Friday, November 20, 2009

Grey Days and Sad Thoughts

It is a sad day down at Not Bad President Elementary School.

Tabitha and Lauren are back in school for the first time in days, now that they are feeling better, but things are not right there. Their gym teacher has passed away.

This was quite a shock. He was - not surprisingly - a fit and active man, one who lived the rhetoric of his field. All too often gym teachers are cut from the "do as I say, not as I do" Jabba-the-Hut mold, but not this guy. He was also fairly young, roughly my age or a bit over. And he was, without question, the most popular teacher in the school. Everybody knew him - he always had a friendly hello for me - and the kids adored him. Every day when I pick up the girls from school I ask them, "So, what did you guys do today?" and if it is gym day that is what I hear about first.

This is a far cry from my own experience with grade school physical education. My gym teacher was something right out of a cartoon - not a bad guy, really, but someone who had clearly spent a lot of time playing football without a helmet and for whom throwing and catching a ball was the peak of his intellectual capacity. Even as a fairly coordinated and athletic child (oh, yes I was!) who was usually picked toward the beginning for teams, I never really liked gym class.

But NBPE's gym teacher was driven. He made up all sorts of cool games. He thought about new and different ways to get kids to move and have fun. He won state and regional awards, and got grants for new ideas.

He'll be missed.

We've always tried to be straightforward about this sort of thing with the girls. Everything living will die. Plants die. Animals die (even cats, which was a hard lesson). And people die. It is appropriate to be sad and upset when it happens, but it happens and it's normal. It seems to have sunk in with them - they are very matter-of-fact about death, at least outwardly, and they don't freak out about it the way some kids do.

You have to be honest with people, and kids are people. Not brutally honest - there is nothing so needlessly abrasive as someone who insists on being "frank" with you all the time. You have to know your audience, and play to that level. The great philosopher John Madden once said, "You cannot simplify complicated things, but you can make them understandable." And that's a worthwhile goal, even for something like death, even when you are trying to explain it to children.

They seem to be taking it about as well as can be expected.

As are we all.

No comments: