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.