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Phelan: ‘Kindness is radiant’ – how true that is

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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Later this year, I’m going off to college. I graduate from high school in 11 weeks. At this point, I am emotionally and mentally done with high school.

While I have some good memories from the last four years and am extremely excited for the next four, there’s still a part of me that wishes I could go back to a simpler time – recess, homework assignments that use crayons, and being “Star Student” for one week every year. When I was a youngster, I took elementary school and the joys of a designated snack time for granted.

Fortunately, I am a teacher assistant at Williamsburg Elementary in Geneva this semester. I help around the classroom and observe teaching strategies to help me in my future. I have been blessed to be Katie Bullock’s “high school helper” for an hour each day. Ms. Bullock is one of those teachers that truly cares about her students. One day, it was announced over the intercom that it was too snowy and cold to go outside for recess. Like the students, Bullock let out a loud, “No!” Before they had a chance to think that their teacher didn’t want them in the classroom for an extra 15 minutes, she apologized: “I’m sorry third-graders. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that I have some work I need to do, and it’s more difficult to work when all of you are in here with me. That’s all.” 

She didn’t need to say that. In fact, I can bet that most teachers wouldn’t have. But this kindness and fun-loving attitude gives an amazing lift to her class. The kids I have a chance to work with are phenomenal. They’re encouraged to always speak their minds, asking questions or adding comments to discussion whenever they like. 

While I was reading “The Story of Helen Keller” aloud for them, I would often pause and ask them how they thought Mr. and Mrs. Keller were feeling, or ask them to describe what it would be like to be in a thunderstorm if you were blind and deaf. More often than expected, their answers are insightful. Once, I had a philosophical discussion with a few of the kids, debating whether leprechauns and Santa Claus were “magical creatures” or just regular people with magical powers. 

Though I spend most of my time helping my third-graders re-do math problems or re-write sentences, it’s the last thing from boring. I get to see their thinking process and even get to practice my own teaching chops when I have to explain things to them. Even simple things like grading spelling sentences can be entertaining, with whoppers like, “My sister is overgrown,” thrown in to make me smile.

I was grading some of those yesterday, making sure everything was spelled correctly and written in proper cursive, when I came across one little girl’s sentence for the word “radiate.” She had written “kindness is radiant.” I was stunned at how true that was, and I’m pretty sure she learned it from Bullock’s third-grade classroom. 

• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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