A Practice Separation
Today my class was supposed to be going on a field trip that includes a nature hike and sploshing around in a river, picking up slippery rocks and looking for macroinvertibrates. I wish there was an emoticon that truly captures the look my doctor gave me when I asked him about it. Part: Are-you-serious? Part: Don’t-even-dream-of-it. Part: Do-I-have-to-chain-you-to-a-couch-and-feed-you-a-diet-of-Common-Sense-&-Caution.
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.”
“It’s like in writing, you need to keep working when you’re stuck.”
“You’re gonna give us marshmallows?”
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?”
“Not a lot.“
“So did we know what those kids were thinking and feeling?”
“Oh yeah!” Nods of agreement, animated recounting of favorite parts.
“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?”
“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.
Class Meetings and Kanye
Each year room 202 has a defining moment.
It’s the instant the kiddos change from a rag-tag group of individuals who happen to have the same teacher to a class. The Schmidties.
Some years they’re united by a sense of accomplishment. Some years a tragedy forges a bond that can’t be broken by graduation. Some groups are lucky; they ease into a sense of cohesiveness just because they have similar temperaments and motivations.
This year’s moment happened today. And before it did, I’ll admit – I was nervous. My kiddos this year are eclectic. They’re quirky. They’re individuals who are proud of that individual status. And all of these things are to be valued and respected… but they weren’t engaging with each other. They were too busy noticing each other’s differences and setting themselves apart. Too busy isolating within their niche or established friends.
They weren’t rude to each other – they just didn’t seem to have a use for or need to acknowledge their classmates.
This couldn’t continue. I want a collective. I need a community. A grouping of isolates wasn’t going to create the type of learning environment in which any of them would thrive.
I knew I’d have to get creative. And I did.
Today’s class meeting centered on respecting others’ differences. With little introduction other than, “Some of you may have seen this before. I want you to watch this video clip and notice how you react to the people’s actions,” I played the video of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
And I watched their faces as they became outraged – or crumpled. We watched the video a second time. This time we paused to discuss how Taylor felt at each stage.
1) Thrilled. Proud of herself for having accomplished her dream.
2) Excited that someone she respected had joined her on stage.
They had such insight into Taylor’s response: noting her change in posture from tall and animated to slumped and curled in.
One pipsqueak piped up, “No matter what, that award’s never going to be as special to her anymore. It’s ruined.”
Another said, “It’s like watching a balloon get popped.”
And they got my point. They shared times they’d been proud of an achievement and been disrespected
“I read this book that was really hard and someone said they read it in third grade.”
“I got an A on a hard test and someone called me a nerd.”
“My team won a tournament and someone teased me for not playing much.”
“I just don’t get why Kanye would be so rude,” was a common sentiment – and I didn’t have an answer for them.
“Why do we sometimes make fun of or keep away from others who are different from us?” I asked.
“I wish… I wish that Kanye had gone on stage and sang with Taylor Swift instead,” said one idealistic kidlet.
And my final point was set up perfectly. “I know. How awesome would that have been? Even though they have such different music styles, can you imagine what they could accomplish together?”
As the class nodded their agreement, I played the remix below:
(Thank you, Makaio )
And they danced. Together. And encouraged each other’s zany moves.
In the last 30 seconds before dismissal, I paused the music and told the group – acting as a group for the first time – “We have 28 different individuals in this room. We all have different talents. Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we’re willing to work together?”
Cheesy? Perhaps. Unifying? Definitely.
As they drifted off to safety jobs or waited for their buses to be called, they didn’t sit in their seats – they clumped up. Talking. Listening. Engaging.
Schmidties, I’m excited for Monday. It’s going to be a good year.
It makes me sound less like this:
And more like this:
Did you notice what both of those images have in common? Stellar head-wear. Which is convenient because this Friday is Tiara Day on Twitter. A day full of positivity and sparkles that many literary tweople celebrate by displaying a bejeweled avatar. For more details or to enter a Tiara Day contest, see the Sparkle Queen, Susan Adrian’s website.
‘Cuz, who couldn’t use a day of positivity, sparkles and tiaras? On the last Friday before school starts, I know I could.
If you’re looking for me on Twitter that day, I’ll look like this:
I hope Tiara Day brings you sparkles, good news and a surge of optimism and luck. I also hope it brings back my voice!
Start practicing your royal wave…
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.”
“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.
But, but… I’m just not ready to say good-bye
Confession: I will meet next year’s crop of kiddos on Thursday morning. I will spend an hour with them and smile and prattle. And I will hate them.
Not for always, but for that morning I will. I won’t want them. I’ll be vehemently wishing they’d stayed in their fifth grade classrooms with the teachers who loved them so I didn’t have to fake a smile and waste an hour away from my own kiddos.
Because there are so few hours left. Thursday night my 08-09 Schmidties will graduate – I’ll dab at tears and read their names with a proud and wistful smile. Friday they have a graduation breakfast and at noon I give them one last hug and send them out to their busses as middle schoolers.
Then I shut my classroom door and bawl. And offer a prayer that middle school is careful with them – or if the other middle schoolers aren’t kind, that they remain kind and supportive to each other. And remember that they’re amazing – no matter who conspires to tell them otherwise or what doubts sprout with hormones in the back of their brains.
But Thursday morning I spend with next year’s class. I know I’ll love them. I know they’ll be phenomenal and amaze me in all sorts of creative and unpredictable ways, but right now they’re usurpers – trying to steal their ways into a heart that’s slightly broken with impending farewells.
I know I’ve done my job. I know that each Schmidty feels loved and valued. I know they’ve grown, matured, and changed since September. They are ready – each and every one of them – for the new challenges that middle school will bring them.
I’m just not ready to say good-bye…
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.”
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.
Poets, yes. Spies, no.
Sixth graders are not stealthy. This isn’t news to me, but it was brought to my attention today –yet again – in a quite adorable way.
April is National Poetry Month. April is National Poetry Month and my kiddos have been writing poems. April is National Poetry Month, my kiddos have been writing poems, and one of this year’s dads was Poet Laureate of our town. I invited him in to talk to the class. Today.
This is where the not-so-stealthy part comes in.
Mr. Kiddo is in front of the class doing an excellent job of speaking about his writing process. He’s sharing some truly beautiful poems. I’m trying not to tear-up as he reads a poem about when his 12-year-old Buckaroo was just a baby. I glance around the classroom and notice something…
Most of the kiddos are entranced, chins in hands, leaning forward with rapt attention. But two… no, make that three. No, actually it’s four. Wait! FIVE! Five kiddos are futzing in their desks, or have put their head down, or are scribbling something in notebooks on their laps. WHAT? This is unacceptable. We are respectful in room 202!
I attempt some stealth of my own, trying to walk quietly across the room while my heels clack on the tile. One looks up with a sheepish grin as I approach. A second startles and slides what he’s writing into his desk. A third stays face down; her forehead pressed against the edge of the desk. I tap her shoulder, she jumps. I crouch and whisper: “Sweetpea, what are you doing? That’s not very polite.”
And then – I get it. I see the notebook in her lap and I get it. I peer across the table and spy another kiddo doing the same thing. I get it.
They’ve been inspired by Mr. Kiddo, his talk, and his poems: they’re writing.
“Sorry, Mrs. Schmidt,” whispers the pink-cheeked Sweetpea.
I wink. “Promise I’ll give you writing time after,” I whisper before patting her shoulder, standing, and not-so-stealthily clacking back across the room with a proud smile stretched ear to ear.