It was an energetic Monday morning in my classroom. The kids were whirling with talk of weekend exploits and who brought what for snack.
It was also the day after my birthday, so I was feeling pretty good. Birthdays can be full of stress and expectations. The day after is always better. We finished our morning journal writing. and got ready for our class meeting. We always called them our round table.
I’m a believer in classroom rituals and traditions. I always had a tradition with round table and birthdays. If it’s your birthday, then you get an entire round table dedicated to you.
Each person says something meaningful or encouraging about the birthday boy or girl. Then we all sing “Happy Birthday” as I strum along on my guitar. Super fun, right?
Only I never expected to be the one to receive a birthday round table.
A special class
As we walked toward the meeting area, several girls grabbed my arm and led me to sit down.
“Mr. Stortz, we know your birthday was yesterday. We want to have a birthday round table for you,” one of the girls said.
Apparently, the whole class was already in on it. I sat down to many handmade cards, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, and assorted drawings. I loved it.
“Y’all really don’t have to do this,” I said. “Don’t y’all want to talk about your weekend like we usually do on Monday?”
The chorus of no’s and head shakes told me they didn’t. I couldn’t help but smile. I felt honored by this special class.
One of my rowdier boys started off. He told me how he’d never had a teacher who liked Star Wars before and how he thought that was so cool. Another student told me she liked that I was flexible with our schedule. One girl said that I was the funniest teacher she ever had. Several boys mentioned they loved when I played my guitar for them.
Then it was Sammie’s turn.
Sunshine and words
Sammie was one of the sweetest and kindest kids I’ve ever taught. She had an ability to light up a room with a presence that few 4th graders have. I remember telling her mom once that Sammie was sunshine personified.
I could already see the dawn of tears in her eyes. She looked up at the classroom ceiling, scouring the tiles for the right words. She often did that when she was thinking.
You see, Sammie had a hearing disability that made her life more challenging than most kids her age. She missed out on hearing many things in our world. But I’m convinced that those missed opportunities allowed her to have a heart bigger than most kids her age.
She never let her hearing define her. She refused to let others treat her differently. She didn’t always speak as much as the other kids, but when she did, people listened.
The class was quiet with every eye on her. Sammie took a deep breath, and then she said something that I’ve kept in heart ever since.
“Mr. Stortz, you are the only teacher that I’ve ever been totally comfortable with.”
She wiped her eyes and smiled that Sammie sunshine smile at me. Sometimes moments burn themselves into the fabric of your being. This was one of those moments for me.
An amazing girl
The rest of the students finished up my birthday round table. Then the kids demanded that I get my guitar out so they could sing to me. Of course I obliged.
I strummed along while they sang. They were the only class I’ve ever had that hosted a birthday round table for me. As I listened to those lovely out-of-tune voices, I tried to hold back my tears. And I could see that Sammie was too.
I learned so much from that amazing girl. She had a joy about her that could not only be seen, but felt. I still find myself missing her at times.
I can’t wait to see how she will continue to change the lives of those around her. I am blessed to count myself already in that group.
You can read more about Sammie’s story on her blog → wunderlife