When I was a student at St. Vincent’s, I had 6 different gym teachers in my 9 years at the school. I had always told my mom how she would be the best gym teacher. I guess God heard this “prayer” and the year after I graduated, mom stepped into the position and transformed gym classes into a Physical Education program. She wasn’t crazy about the whole “school” part of the equation- she loved the kids, seeing them pink and sweaty, and calling each child by name and making them feel loved.
I am so incredibly grateful for the four years I had to work alongside my mom – the best teacher. The little moments at lunch, recess duty, at home venting and sharing stories are what got me through the days, weeks, and years as a classroom teacher.
Last week, as I was preparing to teach my drama class for students with disabilities, I called mom to ask her about “The Magical Forest” that she used to teach when we were little. She had always taught aerobic classes, and especially loved working with children and people with disabilities. She had the coolest things for us to play in those kids classes. The Magical Forest is my all- time favorite. She said she hasn’t been able to find the cassette, but that I could the class without it. I’m so happy I made that phone call. When the conversation started, she had been busy buzzing around getting ready for Christmas, but she paused to tell me all about how to teach the lesson. She dropped everything to talk to me.
Over the phone, I could see her excitement in teaching this lesson. The tone of her voice was of pure excitement, joy, and imagination. She explained to me how the different places we traveled through of the magical forest worked different muscle groups. I was in awe of how creative it was and how she so naturally incorporated everything into something that, from a child’s perspective, was just imaginative play.
The next day required me to be a flexible Finnegan. Instead of teaching my regular class, I was assisting with the preparations for the Christmas Show. Looking back, it now makes even more sense that this happened. God has a bigger plan than we know. When I return to teach, I will not only be teaching The Magical Forest, but my mom will be right alongside me the whole time.
Despite the hardships teaching in a school brought, my mom always kept her students as her focus. She went to where the kids were. She would change an entire lesson on the fly if it wasn’t working. This is what she would do naturally. I always told her that, that is what makes a good teacher. It’s not about the lesson plan, it’s about what they’re learning.
This was how she told me to end The Magical Forest. “Just do what works for the group,” she said. “It may be different for each class, but you just go to where they are.” She said when we were little, we would usually end at a castle because that’s what everyone wanted to come to after trudging through the forest. She also suggested a picnic next to this imaginary castle as another activity.
Momma Love, thank you for teaching me through teaching your students. I know that after trudging through this world, working your main muscle groups, having fun and spreading joy, you have found yourself in a beautiful Kingdom with a picnic to share with some of your favorite people.