“Three Before Me”

Reflections of a First-Grade Classroom

By Lisa Gilbert, Principal St Peter Academy

Classical music played softly in the background as I walked into the first-grade classroom at St. Peter Academy.  The students were seated in a circle on the carpet in the front of the room, while their teacher, Ms. Laura Hesek, sat in her rocking chair nearby.  Ms. Hesek was quizzing students aloud on their sight words, which tended to possess the short ‘u’ sound surrounded by consonants. In her kind, yet serious way, Ms. Hesek called upon students with rapid precision, never skipping a beat.  To their credit, her students followed right along, keeping beat to Ms. Hesek’s very own first-grade cadence. 

The eager first-graders were following Ms. Hesek’s lead.  One could observe children as they anticipated their upcoming turn- they would sit a little taller on the rug, shift a bit in their places, all in preparation to “go next.”  All the students were engaged except one little guy.  I felt for him as he fingered the rim of his clipboard, probably imagining the tree that the wood came from or his own self romping through the woods where the tree grew.  We ask so much of young lads who would just as soon be out hunting and exploring than domesticated inside a classroom.  Still, with the same loving kindness that Ms. Hesek emanated for all her students, she calmly redirected her wayward dreamer to the task at hand.  “Spell dug,” she said, as if this was a question one would get asked on a regular basis.  As if awakened by a charming princess, our little dreamer quickly rose to the occasion, spelling the word with accuracy.   

Before sending the students to their seats, Ms. Hesek took great pains to explain their seatwork to students.  With eagle like precision, Ms. Hesek honed in on students as she described each step of the multi-step directions.  “Eyes on me.”, she said with the same even tone that she had been speaking all along.  Then – as if it were the last second of instruction ever to be given – Ms. Hesek waited.  She waited for what seemed like days.  Wordless.  Still.  Neutral.  Suddenly, like a brood of wandering ducklings who fell into line, the students fixed their eyes on Ms. Hesek.  With a knowing smile, Ms. Hesek began to instruct again before sending her fledglings to their seats.

Once seated, students rushed up to Ms. Hesek for clarification as if they had never heard her in-depth instructions.  “Three before me,” she would say as eager learners stormed her desk.  “Did you ask three of your classmates before you came to me?”  Ms. Hesek noticed the bewilderment on my face.  “I want the children to be independent learners,” she said.  In this era of instant gratification on social media, it’s helpful to prompt children to slow down and work for their knowledge.  Sometimes they discover that they don’t really need to go to their peers for help.  They knew the answers all along. 

Located in the heart of South Boston, and serving students ages 15 months to sixth grade, St. Peter Academy is a family oriented, forward thinking learning community providing academic excellence while educating the whole child.  We are hosting an OPEN HOUSE on Tuesday, January 22, 2019, from 9-11 am and 3-6 pm.  Please stop by and visit our school.  We always have room for you.