The first time I REALLY became aware of Carrie Newton, she had come to work dressed as a Crayon. If, like me, you’ve spent most of your working life in the business community, you may be thinking that I’m talking about a colleague who ended up in serious conversation with her boss and/or HR regarding proper attire for the workplace. However, I should point out that, this past September, I started working in an Elementary School. Knowing that and knowing that Carrie is the Kindergarten Teacher whose classroom is next-door to the classroom where I work, should make her being dressed as a Crayon sound a bit more appropriate. Actually, I had noticed Carrie wearing costumes on two or three previous occasions. I’m not sure what it was but there was something about seeing her dressed as a Crayon that made me realize she is a person who is very enthusiastic about her work and it made me think that, if more Americans were as passionate about their work as Carrie is, the American workplace would be greatly improved.
Thanksgiving marked the next significant step in my interest being piqued by Carrie. Although this, too, involved Carrie wearing a costume, giving you more details than I did about her day dressed as a Crayon is in order. First, providing details about the costume, itself, are important. You may not be surprised to learn that Carrie was dressed as a Turkey for Thanksgiving but you can’t really appreciate it without experiencing it first-hand. Hopefully, the photo provided here will help. More important, though, are details about the Thanksgiving Program that Carrie led while in her Turkey costume. Since Carrie has responsibility for both a morning and an afternoon Kindergarten class, there were two Thanksgiving Program presentations. I got to attend them both. Again, you can’t really appreciate this without experiencing it first-hand but here’s an overview that I hope will be helpful:
– Carrie led each class into the school gym, wearing her Turkey costume.
– The backdrop of the stage in the gym was adorned with Thanksgiving decorations that looked like they could have come from my time in Elementary School … in the middle of the 20th Century. The decorations depicted adult and children Pilgrims as well as adult and children Indians. The centerpiece was a very identifiable Christian Church, complete with a cross on its steeple. Later, I learned that these decorations had been found at a garage sale, by Carrie’s Mother.
– Each of the kids was in a Thanksgiving costume that they had made from construction paper. The kids were grouped according to one of six costume types. Each group had specific lines that went along with the program that Carrie led. The groups and the lines they delivered, when Carrie pointed to them, included:
It was obvious that the audience (Kindergarten kids’ family members, along with other classes) thoroughly enjoyed the presentation. At the conclusion of the program, Carrie led her students and the audience in singing the American Folk Song, This Land is Your Land. I have to admit that I was grinning from ear to ear and that I had tears in my eyes throughout both program presentations. Although I recognized that there were parts of the program that some might question for “political correctness”, in the end, I don’t think there was anything that could be pointed to as inappropriate. My thoughts along these lines were, “When you pour yourself into your work the way Carrie does and you develop the sort of following she has, minor points of ‘political correctness’ are unlikely to attract much scrutiny.” Moreover, I recognized that “The Story of Carrie Newton” is something I wanted to become more familiar with and to do my part in sharing that story, for the benefit of others.
In getting better acquainted with Carrie, one of the first things I wanted to learn about was what she saw as her overall objective, with the enthusiastic approach she takes to her job. Generally, I wasn’t surprised with her responses to my questions along these lines. She said she wants her students “to love school”, “to be enthusiastic about school” and for their experience with her to be “memorable.” What did surprise me was that, to exemplify this, Carrie referenced the book Made to Stick. I was familiar with Made to Stick, as a business philosophy aimed at helping companies to make their products/services more interesting/memorable. I, also, was aware that the Made to Stick philosophy has application to teaching, both within and outside of business. But, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at it being applied by a Kindergarten Teacher. I have to; further, admit that this revealed a prejudice on my part about the qualities of “a good Kindergarten Teacher.” Maybe, like me, you tend to think of “a good Kindergarten Teacher” as a good-hearted person who is naturally skilled with young kids, who has fun getting them started in school. If so, like me, you’re seriously underestimating the depth of “a good Kindergarten Teacher.”
By now, it should be obvious that I’ve come to think very highly of Carrie Newton. And, I’ve quickly discovered that telling “The Story of Carrie Newton” can’t realistically be done in one sitting. Her story seems to have far too much depth and texture for that. No doubt, she is much more than “a good Kindergarten Teacher.” “Exceptionally good” seems like a more fitting label. With these things in mind, it seems appropriate to begin by considering the path that has brought her to this point and to take a look at some of the facets of her classroom that further indicate her depth, “beyond the costumes.”
The beginning of Carrie’s career in Education doesn’t sound a lot different from many who work in this field … as a young woman who grew up in Washington State’s Tri-Cities, who was entering college at Gonzaga University, she knew she “wanted to help people.” At Gonzaga, she discovered a love for Special Education. Upon graduating from Gonzaga, she was given offers from three different school systems. Southwest Washington is blessed that she picked the offer from Vancouver. Though Carrie truly loved Special Education, after 10 years working in that field, her two Daughters were born and she simply found these compounded responsibilities to be too hard. However, finances didn’t allow Carrie to work only as a stay-at-home Mom. Although she did leave her position in Special Ed, in addition to her Mom-duties, she worked at providing Home-Daycare and she worked part-time in ELL (English Language Learners) classes. Eventually, as Carrie’s daughters were reaching school-age themselves, this led to opportunities to work in Kindergarten, where she discovered another love. Thus, for the past seven years, she’s been working as a Kindergarten Teacher.
When it comes to aspects of Carrie’s classroom that show what I referred to earlier as her depth, “beyond the costumes”, I discovered a revealing example one day while waiting to talk to her in her classroom. I noticed, among the many things adhered to the windows of her classroom, a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. That led to me reflecting on my thoughts and feelings about MLK, as well as considering what a challenge it must be to convey the lessons embodied by that historic figure, if you didn’t come from his time yourself. Since Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 and Carrie Newton is an Educator who was born in 1969, she is among those who must deal with the aforementioned challenge. When Carrie arrived, I pointed to the picture of Dr. King and I talked about how different things were in the days when I was a student in a Kindergarten class. I talked about the three “colored kids” who were in that class, who continued in my class through High School, with at least one going on into college with me. I, also, shared that, as a “white kid” from that time, though I now recognize that what MLK represented resulted in some much needed seeds of change being planted in my heart, it wasn’t welcomed by me initially. I went on to disclose that I will always look back with deep regret for the painful experience it must have been, growing up as one of those three “colored kids.” Without my prompting, Carrie told me that one of the methods she uses to convey these “lessons of the heart” is to have a time in her classroom when only girls are given gummy-bears, as rewards and that she lets the boys know that it’s just because the girls are girls, like her. Of course, there’s no way to fully convey what our culture was like when I was in Kindergarten. Even I couldn’t do that with today’s kids. But it’s comforting to know of the intentionality of an exceptional Educator like Carrie to teach these “lessons of the heart” and to assure that our culture continues to strive to be one that “judges people by the content of their character and not by the color of (or shape of) their skin.”
Especially, considering some details of the Thanksgiving Program described above, I was surprised to visit Carrie’s Facebook page and learn that she defines her Religious Views as “Christian – still searching”. However, I really appreciated her candor and humor about her “still searching”, as expressed in her Favorite Quotation: “What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?!” When I asked Carrie about what might seem to be a contradiction between the things expressed in the Thanksgiving program and her Religious Views, she let me know that she is certain enough about her views that she strives to teach her students to have a “basic Christian attitude” and particularly, “to be kind”. In fact, “Be kind!” is a class slogan, as she teaches her students to view themselves as part of their “classroom family” and beyond that, as part of the community. Underneath this, of course, is Carrie’s understanding that a key to her effectiveness as a Teacher is her ability to establish a relationship with each of her students. Without inappropriately sharing any personal information, Carrie told me about her relationship with one student, that illustrates this well. According to Carrie, this was a student who “came in naughty” and that this seemed to stem from some very negative circumstances in the student’s personal life. As a result of Carrie’s kind and caring attention (my words, not hers), this student learned to express himself about these circumstances in a productive way and this has led to significant positive changes that have made this student fit in well with his “classroom family.”
Based on what I’ve told you about Carrie so far, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her interests in the field of Education don’t stop at her classroom door. She is deeply concerned for our Education system. Her first concern is for colleagues who are “losing the joy of teaching”, as a result of current pressures on those working in Education. Beyond that, she shares the concerns of many of her colleagues that, in looking for ways to improve our Education system, the public and elected officials may be in a position where they “can’t see the forest for the trees” and as a result, in looking for ways to reduce expenditures, they may end up cutting “muscle” instead of “fat”. Frankly, this is the basis for a more politically-oriented article I plan to write but I know that Carrie agrees with me that the best approach to resolving the challenges faced by our Education system is to do so from the ground up, rather from the top down. In other words, the folks who are in the best position to know the needs of the elementary school where we work are the folks who work there, not folks who work in Washington D.C. or in Olympia, WA. With that said, if you are one of those top-down folks, I heartily recommend that you do all you can to seek out those like Carrie Newton, who can benefit you with the wealth of their “where the rubber meets the road” understanding.
In closing, I want to touch on the topic of whether or not a Kindergarten Teacher like Carrie Newton can “make a difference”. Just from watching Carrie with her students, as well as with her colleagues around our elementary school, you can tell that she isn’t among those who may be “losing the joy of teaching”, as a result of current pressures on those working in Education. However, it does seem that these present circumstances have led to Carrie questioning whether or not her enthusiastic work really makes a difference. I was pretty surprised by this. Another book I’ve read for its application to business philosophy is entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Although its primary focus was on how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, I always felt that it provided an implied endorsement of the difference Kindergarten Teachers do make. Maybe I was wrong or maybe, since that book came out in the late 1980s, that understanding has been diminished. Regardless, it’s a shame. I think that the enthusiastic work of an exceptionally good Kindergarten Teacher like Carrie Newton clearly makes a difference and one easy way for our Education system to be improved is for work of this nature to be acknowledged and encouraged. In the absence of this, I felt compelled to encourage Carrie through sharing that Miss Summerlot (my Kindergarten Teacher) and numerous others, including College Professors, are still making a difference in my life. The most significant example I offered was of Laura Fasig, who taught Kindergarten Sunday School for me and before me, for my Mother. Mrs. Fasig was my Grandmother’s age and her teaching still makes a difference in my life … in my mind’s eye, I can still clearly see the scene she created, with felt cut-outs, of Jesus’ encounter with Zacheus. Sixty years from now, when I’ve had the opportunity to say “Thank you!” to my Grandmother and to Laura Fasig for the positive difference they made in my life, a man who “came in naughty”, as a student in Carrie Newton’s Kindergarten class, will be treasuring the positive difference she made in his life and the way that life contributed to our community.