Over the past week I had the privelige of seeing a phenomenon that still has me thinking. Who am I listening to? And, is that the right person to look to in that particular situation. It was watching a pivotal moment for my students that forced me to ask these and many other questions. Let me get to the story.
I was taking yearbook pictures of the wrestling match. Usually before I take pictures I watch the kids to observe how they move. This way when they are in action, I catch the picture at the right moment. What I observed was not good. Turning to a friend, my assessment was, “This is one motley crew.” It was my kind way of saying we’re gonna lose. The friend nodded in agreement.
Then the match began. If I wasn’t there I’d have sworn that Tinkerbell, or the fairy of wrestling descended upon this group. Once those boys were on the mat, their goofy behavior was left on their chair. They were serious athletes. All but three won.
Two lost because their heads were pounded into the ground and blood was gushing out of their mouths and noses. They returned to the mat with cotton swab stuffed noses and vaseline coated lips. Hey, if I had to wrestle with a cotton ball up my nose, I’d let the other guy win too.
After a couple winning rounds, I noticed how the boys were winning. Whenever they were in a position that they found too precarious, those goofy boys looked up at their coach. He told them in a quiet but assured voice what they needed to do. And, they did it! And, lo and behold they won. Time and again.
The one that lost was my pivotal moment. He didn’t lose because he was a goofy, or a poor athlete for that matter. He was one of the better athletes in the group. This poor child’s problem was his well meaning father. While he wrestled his father was screaming at the top of his lungs. “PIN HIM”, “KEEP YOUR BACK STRAIGHT”, “KEEP YOUR FOCUS” or “YOU GOT HIM.” The screaming was encouragement and support. However, it was loud. So when this one wrestler was in a bind, he couldn’t hear the coach. The match ended with him being pinned by the other team.
That dad did not intend to distract his son. He believed his son, with his encouragement, could win. Then I got to thinking about the people in my life. Are they telling me the wrong thing-even though it sounds good. Are they distracting me from hearing that quiet voice, that will tell me the next step I need to take? Even more important am I looking for that voice? Is my focus in the right place? All of a sudden at thirty plus twelve years, I have come to the realization that who you listen to really does make a big difference. Hopefully, I’ll remember this in, not after, future pivotal situations. However, I know if that doesn’t happen I’ll have some good writing material.
It is the end of the school year and things are wrapping up nicely. My students have an understanding of each other that transcends most classrooms. Six different languages are spoken in my class with English being the only real common denominator. We thought we’d celebrate their successes by playing a friendly game of soccer. It would be 7th vs 8th grade students. What the 8th graders make up in brawn the 7th graders make up in quantity. It was a 10 to 8 ratio. Even in this the 8th graders had an advantage. Two of the players were on after school league teams. They were mini Zindanes.
The kids tried coaxing me into playing, but I politely declined showing them my maryjane shoes. The were black flats with a strap that went across the top of my foot. Although they were cute with the capri’s and blouse I was wearing they wouldn’t work on the soccer field.
Then I lived a moment that every sports fan must feel while watching their favorite team. It is a moment where time stands still and you can see yourself in the game, making the perfect move. One of the 8th graders was going by and doing some fancy footwork with the ball. My mind said to me, “Trish you could run alongside him and steal the ball for your 7th graders and then kick it to that one kid that is open across the field.” In a knee jerk reaction I took off running.
The 7th graders were cheering, “Yeah, Mrs. B is playing.” This made the moment richer. Now the play was three feet in front of me. So I changed my postion by making a 90 degree turn. And this is when reality collided with fantasy. Literally.
As I turned my girl shoes lost their grip and instead of running alongside the future professional soccer player I was sliding into a collision course with this ball dribbling speed demon. My feet went under his and did hit the ball, but that wasn’t enough to stop the course of action. My head made contact with the moving person, which hurt like a son of a gun and then I fell to the ground with a thud. The other player had to take giant steps to prevent him from landing on top of me.
From three feet away through his heavy Asian accent the speed demon returned to being my student, “Are you o.k. Mrs. B?” The side of my leg was scraped and screaming and there were grass stains on my cute capris. The girl in me wanted to cry, the teacher remembered that I had to keep it together. It was one of those embarrassing teacher moments that kids love to capture with their cell phones and post on youtube. Lucky for me they too busy playing to be concerned with technology.
So, I stood up to see 18 students staring at me with their mouths agape. What could I say to save this moment. The teacher that wants to make everybody feels like all is good in the world came out, I said, “Hey (fill in with the student’s name) kicked me!” The student I collided with had been having problems kicking and tripping the other students. “(fill in with the student’s name) kicked me!” had been a common statement in our class. We all burst into laughter.
I limped off the field and their game continued and ended in a tie. Regardless of the score we all won that day. The student that would only utter two word phrases in my presence transformed into, much to my dismay, the conversationalist. Another student who had been timid in the class became a powerhouse on the soccer field. And the six languages didn’t matter because we all had a common bond. We lived an hour of a day where the love of a game was the only universal language we needed.
Two weeks ago a friend asked a group of us to share our reading experiences. The question was how did you learn how to read at first and how has your reading changed since then. My story isn’t the same as most. I learned to read when I was four because I wanted to be able to read the comics. At (fill in any number you want here) I still love the comics. They are the first thing I read when I get my hands on the newspaper. there is more to the story, but I’ll save that for another blog.
Then I got to thinking. Now my house is covered in books. We won’t move because it would take a moving truck to haul the books and I’m not going to depart with my dearly beloved friends that are encapsulated within the text. That’s big talk for the characters have become so real in my mind I really do forget that they are pretend sometimes.
Another reason I’m not going to let go of the books is because I did not have that many as a child. I still remember reading a Dick and Jane text book over and over as a 6 year old. That was the only book we had in the house for a long time. Then somebody, I can not remember who, gave my parents a mini library. It was an encyclopedia set of short stories that were Christian based. They were Uncle Arthur’s Stories. There were enough to keep me entertained for easily a year. This person’s kindness changed my reading habits.
You know how we fight with our kids to stop playing video games. That was how it was with my parents and my books. “Go out and be a normal kid!” My dad yelled often. Thinking back I couldn’t really blame him. I was reading under the covers with a flashlight by night and in the corners of closets. Anytime I could read Eventually he figured out it was a fight that wasn’t going to be won and he subscribed to the Readers Digest and the Readers Digest short story books and we read together.
Years later I became a reading teacher and that would have students that hate to read. If anyone was wondering, this is proof that God has a sense of humor. Every year up until January I have to convince kids that reading and getting a root canal are not synonymous. This year has been harder than others. It is April and this tough group of kids has finally realized they like to read if it is a topic that can hold their interest. Every year the topic is different. This year it is Walter Dean Myers. I have a group of boys that will read anything if it has to do with war. One of them hadn’t finished a book this year. He’d read with me, but if he was left to his own devices there were a lot more thing to do other than reading. Grrrrrr.
Per his request, I bought Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, and the little nonreader wasn’t reading it. Prompted by the memory of my childhood reading experience I said to Mr. Nonreader, “If you’ll read this book, I will let you have it.”
Magic Happened. He read and asked for a bookmark. This child had been under my tutelage for 24 weeks and never asked for a bookmark. That was just the beginning.Now he comes to class sharing about what he read the night prior, talking about the characters like they were his friends.
I smiled and listened. That’s all I could do because I couldn’t contribute to the conversation because he had my only copy of the book. But that didn’t matter to him, because for the first time in our relationship, he was the one sharing the information with me. That was a change I never saw coming. Although I have to say, I so love it when that happens. It keeps me on my toes.
HOLY COW…I happily typed up some adventures and saved them as drafts because I couldn’t upload pictures. Today I go to add those pictures and nada. Sometimes writing is an adventure but that is not what this blog is about.
This is the blog…………………
I am teaching summer school (yeah Trish we know that) and have this group of kids that won’t smile or laugh at my jokes. I know you have been reading my blogs and remember that too. Well this class of kids has driven me to prayer. The kids from the two different schools won’t talk to each other. I intentionally have them play learning games where the kids from the different schools have to talk and it is the quietest time of the class. They just stand around and look at each other awkwardly.
Add to that the kids from my regular year class are being bad. In the back of my mind I’m kind of thinking I wouldn’t want to talk to you either. I’m not a giver upper but I have contemplated never teaching summer school ever again.
Then today happened. Every day we have to read a passage for one minute and the kids count how many words they read in a minute. They love it! Usually they increase by one or two words a day. Or if there is a decrease it is because they are reading clearer. Sometimes ELL kids don’t get that enunciation thing right away. So one of the kids reads and he gets 16o words or something like that today. 7 class days ago he was at 90. So I ask him if he read slower because he felt shy. He said no that was a sincere reading the first time he was doing his best. No lying I started crying! I tried to keep my cool but my mind kept saying “this is why you do this.” This kid almost doubled his reading ability in 7 (3 hour session) classes. For the second time in one day the entire class went silent. What was really cool was after that the rest of the class started reading and doing their work and showing me they were learning too.
This has to be what those people feel like when they reach the top of Mount Kilamannjaro. So I’m counting it as an adventure.
In an earlier post I wrote about wanting to drive so I could see sights unseen (i.e. the world’s biggest McDonald’s) from an airplane.
I know it’s cool because there are at least 100 pictures of the place on flickr. There is even a picture of a guy doing a “oh what a feeling jump” in front of the place. That is what the road trip experience does. It makes you goofy beyond measure.
One time the family drove to Mt Rainier and a bee got into the car while we were driving on a winding road. Like the fish that never gets caught it gets bigger with each retelling. By now that sucker was as big as one of the boys’ head. Picture an angry dad yelling at the hysterical mom and kids screaming and swatting. His yell was so effective even the bee piped down. To this day we do not know where the bee went, but we were placated by the absence of the potential altercation with nature. We can’t tell you much about Mt. Rainier but we all three of us can vividly share the bee story. It was a random moment where we saw something in a different light. Likewise, you know the Big Macs in that McDonald’s must be Mctastier than the Big Macs in all the other stores.
Well for today’s adventure I didn’t have to go too far. In the mornings I teach summer school. Teaching 13 and 14 years olds during the school year is interesting. Summer is an entirely different experience. Their attitude rises with the temperature. Even more interesting is my class is a mixture of kids from two different schools. The kiddos from my school know I have weaknesses like the love of cookies and laughter and work them to their advantage. The visiting students are still trying to work their “I’m too cool for you game” that just alienates them more than they realize. But that’s a different blog-this one’s about sights never seen before.
So I’m teaching and I tell a joke. This joke was good. That’s when I saw “the sight”. They physically reacted at first and you could see the laughter rise up in their body and go into their face. They stopped just short of a complete smile. They thought they were being “too cool” to outwardly appreciate the joke. To the observers eye it looked like they had a synchronized gas passing experience. Honestly five of them did this laugh then not laugh thing at the same time.
Of course I’m sensitive enough to a rare phenomenon to respect the moment. I acted like nothing happened, but whenI got into my car and thought back to the moment I bust out laughing. If they knew they looked like they were farting they would be horrified. It is a sight I will never forget and since the laughter happened in the car I think that counts as a road trip adventure. Now I want some McDonalds
Stealing is common in middle school. Developmentally it is appropriate-because it has an element of risk that doesn’t involve the loss of life or limb. It can also come from being in “lack” circumstances. This year the problem has been (fill in the blank with a word that means really really big). Kids have had to move because of foreclosures or they had homes with amenities one day and go home the next day to find it all gone or shut off. I know because they tell me. Note to parents-kids do know more than you think.
To kind of make them feel comfortable with the stress the tone in my classroom is more familial. My role is an Aunt Jemima that went to Jenny Craig. I have the habits without the hips. We have had cocoa parties, cookie parties, sucker parties and whatever tastes good and will allow for a 10 minute celebration of life. It changed the class to a comfort zone and a source of temporary refuge from the stress outside my classroom doors.
Some yahoo messed with my refuge and went about stealing pencils. One day he/she or it stole 6 pencils. When there is only 13 kids in the classroom that’s a lot. It was a mess. I had to call for backup and get my tall, bald headed, steely blue eyed, non smiling friend to give interrogations to get to the bottom of the issue. We never found the pencil stealer, but it put out the message that stealing is not cool. It was so effective that whenever anybody says they’re missing a pencil everybody, myself included, raises their hands in the air and says to whomever is near them, “It wasn’t me.”
So the stealing for the most part stopped. Then one of them tried stealing my ipod. It was one of those moments in life where I saw the multiple choice options. I could
A. Slap it out of his hand and claim temporary insanity
B. Break out into open prayer (that’s a chapter in my book)
C. Send him to my tall friend
D. Warn him
I chose “D”
Sounding more ghetto that I intended I said, “Yo, that ipod has Christian music. If you take it you will hear God’s voice talking to you in the middle of the night.” He threw the ipod down so hard it turned on and we both laughed about it. Now, I’m thinking about buying pencils with bible verses. I bet you they’d stay in my room the entire school year.