At Recess, 40 Years Ago

It is not the truth that a man possesses, or believes that he possesses, but the earnest effort which he puts forward to reach the truth, which constitutes the worth of a man.  ~ Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The playground was busy that fine Autumn afternoon some 40 years ago.  3rd & 4th graders that I had the privilege of teaching were chasing each other, playing games, throwing footballs, playing basketball and just enjoying the afternoon sun.

Being a young 22 year old who had played sports throughout my high school and college years, I gravitated toward the boys at the start of each recess. They thought it was really cool that their teacher could, and would, throw the football with them. I did it for spell, then would turn my attention to those who weren’t interested in such activities, and as my duties required, would keep a watchful eye over the playground.


One young 3rd grader caught my attention that Autumn afternoon. Matthew was his name. He kept his recess activities confined to the perimeter of the playground, occasionally stooping over to pick something up, give it an inspection, and then toss it aside. Every so often, an object he picked up would be carefully placed in his trouser pocket. He wasn’t rushed or in a hurry.  Back then, there were no worries of child abductions, intruders and other menaces as there is today.  So, we’d give the children free reign of the playground, to a certain point – but still with that watchful eye.

“Mr. Decker…Mr. Decker”?  There was always one or two children who stayed close to me and followed me around wherever I went.

“Mr. Decker”…she started in again, pulling on my jacket…”why are you a teacher?”  Sheila was her name.  She suffered from an extreme case of having not an ounce of confidence. I didn’t know the cause…only that I was determined that before the school year was out, she would be better if I could help it. She quickly became one of my favorite students.

The first day of school, she sat herself in a corner of the back row of desks, as far away from me and everyone else as she could get. When I went around the room and asked each student to give their name and their favorite activity, she said, with barely a whisper…”Sheila, and I…I…like to read.”  She then turned a bright shade of red from embarrassment. I quickly moved on to the next student to give her a chance to breath.

“Mr. Decker…why are you a teacher?”, she asked again, tugging on my jacket once more.

“I enjoy helping children learn,” I answered.  She looked up at me, squinting from the sun with her long, black hair in a pony tail and thought for a few seconds.  “Well, what did you do when you were my age then?”

I smiled and said, “I learned from someone like me who taught children”.

“Is it fun? Because sometimes you laugh so much that I think it must be so much fun to know all this stuff and you don’t even have to read books.”

“Most of the time it is,” I said.

“Will you be my teacher next year too?”

“If you come back to this school, then, yes I will.”

“That’s good, ’cause I wanna have fun next year too.”

I looked up for Matthew.  He had made his way down a few more feet than where he was before.

“Let’s go see what Matthew is doing.” She smiled and followed me along.  The other teacher on recess duty was Mr. Brian – a bit older than me and a whole lot smarter than I was.  He taught math and science.

“Matthew,” I heard him say as all three of us approached the occupied young lad. “So, what’s going on?  Whatcha been doing over here?”

“Mr. Brian, would you like to see my treasures?”

“Your treasures, eh?  Sure, I would.”

“Okay,” he said, digging his hand deep into his front trouser pocket.

Out came his hand.  He slowly opened it, revealing nothing more than dirt and some small rocks that he’d been picking up.

“Aren’t they neat?” he smiled.  “They’re my treasures.  And I’m going to keep looking for more treasures every day.”

tirza-van-dijk-302Mr. Brian let out a chuckle.  I had to turn away because I was about ready to laugh from the joy of watching this boy pick up rock after rock, looking for just the right stone that fit his mind’s eye that was worthy for a place in his pocket full of treasures.

I taught for three more years.  3rd and 4th grades, then 5th and 6th grades. along with coaching the high school basketball team and overseeing the high school drama program.  I learned more about life and human nature from teaching than the next 40 years spent working in the corporate nightmare.

Sheila taught me many things…most importantly, to respect and believe in another, no matter their “limitations”.  And Matthew…to always keep searching for those treasures. For me, it’s the life long quest for the truth.  At 62, I continue the search.


VIVALDI “The Four Seasons” – Autumn (3rd movement)


Photo credit (front page): By Corn, Jack, 1929-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464440) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit:

Photo credit:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s