Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Children Are Refreshingly Honest

Kindergarten Celebrations

Kindergarten Celebrations

After several years teaching first grade, I find myself a little out of touch with kindergarten celebrations.

To me, one of the most important aspects of teaching kindergarten is cultivating the wonder and excitement in learning. Years ago a first grade colleague spoke of “romancing them (first graders) into the system.” That notion stuck with me and has great meaning and motivation for me, which often causes a lot of stress in these days of data and standards driven instruction. It seems that often the data and standards have little to do with what the little people within the four walls of the classroom actually need and are ready to learn. To quote Sabrina, played by Julia Ormond, speaking to the character played by Harrison Ford, in the 1995 classic of the 1954 classic starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, “More isn’t better, Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”

Having been out of a kindergarten classroom for several years, my cute meter had gotten slightly rusty. When my grade level colleagues were doing all kinds of cutesy things for various themes and days of note, I was teaching letters, writing (or wribbling, as Kelly Boswell calls it), and math.

So when we finished working our way through the alphabet just before Thanksgiving, I realized it was the perfect time for a standards based celebration that we could have in lieu of a party. It would be festive, but also commemorate this momentous undertaking of learning the letters and their sounds. As if I had planned it, we wrapped up the letters and were ready to celebrate  on the minimum day before Thanksgiving break. Naturally, the obvious way of celebrating would be by making alphabet soup to celebrate our milestone on the road to literacy.

Parents generously contributed their time and ingredients to make our tasty treat. Students had fun with the alphabet activities, combining ingredients to make alphabet soup, and then eating our savory alphabet concoction. The excitement surrounding our milestone was heartwarming. We ran so late that we ended up having lunch in our room so that I didn’t have to try to have students lined up and out the door for lunch. Many of them had little appetite for a midday meal. In fact, one student boasted he had eaten three bowls of alphabet soup.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know how exciting this was for students or if they will remember it later in life. And hopefully, my cute meter will kick back in soon. But for now, I find myself much more willing to promote kindergarten celebrations that support and highlight learning than any other kind of celebration. We’ll see how this works out as we approach our next break!

Suggestions are welcome!

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

I hope that small acts like pebbles in the pond have greater impact than apparent at first glance.

At the beginning of the year, one of my small students brought pictures he had made for me. In loco parentis, I gratefully received his artwork and wondered what to do with it since I don’t have a refrigerator in my room. After several weeks of holding onto my treasures, I finally pinned them to the wall near my desk, where they would be easily seen by only me. When we had our run,  hide, and defend drill a few weeks ago, he didn’t notice his artwork hanging on the wall. But, last week as he peeked around the fourth grade tall bookcase, he noticed his pictures on the wall and said, “You still have my picture.” I simply replied, “Of course.” And, we went on with our day.

I have heard it said that psychologists believe the only thing my young students will remember about me is how I made them feel. I hope that when he, and all of my students, think back on kindergarten that they will remember it was a place where they felt good and they knew their teacher cared about them.

 

The Road to Happiness Truly is Continually Under Construction

The Road to Happiness Truly is Continually Under Construction

I agree with Linda Gray that the road to happiness truly is continually under construction. Although I have not read her similarly entitled memoir, I immediately identified with the sentiment. Over the course of the past twelve months of the cancer and chemo detour, I have gained a simpler perspective on happiness and joy.

When I was younger, I anticipated a different path than the one I have found myself taking. Among other things, I envisioned enjoying the joy and fulfillment of marriage and children. Over time, that dream gradually slipped away and the reality dawned that time had somehow marched to a faster tempo than I had realized. I had been busy with important, fulfilling pursuits that led me to places and situations that made my childhood dream less and less likely. But, they were worthwhile ways to spend my days, so I cannot say I would make different decisions should I have the impossible option of going back in time.

Then, there was cancer and for months the only pleasures were small ones. Happiness became the stuff of a moment, not a monumental event.

Even now, my focus remains on the small moments I enjoy during the day. To be happy, I try to focus on the present and the people and activities that bring me joy, even if it is simply smiling as I walk around campus to start the day on a positive note, greeting my students by name and shaking their hands as they enter the classroom, singing “Good Morning to You” to these young pupils, or watching as one who has struggled slowly begins to write his name without my help.

Maybe when I have more energy I will aspire to grander schemes of happiness, but for right now I will focus on the small moments that make up life and I have to concede that the road to happiness truly is continually under construction.

Kindergarten Tragedy and Drama

In kindergarten tragedy and drama abound. When you are five, tragedy takes on a much different meaning than for most of the rest of the world. Yesterday afternoon, one of the tragedies faced by a young learner in my class was not being called on to share at exactly the moment the child wanted to share. The student was so upset I was shocked. Talk about wailing and gnashing of teeth! But, we were all just a little bit on edge after back to back days of emergency drills. My students performed pretty flawlessly for their first fire drill of the school year on Wednesday. For many of them, it was their first ever! They walked and remained quiet as we had practiced. I was impressed with how they followed directions during the exercise.

Yesterday, we had probably the scariest of all drills required in California public schools: run, hide, and defend. In this simulation, we practice what measures we would take in the event of an active shooter on campus. In some ways, students enjoy the exercise because we hunker down in the dark behind a fort that I singlehandedly improvise in the few moments between the beginning of the drill and when the administration comes to the door to check on my engineering skill, as well as the children’s ability to mute themselves and remain out of sight.

As with the fire drill, my students did a pretty amazing job, considering they are all of five or six years old and we were sitting in tight quarters on a tile floor for about 20 minutes. When students considered the purpose behind the simulation and the what would be at stake, a couple of them became afraid. But, I reassured them it was only a practice, although I was careful to not assure them they would never have to do this for real. Nevertheless, most of the students overcame their fear quickly and when the exercise was over, were immediately distracted by the novelty of inspecting fascinating things found on my desk, which they are never allowed to approach and for good reason–my desk is a catch-all shielded behind a fourth grader high bookcase. The students cannot easily see my unremarkable, metal teacher desk since it is surrounded by play kitchen furniture and the taller-than-them bookcase.

In addition to my lunch bag, travel mug, and school district issued laptop, anything that I can’t remember where it should be kept or that I have never seen before ends up on top of my desk until I can deal with it. Consequently, my desk is a virtual treasure trove of miscellany, including various magnetized objects. I imagine they are doing their best to figure out the tall person in the room and somehow to feel more comfortable with this newfound student-teacher relationship.

However, I cannot read their minds and I am not a psychologist, so it could just be that they are still learning about their environment through a hands-on approach similar to when they were crawling and would pop everything into their mouths. Literally and figuratively, I am simply the biggest thing in the school environment, which they are still trying figure out. I will probably never understand the mystery my students constantly strive to unravel because I do not remember experiencing this kind of mystique surrounding any of my teachers. But, throughout my teaching experience, I have come to expect the curious and sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny of these small ones and I try to remember not to laugh or startle them with my reactions to their questions or observations. Sometimes, without much success because kindergarten tragedy and drama abounds!

 

Children Are Refreshingly Honest

Young children are refreshingly honest. In their innocence they ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions of the grow ups around them. Working with five and six year olds on a daily basis, I have come to find great amusement in their unvarnished honesty. As children are developing their language and interpersonal skills, they can ask inconvenient questions or make unflattering observations with hilarious results.

One honest young lady asked one day if I had been crying, which can be a disconcerting prospect for a six-year-old. The teacher is not supposed to cry at school. Well, sometimes that teacher can have a cry on a difficult day. And on this particular day, not only had a had a lunchtime weep fest, but I had also forgotten to put on mascara. In a somewhat mendacious ploy both to allay her fears and put her curiosity to rest, I did explain that I had forgotten to put on mascara that morning while gently avoiding further discussion of whether or not I had been crying.

At the end of one long, full day with these uncensored little ones, I found myself gazing absently into a mirrored window while making a call from my classroom telephone. As I gazed at my mirrored image wondering how long it had been since I combed my hair, I realized all of a sudden that I was wearing two completely mismatched earrings. They were not even close to the same design or color. Howling with laughter, I realized this dangly mismatch had escaped notice all day by old and young alike.

I certainly do hope that means I had provided everyone with much more engaging things to ponder, rather than how I made it out the door that morning in this mismatched state. While they may be unobservant at times, I can unequivocally affirm that children are refreshingly honest.

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