I met a little girl named Emily today. I really can’t tell you much about her, except that she wore a purple, fleece, zip up hoodie with unicorns on it, and was in the grade one/two split class I visited this morning. I don’t know her last name, I don’t know who her parents are or where she lives. I don’t know anything about her home life or what her reading level is. In fact, I don’t even remember her answering questions on the carpet or visiting my center. She wasn’t one of those keen to learn students with her hand up in the front row, who smiled pretty when she answered the right questions. She wasn’t even one of those kids in the back row who wasn’t paying attention either. She didn’t poke or giggle with her friends like a typical grade one elementary schooler. She seemed to be “just Emily.”
Come to think of it, this little invisible girl only appeared on my radar after the class was over and I was busily packing up my equipment to head home. The rest of the class was tired and hungry and eager to get on to the lunchroom. They had obviously had a delightfully engaging morning — full of hands on science and learning, taught expertly by yours truly. (Ahem! 🙂 ) They had even given up their class snack time to learn! Emily, however, seemed to doddle about busily nibbling on a cucumber slice that her teacher had given her earlier from the class lunch bin. Her mousy, long brown hair was disheveled slightly and wisps of it got in the way of her field of vision, the way it does for a grade one girl who seems to be forging her own way in life.
She casually sauntered up to me, brushed aside her hair and inquired about my bins. Where did all the things come from? Where was I going now? Did I live at the science centre? I politely answered her curious questions and began to shoo her off to lunch with her friends. Emily had other plans, though. She picked up one of my microscopes and proceeded to “help” clean up. (ack! …slight panic… heavy, expensive equipment slung about by a seven-year-old is a disaster waiting to happen! It’s one of those things they tell you about in classroom management courses!) “Oh, no, no, my friend… thank you for your help… but off you go to lunch now…” As I gently removed the microscope from Emily’s grip, I hear an assistant say that Emily is not listening — again.
Suddenly, I feel the need to rethink my purposes. It’s probably true. Emily probably doesn’t listen much to instructions. She probably doesn’t follow the rules easily. Maybe she doesn’t sit and do all her homework and hang her coat on the hook. She probably forgets to her to change her indoor shoes and tie back her untamed locks. But at this very moment, Emily wants to help. And so I let her. I ask her to collect all my pencils and stack the pencil bins so they fit together. I ask her to pile the books so I can pack them away. We spend the next minute or so tidying up together.
I don’t remember the moment Emily decided to go off to lunch. Suddenly she was invisible again… a purple unicorn hoodie blur in the mass of grade ones and twos filing out the door. Dumbfounded for a moment, I was struck by the realization that we so often meet Emilys. People seemingly invisible — but there. The cashier at the grocery store. The elderly man on the bus. The teenager plugged in to headphones at the back of the class. Do we take the time to simply engage them when the spark of opportunity arrives? A smile as they open the door for us? A thank you when they hand us our bags?
Each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. A unique image crafted with personalities so complex and diverse. None of us are the same. And yet, we function somehow as a whole. We strive, like Emily, to do a little good now and then. Even when it is hard to follow the rules. My little moment with Emily taught me, that maybe, just maybe, the key to engagement is not always in grand productions full of magic and wonder. It’s often not in the polished presentation with flash cards and perfectly laminated worksheets. Perhaps it is simply taking the time to answer a few curious questions, and the chance to be polite to those invisible strangers as they reach out and stack a few pencil bins for us.