Joy

The week before winter vacation is a difficult one in school. This is largely due to the fact that after Thanksgiving, some switch flips in kid’s brains and makes them think that Christmas is coming immediately, and vacation even sooner! (As I type this, it’s suddenly occurring to me that the fact that all advertising is Christmas themed starting at least as early as Thanksgiving is to blame. There’s a research opportunity in that. Someone get on that.)

Not all my students are Christian, and not all celebrate Christmas. My school has students who are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, and everything in between! It’s not even about the holiday- it’s the break! The longest in the school year.

Anyway, in the days just before vacation, we aren’t teaching. We aren’t even babysitting. We are fending off a coup from an army of monkeys on methamphetamine.

It’s exhausting. The energy level is so high, that it becomes a struggle just to keep kids in their seats long enough to write their names, let alone get any actual academics done. And in the week before a long break, there is stuff we absolutely have to finish. You can’t really leave something halfway done and then take a two week break. For example, we’re making maps of different regions of the U.S. It took longer than expected. At the beginning, I said things like this to my students: “Make sure when you are making economic symbols for your key, you have at least three specifically about land use for each state.” With 6 hours left of learning time before break, it became “Coloring inside the lines isn’t important! Just color!”

It can be easy to get crabby, and overwhelmed, and frustrated. So I make a conscious effort to see the world through my kid’s eyes. That advice was given to me by a colleague a few years ago, and it is the perfect advice.

See the world like they do. Snow is amazing, and beautiful, and why wouldn’t you walk away from your math book and stare out the window? Why wouldn’t you cut writing short and go outside to catch snowflakes on paper? I have my own pair of snow pants, and there is nothing more fun than sliding down an icy hill, screeching at the top of your lungs, and landing in a way that gets snow into your ear canals, all with your students.

Christmas is coming! Think about trees, and lights, and presents, and seeing your family who live far away. When one of my little ones told me, “I can’t concentrate, I’m thinking about my cousin coming to visit”, I was swamped by a memory of my own Christmases with my cousins, who are now all across the country, but who I will see next week. I let myself be distracted thinking about all the things we’d talk about. Our inside jokes, new updates, old stories.

It’s almost vacation! They tell me they’re going to ski, and sled, and stay up late, and see their friends. I think of all the things I’ll do with my time, and smile about that.

Most of all, I let myself see the joy in my kids. They are so excited they literally jump. My mother, who is the source of most of my teaching inspiration, told me of a time she watched a line of kids leaping like popcorn, spinning and dancing, with sheer excitement. She told me, you can let yourself be frustrated they aren’t in line, or let yourself be grateful that they are so happy with their life that they literally have to dance a little.

So during this crazy week, I give in to the joy. Every shouted answer, every joke that couldn’t be kept in, every high five that has to happen before we can put our chairs down, every belly laugh we share as a class. Joy. I am surrounded by some of the happiest people in the world. What a gift.

Manicures and…uh…

Sometimes kids say things that very innocently come out completely inappropriate. They garble a syllable, misunderstand a word, and the result is something hilarious and awful.

This week’s example- a student announcing, “This weekend, we’re getting manicures and pedophiles!”

When this happens, the urge is to burst out laughing. You can’t do this, for two important reasons. One, it will make the kid feel embarrassed, and that’s never good. Two, if they realize they said something they shouldn’t have, they will never EVER stop saying it.

So you correct them- “Actually, it’s pedicures. Manicures and pedicures.” Maybe you even throw in a quick lesson about Latin root words! Then you smile, and bite the inside of your cheeks so hard they bleed to keep from cracking up.

I was reminded of the best example of this of my career, which happened in my very first year as a classroom teacher.

It was snack time, and one table of kids called me over, all smiles.

“We’re having an orgy!” One told me sweetly.

Behind me, my assistant spit her coffee out.

“What? You’re- what?” I asked.

“An orgy!” They all yelled.

What. The. &%#$.

Turns out, they all had oranges for snack. So they decided it was an orange party! And they made a new name up by rearranging the sounds. Org-y. Yep.

My assistant was freaking out, and I wasn’t much better. “What do we do? What do we say?” She hissed at me.

I figured if we told them it was an inappropriate word and they couldn’t use it, they would want to know what it meant. They would ask everyone- EVERYONE- what it meant. They would never stop using it.

So I did nothing, and crossed my fingers.

The next day, the snacks were varied, and the infamous word was gone. Phew.

Unanswerable Questions

Today we played a game called “A Warm Wind Blows”. We all stand in a circle, and someone will say “A warm wind blows for everyone who likes baseball.” If you like baseball, you walk into the middle of the circle. It’s pretty straightforward and the kids love it.

It always starts out normal. A warm wind blows for everyone who… likes science! Has a sister! Ate cereal for breakfast!

Then it gets weird.

There’s the very specific- A warm wind blows for everyone wearing one green sock and one white sock and the white sock has a hole in it!

There’s the overly vague- A warm wind blows for everyone who saw that show with those guys.

The bragging rights that are usually outright lies- A warm wind blows for everyone who has been to every country in the world!

The gross out- A warm wind blows for everyone who likes to eat moldy bread!

Todays highlight was “A warm wind blows for everyone who has 30 or more teeth!”

Then everyone started going into the circle, and out, and asking questions. Which let me say this for the first time in my teaching career- “Everybody circle up and count your teeth.”

Count your teeth now. Go ahead. Do it. Chances are you use your tongue, open your mouth half way, and generally look ridiculous. Now multiply that vision by 25, and you have our class today.

Eventually we determined that only two people in the class have 30 or more teeth: the classroom assistant, who has yet to have her wisdom teeth removed, and a student who has almost all of her adult teeth coming in behind her baby teeth. I made the mistake of doubting her, at which point she opened her mouth, leaned back, and showed me what looked like something out of a horror movie (or an orthodontist’s dream).

The subject of teeth apparently didn’t leave everyone’s mind. On the way to music later that day, one student suddenly asked me, “How old is my tooth?” While I was deciding how to ask him to clarify, he pulled his lips back, pointed to a canine and said “This one” (or, more accurately, “‘is ‘un’).

Another unanswerable question from teaching. Sorry sweetie, I do not know the individual ages of each of your teeth.