Description Dragons In My Classroom by Barbara KennardAs a young book lover with dyslexia, Barbara found the solution to her reading struggles in Miss Gluding, her first-grade teacher, who showed compassion for her student’s plight—and knew how to help her. From that time on, Barbara knew what she wanted to be: a teacher, just like Miss Gluding. Unfortunately, Barbara also had some bad teachers in the years that ensued—including her sixth-grade teacher, an exacting woman who called attention to Barbara’s learning disabilities in front of classmates. Still wanting to follow in Miss Gluding’s footsteps in 1964, Barbara vowed she would be a better one than her sixth-grade teacher; instead, however, she became very much like her, with unattainable expectations for her students and herself. After seventeen years in the teaching profession, she realized she had to either change her teaching style or change careers. By providence, right as she stood at this crossroads, she was offered the opportunity to teach overseas at The Dragon School in Oxford, England, for a year—an opportunity she jumped at. In the year that followed, Barbara would rely on her faith in God to give up a lot of what she knew about teaching and learn to do it differently—ways that wouldn’t have room for her perfectionism. In short, she would have to begin again.
Advance Praise Dragons In My Classroom by Barbara Kennard“In this memoir, an English/dramatic arts teacher recounts a pivotal year at the Dragon School in Britain as part of an exchange program. . . . engaging and thought-provoking. . . . will be of special interest to aspiring as well as seasoned teachers. A well-crafted account about the search for greater flexibility when confronting life’s inevitable challenges.”—Kirkus Reviews “ . . . engaging . . . This book is an endearing testament to the power of personal growth and reflection in one teacher’s incredibly rich professional life.”—StoryCircle Book Reviews “In this memoir, Barbara Kennard so expertly captures the array of experiences that teachers encounter—the high and the low, the heartwarming and the hilarious. During her year teaching in Oxford, she comes to learn a new way of approaching both her classroom and her life that makes for an incredibly engaging read. Teachers everywhere will love this book.”—Nadine Kenney Johnstone, writing coach and award-winning author of Of This Much I'm Sure: A Memoir “For any who struggle to distinguish between perfectionism and a yearning to grow into the fullest version of who God has created us to be, this book is a balm. Barbara Kennard writes candidly and compassionately about the people and places that taught her about self-acceptance and mercy. Her love of great writers and her appreciation for those she teaches and those who teach her shine through in vivid prose and engaging stories. Kennard is a lifelong educator. With humor, honesty, and self-awareness, this book invites readers to learn lessons alongside her about forgiveness, surrender, grace, and love.”—Dr. Jennifer Howe Peace, coeditor of My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation and Interreligious/Interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field “The story of Barbara Kennard’s quest should inspire anyone who feels a calling to seek patiently for the best way to answer it and put it into play. This wise memoir should also remind us that although perfection can never be attained, we stand to have a lot of fun in the pursuit.”—David Smith, author of Be a Teacher: A Memoir in Ten Ideas
It’s mid-November. Yellow leaves still fall from maples all over campus. I’ve been too busy to notice that Thanksgiving is coming up, and it dawns on me, I’ll be alone on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve never been alone on this holiday. I’m not sure which makes me sadder, the fact that I’ll be on my own this Thanksgiving or that there are no signs of the usual hoopla, such as Black Friday and American football associated with this holiday. I try to console myself with the realization that I’ll be teaching all day, but the days leading up to the week of Thanksgiving are horrible. I don’t enjoy my work; I have sleepless nights and feel a cold coming on.
Alone in my flat a few days later, I am reminded of Julian of Norwich’s prayer “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I go into my bedroom, light the little lamp on my table, and kneel down to pray. Waiting for words to offer God, I remain in that position. I don’t seem to have any words, but the silence comforts me. Maybe God doesn’t always need words. Then I tell myself, I will make the best of being alone on Thanksgiving.
Today is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. After my last class, I put my room in order and walk-through campus toward the school gate. It’s a sunny, windy day. I playfully kick golden leaves as I walk through the recess yard, enjoying the crunch under my boots. At the gate, I see Jenny and two other teachers: Betsy, who teaches Latin, and Debbie, a “math’s” teacher.
Jenny steps away from Betsy and Debbie, who are with some younger children, and strides toward me, brushing her dark-blond hair away from her face. “Hi, Barbara!” she calls. “I was thinking about you last night. I imagine it will feel a bit odd being in school tomorrow. Isn’t tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day?”
“It’s the biggest holiday in the States, but it’s only one day,” I tell her.
Jenny buttons her coat as the wind picks up. “Why not come over for dinner tomorrow night? I’ll invite Betsy and Debbie to join us,” she says, as she nods in their direction.
I glance at Debbie and Betsy and smile. They smile and wave back as they walk back towards the car park. “Gosh, that’s so kind of you. I’d love to come,”
“Brilliant! It’ll be jolly good fun. Shall we say seven p.m.?”
“Thank you, Jenny. See you tomorrow night.” We both walk through the school gate, I to the left, she to the right, as we go our separate ways in the late-November afternoon light. It feels funny not to say goodbye again, as if I don’t want this little meeting to end. I look in Jenny’s direction to see if she might turn back to speak to me one more time, but she doesn’t and I realize this is one more instance of the English way of “getting on with it”—a recognition that something is finished and it’s time to do something new. It’s so easy to hang on to something, when in fact it’s better for us to let it go, to recognize that it’s finished and that we need to move on to the next thing, however unknown it might be.
I adjust my rucksack across my back and head down Bardwell Road, passing several boardinghouses. Their lights flick on as the sun continues to set. Some of the children play; others do their prep or “lay” tables for supper. A warm and homey moment fills me with a quiet peace. I say a short prayer of thanksgiving for Jenny’s invitation, for this school community, and for the courage to “get on with it.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Barbara!” some teachers say to me as we leave morning assembly the next day.
Later that day, when I arrive at Jenny’s tiny flat in a large Victorian house, I admire the small, round kitchen table set with matching tablecloth and napkins. Petite orange place cards have our names written in calligraphy.
Debbie opens the wine I bring and pours a glass for each of us. Then Jenny raises her glass and gives a toast. “To Barbara: Happy Thanksgiving.” Debbie and Betsy join in.
A few days ago, I couldn’t have imagined that Thanksgiving would turn out like this. I manage to say, “And to all of you, thank you,” I reply, as I raise my glass.
“Cheers! Let’s eat. Please sit down,” Jenny says, as she brings food to the table.
“Barbara, do tell us, how are you finding the Dragon?” Debbie asks.
“Gosh, I don’t know where to begin. I’ll admit I was shocked when I heard some of the teachers tell kids to ‘shut up’! Dragon kids can be a bit rowdier that what we tolerate at Fessenden, but I still can’t bring myself to say ‘shut up’ to my classes; that could get a teacher in real trouble in the States!” My admission leads to laughter all around the table.
© Barbara Kennard, author of Dragons in My Classroom, A Teacher’s Memoir