Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The one in one hundred

“Teaching is in each moment, in every existence.”

—Shunryu Suzuki
(from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

“Eigo no sensei desu,” and I bow my head.

I’m an English teacher.
I’m a teacher of English.
I teach the English language.

I bow my head.
I’m a student, a learner, a beginner.

*            *            *

“Let’s sing a song.”

Clapping hands, I lead:

“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
The kids follow suit.

“Head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes. Head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
The kids follow suit.

“Headshoulderskneesandtoeskneesandtoes. Headshoulderskneesandtoeskneesandtoes.”

Stand. Squat. Stand. Squat.
Laughter and we all fall down.

Our metronomic hand beats speed up so much they start to go off-kilter. The spaces between one child’s clap fill with the clap of another child. My claps lose their rhythmic potency. The room swells with one sound from one hundred tiny sounds. I fold my rug-burned knees under themselves and lower to the floor.

The kids follow suit, their giggles subsiding with the descent.

“Let’s read a book.”

Eyes widen. We take turns touching the textured pictures, counting the birds, pulling the arrows to make an image pop out of the pages. We turn to the picture of a little mouse. I know what comes next. The kids squeal and race to see who can be the first to touch it with a finger. I quickly slide my finger into their pile of little fingers. We cover the mouse and say "mouse."

They giggle.
I follow suit.

Yasu sniffles. Hoshino rubs his feet on my knees. Maki opens her mouth and tilts her head back in a gesture of glee. A little bit of saliva drops onto my pants. A tumbleweed of dust rolls across the carpet. I shift my weight onto one shin and then the other. My left foot falls asleep. I wiggle my toes, readjust, and settle into any lingering discomfort.

I’ve read this book over a hundred times with these kids. I like the way they gather round it with continued excitement, despite knowing exactly what comes next. Every page is a new page because reading the book today is different from reading it yesterday.

When the last page peels away from the back cover, we pause, take a breath, and start all over again.

The kids smile in unison.
I follow suit.


  1. I can just see the classroom and kids--and you. Really nice.

  2. Thanks...perhaps the bit about the drool makes it feel real : )

  3. Drool always imparts an aura of authenticity.

  4. This is beautiful. Every moment and joy of teaching little ones so poetically captured. I love the details about the adjustments of the body and the love it communicates for the kids and their unending excitement to read the same story day after day. What a reminder for us to find joy in the little things!

  5. Dear Brenna,
    As a fellow teacher who also finds myself reading the same book to children over and over, I find special Zen inspiration in what you wrote about the same book being different each new day. Thank you for the deep and refreshing lesson behind those words!
    Janet Veale

  6. Thanks Janet. This comment means a lot to me, especially coming from such a seasoned teacher as yourself. xo