The Fourth Grade Teacher

My fourth grade teacher’s name was Lavona Areghini. “Lavona from Sedona, Arizona,” she told us one day, making the room full of nine-year-olds giggle. She was an experienced teacher when I came into her grade, and her room was always warm and welcoming.

I’m sure I learned long division in her class, and I know we read some classics together. She introduced me to one of my favorite authors when she read Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming aloud in class after lunch recess every day for a week or so. I never wanted her to stop reading. I represented our class in the school spelling bee that year.  I got straight As. My handwriting looked like my dad’s.


There were probably other important facts and skills that I picked up there as well, but the most important thing I remember about that year was being loved. Mrs. Areghini loved her job, and she loved her students, and we all knew it. And that’s what good teachers are about.

The next year we faced a family tragedy, and though I had just begun fifth grade when it happened, I went back to Mrs. Areghini’s room when I needed to feel safe. In fact I spent a few months at the beginning of the year kind of in a stupor, and one day purely out of habit I returned to that place of comfort. I was so embarrassed when I realized I had stumbled back into her room, now full of a new class of fourth-graders, but she was welcoming and kind and accommodating even after I interrupted her new class — all the things I needed in that moment.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in the US. I’ve been appreciating teachers in my heart for the last couple of weeks, since a writer friend posted on Facebook about catching up on recording her personal history. She has been posting excerpts to keep herself motivated and working. Susan had gotten as far as fourth grade when we saw this post:

“Someone posted today how grateful they are for a teacher helping their child, and I reflected on the teachers who made a difference in my son’s life and mine. And then I realized that both of our favorite teachers of all time were our fourth grade teachers and both of them are my FB friends. My fourth grade teacher even came to one of my book launch parties! Thank you … for making such a difference in my son’s life. And thank you … for making a difference in mine.”

Our school year is almost over. The last official day for our district is May 21, but we’re leaving early to go on an epic family adventure so my daughter will finish school next week. It is time to show our gratitude and appreciation to our third grade teacher and then get ready to relax and recharge and learn by experience for a few weeks.

And then, after our family experiences of the summer, my Pioneer Girl will begin her own fourth grade adventure. We looked through my school scrapbook this afternoon, and I told her that fourth grade is a great year. I wish her success in her academics and personal growth, but most of all I wish her a teacher who loves, like Mrs. Areghini loved.

A Grateful Heart

So last week I introduced you to my kids.  That was really just a preface to this post, because I’ve noticed this character trait in one of those kids, and I love it, and I wanted to write about it, but I thought you should probably know that I have kids before I started expounding their virtues.  (Also, you should know that they’re real kids and they wake me up too early in the morning and they throw toys over the back fence into the neighbor’s yard almost every time they go outside, and one of them won’t fully potty train [not a sore spot, obvs] and sometimes they sneak ice cream sandwiches in the morning before breakfast, and too often they sass me.   But I love them and they’re great, and here’s a story to prove that.)

Last week Miss Pickle had a field trip to our city’s Science Center.  Our family bought a year-long membership through one of those discount sites, so instead of applying to chaperone (they have so many parents that want to go that there’s a lottery, people), we just decided that I would just go and take the little siblings and we’d all have fun at the Science Center for a day.  We tagged along with Pickle’s friends and talked about desert roadtrips with another mom and the kids played with physics and it was fun.

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RoRo and her magnetic dancing “ghosts.”

Then it was over and it was time to go.  The schoolbuses left and took the big sister, and I told the preschoolers they had time for one more activity before we had to go to.  Of course they chose WaterBalls, so they would be soaked when it was time to leave, but they met their deadline with happy hearts, so, fine.

We walked out the door and into the sunshine.  Juice chased some pigeons.  RoRo held my hand.  We got to the parking garage and Juice took my other hand and stole my heart.  “Thanks for bringing us to this museum, Mama.  This was a really fun day.”

Oh, spontaneous gratitude from a preschooler!  This is not an unusual thing for him to do, but it just never gets old to me.  Nearly every time we get done with something fun, there he is, grabbing my hand or hugging my leg, his naughty (naughty is also one of his character traits) little face beaming, grateful for the little joy he just experienced.

This boy of mine simply came with a grateful heart.  It is just one of his gifts.  It comes easily and naturally to him, and I think it will make his life better.   My girls have their own gifts (more on that later), but this one is particularly his.

What is also beautiful about this to me is that he is giving this gift to his little sister.  RoRo emulates his example.  It is less spontaneous for her, but when she sees him thank me, or anyone, for something, she repeats it, and it’s real for her.  She is developing this trait that she sees in him.

As I compliment the other two on their good manners and point out to them how good it feels to express gratitude, the big one is catching on, too.  Miss Pickle is finding ways and moments to offer thanks.  She is very proud of herself when she does it, and I am deliberate in pointing out to her how good it feels because I want it to become one of her character traits.  I think that Pioneer Girls have these good traits, and they can learn to develop those that they value.

As I’m encourging the development of this particular trait in my big girl, I’ve found that the gratitude journal really works.  (Thanks, Oprah.)  Our girls’ group at church has repeatedly helped the girls create different kinds of gratitude journals to promote both personal journaling and an “attitude of gratitude.”

A couple of years ago a friend of mine mentioned that she had a journal that she shared with her son, who is a few years older than our Pickle.  The two of them passed this journal back and forth, asking each other questions, answering, doodling, just communicating.  I loved the idea and as soon as the Pickle had some writing skills, we started the same exercise.  It has been a lot of fun and helped our relationship grow.

Last week I ordered this gratitude journal to continue the tradition in a more focused way.  We’ve only started to share it, but I already see the development of this attribute in my beautiful girl.  The journal has prompts, which she does really well with, and it’s fun for us to both take a little bit of the page and share our happiness with each other.

Our boy has brought a good gift into our home.  I’m grateful for him.