After recess today my students returned to the classroom. As Margaux -- pronounced Mar-GOH, not to be mistaken for “Margo”-- walked in the door, her shoulders were slumped forward. She moseyed on over to her desk and put her head down.
“Margaux?” I asked, kneeling beside her. No response.
“Margaux?” I asked again. “What’s the matter?” She took a deep sigh and picked her head up, pushing the bangs off of her forehead. “Did something happen at recess?”
“Did someone hurt your feelings?”
We went back and forth another few times until she sighed again and said, “Ok, you really wanna know?” I nodded encouragingly. “I have to fly today.”
Oh thank God, I thought. Crisis averted. There was no big drama on the playground that I missed, no philosophical question I had to find an answer to. Just a little girl who was afraid to get on an airplane.
“Is it your first time flying, sweetie?” I crooned. Katie yanked her head back and scrunched up her face, appalled. She might as well have given me the finger. It was as if I proposed eating spiders for lunch.
With the sass of a teenager she said, “No Mrs. Holland, It’s my first time flying COM-MER-CIAL.”
I stared at her, dumbfounded. I may have rolled my eyes at her. And with that, she pranced over to the library and yanked a book out of another child’s hand.
The lightbulb moment. We’ve all felt it. That millisecond in which something clicks.
For some of us, the lightbulb goes off when we realize we're ready for a new job, a new challenge, a new city. It goes off when we realize our significant other is the only person we want to be with for the rest of our life...the “one.”
I have been lucky enough to experience that lightbulb moment with a few of my students throughout my career and, while the feeling can be so momentous it is difficult to put into words, it’s worth a shot.
Several years ago, for one of my sweet students, math was becoming a nightmare. He was so nervous when it came time for math, that he would feign a headache and try to convince me he needed to go to the nurse. This utterly adorable little boy had come to hate math in just a few years of school.
Automatically, as this child’s teacher, I began second-guessing myself and my teaching. Is the work too challenging? Is it developmentally appropriate? Am I expecting too much? And of course the question that keeps all teachers awake at night: am I doing enough?
I began taking advantage of any free moments in the classroom to work with this child individually. I knew he knew the addition and subtraction facts somewhere in his head, but was struggling to access them. When I wrote out a subtraction problem and gently asked him to explain to me how to solve it, his wide-eyed, frightened expression said it all.
It became our routine most mornings to have five minutes of one-on-one time to practice subtraction, in the hope that all of a sudden it would “click.”
One morning, I pulled him aside and, as usual, his little shoulders slumped as he saw the equation written on the paper. But then something magical happened. His brown eyes widened a bit, and he bit his lip in concentration. Without prompting, he began leading me through the problem step by step.
It was as if he couldn’t get the words out quickly enough, and as he finished solving the problem perfectly, he looked at me with an expression of combined amusement, pride, and shock.
This little boy, who just one day prior struggled with single digit addition and subtraction, had solved a three-digit subtraction problem with regrouping. And then another. And another. And another. His grin spread from one ear to the other as I fought to stop the tears of joy that welled in my eyes from slipping down my cheek.
I am a big believer in working hard for your achievements. I would bet that the pride this child experienced when that lightbulb went off will give him the motivation to conquer his next obstacle, whatever it may be. Although many children have come and gone since I taught this little boy, the memory of his hard work continues to inspire my commitment to teaching all children how important perseverance is, and how much it pays off in the end.
Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: your children come home after school, throw down their school bags, and announce they are STARVING. As you hand out snacks and pour drinks, you ask how each of their days were. And then comes the question that inevitably results in a blank stare:
Mom/Dad: ”What did you do in school today?”
Mom/Dad: ”You did nothing all day??”
Child: ”Nope can I go play?”
If your hand is raised, you are not alone. Every year this is a common concern amongst my students’ parents. For most children, telling what they did at school is a very difficult task.
Children have not yet mastered how to organize an eight hour day in their head. Put yourself in their shoes; imagine someone asked you to write down all you did this weekend. Without even realizing it, you would organize the weekend in your head.
You might organize the information chronologically (first Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday), or by location (first we went here, then we went there). You organize the information in some way so that you don’t leave out details.
Most children don’t have this mental graphic organizer. Your kids probably want to tell you all about what they did at school, but the idea of remembering seven or eight hours worth of fun activities, specials, games, not to mention lunch, recess, and their friends, is daunting. And so, when you ask about what they did all day, the answer tends to be "not much!"
In order to get a little insight into what your child’s day at school is like, start by asking more specific questions instead of ”what did you do today?” Some examples are:
- Did you do any writing today? Who/what/where did you write about?
- Did you read a book? Was it during free time or reading time? Did you read out loud or inside your head?
- Did you play with anyone at recess or sit next to anyone at lunch? Who?
- Did you have a special today? Computer? P.E.? Art? Which teachers did you see today?
All of these are great guiding questions that most likely will get some more information out of your little ones. Try to ask questions without interrogating, and make your daily chat a regular thing either after school or before bedtime. Hopefully, the easier it is for your children to share information, the more excited they will be to tell you all about their life away from home.
This tactic can also be used with reading. In my classroom, I use something called a Retelling Bookmark that I designed last year. It has changed the way my students retell a story and I find they are able to remember so many more details about the book this way.
I have certain times allotted each week for students to have a ”book talk” with me. During this book talk, the child uses his retelling bookmark to describe the characters, setting(s), problem, solution, etc. I included a visual below to give you an idea of what I mean. Try using something similar after your child has finished a book at home to see how much he/she has comprehended.
I love my job. Really. I do. That old saying about never working a day in your life-it couldn't ring more true.
I love pulling into an empty parking lot at 6:45 am before anyone else has arrived. I love climbing the stairs to the third floor hallway where my classroom is. The red and blue sailboats on my classroom door and the sign "Sailing Into 2H" put a smile on my face every single morning.
A certain calmness pervades my neatly organized classroom at this early hour that I have trouble finding elsewhere. I often catch myself humming and smiling as I write out the morning message on chart paper with bright Crayola markers. My students' hard work jumps off the bulletin boards that line my classroom walls and prompts me to think of the goals I have for each of them for the day.
My heart actually leaps a little when my students walk through the door at 8:15. I greet my kids with a cheery "good morning," along with a quick hug or a pat on the head.
One of my favorite parts of the day is when my students arrange themselves in a boy-girl circle, and greet one another with a handshake and a smile. Watching the children be respectful of one another and learn how to communicate is what teaching is all about. Helping each child to feel comfortable and confident within our classroom community.
Teaching children to read, write, add, and subtract is the easy part. These are concrete concepts that a child learns as he or she is developmentally ready. I can differentiate my instruction in so many ways that at least one strategy will be effective with each child. Teaching children how to read one another's emotions as well as their own is a whole other ballgame.
Emotional intelligence, a new buzzword on the rise in the education community, is how people control, perceive, and evaluate emotions: their own and others'. I would argue your EQ is even more important than your IQ (intelligence quotient). Just because you are the smartest person in the building doesn't mean you will get the job a hundred others are applying for.
"Smartest" doesn't necessarily correlate to "most successful." EQ is a critical skill in the majority of professions - you must be able to read the emotions of your boss and your colleagues to know how to interact with them. In a world of five-year-olds having their own cell phone and knowing how to use an iPad better than most adults, learning emotional intelligence is more important than ever.
Within my own classroom I use several strategies to help my students better understand and empathize with one another. My favorite of these strategies is our Tuesday Compliment Circle.
One day a week my students form a boy-girl circle. After we have greeted one another, I ask for 3 compliments from the children. They can compliment another child in our class, a sibling, a child in another class, or themselves. For example, Patrick said last week, “I compliment Allie for always playing with me on the playground even when she is already playing with someone else. It makes me feel happy.”
Allie beamed from ear to ear and Patrick was proud to share this compliment with his friend and the entire class. Compliments have a compounding effect; before long, on the playground I noticed several of my students making an effort to include others in their play.
One compliment doesn’t change the world, however. Our work is never complete. These practices must be repeated and continued over and over again, until the behavior becomes automatic instead of intentioned.