My heart sank as I watched her struggle to blow out six little candles. The breath would not come easily. She inhaled and blew as best she could, but the real candles on her fake birthday cake would not relent. The fire continued to burn as she drew another breath and tried again. After multiple attempts, the candles were finally extinguished.
Moments after the celebration of one of my kindergartner’s birthday, I made my way to the phone to share my observation with this child’s mom. I relayed the scene which prompted the child’s mother to arrange a doctor’s appointment. Days later the confirmation came. Yes, she did have asthma and was given a daily inhaler and other treatments.
This is the gift of kindergarten: making a lifetime difference for one who is on the threshold of life itself.
Of course, I would never wish asthma, or any of the other problems I’ve encountered in the classroom, on anyone; but out of those problems have come some of my greatest opportunitites. Being able to recognize a problem and encourage a parent to take action to correct it is a true blessing in my life, as well as theirs. Sometimes, when I feel down after a lousy day, I reflect on times such as this; when I’ve talked straight to a parent and seen a positive change made for one of my children. It doesn’t take long for my “lousy-day blues” to go away.
Sure, some of this will happen in the upper elementary grades and beyond, but my experience in kindergarten has shown me that an awful lot of gate-keeping takes place at this juncture. We weed through issues ranging from eye glasses to hearing aids, ADD to processing disorders, emotional traumas to a little insecurity; all in the midst of teaching letters, sounds, numbers, and reading.
Every teacher has a role to play in developing young people. Each one of us will make a difference in the lives of our students. Our combined efforts, over time, will determine to a great degree how these children will grow into adults. Each teacher must determine the grade or age level in which they are gifted to make the most impact. As for me, the best gift I can give as a teacher is actually the one I have received: the gift of kindergarten.