I’ve just returned from a two-week excursion, following through on one of my long-held goals of visiting each of my three brothers. My wife typically books and organizes our travel plans, but this was my trip, and I wanted to handle everything without her help. The trek involved buying plane tickets, renting a car, getting hotels in some cities, planning activities I wanted to do, and essentially creating a workable plan.
Another part of the trip (the part I’m writing about today) was a promise I made to myself about meeting up with a couple of friends I’ve met through our blogs. I’ve been blogging for three years, and inevitably, some of the people we interact with become more than acquaintances.
Because I was a teacher for 31 years, it’s probably no surprise that many of my friends are also in education. My wife also became an educator (preschool teacher and then director). If someone asked me to list five words to describe myself, one of those words would have to be “teacher.” It’s not the only thing that defines me, but it is the essence of my character. I write many of my posts from that same perspective.
I am the youngest of four boys (men), and my brothers and I live in different time zones across the United States. We hold family reunions every three years, but I rarely see them otherwise. I live on the west coast (California), and my oldest brother lives in the eastern part of the country (New Jersey). Since I was heading back east to start my journey, this was my opportunity to visit two blogging friends that I’ve always wanted to meet. Admittedly, it can be awkward to suggest meeting up with someone who we’ve never met in person, but that is what I did.
The first blogger I had to meet was the incredible Jennie Fitzkee, who blogs at https://jenniefitzkee.com/. I was impressed with Jennie the moment I discovered her blog three years ago. The thought and effort she put into her lessons demonstrate her expertise. She realizes one of the key components in working with her students’ families is communication. She started a blog for the parents that allowed them to see what was happening in their child’s classroom. One doesn’t have to be an educator to understand that Jennie is the kind of exceptional teacher anyone would love their child to have.
Jennie’s natural enthusiasm for what she does is infectious. Spending part of a school day with her reinforced my long-held belief that outstanding teachers make a difference in children’s lives. One of Jennie’s passions is literacy. When she learned that her home state of West Virginia was one of the states that spent the least amount of dollars on education, she wanted to do something to help. Check out this appearance that Jennie made on the Kelly Clarkson show a few months ago, where she talks about her efforts for the Read Aloud West Virginia Reading Program.
One example of Jennie’s brilliance involves her method of teaching diversity and inclusion. The population in Jennie’s hometown of Groton, MA, is predominately White (82%). Instead of using an African American, Asian, or Spanish doll to foster the concept of acceptance, Jennie developed her own idea. Older adults can sometimes seem scary to kids, but Jennie used this fear to teach inclusion. At first glance, Gloria appears to be a spooky witch. Wouldn’t she be frightening to children? Jennie told her students that Gloria was shy and used to live in a different school where children called her a witch. Instead of being fearful of someone who looked different than them, the students felt empathy. More than twenty years ago Gloria entered Jennie’s classroom and is still a valuable class member.
This lesson runs much deeper than words. Each weekend one of the kids takes Gloria home—not to sit in the child’s room but to be a part of their lives. She takes vacations, attends graduations, goes trick-or-treating, and joins the children wherever they are going.
When Gloria goes home with a child, she always brings her journal. Over the weekend, she “writes and describes” her adventures. Is it any wonder why I have such an appreciation for Jennie’s lessons?
In the days leading up to my 3,000+ mile trip from Eureka, CA, to Groton, MA, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to attend Jennie’s class. Her school had just allowed families to return as visitors due to the ongoing concerns of COVID-19. I had hoped to read a story, sing with her class, do activities, and eat lunch with them. A few days before I left, Jennie gave me the word that I could join them. Was I ever excited!
I secretly wanted to surprise Jennie and her class with a special visitor. I brought along a book called Beaver and Otter Get Along…Sort of to read to the class. The author describes the tale as “a story of grit and patience between neighbors.” It shows children that we can work through our differences with each other when we have problems.
Jennie and the children did not know Otter was “typing” them a letter from California. When I finished the book, an envelope mysteriously fell out of the book addressed to The Aqua Room at Groton Community School. Inside the envelope was a letter from Oscar. Did they want me to open and read it to them? What a silly question! Of course, they did! In the letter, Oscar wrote about needing to take a vacation and wondering if he could stay awhile with his friend Gloria.
As a retired teacher, I miss being around kids. Spending time with Jennie’s class was delightful, and she made sure I got to do all the things I had hoped for with them. It was a fabulous day, but I had forgotten one thing. Why hadn’t I thought of it before I left home? I live right by the Pacific Ocean in the heart of the redwood country. It was unlikely any of Jennie’s students had ever seen a giant redwood tree.
Sometimes there can be unexpected blessings with forgetfulness. When Jennie sent a package to me from her kids, it did not make it to my home the first time. I used the address 3124 Beaver Lane in Eureka, but unbeknownst to Jennie, that was a fictional place in my city. No wonder the postman was confused when he tried to deliver the letter. After Jennie got the letter returned, I gave her the actual address. My silliness turned out to be a blessing in disguise because now I can send each of Jennie’s students a postcard of a redwood tree.
Jennie recommended that I stay at the beautiful Groton Inn during my stay, and it did not disappoint. If that wasn’t enough, the night came to a pleasant ending with dinner at Gibbet Hill Grill with Jennie and her wonderful husband, Steve. What a perfect way to spend a beautiful day! Spending time with Jennie and her students was the ideal way to start my vacation!