IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED . . .
The other day I noticed a young facebook friend posting about an upcoming field experience for an education class. Instantly I was transported back to the elementary school where I had both field experience and student teaching experience with a really wonderful cooperating teacher who let me try out any and all ideas I had. Some were actually successful and some weren't . . . and when those unsuccessful lesson plans would result in chaos or crash and burn scenarios, she would calmly say, "And sometimes these things just don't come out like we expect them to." She opened the door for me to not be afraid to try, to understand that we learn from our mistakes and from our failures. She wasn't afraid that I would ruin her class or set her back in her scope and sequence for the year but gave me plenty of room to spread my wings and fly - believing that there was plenty of good I would bring to her, well for ten weeks our, students, and that both teacher and pupil can benefit from believing that "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I loved having her as my mentor. I knew early on that I would love her when she gestured toward her desk which resembled my own - comfortably cluttered - and shared a mantra that I continue to live out to this day:
"Creative minds are rarely tidy."
I knew I'd found a kindred spirit in Marcia Pearl, at Shepherdstown Elementary School. : )
The first time she walked down the hall and left me alone with our 25 5th graders for just a few minutes, they were returning from lunch recess. And another famous quote exploded before my eyes:
"Boys will be boys."
Ah, yes, the two Michaels. Rather than the primary solution of adding the first initial of your last name (Susan P., Jenny M., etc.) these two took their last names as their monikers at least from their classmates. From my earliest observations it was obvious there was no love lost between these two ten-year-olds. And all it took on this day was an off hand comment or look to continue whatever altercations had happened on the playground minutes earlier.
Before I knew it they were circling each other, seeing who would take the first swing. Oh, please boys, not on the first time I'm alone in the classroom with you all! I remember moving toward them, calling out their shared name, "Michael." No response other than continued circling and boy glares. My heart starts beating faster, wondering if it would be better for my co-op to come and relieve me of dealing with this, or for me to be able to successfully break it up before she returned. I come closer and call out more firmly, "Michael!" Obviously, this tactic isn't working. Thankfully, neither had pounced on the other one . . . yet.
Now I'm just about to them and the smaller has raised his little arm to take a swing at the larger one and eventhoughIwascommittedtonevercallingstudentsbytheirlastname I yell smaller boy's last name and reach in to grab his arm before it connects with the nose of said larger student.
Both calm down, larger Michael retreats to his desk and I look down at smaller Michael and release his arm, saying, "You can't hit another student. And I'm sorry that I called you by your last name" (Yes, I hear you asking why I felt the need to apologize to the little troublemaker? And I'm hoping I also said something to him about how crazy it was to go after a kid bigger than him!) He looks up at me with a Dennis the Mennis grin and replies, "Oh, it's OK Miss Kaiser, everyone else calls me that."
I have no memory of the consequences but that impish grin that endeared him to me from that moment on has never been forgotten. And I'm happy to report that there was never any need to break up any attempt of a fist fight in that classroom again. I suspect it was because of whatever Marcia said to them upon her return, not because of my unintentionally gained 'cool' factor earned from calling them by their last names. : )
One of my early assignments the first week or two in the classroom was to help individual students edit their Science reports. Students had chosen an animal to research and were learning to take that info and put it into their own words for a three paragraph report. They would bring their work to me to help them check for spelling, grammar or other mistakes to fix before going on to their good, handwritten copy - a challenging task for some of the students who found school to be difficult. One such boy crept over with his report on snakes and I gave him a warm smile and started reading.
By the second paragraph it was obvious he'd given up on his own words and had done the good-old-copy-it-right-out-of-the-encyclopedia-trick. I could feel his eyes on mine as I read over his smudged paper, hoping against hope that I didn't do much free reading about snakes. When I got to his final paragraph which he began with the phrase, "Hence, snakes are . . . " I had to cover my mouth to hide my smile. At first when gently questioned he denied the 5th grade plagarism. He knew he was busted though when he answered my query about the meaning of the word "Hence" with one last glimmer of hope in his brown eyes replying, "Ummmm, it's a kind of a snake?"
You will be rewriting this report, dear. Let's see if I can help you remember how you do this again.
I'm thankful today for one of many teachers who modeled master teaching for me, who knew the value of taking a risk and learning from whatever the outcome would be,who wasn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos, a little commotion if learning for both students and teachers was the end result.
In a world of rage and stress and fear, let's try and be gentle yet firm when we need to correct, patient when we need to explain . . . again . . . and discerning about unmet expectations with whoever God has placed in our hands to teach, to lead and to guide.
Hence, we can be the hands and feet of the Master Teacher of all Master Teachers, who I also think isn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos or a little commotion along the way.