Helen ‘Bunny’ Coates drove the three-minute route around the traffic circle and down the hill knowing that Morgan Elementary was drawing her near. She thought about her class, still scattered throughout the community, most of whom would be just waking up, gathering their homework folders, backpacks, and lunches.
She pulled into her usual parking spot and gathered her lunchbox and her huge tote bag, heavy with papers she had checked the night before. Mrs. Coates greeted the other arriving teachers as they all made their way to their own classrooms. Her black flats made small echoing sounds, which reverberated around the art-project-strewn halls as she reached her door. Everything was as she had laid it out the afternoon before. The white board was clean. The calendar had been marked to the correct date. Math manipulatives were standing ready. The day’s reading books had been arranged to be handy by her desk.
She placed her purse in its usual spot and pulled out her lesson plans. It was 7:10; her children would begin to arrive in 15 minutes.
She rose as the first student of the day stumbled in, “Good morning, Mrs. Coates!” piped Danny staring up at her with wide, bright eyes and crossing to his desk where his morning work lay waiting. Mrs. Coates smiled, remembering the first day she had met Danny.
He had been the most timid student in her charge. Danny had come in clinging to his mother’s arm, trying to hide his face, which looked so much younger then. Mrs. Coates empathized with the emotion and did her best to make the classroom a place where he could feel comfortable and carefree.
Every year the children created their own sense of community, and every new child brought a distinctive, irreplaceable aspect to her life. Each needed something, whether it was as simple as a sticker, a hug, or a pat on the back, or perhaps enrichment or help focusing on their studies. Danny needed his teacher’s unconditional positive regard and the encouragement to make new friends. This was her job: to love and to protect—to teach and to be taught by her children.
By 7:55, each of her 19 kids had arrived, giving Danny company.
She turned on the Activboard, which lit up, and the announcements began.
An energetic fifth-grader holding a script and fidgeting slightly read out the daily announcements and, “Today is Alice’s birthday! So, happy birthday, Alice!” The fifth grader went on remind everyone that, “The smartest work the hardest.” The children stood to recite the Bully Free Pledge and Pledge of Allegiance, each voice a different pitch and cadence.
The teaching began with phonics activities followed by Guided Reading where half of the class read with a teacher in small groups while the rest worked on literacy centers or the computers. Lilly, who was sitting with her book next to Mrs. Coates’ desk, held up two fingers, her face scrunched up. “Yes, Lilly, you may get a tissue.” Mrs. Coates said kindly before returning to Phyllis who was struggling with the word “rabbit.”
Soon it was time for specials. The kids gathered to learn (instructed by other teachers) music, media, computer, art, science, or PE. While the kids were away, Mrs. Coates made copies of math worksheets and her close friend, another first-grade teacher, came to visit. They sorted paperwork together and talked about a different way to present a math concept the children were struggling with.
Danny, the line leader, guided Mrs. Coates’ children back into their classroom where they spread out reclaiming their desks. “Thank you for listening quietly,” Mrs. Coates called. The class fell silent. “It is time for math!” she said keenly.
The kids used math manipulatives to practice adding and subtracting tens from a number, the first of a three-step math learning process. After using the physical cubes to count, the children would move on to drawing pictures and finally be able to work with and comprehend using numbers and equations.
“Class!” called Mrs. Coates. “Yes,” some chorused back. “Class, Class!” She called. “Yes, yes!” they all sang. “Lunchtime!” Bunny Coates answered. “Yea!” was the cheer. It was one of the most anticipated times of the day.
Mrs. Coates was dedicated to becoming the best teacher she could be. It had been a long journey. After years of working in banking and the business world, she had found the perfect fit. It all seemed worth it. She smiled as she led her class along the corridors filled with high-spirited children. She may never become wealthy being an elementary school teacher, but teaching has made her richer in so many ways, and she will quickly remind you that, “It’s great to have a job where you get paid in hugs.”