Norma was a past president of NJAKE who died in September. She was the most generous person I have ever known, always willing to help and pitch in wherever she was needed. I have been thinking of her a lot and how much her life has inspired me to be a better person. As teachers, isn’t that what we all hope to do, inspire children to be the best possible person that they can imagine? Norma didn’t preach her life, she led by example. There are three things about her that I carry with me every day.
First, she had a positive attitude. Norma did not have a perfect life, but she never let her troubles dictate the way she treated anyone. Every day was a new beginning, filled with hope and promise. Did things always turned out as she had hoped? No, but she simply dusted herself off and knew that tomorrow would be better. She always strove to make it better for the people she met during the day. Think of all the hopes and dreams you have for the children in your class. Do you help them to see themselves as capable learners and kind friends? Do they feel like a part of a powerful team who can solve problems and create a wonderful space to work and play? If we are so worried about the curriculum and ignore the children before us, can we really teach them?
Next, she made you feel special. I always felt loved and cherished by Norma whenever I talked to her. She was genuinely interested in me and what was happening in my life. She wanted to know what was important to me and reveled in my successes. She didn’t try to fix any troubles I might have, but she was a terrific listener. Even when she called to tell me she had cancer, Norma went out of her way to find out what was happening in my life as well. Aren’t we entrusted with caring for each child in our classes and making sure each one feels special in her/his own right? It isn’t easy to put aside troubles in our own life, but we must do that every day when the school bell rings. Norma taught me to look for the good in everyone, especially the children who are most challenging. After all, they need our love the most.
Last, she gave people food and cards. Norma made jams and jellies and was a fabulous baker. She often showed up at workshops with cookies or bars for everyone. Sure, she fed us physically, but she fed our souls as well. I laugh every time I think about how she dressed for the holidays. She made good use of the sweaters, jewelry, and hats that she wore for every holiday at school. Even after she retired Norma wore the clothes as though the world was her kindergarten class and, in a way, we were. When you had something to celebrate or an illness to fight, Norma sent cards. I will never forget the woman who said that Norma sent a card every week during her 1 ½ year illness. I like to think that those cards helped that woman recover. A card or a kind word can go a long way when someone is down. Sometimes Norma would hand deliver those cards, visiting those who needed a friendly face. She always had something kind to say with a humorous twist. A conversation with her was likely to put a smile on your face. Think about how you feed the spirits of your students. Is there excitement for learning and fun sprinkled liberally throughout the day? Of course you have many demands on what you can and cannot do in your class, but the children do not know that. They only understand what is before them. A song during transitions, a book read with enthusiasm, or a bit of silliness can go a long way to lift spirits.
I think we all wanted to be remembered with love and respect. I think the key to that is to love and respect the people around you. Norma taught me that.