I taught fifth graders for seven years. Fifth grade teachers monitored recess. Twenty-five minutes a day, as long as the temperature was above freezing and the weather was dry, we watched kids be kids.
Most students loved recess, but some did not.
All the running and chasing and choosing teams did not appeal to some of my fifth graders. Some of them would rather sit quietly than run. Some did not run fast enough to give chase; and some knew that when teams were chosen, they would be chosen last...or not at all.
The last year I taught fifth grade, the year before we moved to a new town, the year before I moved to a new school where I would teach seventh graders, I had several students who did not enjoy recess.
I watched and worried as they staked out various obscure spots on the playground.
If she was lucky enough, she'd make it out first to the swing set and claim a swing where she would drag her feet and study the ground. If he thought he'd go unnoticed, he'd sit under the covered archway, near the cafeteria doors, and scratch the pavement with a sharp stick.
One boy, though, lingered near the teachers' bench. We talked to him, tried to draw him in. Did he want our attention, to be included in our conversation? After a cursory word or two, he'd venture back out to the perimeter of our area. The teachers' bench was surrounded with landscaping stones; and this little boy would stand on the edge, dragging the toe of his shoe through the rocks.
Day after day, he stood and watched the other children play.
One day, watching him out of the corner of my eye, I decided to try something different.
"I collect heart-shaped rocks," I said, loud enough for him to hear. The second the words came out of my mouth, they were true. Suddenly, I was a collector of heart-shaped rocks.
"I'd love to have some for my collection," I said, "and I'll bet there are all kinds of heart-shaped rocks hidden in these stones."
The student edged closer. He was looking at the rocks carefully now, really seeing them.
After a few moments, I noticed him reach down. He walked over to me.
"What about this one, Mrs. Sheroan?" he asked, holding out a rock. If I turned my head just so, it looked a little bit like a heart.
"That will be perfect for my collection," I said. "Thank you!"
I carried the rock in after recess and set it on top of my computer.
The next day, he added a few more to my collection. Word spread. The day after that, the boy who usually sat under the archway joined him. The two didn't really talk to each other; but they talked to me. They found rocks shaped like dinosaurs, and rocks shaped like parallelograms, and rocks that kind of looked like crescent moons. They also found rocks shaped like hearts...lots and lots of heart-shaped rocks.
On days she couldn't get to the swings on time, the girl from the swing sets joined in. Before long, I had a cairn of heart-shaped rocks on my desk...my favorite, one with a shallow fissure down the middle...a broken heart for my collection.
By the end of the year, I had heart-shaped rocks as paper weights, and heart-shaped rocks lining the window sill, and several glass containers brimming with hearts of stone.
I remember thinking, as I cleaned out my classroom, preparing for the big move.
"What should I do with this collection?"
I remember asking myself that question, but I have no recollection of what I did.
I don't remember throwing the rocks away...surely I would not have thrown them away; but I don't remember boxing them up either. I had so many things to box and pack and move.
I like to think that I carried all those rocks back to the teachers' bench. I like to think that I scattered them there, a second chance for other kids, in years to come, who would not love recess. I like to think that I did not leave the rocks in a pile...a pile of discarded hearts; but the truth is, I don't remember.