Last week I had subbed in the kindergarten classroom of the teacher who had taught both Maia and Chongo for kindergarten. It was fun to be reminded of Ms. B's teaching style and the ideas she brought to the classroom. And it took me back to Chongo's first day of kindergarten. I couldn't help but remember the trepidation I felt watching that beloved boy climb the stairs into her classroom chanting under his breath, "I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared."
I didn't worry about his ability to succeed at learning. What I feared was what might be lost of him in the process. If he really did get along, if he really did do as he was told who would he become? Would anyone recognize the hidden beauty of him? The Chongo-ness that sometimes required special glasses to appreciate. It may be a generalization, but there is some truth to the fact that only your mother can really appreciate who you are. Everyone else just wants you to follow the rules and not raise a ruckus. This can be especially true in school, and I woke at night terrified that sending him into the school "system" might be wrong.
But, Chongo was fortunate. Ms. B. was not that sort of teacher, and I suppose it helped that Chongo's being fully Chongo did not include disrupting the class. Yes, there were a few paintings that looked like every other kindergartners, but there were also these wonderful, imaginative books that Ms. B. put together for students to practice their writing. Based on the book "If You Give a Mouse a Muffin," they went through almost the entire alphabet with five pages of open ended statements such as "If you give a turtle a ticket he might...." Chongo became her best writer (or so she told me) not for his ability to spell or write neatly, but because of his confidence. He had an answer for every jaguar, girl, mouse, or baboon and every possible thing they could be given. The last page was always blank, and the students had to fill in the object. Chongo never wavered. Whatever happened in all the rest of the centers, cutting and pasting words that began with letters and circling the number of fish in the bowl, every week, in these books, Chongo had his imagination set free.
It wasn't long before I learned that it would take a lot of system to get the Chongo-ness out of Chongo. Now that he's a teenager, I sometimes wish Ms. B. had been the kind of teacher that whipped kids into shape. As I sat at her workstation last week and collated the "If you give an Elephant a..." books and thought about the variety of five-year olds who still came to her every day to learn, I was happy she was still setting students imaginations free.