I am an Art teacher by training but I currently teach all of the arts at the elementary school level. That means music, dance and movement, performance and drama. I arrange and execute the Winter Program for the whole school, grades PK-5. I am responsible for incorporating cultural studies, social studies and and science alignment into all of this and it is, without a doubt, the most challenging job I have ever had.
Not everything was work work work, however. There was some downtime during which I was able to gain a window into the secret world of Trouble. please hop the hand-wrung Kleenex for details...
The day started pretty matter of fact. Before the office I spent some time with my substitute, who had a tough day ahead for her maiden voyage as an Art teacher. I say Art because classes were decorating a complex set of cut paper snowflakes to be glued and glittered, and as expected she eventually had some issues. For instance, enterprising 2nd graders defeated the filters on the glitter containers at some point because it wasn't coming out fast enough (the point of my filters) creating a mess.
After setting her up as best I was able, I left for the front office to settle in to the details. After a solid 2 hours of focus, the AP and I headed off for some hot beverages and a plethora of homemade baked goods and sweets from the staff holiday spread. When I returned I had a few hours to myself to structure what we had started together, but I couldn't get my head back into the game for a bit. So, I ate my orange ^.
After a while a student came in to the small, sunlit office. She's been sort of a project of mine for some time now, a sharp little girl with a temper and too much real life experience for her own good. Turning, I smiled the sneaky smile of solidarity I keep reserved for those times when students and I share an intimate moment.
"What's up, kid?" I asked, leaning back over my laptop and papers.
"Where's Mr. AP?" she asked, and I knew she had done something to somebody.
"He's not here. Why do you need him?" I asked, cautiously.
"I kicked Jack in the leg. Hard. My teacher sent me here." was her answer, not at all surprising.
"Why did you do that?" I asked , turning briefly around from my laptop. I heard her sit in the chair directly behind me and sigh.
"Because. He made me mad, and he's a jerk." was her resigned and practiced reply.
This little girl is one of my favorite kids in the whole school. Ultra intelligent, she has had the kind of childhood that gets written about in textbooks. Without going into details, her life experience is on par with a teenager from a broken family. She just turned 8.
She is a frequent flyer in the office, tantrums and hitting, biting last year. Sometimes she spits. Sometimes she cusses like a sailor. She also cries a lot. But she has been seeing a therapist for some time and made tremendous progress. Her delightful side is beginning to surface as wit and humor. I can't get enough of her.
"Do you like my sculpture?" I ask, turning around to face her and gesturing to my orange peels. "I made it because I couldn't focus and I was getting restless. It helped me figure out what I should do in my work."
"I could build something like that if you taught me." she said blandly. "But you never have." *deep manipulative sigh, which I ignored.
"You know you are one of my favorite students, right?" I asked her, eye to eye from our respective chairs.
"No." she replied, shaking her head. "You have never told me that."
"Oh, but I have," I said earnestly, "just not with those words." Her skeptical look told me I had hooked her.
Telling a student that they are a favorite is reserved for specific circumstances when the student needs an emotional lifeline and only when you are an outsider to their dilemma. It must also be true. There is no value in lying to kids, only harm comes from that brand of emotional manipulation. It must also be contextualized and act as a launching pad for a larger conversation. One never dwells there.
"Listen," I said, fully facing her at eye level "you have never heard me say how smart you are, how excellent your drawings are and how much I can count on you in class when I need someone to show others how things should be done? You have never heard me tell your mom at the picnic table during lunch how proud I am of your behavior this year? I though you had listening ears…" using terminology that is familiar in my classroom.
"Yessss…" she sighed, trying not to smile.
"Well, that is me telling you how much I think of you, kid. But just because I like you so much doesn't mean you can go around kicking Jack in the leg, even if you do think he is a jerk."
"Do you think Jack is a jerk?" she asked, possibly expecting a sympathetic answer.
"No. I think Jack annoys you and I think you kicking him in the leg is being a jerk." That was matter of fact. She sat upright and stared blinklingly in my eyes. My students should be used to me saying things unexpected for a teacher but they apparently forget I am not their garden variety adult.
"You act just like a kid, Mr. B."
Turning back to my computer, I took a sip of coffee and made a mental note to go to a friend's holiday party this weekend her mom and I have in common. I want her to play with my kids.
"You are going to alright, kiddo. You really are."
Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate.
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