I am sory. I was rood to you. I apllageic.

Here I am speaking to Root Elementary first graders, dressed in my evening attire. Not. But this is one interpretation of how we looked yesterday. Oh, yesterday... let me tell you.

First I would like to say that I have excellent classroom management skills. I know I do, and they are hard-won, believe me. Deeply honed. Skillfully applied. And they meant squat yesterday morning as I faced a sea of first graders at Root Elementary School in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I was stunned! This is me, the woman who single-handedly holds an auditorium of 300 sway at chapel -- and those 300 are sprinkled through with grades K through 5. This is me, the woman who brooks no interruptions (although welcomes nonsense at its appropriate time) while she is asking students to connect to her story, to write in their notebooks, to listen to her sing, to sing along with her, the woman who brings a room to pin-drop status while sharing FREEDOM SUMMER, after having her students sit at her feet on a cold hard floor for 45 minutes. This is....

I digress. Back to "I was stunned!"

The first and second grades at Root trooped into the library yesterday morning, full of bright, noisy cheer. The first grade sat at my feet, fairly bursting with that bright noisy cheer. And they cheered, clear through our time together. They practially did the splits with one another, oblivious to the fact that a human being stood in front of them, speaking. They guffawed at their inside jokes, they reveled in one another's good company, they shared secrets, they practically keeled over with joy at the chance to sit on the floor in the library and commune with their comrades.

They were precious and infuriating and impossible, and I was totally lost. Nothing I did -- all my well-practiced techniques -- nothing was effective for long enough to hold them.

I was flabbergasted, but their teachers weren't. "You did so well!" said one, and "Believe me, this was great!" said another. "We haven't known what to do with them, either!" said yet another. And one said, "We thought we'd have you start with this group, sort of like taking your medicine and getting it over with first thing!"

Are you kidding? And you didn't tell me? You let me waltz into that cacaphony without so much as a word of warning! I would have restructured, I would have thrown out, I would have... wait, I did do that. I just did it on my feet, as I raced along or stopped completely or punted once again... and I did hold them with me, I just did it in incrementally tiny moments, compared to how it usually goes, and they WERE engaged, they just kept becoming unengaged so easily, and... wow, what a learning experience.

At dinner last night, a first grade teacher from another school concurred with the Root teachers' observations: "I don't know what it is about first grade this year -- I take a Tylenol PM every night before bed!"

We laughed so hard at dinner, telling teaching stories and loving our kids... and you know, these Root first graders were loveable, too. One of their teachers came to me at lunchtime yesterday and said, "I am so embarrassed by my children's behavior" (she had been the one to finally call out to them during our assembly time -- something I have never had a teacher do but once, and that was when I first started working in schools).

She went on: "They have all written you notes of apology and they WILL be delivering them to you this afternoon."

Which they did. As I walked out of the library after spending time with the 3rd and 4th graders, there they sat, those livin'-large first-graders, criss-cross-applesauce, a perfectly straight, perfectly quiet row of bubbling energy, each with a note in his or her lap, each with a crooked neck, staring up with hope into my face.

"These are my students, Ms. Wiles," said their teacher, Mrs. Gorder. "They have something to say to you."

Immediately all hands shot up with their notes and I couldn't gather them fast enough as they chorused their apologies. "We drew pictures of you, too!" they said, and "I'm so sorry I talked!" and more. A cacaphony of hope.

"Thank you," I said, trying my best to be as genuine and sincere and real as they were being at that very moment, gathering their papers to me. "I appreciate your notes." Then we were at an impasse. What next? "May I have a hug?" I asked.

And then we were laughing. I struggled to keep my balance as I was surrounded on all sides by fierce hugs and scrunched notes and big relief and messy glory love. It was the best moment of the day, in a day full of wonderful moments at Root Elementary.

And look at their art! I especially love the interpretation of my hair in the picture above -- that is an accurate portrayal. I'm struck, too, by how much they were listening, even in the midst of their movement, although I'm fairly certain I did not ride into or out of the assembly on a horse. I didn't even mention a horse.

But I can tell they were paying attention in their way. Here is Genna's note:

Dear Mis. Wiles
I am sory. I was rood to you. I apllageic. I love your books! I promas all do better next time. I Love freedom. It the best book in the holintirwold. Its funny when you dres your broth in a bress. Sincerely.

I learned so much yesterday. I know you've had these moments as well -- yes? These "I can't believe this!" moments when the thing you do so well just isn't working, and punting doesn't work either, and you just have to stumble to the end of the football field, clutching your dignity, and sit down on the bench for a moment and catch your breath.

So. I've caught my breath. I'm having a good time, here in the land of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and Sam Walton and Frank Lloyd Wright and heavy rains yesterday. Lots is swirling, and it is all good. Home tonight. I have the entire kindergarten at Root this afternoon. I am wearing my football helmet.

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