Mr. Labadia is the greatest kindergarten teacher that ever existed. (besides this amazing one of course) He's retired now. Here is how I know him:
When I was eight years old (Abigail's age) my Dad did these amazing shows. (He still does.. there here here on this blog) This summer will be is 42 summer show. Abigail was in one last year and I was in them when I was little. Anyway,
While I was in my Dad's summer shows I also got to be in one other class. (there were four periods, three were with my Dad) One year I took calligraphy. One year I took puppetry. Mr. Labadia taught puppetry.
Mr. Labadia had a beard and a soft voice. He was kind and creative. He was patient and I liked him instantly. He was sweet to me. (he knew my Dad)
Fast forward lots of years...
I'm now a teacher. A first grade teacher. I was in my fourth year of teaching and I moved to a different school. I'll never forget hearing his voice down the hall on the day I was moving in. I knew it instantly, even after all of those years.
A big hug and lots of support for me as I was learning the 'ins and outs' of a new town and a new school. He'd help in the afternoons after school. He'd sit and help me prepare science lessons. He taught me everything he could about teaching young children. And I soaked him up.
I watched him walk his Kindergarten class to lunch or music or art. I'd listen and practice his patience and firm sweetness with his class. I'd pop in his room just to marvel at how it was set up. I was in awe. Everyone was.
But he was so so humble. Always complimenting other teachers, always giving away his materials, units he'd developed, anything he had. He told me I was wonderful with young children. I'm not so sure I was but he believed I was, so I was.
He was the first to hug me in the school the day I came back after my Grandpa had died. He was the first to applaud when I announced to the staff that I was adopting a baby from China. He stood by me when I waited for that referral for a year. He sent encouraging notes to me like this one that's now in Anna's album. He gave me children's books throughout the year that were signed by the author for the future Anna. Eric Carle, signed to Anna. On and on an on.
It's no wonder that on the day after Scott and I got the call (back here I talk about it) I asked Mr. Labadia to announce it to the staff. For years and years I'd watch as the lights blinked on and off on a Friday morning teachers room breakfast and a friend would announce a teacher's pregnancy. I waited. And when 'my moment' came Mr. Labadia, who'd known me since I was a little girl, blinked the lights and said, "it's not too often in life that an angel taps you on the shoulder. Well, we have a new angel. And her name is Anna Jiang Qian. Here she is." And he held up this copy of a photo. I'd just gotten the photo of Anna the night before. It was about the size of a wallet. He simply took it and enlarged it on the copier. It was the first time I'd seen it that size and I cried as he held it up.
I taught for only two more weeks. It was the last day of school and he gave me a big hug and wished me the best luck. He was so happy for me.
Over the years I spent home mothering Anna and Abigail I visited him occasionally in his classroom. But he ALWAYS stopped by in December with an 'author signed' children's book for my girls. And he always painted a little something for me. He's so talented. A little snowman, and ornament that looked just like our house, on and on. He never forgot me.
It was no wonder that after all of those years when it was time to step back into part time teaching I called Mr. Labadia for a letter of recommendation. It glowed. And I'd cry if I tried to type the words here. I sent it in with pride and his good luck along with it.
That reading teacher position that I'm in now I'm sure is because of that letter. Everyone who is anyone in education knows Mr. Labadia. I'm just the blessed one to know him as a friend.
Mr. Labadia retired. He and his lovely (she is so lovely) wife (also a kindergarten teacher) have four grandchildren. He became an published author. His books are here. And he does book talks to children all over.
On Friday he was at 'my' school and I couldn't wait to see him. Our time was brief but wonderful. I felt all lit up inside to be with him. He only asked and asked about Anna and Abigail and about me. He was so proud of me and happy for my baby steps back into teaching. It meant the world to me.
He was and is the greatest kindergarten teacher in the whole wide world.