As I sit here wondering if my three weeks of vacation is enough time to unwind the knots in my back and my newly acquired stress-induced facial twitch I look back on my first semester of teaching elementary students. Whilst some of my stress related injuries are probably related to my present life circumstances rather than my job, I do think that some of the damage is related to wrangling packs of children into being creative and producing masterpieces. For the first part of the semester I was wallowing in thinking that I was as ineffective as the levies in New Orleans until Thanksgiving when the beast of creativity came out of my bedroom closet. In lieu of Thanksgiving Rosslyn has a Cultural Richness Day where any teacher who wished to participate or force their students to participate can produce displays, performances, food, etc. to celebrate Rosslyn’s cultural richness. Rosslyn is a place that is happily multi-cultural so this day seems to go well and it’s a chance for us to display the aptitude of our children; it’s also an opportunity for more work. The beast of creativity is a persistent beast, once his voice implants an idea in your head it must be expunged by action. Now my personal totem beast has his fingers in all areas of my life and he saw cultural richness day as an opportunity to burst out of my closet and begin implanting thoughts and ideas that would not die until executed. He whispered the idea of having each grade creating a work that represents a country represented here at Rosslyn. So in a whirlwind of face twitching inducing activity I produced a huge display including work from 190 students in the elementary. I finished and sat at my desk panting and wondering if it was worth it; and then, I got… compliments. From parents, from co-workers, from my principal. And I heard the kids talking and pointing out their work. It occurred to me, maybe I’m doing a good job. Maybe I can facilitate the production of good work from small children, maybe I am getting something across to them, maybe I’m not just surviving.
Other than stress injuries I’ve also developed more of a love for children. I went into this job terrified that I could not handle twenty active kids with impulse control and the ability to misbehave at will. I learned though that telling them my expectations will truncate much ‘misbehavior.’ I have had entire classes explode on me, and I have almost lost my mind trying to control the noise level in my classroom. During on such explosion my water turned off right as a class of third graders was going to wash their palettes and brushes. There was only one sink working, I called my principal in a panic. She strapped on her cape and swooped down on my classroom with a maintenance man in tow right as fifteen kids were going bonkers while trying to wash their palettes all at one sink. She sent them to the bathroom to wash everything out, as soon as the dust cleared (or paint splatters) I noticed that two of my students had grabbed the trash can and were picking trash up off the floor. I almost cried. These are good kids, and I feel special that I get to work with them and be a part of their education. Largely I also feel special that I can be around kids because kids are special, you’re only a child for a short period of your life and in that time you have such a unique way of looking at the world and I get to be a part of that world.
One of the parts of that world that I have noticed is the fact that children can be completely oblivious to happenings around and will be fully engrossed in their own world, call these space cadets and I’ve witnessed a few different kinds:
1. Passive space cadet: doesn’t know what is going on and has no clue that they don’t know what is going on, and often you don’t know that they don’t know until you look at their work. Once you figure out that they don’t know what is going on they can often be a source of great comedy or great distress.
2. Active space cadet: noticeable by repeated cries of, ‘Mrs. Barnett I don’t get it!’ or, ‘Mrs. Barnett what am I supposed to do?!’ This is easy to deal with because at least we all know that you don’t get it.
3. Passive intelligent space cadet: always looking out the window or at the wall, or anywhere else but where they should be, but knows exactly what is going and if asked can tell you verbatim what you just said.
4. Active intelligent space cadet: Little Johnny is twirling around in his seat, poking his neighbor, playing with his nametag, looking underneath the table, and all the time knows exactly what is going on and can tell you what he’s supposed to do and how he is going to expand on it.
5. Passive intelligent philosophical space cadet: in the middle of class comes up and asks you what it feels like to die of old age, but is still doing his work and doing excellent work.
Quite often it’s hard to keep a straight face. Sometimes it’s very easy…..