The mark of a great teacher is not a neat and tidy desk. It's not a quiet room, silent and still. It's not papers always neatly checked and stickered. It's not perfectly organized files or eye-popping bulletin boards. It's not an uncanny ability to coordinate stylish professional clothes with sensible shoes. The mark of a real teacher is being able to maintain your sanity on the third consecutive day of indoor recess. In the winter.
Now, I know what all you laymen are thinking. Oh you teachers! You are constantly on some kind of winter break or spring break or holiday break. You only work from 9-5 and you have summers off. How hard can your job really be?
Well, let's start at the beginning, shall we?
Arrive at school at 7:45 a.m. and wrestle school bag, bag of valentine gifts for students, lunch bag, and stack of math journals from back seat. Strategically balance load so as not to injure shoulder or back. Head to classroom, drop heaps on desk and floor and put name badge on. Head for coffee. Check in on mentee, talk about the day, and see if she needs anything.
Sprint back to room to begin getting classroom ready and review plans and prepare materials for the day. Write morning greeting on board. Fill out planner for the day. Post daily schedule on board. Copy. Review journals from yesterday. Read and comment on writing from yesterday. Sort and arrange math workshop material. Attempt to clean up stacks accumulating behind desk. Give up after ten minutes. Place another stack behind desk for "later". [Later = when you come in one day over spring break to clean up behind your desk because you ran out of room]
About this point, glance at the clock and take a few final minutes before the bell rings to use the bathroom and refill coffee. God knows it may be hours before you get the chance to do either of these again. Once the bell rings, any and every minute will be filled with kids.
Each day this week, the volume of the talking and the fidgeting and the silliness has escalated and is directly proportional to the number of outdoor recess minutes turned into indoor recess minutes. Quite simply, we are all cooped up in a small room, all day. We need air. And we need to run.
Shortly after noon, when the classroom speaker announced: "Extras in the kitchen if you'd like to walk down and get them!" my classroom became instantly silent. This is because we all knew that there would also be a declaration of whether today would be indoor or outdoor recess. We all held our breath.
The voice on the speaker continued. "And due to the icy conditions on the blacktop and fields, today will be indoor recess."
I didn't mean to, but I groaned out loud. Loudly. The students sympathized a bit with me and expressed a bit of disappointment themselves. Even though they would still get recess, indoor recess playing Clue or Dominoes could never compare to running around outside free as a bird. And speaking of birds, about that time one of my students approached me at the back table. I was slowly chewing my strawberries as I vacantly stared out the window at the play structure. I was becoming immune to the noise and chaos in my classroom.
"Indoor recess is like being in prison!" he exclaimed, kicking his foot at the floor. I knew he was trying to tell me that he didn't like it anymore than I did. And making a mental picture of my students as cute little jailbirds cheered me a bit.
The afternoon got louder. The children became increasingly restless. For the first time this year I had several kids arguing. It was more and more difficult to get their attention, let alone complete any lengthy assignments. I was certainly not my usual positive self. I secretly berated myself for letting them make their Valentine envelopes yesterday. I had used the "more fun" activity yesterday, to survive Day 2 of indoor recess.
At about this time, a tornado drill was announced. Students haphazardly stood up and we lined up and headed to our tornado drill spot and assumed the position. All of them moved quickly, and amazingly quite quietly, and sat on the floor and covered their heads. And then over in the corner I heard one of my students whispering, "I'm in the corner!" I looked and he was, most certainly curled in the corner, but his body was contorted into a move that would have impressed members of a Cicque du Soleil show. Within seconds another boy had joined in and they had rolled themselves up and were moving about on the floor. I rolled my eyes at the other teacher in the room with me, moved closer to the boys, and asked them to please sit in the correct position.
With only forty minutes left in this day, I reassured myself that I could make it. That tomorrow most certainly would be outdoor recess and things would go back to normal again. That time outside to run and play would reset everything back to how it should be. After herding the students back into the classroom [jail] I was struck with an epiphany! They could clean out their desks! They all needed to, it would allow them to move, and they could talk. And as a bonus -- their desk would be neatly organized and clean. So they cleaned their desks and we ended the day in the library, checking out books and reading.
And just like the mark of a great teacher is not the neat and organized desk, the sign of a good student is not the neat and tidy desk either.
The sign of a good student is their ability to maintain sanity when their teacher is losing a bit of her own.