Notes from a Teacher | Coincidences can be lessons in disguise

January 25, 2014 

Some of you might remember that I have a slightly (as she would say) older sister named Kathy. She lives in Mystic, Conn., and happily drags me to every Goodwill, thrift shop and yard sale in the New England area.

What you might not know is that she is partially deaf and has been her entire life, the result of our mother contracting German measles during her pregnancy. Frankly, we often forget and have never really acknowledged that she’s deaf, except for perhaps that one little time when it got us front-row tickets to “A Chorus Line.” Sure, it was here on campus at Penn State but still, the seats were fantastic and she got to enjoy the show as much as the rest of the audience.

This particular fact will become important at the end of today’s lesson.

Our kindergarten classrooms that year at Park Forest Elementary were bulging at the seams. All four of us were maxed out at a billion, and had been since almost day one.

Unfortunately, that meant that any family that might move into State College during the school year could have to be bused to one of the other seven elementary schools here in town.

One particular afternoon in January, the principal walked into my room. She looked unsure, as if perhaps she wasn’t going to speak, but then sat on a table and smiled.

“I know that your K classes are all full, and I know that you have more than the other three classes, but I was wondering something,” she asked me.

“We have a new family coming soon, and they have a boy in kindergarten. You really don’t have to say yes, and I am not pressuring you in any way, but I just thought I’d ask you about it. I just have a feeling about this. What do you think?”

I looked at her, and thought for a minute. I did have a huge class, four of whom didn’t speak English, and I was on my own for the first time in 13 years without a student teacher.

However, my class was awesome, and I was (as usual) loving every single minute of it. I also knew there were some unique challenges in the other kindergarten rooms.

Then, I had a weird inkling — just a feeling, if you will.

“Yes,” I said. “Of course I’ll take him! The more the merrier. And besides, if his siblings will be here, it just wouldn’t be right to send him over to another school. Yeah. I will definitely take him. What’s one more active boy, anyway?” I laughed.

One week later, I was called to the office to greet my new charge. I walked into the office and saw an adorable, sort of nervous little boy waiting to meet his teacher. He smiled at me timidly, and I knelt to the ground to shake his hand at eye level.

After the introductions were made, I suggested he give his mom a hug so we could send her on her way.

“We’ve got some fun to get to!” I said.

He turned to give his mom a hug, and I was startled.

There, hugging his ear, was a hearing aid — the exact same kind of hearing aid my sister wears.

Many lessons slap you right across the face and remind you that, yes, life can be extraordinary. And those things that you think are coincidences are just amazing lessons in a brilliant disguise.

Debbie Marsh is a first-grade teacher at Easterly Parkway Elementary. She can’t wait for each day and the many gifts it might bring. You can reach her at

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