Monthly Archives: October 2015

Superheroes in Disguise

Ah, the joys of teaching on a week that ends with the Halloween party!  I’m not sure if there are more difficult grades to teach than elementary (and particularly primary) at the end of October, especially when conversations like the one below take place (even after guidelines have been sent home in writing in several languages):

Alex: Can I be Spiderman on Halloween?

Teacher: Yes, as long as you don’t attempt to climb the walls during the party.

Sarah Lynn: Will we have to sit down at all during the party?  I can’t sit down in my hoop skirt.

Teacher:  Our plans do include some sitting, so maybe you can practice at home.

Jose: Can we wear scary costumes?

Teacher: No.

Jose: Is Freddie Krueger scary?

Teacher:  Yes.

Bucky: Can we wear our costumes to school?

Teacher:  No.  You BRING them to school and change before the party.

Tyrone: When can we wear the costume?

Teacher: ONLY DURING THE PARTY which is in the afternoon, AFTER LUNCH.

Tyrone: What time is lunch?

Teacher: At 11:30.

Annalise: Can we bring our costume in one day early?

Teacher: No, because we don’t want anything to happen to it.

DeShawn: Do you mind if my mom comes to the party to take pictures?

Teacher: Okay…

DeShawn:  And can she bring all of the kids in her at-home daycare with her?

Teacher:  Hmmmmm. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

And then there is the actual day of the party when pounds of fun-sized candy bars are carried into the building, and Sarah, who you know very well understood that she was supposed to BRING her costume to change into after lunch, wore her costume to school and there is no one at home who can bring her a change of clothes. And of course, she’s wearing the hoop skirt!  And Eric is crying at his desk because he left the shell of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume in the car when his mom dropped him off at school.  And as you collect the donated treats, you realize that Sasha who volunteered to bring three bags of candy corn for the Bingo game has indeed brought three bags, but two of them have been opened and are half-eaten “cuz my dad likes eating candy corn while he’s watching TV… and he had some friends over and shared.”  (Big sigh.)

I’m not sure about you, but I think that teachers are superheroes in disguise and that on weeks like this must “morph” into greater superheroes than normal.  We must live in the delicate balance between the importance of teaching the curriculum and the importance of understanding the significance of days like Halloween to kids. We must take the extreme quantities of energy, daydreams, numerous questions, costume conundrums, “forgetful” behaviors, and bags of pre-eaten candy, and still produce meaningful lessons and a memorable (in a good way) party!  If that doesn’t require a superhero, I don’t know what does!

Practical Application:  More than almost any other week of the school year, this week is the perfect one to get up a little early (five minutes), mentally put on your “next level” superhero costume under your clothes, and pre-plan for the special circumstances the day may bring.  Remember yourself as a child and how you looked forward to trick-or-treating.  Visualize yourself and the students having peaceful conversations in which you are required to state the same information over and over.  Don’t waste an ounce of your energy fighting against the goofiness, but choose patience and a light-hearted approach while leaning into the joy of teaching (even on the week that ends with the Halloween party).

Leave the Dishes

Joe’s mother knew her son very well, better than I could ever hope to know him, and she reminded me of it constantly.

Her son was a sweet boy.  One day in class, I learned something about him that she had yet to realize. I asked the boys and girls to write down all of the things they wanted in a mate someday.  Some sly students, to avoid completing the assignment, said they didn’t want to get married so I told them to write twenty-five reasons they wanted to be single.  (That got them thinking about marriage!) The students wrote all sorts of things and after reading them, I sealed the papers up in envelopes and sent them home to their parents for keepsakes.

Joe’s paper stood out to me.  It read, “I want a wife who will leave the dishes in the sink and come outside and watch me ride my bike.”  I envisioned him running from the dinner table to pop wheelies outdoors while his mom washed a stack of dirty plates.  (I chuckled at the thought of him doing the same thing twenty years later . . . performing bike tricks in the street while his wife stayed sink-side to tidy up after their evening meal.)  Clearly, like many moms, Joe’s mom spent time doing housework when he really wanted her to spend time doing things that mattered to him.

If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and a darn good one!  No doubt, you have spent more than your share of time “doing dishes” (grading papers and cutting out laminating) when your family members really wish you’d leave it all “in the sink” to live a life that involves laughing and playing and bike riding. Less of you saying, “not now” and more of you saying, “yes, now definitely!”  Less striving and more living.  Less planning and more spontaneity.  In order to do that we have to remain ever-conscious of our actions.  At home, we have to put away our phones, leave the stacks of papers, and intentionally have more conversations and bedtime stories. Do not look back at missed opportunities and do not wait for a big block of time to spend together.  Just be conscious of the little moments that occur every day and take advantage of them to live in the moment and make some memories.

Practical application:  In the classroom, focus on asking questions as a way to get to know your students even better.  Ask them what they did over the weekend and why they did those things, and talk with them about the important events going on in their lives. Every once in awhile, plan a short project that lends itself to students working on something creative so you can have time for short, purposeful conversations with them.  Or ask the class a “question of the day” or a “question of the week” and have short discussions about their answers so they can share their feelings, thoughts, and views.  This takes about ten minutes, but along with helping students practice oral language skills (and how to talk without using a cell phone) it allows students to share their thinking which makes them feel known, listened to, and valued by you.

Sample Questions:

If you are reading a chapter book aloud to the class, ask, “Are you more like this character or that character? What makes you think that?”

If you could visit any place, where would you go and why?

What do you want to be when you are older?  What are you doing to help make that happen?

If you had a free day with no access to technology, how would you spend it?

Any open-ended question will work.  🙂


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Do You Want to Get Well?

One summer I spent seven weeks teaching a spirited group of primary-aged struggling readers.  My classroom contained bins of colorful books, poetry posters, pocket charts full of sentence strips, a huge word wall, and twelve 8-year-olds who weren’t sure what to do when they encountered print.  They hadn’t participated frequently in class during the school year because either they didn’t know the required answers or other classmates did know them and supplied them quickly.  Even so, what my students lacked academically, they made up for in joy.  No matter what we were learning, at least one of them managed to surprise me daily with an unexpected event.

One day, the whole group was gathered on the floor sitting “criss-cross applesauce” while reviewing words beginning with “ch.”

“Altogether now,” I said, directing their attention to the chart and tapping it with my white-gloved Scholastic pointer.

“Chin, chip, chap,” we spoke in unison as I continued guiding their eyes down the long list of words.

About this time, I looked down to see Petey, one of the bubbliest members of the class, in the front row of chanting children.  Each day, I saw his bright blue eyes staring at the chart, but today all I could see was his short blond hair.  He was doubled over, looking down at the floor.

“Petey, what’s the matter?” I asked.

“My stomach doesn’t feel too good,” Petey moaned.

Being a veteran teacher, I know that frequently a child will act sick in order to get out of class.  However, I also know that the younger the child is, the less warning time I have when he is preparing to share his breakfast or lunch with the class.  Keeping that in mind and understanding fully that if Petey was going to share his meal with us, I would spend the remainder of the lesson getting the other students back on task, I made a quick decision.

“Would someone walk Petey down to the office?”  I asked.

Fortunately kids are so eager to leave the classroom during phonics lessons that they will gladly volunteer to walk a classmate who is on the verge of vomiting down to the office.  I quickly scanned the group, looking over outstretched arms and hearing choruses of “Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

My eyes landed on Hector. I thought for a nanosecond.  True, he had proven over the first few weeks of school that he was not grossed out by anything.  And, true, he did not fit the profile of a “runner.”  Yes, I thought. Hector will not come undone if Petey does throw up and he will not run to leave the school grounds after getting Petey safely to the office.

“Hector!” I proclaimed.  “Go ahead and take Petey to the office.”

The rest of the children dropped their arms and let out a collective “Aaaaaaaaaaawwww” of disappointment.  Petey and his chaperone exited the classroom and in a matter of seconds we were back on task chanting “ch” words.

“Chin, chip, chap, church, chess, chair,” we chorused.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement as Hector returned several minutes later. He rejoined the group and chanted with us.  We were really on a roll,  “Chuck, Chucky, chew . . .” but we came to an abrupt stop when we heard the buzzing of the intercom.  It was Mrs. Harrison, the school secretary, reporting that Petey was on his way back to the room with a note that I “would want to read.” 

     Sure enough, a few seconds later, Petey appeared in the doorway, a sheepish grin on his face.  He handed me the note and returned to his spot in the front row. I paused to read it to myself.


Petey tells me his

stomach hurts ‘cause his

pants are too tight’ and

he won’t undo the snap or take

a spare pair from the closet.


I tried to hold in my laughter.  I looked at Petey and smiled, because his predicament reminded of one of the silliest questions I have ever heard.  It’s found in the Bible (John chapter 5).  Jesus sees a man who is sick. “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

At first glance, this seems like a ridiculous question.  I think to myself, “Of course he wants to get well.  Do you know anyone who is sick and doesn’t want to get well?”

But then I think of Petey, doubled over at my feet and obviously suffering, yet unwilling to get a new pair of pants so he can inhale and exhale without pain.  And then, I think of myself.  Certainly more than a couple of my own flaws (such as my tendency to worry, to be negative, and to eat ice cream by the bowlful) come to the forefront of my mind.  Flaws that with work and discipline, and some help from God, could be lessened, or even be eradicated completely.  Many times I have been too stubborn to make a change even though I knew I would be better off if I did.

That’s why I smiled at Petey rather than scolding him for wasting class time that day.  I understood him, because more times than not, I have opted not to get “another pair of pants.”

I have never forgotten Petey, his too-tight trousers, his sheepish grin, and the sweet reminder he (unknowingly) gave me to keep asking, “Julie , do you want to get well?”

Practical Application:   Think about some things that aren’t going well, choose one to change, and then make it happen.  For example, in the classroom, if you feel your students are too talkative, consider weaving more opportunities for conversation throughout each lesson.  If they have too much energy, consider giving them an extra 3 to 5 minute movement break during the day.  If they aren’t interested in the book you are reading aloud, consider choosing a new one.   Whatever your scenario is, keep thinking about wanting “to get well” and be sure you are always moving in that direction.