My good friend Mindy, who I have referenced in this blog before, called me this week with “big news” from the other island community I taught in, Rockport. What could it be? After she told me what she thought was the big news, I said to her, “I thought you were going to tell me Sue Niemi was retiring!” There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Well,” says Mindy, “That’s the other news.”
My classroom in Rockport
Sue Niemi, or Mrs. Niemi to her over 30 years worth of kindergartners, is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever seen in action and had the pleasure to know. I once had a professor who said in teaching all you have is your legacy and that is what Mrs. Niemi will leave behind when she retires. She took a young girl just excited to have her first real teaching job and made a good teacher. Since I was hired mid year, Sue took an entire school day to help me get organized and show me the ropes to RES. (Not sure still where her kids were.) She was never judgmental or made herself look superior, she just showed compassion and friendship to me the entire time we worked together.
Sue sees the good in every student, and her classroom was run like someone who was quietly stitching an intricate quilt. All I did for the year and a half I worked with her was learn all her “tricks” and take to heart everything she shared with me. Things I do in my classroom today I got from her – her love of poetry and how she put them on charts with skirt hangers, her plan board stations, her great home school connections with parents, the bear unit (though I came up with the Teddy Bear Float parade – in Rockport, we did a Teddy Bear picnic) and of course, we shared a love of good children’s literature.
Maybe I think fondly of my time in Rockport and working with Sue because it was a simpler time. I mean, I was a “baby teacher” back then and learning all things you needed to do run a good ship. Because of Sue’s incredible time she took with me, I was able to come in that summer of ’07 and give the interview of my life here at the Johnson School. She gave me the confidence to have this amazing job here that has defined my career. It worries me that with all the focus of Common Core standards and making every classroom be the same, we will not cultivate the next generation of Mrs. Niemi’s and Ms. Purdins who went into teaching to be creative and challenge themselves to always be better.
In closing, one of my favorite Mrs. Niemi-isms was, “Blythe, they [the children] will show you when something is right for them and when it is too much for them.” I saw that happen this week with our class. The children loved the 3-D shape museum lesson this week in math. They were totally engaged for the entire math lesson. It was so fun to see them go around the room and “discover” cubes, cones and cylinders. Last week, our new center routine was a little tricky for some, however, this week our centers ran much more smoothly and even better – the writing center was full of authentic kindergartner writers!
One of Sue’s little traditions was on St. Patrick’s Day she made shamrocks for all the teacher with their name on it – except it would say this: Ms. O’Purdin or Mrs. O’Clark. I just did this for all the teachers tonight before I left school so we could wear them tomorrow!