Two weeks ago I gained a deeper understanding of the book, “Cat in the Hat”.
A student’s rendering of my likeness. (The quickly scrawled bird was my doing.)
It all started when I walked into a 4th grade classroom, comfortable, cozy and ready to teach. When I walked down to the gym to escort the students to the classroom, they looked curious and as if they were about to have fun. (Somehow I think my glasses give them that impression.)
The main thing I try to get across to students, is learning can be fun, it doesn’t have to be this dreaded thing you are forced to be carted to 5 days of the week. The more fun you have learning, chances are the more you will remember. We started the morning working on prepositional phrases. This is something we went over at University recently , and people in their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s are still struggling to understand prepositional phrases. Because kids at this age generally try so hard at this, they feel they should understand and “get” everything in the first try. I emphasized that we were still studying this at my age and then they began to ease up on being so hard on themselves.
Once they realized they could be calm and themselves around me, they started peeling back their guarded layers. One student showed me their writing book. In it she had written a book about a Monster school, complete with Banana pudding pranks and more. As I read it, a smile couldn’t be kept from creeping across my face. When I told her I really enjoyed both of her stories, it was as if she finally gained acceptance of her creativity and an acknowledgement of her originality. She nodded with a satisfied smile.
Before they had to take a break to go to their other classes, one student quickly asked me to draw a Garfield on the board. Within seconds I had drawn the head of the beloved feline character. By the time I turned around, instead of it being the original boy who had asked for the drawing, it was the entire class gathered around the board to see how it was done.
I was in a class with kindred spirits. Many were budding writers, cartoonists and illustrators. All of them with original unique ideas on how to do things. These students were struggling because they were being forced to be in a box when they were capable of doing so much more. Were their drawings perfect? Were their stories completely free of grammatical errors? No. They finally understood everything takes work and time to make it perfect, they just wanted someone to let them know they were on the path of getting there.
The boy who had asked for the Garfield on the board drew his own version when he came back and it was amazing. A few other students, once they saw how it was done, started experimenting and trying their own hand at drawing Garfield.
From my own experience and from the students’ experience, by accomplishing one thing and being good at it, the simple joy from this one act can make you feel capable of doing anything of intellectual value.
I had to dismiss them for lunch, and went to eat my own in the teacher’s lounge. All of the teachers there were wonderful, amazing and incredibly nurturing. You could tell they cared about the students and their job by how they painstakingly painted and decorated their place of lunchtime respite. Because I’d never taught there before, I was nervous and after devouring a sandwich, I went to pick up the kids.
I was early.
As I stood there at the door, one of my students was sitting with kids from other classes, when suddenly one of the children he was sitting with shouted, “Hey you should come sub for our class sometime!” I told him I would love to if given the opportunity.
When we finally came back from lunch we started to work on math skills. When I was younger and their age, math was a struggle for me. It has been ever since Kindergarten. It doesn’t mean I’m not smart, it just means it was something I had to work at more so than most students. Knowing that this class was full of kindred souls, it was going to be a challenging subject for them. Since I’m the ripe age of 35, it’s obvious I’ve had much practice in getting multiplication painstakingly down pat. The students who were having issues I gave individual attention to, occasionally breaking to do a problem on the board when more than one student had difficulty with a particular problem.
Then came the class clown. She had been acting up all day. Mind you, it wasn’t in a bad way. She is the kind of student who is very bright, and excels at most subjects except for one, Math. All day she would finish her work and then instigate other side projects she had going on like a fake raffle she had put together or purposely asking random questions to throw students off their game.
In the morning when she first started acting up, I knew her name by the seating chart. She was impressed that “the sub” knew her name. Then she asked if she could instead be called by her middle name which she liked better. I told her if she behaved the rest of the day that I would comply. She tried, she really did try to be a good student. However her intelligence got the better of her as she became bored easily.
When we got to math however, she raised her hand asking for help. With her head down on the palm of her hand, she calmly stated, “I don’t get it”. I felt horrible for her because I knew exactly what she was experiencing. I had been on my knees trying to sit at desk level while showing her how to work the numbers right to left. She was silent but you could tell something was really getting to her. She went to an empty table, and brought a chair over for me to sit on while helping her. She then said, “I think you have gum on your shoe by the way.” Quickly I looked at my shoes and realized there was a indeed something there but it wasn’t gum. I looked at her and said, “It’s a raisin. I think it might have come from my house.” Smiling at her she smiled back and as we tried to go over the math problems. Her eyes started watering. Within seconds it wasn’t hard to notice it was more than just “allergies”. I asked her if she was alright. She was putting on a brave face trying to be strong and said, “I’m fine, I don’t know why I’m getting teary eyed, this just happens sometimes.” Thinking it was her frustration with math I then calmly said, “You know what, it’s O.K. Math was really frustrating for me when I was your age too. It can be a frustrating subject.”
It didn’t become clear until much later what was going on. As we packed up to get ready to go home, the class clown drew the opening picture of this blog entry. Everyone had been dismissed to their bus while the class clown remained behind with a few other students to be picked up by their parents.
“We’re going to miss you.”
It was then I realized the reason for the tears. The class clown realized earlier our fun had to end. We wouldn’t be getting to see each other on Monday. They were not my students to teach and tend to every Monday through Friday until May. I was not their teacher to show them it is okay to be unique, a little offbeat and to make mistakes because that is how you learn. The moment was settling into all of us.
I walked them to their parents’ cars and the gymnasium. Knowing I had reached and helped them as much as they helped me, cementing my purpose in this life, it was a long drive home.
“That is it, that is that”, and I was gone with the tip of my hat.