Problems You Don’t Have At Your Job

– The electricity went off over the weekend, shutting down the filtration on the second grade tide pools and killing all the things in them. Therefore it smelled like a sewer in our building on Monday. On the bright side, it led to such creative student generated content such as “It smells like an ocean fart” and “It smells like Poseidon’s butthole.”

– Multitasking. Now, most jobs have this. The printer is broken, and I need to print an agenda for this meeting, and my boss wants to talk to me! Or something. (Clearly, I have never worked in an office.) What you probably don’t have- Oh no! The aquatic ecosystem organisms were delivered early. Now I have to find a place to store these snails. And I arrived late today due to a history training. And the principal is on the phone because one of my kids punched someone. It’s hard to prioritize which is more important: counseling non-violence against others, or keeping snails alive.

– Asking yourself “I wonder what it’s like to have a job where you aren’t constantly worried you’re going to pee yourself?


The Answerers

When you teach, you start to see patterns in how kids answer questions. There are categories, and every kid falls into one.

The Rambler– It does not matter how short the answer is, this child will make it into an epic monologue. “What’s 3 x 3?” is answered “Well, you see, what I did, was I multiplied it, I multiplied the 3, and then I multiplied it by another 3, because that what it says on this paper, so I said to myself, I’m going to multiply that, and I did, and I got 9, which is the answer to this problem, which is 3 x 3.” If you are trying to get through a lesson before the subject ends, you do not call on this kid.

The Jokester– This kid is out for laughs, and you can’t blame them. Sometimes you need it. Other times, you want to throw things at them. For example, the student that responded to the question “What do we call polygons that look different and don’t fit into categories we know?” responded not with ‘irregular polygons’, which was the correct answer but “Michael Jackson.”

The Accidental Jokester– This is the kid whose answers make you want to laugh out loud, but you can’t because they aren’t doing it on purpose and you don’t want to make them feel bad. For example, the child who, when discussing political maps and asked who created the boundary lines between states, answers “God?” and you need to quickly turn your laugh into a snort and pretend to have a cold while the other kids eye the accidental jokester to see if he is genuinely answering this way, or trying to screw with the teacher.

‘I Didn’t Hear the Question’- The Blurters– Their hands are up before you even finish asking the question. Sometimes before you even start. You will need to ask them “Do you have a question?’ frequently, at which point they will shake their head, put their hand down, and shoot it up again as soon as you say a syllable. Often the answer leaves their mouths followed closely by the realization that they actually have no idea  what was asked. Like my old friend who answered a question about American government with “Ballroom dancing!” followed a heartbeat later by “Wait. What was the question?”

‘I Didn’t Hear the Question’- The Delayers- Similar to above, but when they are called on, the realization that they have no idea what was asked comes faster. You’ll say their name and they will say “Oh. I just… I thought… hold on…”

The Questioner- No answer is ever as good as another question. The questions themselves come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple clarification, some can sidetrack us into off topic but often great discussions, and others are completely, utterly unrelated. “How many moons does Jupiter have?” How do we know any planets have moons? When will we have the technology to send people to Jupiter? What would Galileo think about it? When is lunch?

The Surprise Participant– This is the kid that never, ever raises their hand. When they do, it’s like a beam of light shines down on them and angels sing. They have finally participated of their own free will, and not just because you called on them and made them! Then if the answer is wrong, you feel like a jerk for not accepting it.

The Humble Ones-  These kids are never convinced they are right. Even when the answer is right in front of them, or one that can’t even be wrong (what’s you favorite food?) they preface the question with “So, I’m not sure this is right but…” Often lumped in here are the humblebraggers- “I don’t know if this is right, but I’ve read like 100 books on the subject and my paper on it was accepted by a prestigious academic journal so…”

The Old Faithfuls- They know the answer. You know they know. Their hands aren’t always up, but they participate when they need to. These kids feed on desperate teacher energy. The times when no one at all has correctly answered. When the clock is ticking, when everyone has apparently forgotten something you know for a fact they all knew yesterday, when you feel the desperation rising. You can meet that kid’s eyes. They will raise an eyebrow, just long enough to let you know they have the power, then they will sigh, raise their hands, and answer with devastating correctness. At which point the rest of the class will say “Ohhhh, yeah…” like they knew all along.

It’s Romance, Man

So far teaching fifth grade isn’t all that different from teaching fourth grade. Some are *slightly* more interested in the opposite sex than they were last year, but in general they’re all pretty innocent. As my sixth grade colleague put it, we can’t ‘smell the hormones’ yet.

However, there are moments where they remind me that change is coming. The other day I was having a discussion about music with some of the kids as we waited for buses. Someone mentioned Taylor Swift, specifically the song “Love Story” (which is not, I was sternly told, called the Romeo and Juliet song. My bad.) One of the boys said, “Oh, I like that song!”

His friend was shocked. “You do?” The first boy nodded. “Yeah, it’s sweet.”  His friend scoffed- “Yeah it’s ‘sweet’, it’s romantic.”  Clearly, his tone implied, you did not want this in a song. The other boy looked at him, raised his eyebrows, then looked pointedly at the girl next to him and said, “Some people like romance, man. You’re gonna have to learn that someday.”

And so it begins…