I recently read a story written by Chick Moorman. Mr. Moorman had organized a county-wide staff development project focused on language arts to empower students to feel good about themselves and take charge of their lives. Donna was a teacher only two years away from retirement who was a volunteer participant in Mr. Moorman’s project.
Part of Mr. Moorman’s routine was to make classroon visits and encourage implementation of ideas from the project. As he took a seat at the back of Donna’s classroom, he felt an undercurrent of excitement. The students were busy writing on their papers. He noticed the ten year old student closest to him was filling her page with I Can’ts. I can’t——-, I can’t——-, I can’t————. Her page was half full and she showed no sign of slowing down. He walked down the row glancing at the students’ papers. Everyone was writing sentences about things they couldn’t do.
I can’t do 10 push-ups, I can’t hit one over the left field fence, I can’t eat only one cookie, I can’t get Debbie to like me, I can’t do long division with more than three numbers, I can’t, I can’t , I can’t.
He walked by to see what Donna was writing. She, too was busy writing; I can’t get John’s mother to come in for a teacher conference, I can’t get my daughter to put gas in the car, I can’t get Alan to use words instead of fists.
Why is she encouraging these boys and girls to focus on negative thoughts? Why is Donna not asking for positive “I Can” statements? He decided to hold off his judgments and return to his seat to continue observing the class. They wrote for another ten minutes. Finally Donna said, “Students, finish the one you’re on and don’t start a new one. When you’re finished fold your papers in half and bring them to the front. Put your I Can’t statements into this empty shoe box.”
When the students had all placed their papers in the box, Donna added hers. She put the lid on the box, tucked it under her arm, and headed out the door. “Follow me,” she said. Halfway down the hall she entered the custodian’s room and came out with a shovel. With a shovel in one hand and the shoe box in the other, Donna marched the students out to the farthest corner of the playground. There they began digging a hole big enough to bury their I Can’ts. The boys and girls took turns with the shovel. When the hole was about three feet deep, the digging ended. The box of I Can’ts was placed at the bottom of the hole and quickly covered with dirt.
Thirty One fourth grade boys and girls stood around the grave site. All including Donna had placed at least one page in the now burried box of I Can’ts. Donna asked the children to join hands and bow their heads. They formed a circle around the grave, creating a bond with their hands. They bowed their heads while Donna delivered the eulogy: “Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of I Can’t. While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name, unfortunately has been spoken in every public building – schools, city halls, state capitols and yes, even the White House. We have proivided I Can’t with a final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph. He is survived by his brothers and sister, ‘I Can’, ‘I Will’, and ‘I’m Going to Right Away’. They are not as well known as their famous relative and are certainly not as strong and poweful yet. Perhaps someday, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world. May I Can’t rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen.”
At the conclusion of the eulogy Donna turned the students around and marched them back to the classroom where they held a wake. They celebrated with cookies, popcorn and fruit juices. Donna made a large tumbstone from butcher paper with the words I Can’t at the top and RIP in the middle. The date was added to the bottom. From that date on, the paper tumbstone hung in Donna’s classroom. On those rare occasions when a student forgot and said, I Can’t, Donna simply pointed out the RIP sign and the student would rephrase the statement. Donna’s students learned a great metaphor for life. The experience would stick in their minds forever. As for Mr. Moorman, he writes: “Now years later, whenever I hear the phrase, I Can’t, I see images of that fourth-grade funeral. Like the students, I remember that I Can’t is dead.
For now, Earlynn’s just sayin’: “Next time you catch yourself saying I Can’t, rephrase and say; “I Will, I Can, or I’m going to right away.”