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Rich Henderson's Diary
The First 180 Days


Rich Henderson, a lawyer, always dreamed of being a teacher. Last year, he gave up his law career and returned to the classroom to earn his teaching certification. This year, his dream finally comes true in a fifth-grade classroom in suburban Woodbury, Connecticut. Each week during this school year -- Rich's first year in the classroom -- he will share with Education World readers his thoughts and feelings about his first 180 days!

Rich's Diary: Teachers Are Real People

Week 9

Teachers are real people. It sounds like a simple concept to grasp, but to a child, it is a notion that is often difficult to understand. Children can't readily comprehend the idea that a teacher does not live at the school or that he has interests outside of the classroom. After all, we are "their teachers," and there is no other role in which they can see us. This week, however, my students' vision of me changed. It all happened because of one simple event. I played soccer with them.

Memory is a funny thing. I don't remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Yet, I can remember something astonishing that happened to me when I was in first grade. I went to a parochial school in Massachusetts. One day, while I was on the playground with the other kids, I looked over to the basketball court and there was the most incredible sight that I had ever seen in my short six years of life. One of our teachers -- a nun -- was playing basketball with several of the older students.

There she was wearing her traditional black habit, along with a very untraditional pair of white sneakers. I was astonished. What was a teacher, especially a nun, doing playing basketball with her students? After all, she was a teacher and teachers aren't supposed to know how to play things like basketball.

That moment made quite an impact on me. I never looked at her the same. I saw her not only as a teacher but also as a person who lived in the same world I did. In my mind, she became more approachable.

This week, as a reward for working hard, I took my class outside for some extra recess time. During this time, some of my students began playing soccer and begged me to play on their team. So, I did. It was great! As I started playing, I realized that some of my students were in utter amazement as they watched me play. No, not at playing ability; they were amazed because I was simply playing a game with them.

When the game was over, they kept talking about how I played soccer with them. I could tell that their vision of me as their teacher changed a little that day, just as mine had changed for that nun. In their eyes, I was becoming a "real" person who lives in the same world they do. What a concept!

Perhaps some of the best lessons that a teacher can offer do not always occur within the confines of four walls. Perhaps a playground ball can be as necessary as a piece of chalk in providing instruction and guidance. Perhaps that basketball-playing nun knew this all along.

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Rich Henderson
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