When the packet of thank you notes from the fifth graders at St. Mary of the Lake School arrived in the mail, a light bulb went on over my head: take them along to my presentation at Northern Illinois University!
The undergraduates in the class Whitney and I visited last week at NIU are studying to become elementary school teachers, and their children’s literature class is three hours long. After talking to them for the first hour, I bribed them with the letters: I’d give them a ten-minute break if each of them agreed to select a random letter from the pile and read it out loud when they returned. They jumped out of their seats at the opportunity.
The exercise of reading the letters out loud was educational for all of us. I, for one, learned to bring apples with me to future elementary school visits. Let me explain. During the Q&A at St. Mary’s, one of the fifth graders asked how I can use a knife in the kitchen without cutting myself. I knew the kids understood fractions, so I described holding on to the very edge of an apple with one hand while I cut it in half, then holding on to the very edge of the half to cut that into quarters, then eighths. “When I’m done, the pieces aren’t all the same size, but they still taste good!” I laughed, spreading my thumb and forefinger to show that some pieces might be more like thirds, others like teeny-tiny-tenths. “But at least I can say I sliced that apple all by myself.”
Almost every thank-you letter the undergrads read aloud to me mentioned cutting an apple. The future teachers learned how much elementary school children learn when they are exposed to different sorts of people and different ways of doing things. Each college kid seemed to take a sweet sort of pride in the fifth grader whose letter they read aloud, but none could compete with this one, written by a girl named Cindy (the letter is spelled out for screen readers below, also):
To my blind blog readers, the note scanned above reads: Dear Miss Finke, I really enjoyed having you come to our school. It was amazing how you said you would cut the apple. I was also amazed when you said you would go grocery shopping with your husband. Also how you could figure out what things were missing. I was shocked at how you type really fast without making a mistake. This may not be about you, but Whitney is well-trained Seeing Eye dog. You are also a well-coordinated woman. The doctors might have said that there isn’t any cure, but keep on hoping. I tell you this because I passed through surgery, and I’m hoping to get better sooner. Keep your hopes high.
PS: You can check out the guest blog I wrote for The Bark in April to read about the first and second grade classes Whit and I visited at St. Mary’s, too.