I went to school yesterday with apprehension. Typically when we have a day where the schedule is askew and/or is right before a holiday break, it is extremely tough to deal with students. Given that they also are eating way too much sugar on these types of days..well, it has often been a recipe for disaster. I’ve seen even the best kids off their game.
But yesterday was different. It began when former student, Isabella, stopped by and gave me a box of chocolates, a “Best Teacher” ornament, and a huge hug.
Then I went into my room and found the following note on my computer keyboard:
This is from a student who is really too old to be in 7th grade, but has been held back because of missing a lot of school. He often has to stay home to take care of younger brothers and sisters. He wrote me the note/poem because he is moving and is still unsure on whether he will be coming back to our school after break. I cannot even begin to describe how it breaks my heart to see this intelligent boy reduced by his circumstances over and over again, living with such uncertainty, yet applying himself day after day. I truly hope he does return.
My students are almost all with my double blocks, so the plan was to spend some time outdoors letting the kids play; rain set in making it impossible. I quickly pulled together a game of “What Am I?” After we did Author’s Chair, where several students and myself read our personification poems to the class, the kids played the game. It was so wonderful to see them all engaged and having a good time, trying to figure out, through questions only, what each person was.
Because of our winter concert assembly, our schedule was discombobulated, bringing my 3rd period to me with the promise of them returning later when it was finally 4th period. All week we had worked these kids, promising them recess during 4th if they completed all their work. This is the same class that has caused me to cry twice in the last month, I mean really cry, like for hours. They put up every resistance they can, are fairly cruel to each other and to their teachers, and simply will not comply with the simplest instruction — such as “get in a quiet line to walk to lunch.” Even into December it is still a daily battle with this class. They have flummoxed me, my co-teacher, other teachers, and even the administration.
So when they arrived 3rd period, and it was raining, and the forecast still said it would be raining when they returned later for 4th, I knew we needed a miracle. I asked them if they believed in magic? Some said they did. So I pulled out a “magic” technique I had witnessed work at a conference one year. We went out on the bus ramp and we used our fingers as scissors to “cut away” the clouds. While some cut away, others danced a “reverse rain dance” in the sprinkling rain, asking the clouds to go away for 4th period.
We came back in the room and some of the kids performed their poems, which were more like raps and were a lot of fun. Then we sent them on their way until later.
My 8th graders came in, and we revisited an idea I had brought them from the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference. I suggested we put together a book of our own personal “Top 10” lists, which was something done at SIWC to celebrate the 10 year anniversary. We brainstormed all the ways they could do their lists, put our resident artist to the task of creating the cover, put on some Christmas music (with permission of the Jewish and Muslim students in the room), and projected a fireplace fire video onto the smart board. This was the quietest I have ever heard these students work when they are still allowed to talk! They were deep into creating their top Ten lists, among them the 10 best EDM music genres, 10 best restaurants to get chicken dinners, and 10 pieces of advice for surviving middle school.
We went to lunch late in the period, and after that played the “Who Am I” game, which ended up involving this one girl who usually is pretty checked out and doesn’t say much. It was fun to see her personality shining through as we played the game.
Then the 4th period students returned. It was still cloudy outside, but the sprinkling rain had stopped. This was a special day in this class because it was the last day for one student, Prentice, who is moving to Houston.
My co-teacher, Shannon Richardson, took most of them outside, and a couple of girls stayed behind. I put them to work cleaning my white boards so they would be fresh and ready for the new year. Soon, some of the other students started trickling back into the room, and they proceeded to write on the freshly-cleaned white board. I looked to see what they were doing and lo and behold! I was surprised — they were writing some very sweet “good-bye” messages to Prentice. A girl named E’Nazhae was running the show, and everyone was doing their part. We put a student on “watch” for Prentice to return, and when we saw him and the other boys coming, E’nazhae snapped them all into a line. Miracle upon miracle! They DO know how to form a line. (I’m being sarcastic, I know, but really…I had never seen this phenomenon before.) They yelled “Surprise” when Prentice walked in. We took some pictures. He was totally overwhelmed with love and affection.
When I told Shannon about E’nazhae getting them to line up straight, she said, “Maybe we should just have her do that from now on.” It’s a thought.
By now I was totally in love with all my students again. I had some time during 7th to finalize all my preparations for when we return. I’m never this “on it.” I knew when I walked out at 4:00 that I was totally ready for break.
My 8th period students came in — this is a small class with many English Language Learners. They had a blast playing the “Who Are You?” game. I got to see them in action in new and different ways. One boy that had been really struggling has taken a leap in his engagement and ability to answer questions. We went to the concert and they gave me a million hugs before they left. My heart was glowing like E.T.’s after this day, I swear.
And I’ve learned something, too. I went with my gut a lot yesterday. I rolled with whatever was thrown at me. I persisted a little where I thought it was important. I gave choices. In other words, I did all the best things teachers can do. It can be so difficult when constantly barraged with mandates and hammering of standards to take this approach. I got to see again how truly effective it can be when students can have some time and space. I saw love, connection, engagement, empathy, connection, and downright FUN. This is why I say it was the best day ever!