Four bucks. Right around four bucks. That’s what it costs me for the pack of awards certificates I use at assemblies here at school. Nice paper. A thick bond. Standard print. A place for the student’s name. Space for the date. Places for both the teacher and principal’s signatures.
I normally don’t think too much about our monthly awards assemblies. I sometimes see them as a nuisance. It takes a chunk out of our sacred, instructional day. One less spelling pattern gets taught. One less problem-solving skill gets examined. After all, we’ve got testing out there on the horizon. The countdown has started. No margin for error. Scores must go up.
The kids claim they like these assemblies, but they only like walking to them. Then, they spend the next forty-five minutes picking at the loose threads in their carpet squares. In theory, I appreciate the value of these assemblies. Award achievement. Catch a kid being good, and hope it takes. You hope they make it a habit. But secretly? There are times I wish I had an old carpet square, too. I’d pick the thing bare.
I’m daydreaming my way through this month’s awards assembly. One of my kids is so bored, he’s now sitting partially on his head, and I can tell that he is seriously considering doing a roll into the row ahead of him. I tap him on the shoulder and just stare. It’s an intense stare, and I really lay into him pretty good, without saying a word.
On my way back to my post, I hear something over the microphone about a little girl who has made remarkable strides learning English, and a father bolts up, rocking his chair some. He looks too proud to speak and gives me a gentle look to move out of his way. He’s got a camera that looks like it still smells new, and these very well may be the first pictures taken by this camera. And something tells me that these may also be the first pictures taken by this father on American soil. His fingers flop and stumble over the camera as if they too were brand new to him. And all at once, I remember something. It’s a very broad déjà vu. It’s as if I am having it for more people than just myself.
You see, millions of us don’t sit around and watch moon landings together anymore, so the reminders are fewer these days. But there are still American Dreams out there. And, despite how jaded we natives get, there are still fresh dreamers who come to dream them.
I watch the father walk down to where parents snap photos and build scrapbooks. Posture straight. Chest about to burst. Education and immigration. They’ve become dirty words here. Drop them into a conversation, and things are likely to turn awkward or ugly. But for now, I’ve forgotten all of that. My little guy is back on his head, threatening to forward roll, but I pay him no mind. Everything’s a wash behind me. There’s just a small camera-click, a seven year-old grin to die for, and my own mind’s eye. And somewhere, inside of me, in some fresher, untouched place, I’m watching a new American Dreamer quietly, without notice, move the dream along.
This story, along with thirty-six others, are included in my book, "Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom," at Amazon.com. Now available for the Kindle. Happy Reading!