Then the world turns around, And the boy grows tall. He hears the song of the river call. The river song sings, “Travel on, Travel on!” You blink away a tear, and the boy is gone.(River Song from A Musical Adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer)
I’m not sure why this song has been stuck in my head recently. I haven’t watched the musical, and honestly, the only way I know the song is because Mrs. Ringer made us sing it in 7th grade.
Maybe it’s because C has grown tall(er) and S is just a few short months away from high school. Maybe it’s because I’m counting down the days with another amazing group of seniors – excited for their futures but sad to see them go. Whatever the reason, it serves as a reminder that time waits for no one – hat tip to Chaucer (and the Rolling Stones) for that bit of wisdom.
I’ve always enjoyed the time in the car with the kids – sounds crazy, I know, but both of them are good travelers, so that time is usually pleasant and, more often than not, filled with conversations we wouldn’t have anywhere else.
I remember when S was little, pre C days, and she and I would sing along to the Wiggles as I drove her to daycare. (There’s a funny side story about the Wiggles, my lead foot, and a speeding ticket I should have gotten but didn’t.)
Then there was the time when she was in 1st grade, and she said to C, in her most grown-up voice, “I hope, when you get to school, you have Mrs. Sheahan and Mrs. Vogel because they are both phenomenal teachers!” Without missing a beat, a then 3-year-old C replied, “Does that mean the rest of them aren’t any good?”
And one of my most favorite conversations was about agronomy test plots (C: Who in their right mind would camp in a cornfield?) that led to a discussion on franken-foods (C’s word) and bioengineering which made S say, “I thought engineers built bridges,” which led to a discussion on bridges which jumped to bungee jumping and ended with a lively debate about the laws of physics and bungee jumping off a jello house.
Now that they’re older, I often find myself in the car with just one of them, and I love that time.
S plays AAU basketball, and practice is more than an hour away. Some would say that’s too far to go for a youth sport, but she loves to play, and I love that time alone in the car with my daughter. On the drive up we talk about school, friends, books, upcoming games and tournaments, and a million other things. On the way home, she critiques her practice and I listen. We usually stop to eat – by then she’s starving – and we go someplace we enjoy that maybe Tim and C would not. The conversation continues but moves away from practice and back to other things.
My conversations with C are more random – he thinks like I think, and together we have lots of “Squirrel!” moments.
Last week, on the way to baseball practice, the conversation was about music. His question (we were listening to Sirius XM Classic Vinyl and Freebird was playing), “Why were songs from your time so much longer than songs today?” He didn’t buy my first answer, “We had longer attention spans back then,” so we talked about how marketing had changed (radio now has to compete with so many other types of media) and how the emphasis has shifted from the musicians to the performance (stage presence, lighting, choreography, etc).
And just a few days ago, he and I headed out for dinner, just the two of us. Our conversation topics for the evening included the following:
- The randomness of band names (Echosmith, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum)
- Antebellum (as in pre Civil War)
- Fossil fuels on the moon
- Vail, Colorado (mileage sign in the restaurant )
- The right way to round numbers (based on the inaccuracy of the aforementioned mileage sign)
- Sense of smell triggering memories
- Overachieving (his humor coming through when he closed the door a little more forcefully than he intended)
- Dendrites and brain synapses (me explaining why he should remember what we had both just forgotten – young brain, more dendrite growth. )
- The color of syrup vs. the color of caramel ice cream topping
- Monopolies (brought about after noticing a CVS being built across the street from a Walgreens)
- Monopoly – the game
- Paying homage (Yes, his words)
- Play-doh vs Plato (brought about by a Plato’s Closet commercial on the radio)
- Correct pronunciation of Plato (emphasis on the T so it’s not confused with Play-doh)
- Uma Thurman (thank you, Fall Out Boy)
- The Munsters (I mentioned that the Fall Out Boy song sounded like the theme song for the Munsters, and he had no idea who the Munsters were)
I learn so much about my kids this way – conversations driven by their interests, their curiosity, their willingness to be themselves with me.
And I try to have similar conversations with my students.
Some of my favorite memories from the last 27 years are from those moments that have nothing to do with curriculum and everything to do with building relationships.
Conversations about sports – the ones they play as well as the professional teams they follow.
Conversations about books – okay, so this might be curriculum related, but more often than not, these conversations come about because of a love of reading. There is something pretty amazing about a former student seeing a title on my office shelf and then sharing a memory from reading that book in 5th grade.
Conversations about fashion – I learned early on that elementary kids can be brutally honest about fashion (3rd grade boys who pointed out I wore the same pair of earrings everyday and the same dress every Wednesday).
Conversations about music – I have taught through more boy bands than I care to remember, but I have learned to listen with an open mind to current hits.
Conversations about feelings – I’ve learned that when students feel safe in the classroom, they will share what excites them as well as what frightens them.
Conversations about life – It can be something random or something deep, but either way I have to admit, these are some of the best conversations.
Whether it is one of my former 5th graders (last group are juniors this year), a student from one the two electives I have been lucky enough to co-teach (Intro to Education and Global Studies), or just one of the seniors who likes to hang out in the library, I love our conversations.
Sometimes it’s a quick little walk down memory lane – back to elementary school and a favorite or funny memory.
Sometimes it’s a question that leads to a much bigger discussion – the survey about how much TV you watch each night led to a lively debate.
Sometimes it’s a serious conversation like when I asked the Global Studies class to think about this question from Angela Maiers – What breaks your heart about the world? Act on that.
Sometimes I catch a tidbit as I walk by and either smile or laugh, and that opens the door for a lengthier discussion about any number of things.
You can’t schedule these conversations.
You can’t write them into your lesson plans.
You can’t have a script.
You can’t force them.
They have to be real.
They have to be genuine.
They happen when you take time listen.