Holiday Foods

I don’t know if this is true across all elementary schools, but it certainly is in ours: the day before a long vacation, we wear pjs, watch a movie, and eat a ton of food. The food, for my classes at least, is usually always the same: snacks and desserts. Popcorn, chips, fruit, cookies, brownies. I ask for volunteers, generous parents send them in.

This year, I wanted to do something different. Like most good ideas, it came to me at 3 am apropos of nothing: ‘What if we had a taco bar?’ Or something similar. If instead of the usual, we picked a theme and got creative, had a whole lunch instead of just a post recess gorge.

So I broached the subject with the kids. They loved it! We had just finished up a great discussion about allegory in literature and how it connects to metaphor. I was so impressed with their thinking and eager to reward them by talking about something fun.

I laid out a few parameters: It couldn’t be anything that really needed to be served hot or cold, either for taste or health purposes, and it shouldn’t just be a suggestion of the usual things, like desserts. We’d do desserts, of course, but let’s come up with a theme! We had ten minutes before math class started, so I asked for suggestions. Tons of hands went up.

I called on the first kid. “Soup.” He stated. I paused. “Remember, it can’t be anything that needs to be hot, or cold. Soup at room temp wouldn’t be very good!”

Next kid. “Sushi!” A longer pause. “Well, room temp sushi could possibly make us sick, so that won’t work.”

Third times the charm, right? No. Of course it isn’t. “Cookies.” A long, sigh filled pause. Based on facial expression and body language (and I am really, really good at reading those), they were not trying to be funny. Other kids were nodding enthusiastically.

“Ok guys, listen again- something that maybe we could pick a theme of, like all foods of a certain type. Not just things we’ve already done. So I see a lot of hands, I want all of you to be sure you’re not just naming different types of desserts, right? You’re all sure? Ok.”

Fourth kid. “Cupcakes.” Forget the pause, I straight out yelped. “Gah! No! Are you listening?? That’s a dessert. Ok, Sasha, I’m going to call on you next. Before you talk, I want you to be absolutely sure that you are not just going to say the name of a dessert. Are you sure? Ok…”

“Cake.”

“SASHA! SERIOUSLY! WHAT IS HAPPENING!”

“Wait!” She called out, “Listen… different types of cake.” I put my face in my hands.

“Call on me!” Chris yelled. “Mine isn’t dessert!” I stared at him. “Please let this be a real suggestion.” I begged.

“A hot pot!” He crowed. Several kids oohed in agreement, nodding excitedly.

“A hot pot.” I said. “As in, a pot of near boiling oil for us to cook meat in?”

“And vegetables!” Ruth added.

“A hot pot.” I repeated. “In the classroom.”

“Oh, that might be hard, huh?” Chris mused. “Maybe brownies?”

I laid my head on my desk. “I give up. It’s time for math.”

And that, in a nutshell, is sixth grade: The ability to reason about allegory in literature, but being unable to think about the fact that cookies are dessert and hot pots are, ya know… hot.

Eventually, we came back to the discussion and did get some real suggestions. Someone said Mexican food and I nearly wept with relief.

“Yes! Exactly! And we could all bring in Mexican dishes, including desserts. Perfect! Next suggestion!”

“Italian food!” “Great!”

“Indian food!” “Sure, yeah.

“German food.” “Ok, that one might be tricky. I think most of us have had Mexican food and Italian food in the past month, but how many of you regularly eat German food? That might be too specific.”

“Algerian food.” (It’s worth noting here that none of them are Algerian.) “Ok, maybe no more ‘country or group’ followed the word food suggestion, ok?”

“Norwegian food.”

Head on desk.

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Jumping Off Bridges

A couple weeks back, I was leading lines of kids from the gym to their buses at the end of the day. A jacket was left on the floor. “Whose is this?” I asked, pointing to it. After a short pause, two second graders literally flung themselves at the jacket, smacking into the floor and each other, then wrestling for it.

“WHOA!” I yelled, and they separated from each other, but continued to yank the jacket back and forth between them. I held my hand out for it, and they reluctantly surrendered it. “Who does this belong to?” I asked again. One of the boys raised his hand. “Mine.” “But he told me to race him to it!” The other cut in quickly. “Did you think that that was a good idea?” I asked him. “But he told me to!” The little one insisted.

Using the oldest metaphor in the book for this kind of scenario, I asked him, “If he told you to jump off a bridge, would you?” I meant this as a rhetorical question, but he got a thoughtful look on his face and cocked his head to the side.

“Hell yeah!” He answered. “That sounds awesome!”

The Dangers of Volunteering

A few times a year, we do school-wide activities where every student participates in mixed groups. It’s fun, but a lot of prep! This year’s activity involved painting rocks, so we needed nearly 600 roughly palm sized rocks. Needless to say, the preparation and storage for this was daunting. When we realized we needed to move 6 large buckets full of rocks from the first to second floor and down a long hallway, I immediately volunteered my class.

The reason I volunteered? Steven.

Let me tell you about Steven. At 11 years old, he is 5’4″. His shoulders are wider than some of his peers standing side by side to each other. When he walked in the room on the first day, my first thought was “Is this someone’s Dad?” He is also an incredibly helpful kid, willing to volunteer for any job. Perfect for rock lugging.

Of course, I didn’t expect him to do it alone, but I figured other kids could handle it, so I asked for volunteers.

Some background about elementary students and volunteering: They will volunteer for anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you say “I need volunteers to”- every hand will go up. I’ve tried to get them to realize they should wait to hear what is being asked. Otherwise kids go on errands to find teachers they don’t know, in rooms they’ve never been to. I always tell them one of these days I’m going to ask for volunteers to clean the restrooms with their own personal toothbrushes. It never works.

So this time, I explained, “Don’t raise your hand until you hear what I’m asking, ok? I need volunteers-” Every hand went up. “Guys.” I said. “Listen. I need you to carry buckets of rocks, very heavy buckets, quite a long way. This is not a joke. It’s literally buckets of rocks.” All hands still up. “They’re heavy. Please don’t volunteer unless you know you can carry very heavy things!” All hands still up. Since we were doing morning work, I added another caveat. “And you can only volunteer if you’ve finished page 127.” A few hands went down, including Steven’s. “Except for you.” I told him quietly. “You can still volunteer.”

In the interest of fairness, equality, and hopefully teaching some a lesson in forethought, I picked a mix of gender, size, and strength. For 6 buckets, I sent 10 kids. Then I waited.

A few minutes later, a trio of girls walked back in to the room empty handed, shaking their heads. Next Ethan, one of my bigger, taller, but not quite Steven-sized boys walked in. Or rather, waddled in, carrying the bucket between his bowed legs and swaying side to side so he could move it. After he put it down outside the room, he went and laid on the rug with his eyes closed for several minutes, breathing heavily.

Next, two groups of two came back, each carrying a bucket between them. One group managed to carry it, the other was dragging it down the hall where it made a horrible scraping shriek on the linoleum.

Then Steven came in, walking with a normal stride, standing tall, a bucket in each hand, arms held up so the buckets swung at his side. Ethan raised a fist from where he lay on the rug. “All hail Steven.” He said weakly. Steven smiled shyly, then walked up to me.

“Um, Riya is still in the hall with her bucket. Can I go back to help?” He asked. “Riya has one bucket by herself?” I asked, alarmed. Riya is the tiniest person in the class, but also arguably the most stubborn. I didn’t even actually call on her when she volunteered, but apparently she went anyway. He nodded. “Yeah, why don’t you go back.”

“She won’t let you help her.” One of the girls who came back empty handed called. “We tried!” Steven shrugged and left anyway.

A few minutes later, he walked back, his arms literally full of rocks, more than half a bucket’s worth. He placed them in the other buckets, then turned to look back down the hall. In the distance, Riya appeared, tiny arms straining, a look of grim and slightly terrifying determination on her face as she dragged her bucket, now nearly empty, down the hall. “She wouldn’t give up her bucket.” Steven explained as I walked over to stand next to him. We watched as Riya finally made it to the door, and then silently walked into the room, head held high. “Good job Riya.” Steven told her. “I told you I could do it.” She answered.

The Tattooed… Mom

I’ve had a lot of big news I was able to share with my classes over the years. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting a puppy, getting married. This is the biggest so far- pregnancy!

As soon as I found out, one of my first thoughts was of telling my students. Both how exciting that would be, and how awkward that would be. To little kids, having a baby is somewhere between fact and magic. “Well, you got married, so this is the logical next step. Now something will happen involving birds and bees, maybe specifically storks, some scientific terms I don’t understand but my parents told me so the could feel progressive, and you’ll have a baby in you. Voila. When’s recess?”

My students are ten and eleven, the age when certain aspects of human relationships start to become both extremely interesting and extremely gross. They have, at the very least, a vague sense that what starts this process has a lot less to do with storks and a lot more to do with those feelings they’ve all started having when they look at each other. In short, “I don’t know exactly what you did to get this way, but I’m sure it’s sort of gross.” The preteen years are a magical time.

When it became evident to both myself and my colleagues that I couldn’t go on pretending I was suffering from a low grade stomach bug all the time and smuggling fruits of increasing large sizes under my shirts, I decided to tell the kids. I broke the news, and reassured them I’d still be here for most of next year (since my school has classes with the same teacher for two years, I’ll be their sixth grade teacher, too). Their reactions were about as awkward as I expected, as hilarious as I could have hoped, and much sweeter than I thought they would be.

After a moment of stunned silence, one of the boys clapped his hands to his face and yelled “That’s so exciting! This is awesome!” Then the floodgates opened and a million questions were unleashed.

“How big is your belly?”

“How big will you get?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” “When will you find out?” “How can they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” (The answer to the last one was a shocker- no one apparently thought the same rules applied for babies in utero and the rest of the mammal kingdom.)

“How do ultrasounds work?” “Why are they called that?”

“What will you name it?” “Can we pick the name?” “Can we vote on the name?” “Will you name it after me?” “Or me?” “What about me?”

“Do you have any cravings?” “Have you eaten weird food?” “Does it like (fill in random food here)?”

“Will it come to visit us?” (Not, will you bring it in to visit. Will it come to visit. Of it’s own volition.)

“How does it get food?” “How does it breath if it’s in there?” Following this was a student provided run-down of how the umbilical cord works, much to the discomfort of everyone else, including me.

“If the cords attached to you and the baby, what happens to the part in you when they cut the cord?” (Full disclosure, I used the best of my evasive ‘answer without really answering’ techniques and then found the nearest colleague with kids as soon as I went to lunch to ask her the exact same question. Apparently I still have a lot to learn.)

“Does all pregnancy ruin your stomach? Because my mom says I ruined hers. If it does, don’t tell the baby, it will feel bad.”

“Will it go to our school?”

“Will your dogs like it?”

“Can we at least pick it’s middle name?”

All in all, it took about an hour of processing and questions, both the practical, the personal, and the scientific. I’m excited about the whole thing. I’m so glad they know, and so happy they are excited for me. This lucky little bean has 23 big friends looking out for it already.

Ballroom Dancing is a Bi-Partisan Activity

At the end of the day today, I was asking the kids questions from BrainQuest. One was “What are the two main political parties in the U.S.?”

One of my wiggliest and most impulsive kids shot a hand up into the air, and made the universal “ooh! ooh!” sound that means oh man, I KNOW this!

So I called on him.

“Ballroom dancing!” He yelled.

Then immediately followed with “Wait, what was the question?”