My school for simple wives-to-be

"Where's your rock?" she asked, "she" being one of my kindergarten students. I've got 10 fingers and wear eight rings. Understandably, my 5-year-old friend was confused about which of my many rings was the wedding ring. I pointed to the rings of honor on my left hand. And then she asked about my missing "rock."

I told her not everyone has a big diamond. She insisted that I was supposed to have "a rock." I told her that you don't have to wear a big diamond to be married; that my simple silver band and small diamond ring still meant I was married. She looked skeptical.

On another occasion, a 4th-grade student was looking at my wedding picture, taken six years ago. She said my dress was nice, but it wasn't a "real" wedding dress. I told her that not everyone wants to wear a really big, puffy dress; that my slim white gown and homemade veil were what I wanted to wear. And yes, it was a real wedding dress. She dismissed me with a slight shake of her head.

Already it has begun.Somehow, my students have absorbed tainted ideas of what marriage is about. Girls are learning that they "need" the big diamond and the big gown to be married.

What are we teaching our young girls - or, for that matter, our young ladies and not-so-young ladies? The marriage is what you live with, day after day. The wedding - that's just one event.

My parents were married 30 years ago, in a rented gown and rented tuxedo, in Las Vegas City Hall. No reception. But still married.

When it was my turn to get married, my fiancé and I budgeted every penny. Our families were small, and we didn't want to spend a lot of money on a big show. We were married in a local chapel and had a simple reception in my parents' living room. And we've been happily married for six years now.

When it's all said and done, whether there are 20 people or 200 people in attendance, the bride and groom go home as Mr. and Mrs. And for us, that was the most important part.

I worry about my female students who feel they need all the extras. I worry about my male students who feel they must provide for these extras, going into debt to buy an engagement ring that will be larger than someone else's. A ring can be stolen; a marriage cannot.

It's not easy to teach my kindergarten students phonics skills and math concepts. It's even harder to teach them values. I see them for only a few hours each day. And often, the words they hear me speak are a contradiction of what they're hearing and seeing when they're not in my classroom.

My job as a teacher is never limited to the curriculum found in a textbook. Each year, I realize more and more that the way I conduct myself and the choices I make are lessons for my students.

My 5-year-olds watch what I eat at snack time (a piece of fruit). They ask me what I like to do at home. (I tell them I read.)

In everything I say and do, I am a role model - as well as in what I do not do.

And so I hope that through the examples of the "rock" that I do not wear and the elaborate dress that I did not choose, I am providing my students with a lesson more heartfelt and meaningful than any found in a textbook.

Wendy Kennar teaches at Rosewood Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.

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