Sunday, December 21, 2014

Don't Try This At Home

It's hard to believe it's already December and soon a new year will be here.  Friday was our class party with a New Year's Eve theme.   It goes without saying that the last day before the break is extremely exciting for a kid.  It also goes without saying that it is even more equally exciting for a teacher.  This was evident each and every time I passed a teacher friend in the hallway.  

As the first bell rang and I took up my post by the classroom doorway to greet students and chat with teachers as they stood outside their doorways, it began.

"Seven hours!" called over my next door neighbor above the heads of the little ones hanging up their coats and chattering excitedly.

I smiled back, happy that it was only seven hours, but also knowing deep down that seven hours can seem like many more on a day before a school break.

In the lunch line, at least three other teachers reminded me of the remaining time.  Accurate to the minute, perhaps even second.  We all had a little more pep in our step and a ready smile.  I caught myself looking at the clock more often, counting down in my head the minutes until I could be free of the demanding job that I love so much.  

Now, don't get the wrong impression.  Teachers don't want to get away from students and go on break because they don't like their job or the students.  Teachers just need some time away.  From the constant calling out of our name, the unending pile of paperwork, the "too much to do, too little time" feeling that is constantly nagging us, and the management of twenty-four little personalities   It's exhausting.  And we need this time away to recharge and reenergize so that we can come back in January and be the best teacher we can be. 

As Friday passed slowly, and the kids were trying their very best to behave and contain their excitement and anticipation of the holidays, we finally make it to the afternoon.  One of my students was having difficulty with a little mini stapler that he had bought in the classroom ticket exchange.  As he watched very closely, I pushed the tiny staples into the tiny stapler and gave it a try.  It wasn't working.  I pushed and snapped it back and forth and suddenly it stapled!  Right into my index finger!   And by stapled, I mean it embedded itself into my finger better than I have ever seen a stapler staple.  

My eyes met the little student who was the owner of the stapler and both our eyes grew into the size of saucers.   One little cutie who had been watching in fascination while I attempted to get the stapler to work, covered her mouth and began repeating words like "oh no", over and over and over.  She covered her mouth, eyes wide, not quite sure what to do.   

Now, when you work with little ones, you have to always remain calm, cool, and collected.  We have fire drills and tornado drills and scary lock down drills and teachers are the height of coolness and calm. We calm down upset kids, mediate arguments, help with lost items, you name it and we do it.  All with a smile and a very patient temperament.    Even when you have just put a staple into your finger.  I couldn't react the way I might if I were alone or with adults.  Of course, if you think about it, I would never be in a situation with adults where I could possibly staple my finger.  

The fact is, any time there is a ruckus or commotion in the classroom, every single student has to rush over to see just what is happening and what they possibly might be missing out on.   So, there I was, standing at the back table holding my finger out so several little ones could admire (or be repulsed) by this staple in my finger.   And, by the way, yes.  It did hurt. A lot.

I tried to pull it out but it was deeper in my finger than any staple I've ever pounded into my wall or bulletin board.  Great.  Even though only a few seconds had passed, it felt like minutes as the little girl continued to look scared (and still had not stopped her chorus of "oh no") and the owner of the stapler looked helplessly on.  They waited for my lead. 

I pulled at it with my fingernail, all the while assuring them that all was fine.  That it was perfectly normal to have a staple in your finger.  But it simply was not budging.  I pulled again and then finally headed over to my desk to find a staple remover.  I was actually thinking that I would have to use it to get this thing out of my finger.  And, yes.  It was hurting even more.  In fact, now it was throbbing.  

My little crowd followed me to my desk and luckily, I pulled one last time and the staple came out.   Immediately, a couple of my little helpers raced to the sink to get a paper towel and water and soap and a bandaid and anything else they thought might help, including a spork.   It wasn't really bleeding and although it did hurt, I soldiered on.  I showed the darling little girl that it wasn't even bleeding.  

"Hey!  It looked worse than it feels," I told her to make her feel better.  "It really doesn't even hurt."   I smiled my best teacher smile.  

She looked relieved.   The stapler owner tossed the defective stapler into the trash in a show of disgust and support of my finger.  

"I'm fine!  I'm fine!" I reassured them all.  "But I wouldn't recommend any of you try this at home!  Just stick to rulers on pencils and clicking your pens."     

They giggled and you could see they all were ok now that I was ok.  Their worry for me is so heart-warming.  The last thing they want is for anything to happen to me.  A classroom of students is like your own little fan club.  

One of the things I always tell my students when they are playing with something in the classroom, like twirling their ruler on their pencil, clicking their pen, or playing with scissors is to save that for when they are home on the weekend with their parents.  I tell them to walk around their house all day Saturday clicking pens, twirling rulers, and playing with scissors.   They always laugh.     We are at the point in the year where as soon as I remind them not to play with something, they all parrot back what I have been telling them all year. 

It was a great New Year's Party on Friday. We had balloons and decorations and music. The kids played some games, wore hats and tiaras, decorated glasses, ate some food, and limboed.  They laughed and had fun.  Just like a kid should do every day.   They gave me gifts and cards they had made with markers and stickers and glitter.  They hugged me tight before they left.  They told me they would miss me and see me next year.   Two weeks is a long time for a nine year old.  I will most certainly miss them too.

And as I glanced up at the clock for the final time a few minutes before the bell rang and looked down at my bandaged finger that was still throbbing, I realized there was no place else I would want to be.  I was giddy at the thought of having two whole weeks of vacation.   One little cutie came up to me to hug me and tell me she would miss me.  She took her little hand and pulled my hand up to look at my bandaged finger. 

"Is your finger ok?" she asked.  

"Yep," I told her.  "Good as new. Just remember  - don't try that one at home!" 

To all my fellow teachers  - 

     Happy holidays!  Enjoy every minute of your break from school.     


Wednesday, December 3, 2014


There are so many fun little things that happen every day in a 3rd grade classroom (or in any classroom for that matter), but today was even more fun than usual.  For starters, we had our first field trip of the year - a wonderful trip to our nature center to kick-off our Geology unit. Now, as you could probably already surmise, kids love field trips no matter where they are or what you do.  It's a win-win for them: a ride on a school bus, time away from the classroom, and something new!

So this morning, ten minutes after the bell rang, we were lining up again to head to the bus and start the fun.  The excitement was palpable.  Once I had them lined up by the door, I gave them my short & sweet, "Field Trip Behavior 101" speech.  Be polite. Don't interrupt.  Listen & learn. Have fun.  And then I reminded them that if they made it to 3rd grade, they've been on countless field trips and therefore obviously know how to act properly on a field trip.  

"Any questions about what proper behavior is?" I asked, arching my eyebrows as I looked up and down the line of little ones.  

They eyed me back with their best behavior student looks.  

"Super!  Then we're off!" I exclaimed as I marched them out the door and to the bus.

Now, I'll be honest.  I don't like riding on school buses.  I don't like the bouncy, no-padding-in-the-cushions seats.  I don't like all the noise and the small windows.  I don't like the feeling of not having a seat belt.   I get car sick easily so I'm constantly trying to look out the windows at the horizon to keep from feeling queasy.  Which is nearly impossible when you have little ones telling you a story or you're turned around giving student A an evil eye and motioning for said student to sit down.   But, luckily it was a short trip over to the nature center.

Once there, the students were moved around into different rooms and had all kinds of fun hands-on activities to do and things to explore.  If they got a grade for field trip behavior, they would all get an A+. We got back to school, promptly went to lunch and then I announced that we were going to do some reflecting on our field trip experience and our 
learning.   So, I began handing out a 9 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper as I walked around talking.   As I passed by one little girl, she turned to her friend and said, "Oh goody. I think we're gonna get to do a craft."  

Wah-Wah.  Sorry, little one, but we barely have time to get through curriculum and our 10,000 other things we have to do.  And you have no idea, but soon the principal will be in the classroom to do my formal observation. There will be no craft today.  But kudos to you on the optimistic attitude!

After the directions were given and the students began busily thinking about the field trip [side note: little craft girl did not seemed fazed that we were not doing a craft] and writing about the things they saw and learned about, I passed by one little boy who was very diligently writing.  He caught my arm as I walked by and pointed to a word on his paper.   

"This is right... right?"  he asked.  "This is the thing in the rocks.  You know the cave thing," he continued.

And as a teacher, naturally I knew exactly what he was talking about.  We have a tremendous ability to understand "things" and put clues together like no body's business. Some days it's like we are in a constant game of Pictionary.  Or maybe Hangman. 

He had written:  tavern.   Which by that he meant cavern

"I think you mean cavern," I corrected.  "Do you know what a tavern is?" 

At this, three other boys at the table joined in the guess the vocabulary word game and started rattling off a bunch of nonsense.  

"Enough nonsense," I said.  "A tavern is like a bar.  People go there to drink and eat."

They all started laughing a bit and I redirected them back to their papers.

Off on the other side of the room two tiny scientists were debating about the "little shovel thingie" (see what I mean about "things") that they had used to dig up fossils.  

"It's a scowl," one was saying.  

"No.  I don't think that was it.  I think it was a towel," countered student number 2.

I headed over.   "THIS is a scowl," I said to them as I knelt down and gave my scowliest look.   "And a towel is what you dry off with after you shower.   I think you mean t-r-o-w-e-l."  

"Well, that's sure a weird word," said one of the boys.  

"I agree," I replied. And I moved on to the other tables to see what was going on. 

I'm hoping my observation went well.  I'm hoping my principal enjoyed all the wonderful little students I have and all the learning and fun that takes place inside our classroom, not just for a little while, but every day, all day.   

And, maybe, just maybe, I will go off the grid one day and I will hand out some paper and we will do that craft.