Saturday, January 19, 2008


I love teaching.

That’s what I was saying to myself as I walked into Harris Teeter this morning. Then I realized that what I really meant was that I love that I have been a teacher for so long. I’m finally at that point in my career that I run into former students periodically. It’s like having moving memories - photographs that live, breathe, and smile like those Harry Potter has.

I pulled into the parking space and immediately felt eyes on me. I looked left and saw the familiar fuzzy hair and toothy grin. For a moment, it felt odd – seeing a seventh grader sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. Then I remembered: she’s not twelve anymore.


I used to sing her name to the tune of the 1960’s song Corinna, Corinna by Ray Peterson. Kacheena, Kacheena. She had no idea where I got the tune. And as we stood there in the parking lot, she had no idea how important she had been to my life as a teacher.

Kacheena was one of my two “focus students” when I went through the National Board Certification process. Little snapshots of memories jumped around in my head – an essay she wrote about snow, a project she did on the book Freak, the Mighty, but mostly I thought about the day I videotaped for my National Board entry and how 3.2 seconds before the camera began rolling, I was crying…

My school was in the middle of a huge renovation that year. Each wing of the building was completely gutted, one at a time. Teachers and students on that wing were temporarily sent to trailers until their new classrooms were finished. And that’s where we were on the day of the taping.

If you’ve gone through the nerve-wracking experience of taping for National Boards, you know about the preparation for that day. For me, I had struggled to make sure that everything was in place. I had checked every plug, battery, and microphone. I had frontloaded my students with all of the prior knowledge they needed for our group discussion. But when I arrived at my classroom that morning, there were problems.

First, I walked out to that trailer and saw what appeared to be yellow crime scene tape around the platform at the bottom of the ramp that my students would need to enter my room. (There was no crime…just construction.) I knew that I’d have to lead them through weeds and trash (it was, after all, a construction site) so that they could enter through a back door to the trailer, a door they’d never used before. I was afraid that this small change would throw my students – adolescents don’t always adapt well to variations from the norm…

But they did great! They entered the room, sat down quietly, glanced over at the camera, and waited. I gave instructions and passed out materials. At the last minute, three of my students decided they did not want to be videotaped. Even though they had signed permission forms, they had suddenly developed stage fright. I was a little rattled, but soon moved the students out of the view of the camera and prepared to begin.

We were on go! And then…just as the videographer pressed “record,” the trailer began shaking violently. Someone said, “Earthquake.” Someone screamed. (It may have been me.) It was not, in fact, an earthquake. It was a jackhammer.

A jackhammer was breaking up the concrete platform at the bottom of my trailer ramp. The videographer pressed “Stop.” My chin began to tremble. My eyes were stinging. I stood frozen and looked at the floor. The videographer (also known as a tutor in my classroom) walked outside to ask Mr. Jackhammer-er to postpone his hammering for thirty minutes. I wiped my eyes.

Kacheena took control. She quieted the students, told them to be ready for the discussion when taping resumed, and then handed me a tissue.

“It’s okay,” she said. “We’re ready.”

My tutor came in (the back door), saying that Mr. Jackhammer-er had taken a break. We taped, successfully, for the next thirty minutes.

Today I looked at 16 year old Kacheena and thought about 12 year old Kacheena. As I walked away, she called out, “I miss you, Mrs. Rigsbee!” I returned the sentiment, walked toward the store, and thought, “Kacheena, Kacheena…I miss you, too…” to the tune of Ray Peterson’s song.

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