Keep your hopes high

April 30, 2012 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Whitney, Writing for Children by

When the packet of thank you notes from the fifth graders at St. Mary of the Lake School arrived in the mail, a light bulb went on over my head: take them along to my presentation at Northern Illinois University!

That's us with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at St. Mary of the Lake

The undergraduates in the class Whitney and I visited last week at NIU are studying to become elementary school teachers, and their children’s literature class is three hours long. After talking to them for the first hour, I bribed them with the letters: I’d give them a ten-minute break if each of them agreed to select a random letter from the pile and read it out loud when they returned. They jumped out of their seats at the opportunity.

The exercise of reading the letters out loud was educational for all of us. I, for one, learned to bring apples with me to future elementary school visits. Let me explain. During the Q&A at St. Mary’s, one of the fifth graders asked how I can use a knife in the kitchen without cutting myself. I knew the kids understood fractions, so I described holding on to the very edge of an apple with one hand while I cut it in half, then holding on to the very edge of the half to cut that into quarters, then eighths. “When I’m done, the pieces aren’t all the same size, but they still taste good!” I laughed, spreading my thumb and forefinger to show that some pieces might be more like thirds, others like teeny-tiny-tenths. “But at least I can say I sliced that apple all by myself.”

Almost every thank-you letter the undergrads read aloud to me mentioned cutting an apple. The future teachers learned how much elementary school children learn when they are exposed to different sorts of people and different ways of doing things. Each college kid seemed to take a sweet sort of pride in the fifth grader whose letter they read aloud, but none could compete with this one, written by a girl named Cindy (the letter is spelled out for screen readers below, also):

The note from Cindy.

To my blind blog readers, the note scanned above reads: Dear Miss Finke, I really enjoyed having you come to our school. It was amazing how you said you would cut the apple. I was also amazed when you said you would go grocery shopping with your husband. Also how you could figure out what things were missing. I was shocked at how you type really fast without making a mistake. This may not be about you, but Whitney is well-trained Seeing Eye dog. You are also a well-coordinated woman. The doctors might have said that there isn’t any cure, but keep on hoping. I tell you this because I passed through surgery, and I’m hoping to get better sooner. Keep your hopes high.

PS: You can check out the guest blog I wrote for The Bark in April to read about the first and second grade classes Whit and I visited at St. Mary’s, too.

kellyz On April 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Beth, this quote made my day: “The future teachers learned how much elementary school children learn when they are exposed to different sorts of people and different ways of doing things.” I’m in the midst of getting masters in elementary ed and taking a class right now on diversity and multiculturalism in the classroom and this just confirms everything I’m learning. I might work this blog post into my research paper for that class if that’s okay with you?

bethfinke On May 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

Okay with me? That’d be *great* with me! In exchange, would you be interested in writing a guest post for my blog someday…?

kellyz On May 1, 2012 at 9:13 am

I’d be thrilled to, if I ever have anything interesting to write about! Maybe student teaching next fall will provide some fodder…

Audrey Mitchell On April 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Those children are amazing…and so are you.

bethfinke On May 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

Aw, shucks. I know I should be humble, but thanks to Cindy’s note, I am confident I’m a well-coordinated woman. Which is indeed amazing.

Karen Steiner On May 1, 2012 at 8:15 am

What a terrible and beautiful understatement. P.S. Sorry I missed you and Mike in C-U. I went ahead and had the risotto and a nice glass of wine, though, and it was great!

bethfinke On May 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

We were there! I’m afraid you just didn’t see us — this can be a problem when meeting someone who is blind in a public place, you have to do all the work when it comes to finding each other. So sorry we missed you, but at least you enjoyed the risotto…

Barbara Timberlake On May 1, 2012 at 10:29 am

Thanks one more time for focusing on what is real rather than reality.


Kim On May 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm

It’s impressive that schools are teaching children how to write thank-you notes. Yay for teachers and yay for you, sharing your life with these sweet kids.

nancyb On May 2, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I’ve heard a lot of compliments about you, Beth, now I can include “well coordinated”. I love it.

bethfinke On May 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Best. Compliment. Ever.

Kim On May 2, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Loving Cindy’s observation that you’re “a well-coordinated woman”. Is she referring to efficiency, fashion, or physical coordination? You’re probably spectacular at all three (simultaneously)! Having never possessed any of those attributes, I’m taking Cindy’s advice to “keep on hoping”!

bethfinke On May 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I didn’t know exactly what Cindy meant, but like you, I decided to assume it was all three. Why not?! In fact, I’m considering putting it on my business card:

Beth Finke
Well-coordinated woman

Judy Spock On May 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm

You are having the same great effect on the LPV Memoir group. Thank you so much!

bethfinke On May 8, 2012 at 6:01 pm

No, thank *you*, Judy, for this comment. Gotta admit, I have a pretty darn good life, visiting elementary schools one day, college classes the next, and then listening to your fabulous memoirs at LPV!
(For outside readers, the “LPV” group is a group of senior citizens who live in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood in Chicago – I teach a memoir writing class for Lincoln Park Village).

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