This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Natalie Bigelow
We are all someone’s Cinnamon Coffee.
As if last year wasn’t complicated, confusing, and challenging enough, many of us are entering the 2020-2021 school year facing more anxiety, pressure, and uncertainty than ever. Toward the end of summer, I reopened my classroom door to piece back together what used to be. It was an eerie feeling. My calendar was still set on March 16, 2020. Some unfinished projects from last year’s students sat on the shelf. Boxes of completed packets from our “extended school closure” were next to my filing cabinet. I sat down at my desk, still feeling the impact of last year’s chaos while the sense of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 school year began creeping in to join.
“How will I reach each student?”
“How will I prepare them for the state test?”
“Will the students be behind in their skills?”
“How can I ensure I’m doing enough for my students?”
“How will I have enough time to teach in person and virtually?”
“What are other teachers doing that I should be doing too?”
As education professionals, I assume we are all asking ourselves similar questions.
While the stress and tension inside me rose, I glanced around my disheveled classroom, and my eyes stopped on a framed piece of notebook paper I keep on my desk. It’s two sided and houses two student written poems. And in that instant, I felt a sense of relief. It was a reminder that I didn’t know I needed at the time. Both pieces of poetry were given to me by former students who each wrote about the impact I made on them. Neither of whom included lines or stanzas about the content I taught them, the tests they aced, or the academic goals they achieved. Instead the first poem was titled “Cinnamon Coffee” and included lines such as the following:
“Sweet like cinnamon, strong like coffee...”
“Sunlight, glimmering hope. A smile of understanding. Ambitious array put on display. Something I wish I could do...”
“Pride filled smile. Determination coats the overlap of calm...”
“Encouraging tone and words stronger than the strongest of gems...”
Poet two wrote:
“I will miss you now. I will miss you later. Later never comes, but you do.”
“When I am in school, you are always there when I need you. You help me when I need it.”
“I will miss you. We will all miss you.”
Don’t get me wrong, when I first received each of these poems (in year 1 and year 6), I was undoubtedly touched and even brought to tears. However, they hit me differently after having joined the Fluency Project and experiencing what we all endured last year with the extended school closure. What an astounding reminder! As educators, we have a lot of responsibility, and educating children is definitely a priority. However, one thing the Fluency Project has brought to the forefront of my mind is that there is much more to educating a child than academic content driven by state standards. Now more than ever, children need us. We are not just educators, and we do far more than just educate the mind.
Prior to receiving those poems, I didn’t realize that many of the lessons that students learn from me often have nothing to do with the Pythagorean theorem or scientific notation. I didn’t realize that my determination, my ambition, or my shoulder to lean on would be what stood out most to my students. I didn’t think that’s what they would cling to or remember about me. The Fluency Project has helped me realign my perspective on how to approach education, our students, and our priorities. I’ve learned so much about what our students really need. While content is important, without looking at students as a whole and as human beings- we could be missing some key components and some vital aspects of their education and their lives.
So if you’re like I was, sitting at my desk with the fear of the 2020-2021 school year looming, let this be a reminder that YOU are someone’s Cinnamon Coffee. Perhaps now is an opportune time to pull out some old student cards, art work, or other reminders you have kept. Because regardless of what happens this school year, regardless of what your students learn or don’t learn, regardless of how awesome or lame your Google Classroom is - just know that someone this school year will NEED you. You will be someone’s Cinnamon Coffee. You will be someone’s “sunlight glimmering hope”. And to be honest, that might be all he or she needs out of the 2020-2021 school year. That might be just enough. I wish you and all of your students the best!
Natalie Bigelow graduated from Ohio University in 2013 with a major in special education (k-12, mild to moderate). Natalie began a career as an eighth grade intervention specialist at St. Clairsville Middle School in 2013. This will be her eighth year working at St. Clairsville Middle School as an eighth grade intervention specialist. Natalie is currently is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Natalie’s special interests include crafting, running, and baking.