Show me the Marshmallows!

In class last week, I showed the kiddos this video*.

When it was over and the giggles subsided, I asked them why they thought I’d shown it. (Sometimes I’ll show them something with no real motivation in mind, except to see what they’ll guess, but this was not one of those times).

“To show that if you wait, things get better?”
“Yeah, patience is important.”
“Nope.”

“It’s like in writing, you need to keep working when you’re stuck.”

“Nope.”

“You’re gonna give us marshmallows?”

“Nice try.”

Since it was snack time, the kiddos’ eyes shot towards the baggies of Cheez-its and containers of carrots waiting on their desks. “Can we have a hint?”
“How many words were spoken in video clip?”

“16?”

“Not a lot.

“So did we know what those kids were thinking and feeling?”

“Oh yeah!”
Nods of agreement, animated recounting of favorite parts.
“How?”

“The way they acted. Like the kid who sniffed his marshmallow.”

“And the one that licked it.”

“I like the kid who won’t even look at it… but he’s still holding it to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

“So, even without saying: I am impatient, you could tell how they were feeling?”
Nods and my-teacher-is-a-moron eye rolls.
“And in real life, do you need your friends to tell you that they’re annoyed or scared or surprised?”

“No.”

“Because you can tell from their actions and body language, right? Let’s try something. Show me what you look like when you’re angry.”

Grimaces and giggles.
“What about surprised?”

Gasps and louder giggles.
“Hmmm, because in your narratives I’m seeing lots of I was so mad and Mom looked sad. How could you show me that instead of telling me?”

As the pieces clicked in their heads, they reached for their notebooks with eager fingers and waited for their cue to head off and write.

Before I could give it, a hand shot up: “Mrs. Schmidt, is this how you can always tell when someone needs help in class – even before they ask?”

“Exactly! You show me you’re confused with your expressions and actions. And because teachers are psychic…”

We all need this reminder sometimes; it’s easier to tell than show. That night I went home and checked my own new WIP for places I’d taken telling-shortcuts. And of course I found some. We all do. I found myself trying to rationalize: how many ways can there really be to show fear? Sorrow? Anticipation?

Then I thought back to the video I’d shown my class: There are 11 kids who face the marshmallow test. They each express their frustration and impatience in a unique way. Why would the characters in my story be any different?

When I eliminated the excuses and shortcuts, I found myself doing a lot more reflecting -–how would each character show his/her emotions? The more time I spend thinking this way, the more I learn about my characters.

… And soon, just like with the kiddos in my class, there’s no need for the characters to raise their hands and tell me how their feeling, because I know exactly what they’ll say or do when faced with a surprise, a challenge, an obstacle.

Now, excuse me while I go make Indoor S’mores.**


*Thank you, Julie Weathers, for posting the link on Twitter
**I dare you to try watching that video 8 times in a row to count the number of kids and not come away craving marshmallows.

St. Matt’s School Visit

St. Matt came to school with me on Friday. It was the kiddos’ last day and emotions were running high as limits were being tested.

St. Matt’s come to school with me once before; he chaperoned a field trip to the Franklin Institute with last year’s Angel Class. I assigned him the most cooperative girls of the Angel Class and he spent the day supervising conversations like this:

Kiddo 1: “Mr. Schmidt, can we please go to the human body exhibit?”
St. Matt: “Is that what everyone wants to do?”
Kiddo 2: “I wanted to see sports exhibit – let’s see yours first and then mine if there’s time.”
Kiddo 3: “Sounds like a great plan!”

At the end of the day he gave me a smug, skeptical look. “This is supposed to be hard? They compromised, group hugged and smiled the whole day. I didn’t have to do anything but hold a sweatshirt while they went in the bathroom.”

I rolled my eyes and bided my time. A year later he was back at school – and this year’s class is Team Tiara, just as wonderful but not a smidgen angelic. The kiddos quickly obtained St. Matt’s permission to call him by his first name and took full advantage of smirking and asking things like: “Mrs. Schmidt or Maa-att, would it be okay if I ran this card down to the art teacher?” Matt, I still have a clipboard in my cubby, where should I put it?”

Each “Matt” was accompanied by a giggle or mischievous grin – infectious and irresistible.

The kiddos had a half-day – mostly consumed by their farewell breakfast and yearbook signing – during which St. Matt was a hot commodity. The whole sixth grade packed the cafeteria with their yearbooks and Sharpies and swapped signatures. Few outside of my homeroom knew who St. Matt was, but that didn’t stop the students from demanding his autograph – some bypassed me to get to him. One kiddo went up to her teacher and reported, “Mrs. Schmidt’s husband looks really young…. He’s cute.That explains the number of giggling girls and glitter pens waiting for him – can’t say I blame them!

The last hour of the day was for the Schmidties. Our final class meeting. There were tears, laughs, and lots of “do you remember when….” There were reflections: “Can you believe we’re going to be the youngest in the school again?” And a smiling, “Matt, you’re much quieter than Mrs. Schmidt.”

“We balance each other out,” was St.Matt’s diplomatic reply.
Mine was more candid: “I bring the crazy; he brings the normal.”
The kiddos all nodded, sagely and immediately accepting this as true.

There was time for one last enthusiastic singing of “Don’t Stop Believing” and the dismissal announcements came on.

The kiddos’ faces vacillated between summer-excitement and farewell-panic. Hugs were given, received, given again and a few kiddos were gently pushed out of the classroom so they wouldn’t miss their busses.

The door shut behind the last kiddo and I turned to face St. Matt – sitting at my desk with his chin in his hand. “I’m exhausted.”

I nodded and looked around the classroom. It needed to be packed away and I’d barely started. I’d tried taking down posters earlier in a week but a kiddo had protested: “It’s so sad to see our classroom not look like our classroom anymore.” So I’d stopped.

Now I’d run out of excuses and there were only three hours until the faculty party. St. Matt’s engineering nature assessed the state of my cabinets and began to remove items and reorganize them in space-efficient manners.

My non-engineering nature sat down opened presents and re-read the cards my kiddos had given me. Then I responded to e-mails from parents –including a piece of fan mail about St. Matt: “My son so enjoyed meeting your husband. It just made his day.”

St. Matt called me over and asked me to look through a pile and identify what should be saved and what could be tossed. I told him the story of every item in the pile as he reorganized my supply cabinet and uh-huh’d.

The day proceeded in this manner:

Me: “Oh, look at this…” Flitting from project to project.
St. Matt: pragmatic, organized, efficient. “Tiffany, could you please…”

Finally, at five o’clock – now two hours late for the party, St. Matt decided, “You have 15 minutes. Anything that’s not in a cabinet in 15 minutes, we’re throwing away.”
“Okay, let me just pick a song.”
“15 minutes.”
“Well, we need the right song.”

I settled on Warren G’s “Regulators” and got to work. 13 minutes later I was shutting off the lights and shutting the door to room 202, precariously balancing bags of books, gifts from kiddos, the classroom plants and our one surviving fish, Yumberry.

We loaded the car, and St. Matt slumped behind the wheel with tired eyes. I reached over and poked him, “Hey! Guess what? It’s SUMMER! Ready for the party?”

“I’m ready for a nap.”

Lesson’s learned my last day of school:
St. Matt’s cute (well, duh!)
St. Matt’s quieter than me (I knew this already!)
St. Matt’s patient (knew this too)
He’s a better packer (so? I’m a better pack-rat)
And he’s a big WIMP if one 1/2 day with the kiddos tired him out!

Top 10 Teacherly things that make me melt:

1) Hearing my class groan in unison when I pick up the bookmark during read aloud and then beg: “One more page, please!”

2) The bucakaroo who stops by my desk at dismissal each day, waits until he has my attention, makes eye contact and says: “Thanks for today.” And sincerely means it.

3) During scary or intense parts of read aloud, the kiddos unconsciously snuggle closer to their turn & talk partner in a way that is all too innocent and adorable.

4) 26 sixth graders wearing tiaras to support a classmate who’s very ill

5) Returning to the classroom after walking the kiddos to gym and discovering that the straggler in line was leaving a surprise note on my desk telling me why I’m her “favorite teacher ever.”

6) E-mails & visits from the first class of Schmidties who are now in 10th grade. E-mails and visits from last year’s Schmidties every time they read a book they love. E-mail and visits from any former- Schmidty

7) Class meetings.

8) When they get so comfortable they sing – loudly – while working. Even if we don’t have music playing.

9) Monday mornings when they run down the hallway to share something from their Writer’s Notebooks (or holler from the stairwells: “Mrs. Schmidt, wait ‘til you see this…”)

10) When the clock hits 3:00 PM, I tell them it’s time to pack up & they startle and respond, “Already? Seriously?”

I’ll have to wait until September 1st to start drafting a new list – with a new crop of kiddos. I met them today; they seem sweet, small, and nervous – soon enough they’ll be singing.

Tonight I graduated the current crop – mostly dry-eyed and smile-faced. There may be a few tears between now and tomorrow night, but the pull of summer-excitement is fairly irresistible.

Days of hammocks, reading, writing, running, coffee-shopping & procrastinated-projects will keep me twirly.

And all too soon it will be Septemeber 1st – 5 AM wake ups, and a new group of kiddos to love.

But first: picnics, ‘ritas, tennis, fireflies, s’mores, vacations, drive-ins, ice cream & kayaking…

And one last hug from each kiddo at dismissal tomorrow.

Field Day

Field Day: n. A school event comprised of various non-traditional sporting competitions; designed to turn formerly angelic students into demonic hellspawn.

It never fails to fail. Field day is a great idea in principle, but in reality it is a mess of sunburns, hurt feelings, and sports equipment.

I love the idea of field day. A chance to celebrate altheticism and being healthy and teamwork. I love that it provides an opportunity to shine for the kiddos with more bodily-kinesthetic than mathematical-logical intelligence.

But in five years of teaching sixth grade I’ve yet to have a year where this day wasn’t a test of every ounce of patience I pretend to have.

It brings out the worst in them. The kiddo who dashed across the classroom on Friday to help a friend clean up his spilled snack is today telling that same friend: “C’mon! Ugh! Just dribble it. It’s not that hard. C’MON – we’re losing! GO FASTER!”

When the thing being dribbled is a football, and it’s being dribbled around a slalom course of traffic cones, it is that hard.

There are the kiddos who dominate. For them, dribbling a football, throwing a frisbee through a hula hoop, relay-racing with tires and playing soccer on scooters is easy.

Then there are the kiddos who… don’t dominate. Either from fear of failure or lack of athletic skills, these are the ones who know they’re going to get dragged during tug-o-war, run over during scooter soccer, trip and tumble during sack races.

Putting both groups on the same team and telling them to work together is a recipe for disaster. Half cringe and half cheer. The louder one group yells, the more the other group cowers.

It’s a mash-up of insecurity and ego – with some I-haven’t-figured-out-how-to-use-my-post-growth-spurt-body-awkwardness sprinkled on top.

But criticism and mean-spirited competitiveness don’t fly with me. I haven’t spent all year creating a group-centered mindset to let them tear each other down because they’re suddenly broken into Blue, White and Maroon teams. They know that when they line up for lunch, they’re all still Schmidties. And when they come back to our classroom tomorrow, they need to be able to look each other in the eye with respect, not regret.

I saw one kiddo freeze today during a ‘team-building’ activity where they had to get all eight of them across the blacktop using only nine random pieces of gym-class-junk. She was teetering on a wooden block, her face a mask of panic as her teammates screeched at her: “DON’T FALL!” and told her to simultaneously crouch and pick up a traffic cone and pass it forward. She wanted to freeze, stabilize… or disappear – but she was “slowing them down’ so she bent, grasped the cone… and lost her balance. Her hand touched the blacktop momentarily, and her team had to start again from the beginning.

Her walk back across the playground, chin tucked down and lips pressed tight, looked like a battle march and I wanted to cry for her.

But I wasn’t giving my kiddos enough credit. When she reached the starting line they hugged her and offered: “You almost had it. You’ll do better next time. We’ve got this.”

And she picked her chin up and smiled – offering a strategy: “Why doesn’t someone with better balance go last? I’m no good at balancing and picking up the equipment. Also, it’s way easier to balance on the block if you turn it the other way.”

~Proud teacher moment~

Flash forward a few hours to Field Day – part 2. Instead of wacky made-up games, it’s now lightning rounds of volleyball. Pitting the six 6th grade classes against each other.

This began out promisingly enough. Both my boys’ and girls’ started off 2-0 for one simple reason: they know each other. They were so quick to say: “You’ve got this one. Great shot. I’ve got your back. Ah, great try! Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”

The other classes bickered and stumbled over each other as they all scrambled for every ball.

My class didn’t end up 5-0. The loses eventually came as the other classes organized – determining their best servers and using them exclusively while my kiddos clung to: “You haven’t served yet? Hey guys, let’s make sure he’s next. Don’t worry, you’ll get the next one over.”

They laughed and chattered and congratulated while their competitors strategized.

And the cheers started. I believe I could live my whole life without needing to hear another chorus of “We Will Rock You.” Or the words, You’ve been schooled! I pwn’d you! You’re going dooooow-oown.

My favorite? When a boy from another class jeered, “Oh, it’s over!” And one of my literal-minded kiddos responded, “No it’s not; we’ve got 8 minutes left in this game.”

Ahhh, innocence.

At the end of the day we trudged back in the building – exhausted, sweaty and stinky (please, for the love of all things olfactory, remember that Axe and Body Splash are not the same as deodorant). The face paint that had been so crisp and sparkly this morning was now running down cheeks and smeared into eyes. Ponytails were askew, ribbons un-bowed. The kiddos slumped into their seats and rested panting chins on grimy, suntanned arms.

They listened with squirmy-anticipation to the afternoon announcements, anxious to find out which team had ‘won’ the no-prize for having the highest number of points.

As soon as the gym teacher began to read the results: “And in third place, with a total of 1127 points, we had the BLUE TEAM…” The kiddos forgot their exhaustion and hoarse throats and began a new round of chants and cheers. By the time the White Team had been proclaimed the winner, you could hear the jibes & applause echoing from every classroom.

But in room 202, the loudest cheerer of all was quickly copied by the rest of the kiddos, and what he said was colorless: “Go Schmidties! Good job today.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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