A Special Kind of Awkward

I’ve had quite a few students in my fairly brief time as a teacher who had a parent who taught with me. Luckily my coworkers are all pretty great, and the staff kids I’ve had have all been sweet, laid back kids. Since my own mother is a teacher in the school we share a building with, I know first hand that having a parent in the building can at times be awkward.

Case in point, the one time my own mother really let the colleague role drop and went full on mom. It was my second year, and I was leading the class outside on a fairly cool fall day. From behind me, I heard, “Is that what you’re wearing on your feet? Sandals? In October?!” I turned to see my mom with a shocked look on her face. In the time it took me to turn, she realized where we were and that chastising your adult child for her footwear choices at work was not the way to go. She mouthed “I am so sorry!” and immediately walked away. The kids, of course, ¬†thought it was hilarious.

So I know that it isn’t easy to have your mom there every step of the way while you try and go about your life.

Yesterday was the pinnacle of mother/teacher awkwardness for one of my boys. His mom and I have worked together for awhile. We’re both on a team of staff that deals with students in crisis. Yesterday, we were taking a refresher course for our restraint training. It’s not a funny topic. We need to practice how to safely hold and move a child that may be kicking, screaming, biting, and punching. When it happens, it’s sad, scary, and overwhelming. We take it very seriously.

That said, it’s hard to practice the same holds on your colleagues and not feel a bit ridiculous. Once you’ve had to restrain your principal while he pretends to try and pull your hair out (for training purposes!) you can really only laugh.

At one point, I was in the student role, while two of my colleagues restrained me. We were practicing a hold in which we would nee to safely lower a student to the ground, or one where we would need to go down safely if a student dropped to the ground by choice. I was facing the glass wall that partitioned the room we were using from the hallway, arms behind my back and a colleague on each side of me.

Of course, that was when my class walked by, on their way to music class. Of course, the other class in music was running late, so my kids got to stand for a few minutes and watch the whole thing. Of course, one of the teachers restraining me was the mother of one of my students.

“Hi sweetie!” She called to him, using my hand to wave. He shook his head and put his face in his hands while the rest of the class ogled us with confusion and glee.

We counted down, then all hit the mat with a less-than-graceful thump. Outside, my class applauded. Hopefully at my graceful moves, not the sight of their teacher being taken down like a pro-wrestler.

When I got upstairs, my colleague’s son had only this to say- “That was a special kind of awkward.”

I told him he should feel lucky- how many kids get to watch their mom take down their teacher in a drop hold?!

The Good in the World

Yesterday marked one year to the day since the Boston marathon bombing. I did not want to acknowledge it, or think about it. I didn’t want to hear the news stories play over and over again, see the traumatizing pictures. I didn’t want to think about how gut-wrenchingly awful this day was. I sure didn’t plan to bring it up with my class.

The kids had other ideas. The week before, a few asked me if we were going to do anything to mark the date. I gave vague answers, explaining that not everyone would be comfortable with it. The bombing happened early in a week long vacation last year, so by the time we came back to school, they had had time to process it, and it wasn’t as immediate. Plus, last year they were third graders. This year, fourth. The same kids that were not completely aware of what happened ¬†then were now acutely aware of the anniversary.

“Can we do something good?” One asked me last week. I asked her to explain. “It was so bad, what happened. Shouldn’t we do something good, to balance it out?”

That hit me. I have a responsibility to these kids, to help them navigate this sometimes scary world and their place in it. After asking the class parents for their opinion, I decided to ask the class what they wanted to do. I figured it would be something like raise money, or write letters.

One of the first suggestions came from one of my very thoughtful boys. “Can we plant something?” He asked. The class loved this idea. Plants, they reasoned, were the ultimate way of giving back. They were good for the planet, the atmosphere, the ecosystem. Go figure, we had a shipment of baby pine trees donated by an Arbor Day foundation that I had completely forgotten about! We decided to plant our trees in the woods behind the school. Not as a memorial, not a place to remember the dead and injured, but just out among the existing trees. Just an act of positive.

After this discussion, the class went to music. One child hung back, and as soon as the class left she collapsed into my arms, crying. The trees, she explained, reminded her of the memorial to Martin Richards she had seen. The youngest of the bombings victims, he was only 8, and his sweet face was everywhere in the days following. I had cried hardest, I think for him. He was the same age as my students.

This fact hit hard for the little girl sobbing in my arms, as well. She explained she couldn’t stop thinking about it after she saw the tree hung with ribbons and beads, with stuffed animals underneath. Planting trees reminded her of it all over again. She apologized for crying, and I told her not only was it ok to cry, that I felt like crying, too. “Is it ok if I cry a little?” I asked her. She nodded.

So I held her while we both sat in the classroom, tears running down our faces. We cried for Martin, Krystle, Lingzi, Sean, for everyone injured, for the sense of safety that had been shattered, for the act of evil that tore apart a beautiful April day.

Then we both felt a little better. We talked about emphasizing the positive. Planting the trees would not be a solemn act of remembrance- that was certainly important, but not what we wanted to focus on. It would be a chance to go outside, be with our classroom community, and give back to nature. To celebrate the good in our world.

The next day we went outside into gusts of wind and rain. We climbed over the stone wall, and dug holes in the leaf covered forest floor, using plastic spoons and sharing one rusty trowel. We got covered in mud, and our feet got wet. The kids lovingly found spots for their little saplings, and implored the rain to keep their trees nice and wet. They sang, they laughed, they threw sticks, they flipped rocks and found salamanders. They were kids, being kids, in a world that can sometimes be scary, sometimes be sad, sometimes be so goddamned awful it makes the adults want to pull the curtains and never leave the house.

I took a lot of pictures. The best is of two of my girls, arms around each other, heads thrown back in laughter and song. They’re kicking their legs in unison, can can style. One holds a Red Sox umbrella, with the Boston B front and center. It’s perfect.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- you can’t lose hope when you work with kids. They won’t let you.

Apple for the Teacher

Last week one of my girls handed me an apple when she walked in in the morning. “This is for you!” She told me. “Aw, thanks! Apple for the teacher!” She stared at me, then said “Yeah, I guess.” It was the same tone you would use if you gave your dentist a muffin and he or she exclaimed, “Aw! Muffin for the dentist!”

Basically, it made no sense to her. I explained the historical tradition of giving an apple to the teacher. “Why an apple?” She asked. I told her I didn’t really know. “Wouldn’t you be more excited about something with chocolate? You get REALLY excited when we give you cookies.” That’s true, I told her, but I appreciated the apple. “Oh, it was in the bottom of my bag, I was supposed to eat it yesterday and forgot. So I gave it to you.” It’s the thought that counts, I guess.

Last week was a good one for interesting teacher gifts. I was proudly presented with a dozen fresh eggs from a students chickens. I assume that when you know the chickens by name and frequently ask about how they are, you’re invested enough to reap the delicious benefits. I promised to take a moment of silence for Sunshine, who was eaten by a fox last month, anytime I made myself an omelette out of my eggy gifts.

I was also given a box of rocks. To be totally honest, I was loaned a box of rocks indefinitely, but that still counts. This might sound trite and adorable, but I was as excited as the owner of said box was. This little guy is a lot like I was at his age. We share a deep appreciation for things like interesting bugs, biographies of dead scientists, and, obviously, rocks. He lovingly went over every specimen, and where they are from. I have his solemn permission to teach a mini-lesson on density on rocks using his pumice. We’re kindred souls.

I receive interesting artwork pretty frequently. This weeks top contender was a picture of a 3 eyed dog who shoots lasers from one of his eyes- Not the extra one in the middle, as you might expect from an extra eye. “He shoots it from the one on the left.” I was told.

I’m not a big fan of apples, anyway.