It’s been a good 14 years since I was in third grade. Most of my memories from those days are pretty fuzzy. I can recall only snip-bits of “standing on the line” at recess, nacho Lunchables, and my trusty Spacemaker pencil case. While specific memories are hard to come by, I often find myself empathizing with the everyday emotions of my third graders. I can still remember the feelings of immense shame, pride, and heartbreak associated with the following elementary school rights of passage:
Being first in line:
This specific position in line is reserved only for the best of the best. The kids who go the extra mile (frequently known as the ass-kissers). When you’re at the front of the line you can march proudly to your next destination. Smiling at others as if to say,
Hey there! My teacher trusts me enough to be the unsupervised leader of the pack while she stands at the back and makes sure that the others don’t stab each other with pencils.
Getting your name written on the board:
As a teacher this is my first line of defense. At the beginning of every class I draw a smiley face and a sad face on the board. The students who follow directions, answer questions, and sit nicely get their names written under “teacher happy”. The disruptors, doodlers, and general havoc-wreakers can be found under “teacher sad”. You’d be shocked how quickly the class quiets down when the marker moves in the direction of teacher sad. Getting your name under teacher sad inspires feelings of embarrassment and shame. It is a public declaration that you are a wrong-doer and the students take it pretty seriously… and thank god for that.
My most recent classroom game experience actually inspired this blog post. I found out early on in my teaching career that games can very easily slide into shitshow territory if you aren’t careful. However, now that I am a seasoned ESL teacher of about 2 months, I feel a little more comfortable loosening the reigns a bit, and having some good old fashioned fun.
Today we played a nameless game in which the students had to choose a square on a 5×5 grid that I had drawn on the board. In order to earn the surprise in that square they had to correctly answer the review question I gave to them. Now in each square there can either be an angel (worth 3 points), a bomb ( worth -1 point) or a thief that allows you to steal a point from another team.
As we got further and further into the game I started to realize just how seriously my students were taking it. They began to huddle together and strategize. They tried to interpret and predict what was in each square based upon the already revealed squares. They were hilarious.
No pick D1. D means die, Teacher Haley. D1 is bomb.
The entire time they were holding these strategical meetings I was standing at the board just laughing and trying to catch them on camera. I wish you could have seen the hesitation and fear that came along with each decision. You would have thought they were choosing which wire to cut while defusing a bomb. It was especially funny because there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to the placement of bombs, angels, and thieves. I was choosing what was in the squares as we went.
The game ended up coming down to the last square. Team 2 was hit with a bomb on their last turn which had taken them out of the running completely. Team 1 managed to pull out a narrow victory, beating Team 3 by only 1 point. When I revealed D1 to be an angel, the room erupted into chaos. Team 1 shot out of their seats, some stood on their chairs; all belting out cries of victory. Team 2, already pissed about their early misfortune sat with arms folded, silently pouting. Team 3’s reaction was by far my favorite. They looked like the losing team at the Superbowl. But not after just any loss. The experience of loss after their kicker misses a game winning field goal in the last 2 seconds of the game. Immediately their knees buckled and expressions of agony were painted on their faces. They slumped back into their chairs, buried their faces in their hands, and lamented the fact that they let the win slip away.
Erasing the board:
When I was in third grade we used to fight over who got to wash the chalkboard at the end of the day. With the absence of actual chalkboards, the newest treat for third graders is getting to erase the board at the end of the lesson. They go absolutely ape-shit for it.
I have a weekly designated “teacher’s helper” that gets to erase the board, pass out papers, etc. While my students are well aware that this particular privilege is granted to the teacher’s helper, I without fail have around 5 students come and ask me if they can erase the board.
*** Fun fact: Because most of my students have had British teachers in the past they use the word “rubber” instead of “eraser”. This translates to them asking if they can “rubber the board.”… You win some you lose some ‘Murica.
I usually chose verbal reinforcement over any type of physical recognition when my kids do a good job. Mostly because I’m not a huge fan of hugging. I just recently started rewarding kids with high-fives.
I can now definitively say that the quickest way to make a students face light up is to offer them a high-five. Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat of an in house celebrity or maybe it’s because they get to slap their teacher as hard as they can. The jury is still out on that one (but I’m leaning towards the second one.)
Needless to say, I’m really starting to settle into my job. I’m sure these are only the first of many nostalgia inspiring occurrences. It’s things like these that have made the complete exhaustion and frustration of teaching a little bit easier to handle. It has also helped me to realize just how much I love my students.
That’s all for now.
It’s always necessary, I love you.