Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 16 2011

Today was the best day ever.

I had the best day with my kids today. It was the last day of school before winter break, and we were careful to finish almost all of our testing yesterday because Christmas is one of the two holidays a year that are school-approved to have a party. My mentor teacher and I were talking about it, and since our kids work so hard (we’re pretty much sure that our kids are working harder and at a faster pace than any other grade level, which may say more about our school than about us, but still), we wanted to have one complete day of fun stuff.

Here’s the thing: I adore my kids. I love them to bits. I have issues with some of the teachers, I have issues with my school administration, but I completely and unconditionally love my kids. And that’s when I’m always pushing them, always making them work and do things they don’t really want to (and sometimes doubt they can) do! Can you imagine how much I love them on a day when they get to have pure, unadulterated fun???

We took our spelling and vocab tests quick first thing this morning, and then we played Winter Mad Libs. It’s the first time we’ve done this, because the definition of an adjective remains stubbornly elusive despite my anchor charts, but we went over it carefully and left examples on the board, and they rocked it. Plus, they LOVED it. All these silly little stories about finding a Cruzito inside a present, or swimming down the Thanksgiving tree, or (once they realized kissing was a verb…let the boy/girl craziness begin) kissing a Lyle through the night sky. They couldn’t get enough. We probably did Mad Libs and laughed for an hour.

Then, the activity I’d been worried would turn into a chaotic fiasco: gingerbread houses. Well, really graham cracker houses, which we constructed around our milk cartons from this morning so that they wouldn’t collapse immediately. I made a vat of frosting, which stunned them as they were under the impression that frosting could only come in a can, and paired two kids to a giant plate of candy. Miracle of miracles, it went incredibly smoothly. No fighting, no anger, kids were excited about other people’s projects and admiring their peppermint-marshmallow trees. A bunch of kids chose to work together and pool resources (VOLUNTARY collaboration? For my kids who could barely talk to each other at the beginning of the year, much less plan a project like a graham cracker school bus?) and made cars and mansions. One of my lowest academic-skills kids decided he was going to make a plane, and I completely doubted it. He has really low fine motor skills and broke one of his crackers immediately. But he patiently “glued” it with icing, made braces and supports from other crackers, and twenty minutes later, lo and behold, he had a plane! It was pretty amazing. I even got to make a house, so enraptured and on-task were they, and my lopsided milk-cartonless wonder brought many giggles.

Second miracle of the day, we cleaned up in 5 minutes and washed our desks (which was instantly a game because the spray cleaner looks like snow and I wrote their initials on their desks in cleaner…this was the joy we had today). Lunch had to be in our classroom, and I left them for about 7 minutes to get my lunch with stern warnings that I expected them all to be eating calmly when I returned. As I’m walking down the hallway to our room, I see Malakai, the posted lookout, as he ducks back inside and half-yells, “She’s coming! She’s coming!” But when I opened that door, I saw 16 students calmly, innocently eating lunch, only to die laughing as I mentioned, “You know, you’re not as sneaky as you think you are.” Then we watched 15 minutes of Planet Earth’s Ice Worlds, our favorite lunch-in-the-classroom activity, and laughed at the funny waddling penguins.

We had a Christmas assembly, and our act deserves its own post so stay tuned for that, but afterwards it was FINALLY time to open our presents (which they’d been rearranging, studying, asking about, and generally salivating over all day). We did a gift exchange, so each child brought a $10 or less present for another. Some of them went way overboard, and some I bought because they couldn’t afford it. We had snacks and excitement, and I was worried that they would ruin it in that this-is-so-fun-I-can’t-control-myself way kids have. But they totally settled down when I asked them to, and we did a totally calm, super fun exchange. One kid would pick a present to give to its recipient, no matter who had brought the present. Then that child would open it, we would collectively ooh and ahh, they would thank each other, and that child would pick another present to give out.

I was so proud of how good they were being to each other. Everyone waited their turn politely, and all I had to do was ask casually, “Who gave you that present?” and they immediately thanked each other for the gift. A few parents came to join us and I was so thankful that they weren’t watching absolute chaos that it took me a few minutes to realize that I was actually blown away by how great my kids were being.

A bunch of them got me presents too, which made me want to tell them to stop spending their money on me because they don’t have any, but they were so proud to give me things and so sweet. They gave me a sweater, a watch, earrings, a necklace, lotion, a scarf, a mug, and candy, and I was pretty much overwhelmed with their generosity. Did I mention I love them?

We spent the rest of the afternoon putting Legos together, throwing footballs outside, eating gingerbread houses, listening to music from my iPod, and asking the Magic 8 Ball (which they called the Magic Meatball until I explained) questions like, “Will I ever have a boyfriend?” (I swear, this started literally today) and “Will I get an A+ in math?” One of my boys, who is so smart and I already adore him, was so smiley and goofy and sweet to everyone that I realized how much I would be obsessed with him if I got to be fun all the time instead of pushing them so hard. He put on the clip-on earrings one girl got as  a gift and did a honky-tonk guitar dance to a crazy country song, and my heart melted with how much I love him. He also wrote 4 different post-it notes on our Parking Lot (where kids can put questions, thoughts, etc.) saying things like, “We’re going to miss you!” and “I hope you have a great Christmas!” and gave them to me, pretending 4 different kids wrote them.

It was pretty much the most perfect, wonderful day. They were playful, goofy in an under-control, fun way, sweet and adorable. One of our class rules, the one I call their Number One Job (sometimes I just ask them, randomly, “What is your #1 job?” and they answer with this rule), is Be Phenomenal To Each Other. It used to be Be Excellent To Each Other, but on the first day of school, Daisy, who is so smart and has such a great vocabulary, answered the #1 question with, “Be phenomenal to each other,” and we voted that that was better anyway. We say it all the time, and sometimes it drives me nuts how, even then, they are still rude to each other. But today they were, in every way, phenomenal. To each other, to me, and just in general. Phenomenal.

One Response

  1. Sam

    This made me all teary-eyed and smiley. You go, girl.

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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