Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tea with Murray

Dear Murray,

On the occasion of your retirement from the Bank Street Family Center where you have worked tirelessly and passionately as the Family Support Coordinator (for more years than I even know) I'd like to dedicate this blog post to you, your work, your commitment to children, families, and teachers. An ironic choice I know, as you have confessed to me on more than one occasion that you do not read my blog, as it's too technical. Alas, I will write it and make sure a hard copy makes it's way into your hands. Your career, your gifts to me as a teacher and a person deserve a public recognition, a standing ovation, a high tea with scones and real butter.

The first time I met you, was my first year, my first month in New York City.  The role you served was my academic advisor, professor and conference group supervisor. You were the first person to question constructively my teaching (granted, it was brand new). You asked me why I didn't do circle time with two year olds... and pointed out the theoretical and developmental  reasons why it was beneficial. In California, at Mills College, we didn't do circle time. As a young professional I had never questioned what I had learned thus far. You were the first person to teach me, that teaching is an ongoing learning experience, one in which there is always room for discovery, for newness, for making mistakes and for trying again. For this, I am grateful. Circle time has become for me as a teacher a sacred experience ( I am in California again after all, "sacred" is the kind of word we use here). Each child has a voice, a place, a part in the classroom community that is unique to the particular group of children I serve. When I was teaching young children with Autism, circle time  was more than just a time together to sing songs: it was a teaching tool that encouraged language, communication, reciprocity, joy and a social experience not possible in other curriculum activities. For this? I thank you.

I thank you for making room in your busy schedule to support me when I was having difficulties communicating with a new boss. When I was the director of a school that quite literally flooded? You made time again every week to hear me out, to provide a sounding board, to provide care and support to keep me afloat. You also made me tea.

When we were colleagues working together, collaborating to support the children, families and teachers of Room One? I can't think of anything I have enjoyed more in my professional life.

If there was one moment that I feel I learned just from watching you, it was the first time we did a block group together in the loft room. It is a rare gift to see toddlers, to enjoy toddlers, to know how to play with toddlers. But it is pure magic to bring a group of three ego centric, toddlers together in such a way that feels seamless, genuine, and ultimately extends the learning and feelings of efficacy for the children present.

As we have become friends over these many years, I have always admired how much you love your work. How deeply you respect and fight for those you hold in your mind.

Murray you set limits for me when I expected to be able to rewrite a paper that I had not gotten a good grade on when I was twenty-four. You encouraged me to not only survive my first year in New York (hanging from the edge of a glacier by my finger nails)... but to thrive. I find it interesting that I can't remember saying goodbye to you when I moved back to California three years ago to continue the work we both treasure on this far west coast. Sometimes it's hard to say Goodbye. Sometimes there are not enough words, or feelings, or time to adequately thank someone for all they are and all they have done.

Perhaps the best example was when my own nephew at fifteen months of age was visiting from California. He pulled a hot cup of tea onto his body and was rushed to the hospital with third degree burns. When I got the call at the Family Center from my sister, you encouraged me to go. And hours  later? You were there too. In the burn unit, showing up, being present, holding myself, my nephew, my family in your mind. You told my sister that he was okay. You could see he was responding to their care, that he was expressing his pain and discomfort as a typically developing toddler should. He has no scars, no memory of this traumatic event. Someday I will tell him you were there, and why it mattered.

Murray. You are a gift to my life. A gift to children. A gift to parents. A gift to teachers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

There's some room in your schedule now. California needs to see you. I promise to make you tea, and serve you real butter with your scones.
Murray, Watching toddlers at play in Room One, Bank Street Family Center 2007.

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