
Twelve girls and boys sat smiling on a circular red, yellow, and orange Guatemalan rug. As a girl called Amy finished describing the fishing village in Norway where she'd visited a distant cousin, a cousin who'd sent her the doll she now clutched closely to her chest, Cathy Hadley said, "Amy! You really love your doll and your cousin! We can tell! Thank you, Amy! Now: Is there someone who'd like to share this morning who hasn't?" She answered her own qustion with another, looking toward Claire Potter, the smallest child in the grade.
"Claire!" Cathy grinned, looking at the child over her signature red reading glasses. "You've been quiet. Have you something you'd like to show us? You've been out of town with your family most of the week, haven't you, Claire? What's that you've got there? Want to share?" Tiny Claire cupped something grey in a small palm. From where I stood well outside the story-circle, I couldn't make it out. Claire's hand moved and I thought she might be about to show us a gerbil.
Tiny Claire's un-tiny voice filled her classroom. "Yes, I do, Ms. Hadley!" she brightened, her voice bouncing delightedly from wall to wall. Her friends buzzed in anticipation.
"Well, sweetheart, stand up and show us and tell us all about it!"
Tiny Claire, in a pink and peach corduroy hand smocked dress and tiny blue sneakers, rose to her tiny feet and toes and thrust out one arm, and from a tiny fist she shook a twist-tied plastic baggie. Her baggie appeared to me now to be holding sand. I quickly wondered if Claire's absence that week had seen her at the beach.
"Look!" Tiny Claire exclaimed. She shook her bag once more. "It's Grandma Potter!"
My eyebrows flew to the ceiling as children scrambled and scattered and "Ewwwww"-ed and "Gaaaggghhhh"-ed and ran, two from the room and numbers under their desks. Several began to cry. For a second tiny Claire was alone on the circular rug. Cathy was quick to her side but the bag had dropped from tiny Claire's thrust-out fist spilling Grandma Potter across the colorful Guatemalan rug.
I took a step and saw Cathy's upraised palm. I stopped.
Cathy, in as firm and gently directive a manner as a person can call upon her voice to be in the midst of the most unanticipated and supercalifragilistically-bizarre moment any fifth grade teacher ever lived, swept her gaze round her room. "Children! Let's all help Claire clean up her Beach with Our Songs!!" Cathy stepped rapidly to her closet, brought out a dust pan and small broom, returned to Claire and Grandma Potter, and started swiftly sweeping as the class slowly regrouped. She had Clair hold the pan.
I joined them in repeated rounds of Michael Row The Boat Ashore and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, over, and over, and over again, until Grandma Potter was swept as neatly and completely as possible back into her baggie.
Cathy Hadley returned the small implements to her closet, directed all of her children back to their seats, brought out from her closet cartons of apple juice and sheets of silver star-stickers and, back at the head of her class, smiled wide at her students and said, "You all get three Silver Stars for Co-operation! And now, let's all tell Mr. Wolfman what we learned when we measured flour for the tamales we made last week, shall we?"