a piece of the pie
May 14, 2013
We had a rough day yesterday. With the end of the year rapidly nearing, deadlines pile up, for students and teachers alike. There are tests to take, grades to give, meetings to attend, summers to plan and, in short, too much to get done in any given day. So this is the time of year when fuses and short and patience levels low. After a day of battling with my class more than usual, bothered by the behaviour difficulties I’ve been blessed to not struggle with up to this point, I came to the end of the day wondering what good had come of it. And what bothered me most was that I felt I had failed my students, reacting poorly and responding impatiently in ways that only worsened matters.
In the closing moments of the day, I began my usual winding down activity, in which I write my catch phrase on the board and have the students think about it, then come up and add their own reactions. Instead of my usually cheery alliteration, however, I wrote that it was “Making-Up Monday.” I explained that we all had work to do, and that I wanted them to think about people they may need to “make up” with. I, in turn, wanted to make up with them. I apologized for being impatient with them. And I added that I would like to promise that I would never again lose my temper . . . but that I knew I couldn’t truthfully promise such a thing. Instead, I wanted them to know that I would try to do a better job in the future or reacting well.
Then along came a Tuesday. It was a better day, in many ways, but still a bit of a rough road. I still was not as patient as I had hoped to be. But at least today we had some of our usual bright, goofy moments in the midst of it. So at the end of the day I announced that it was a “Tuesday Tries” day. I then asked them what, knowing their proper grammar, was wrong with what I had written. One of them noticed that “tries” should have been a plural “trys” and not the verb. I said that he was right, but that I had actually intended to write it in that “incorrect” way. See, instead of meaning that it was the noun form of the word “try,” I had in my mind that, as a whole, Tuesday was trying. Trying to be a better day. The students had been trying to listen better. I had been trying to be more patient. We had work to do yet, but we were trying. As they came up to add their thoughts to the whiteboard, I announced that we had one more activity to go in the day.
During math that morning, the hands on activity for our fractions lesson had been a set of puzzle-like pizza pieces, each labeled with the fraction represented, and each with a different realistic pizza variety design. They had been clearly enamored with the set, excited about the types of pizza and eagerly talking about which was their favorite. We had not had time for each of them to play with the pieces that morning, though—only enough for me to use them as demonstrations in front of the whole class.
Now, as our closing activity, I told them they could each come to the back table and make their own pizza: whatever they felt like, in the mood they were in. As I watched them create, and I gave each one a name: “Ah, Celine, I see that you are ‘pepper-shroom-oliv-eroni’ today” and similar affirmations, I realized that I had just stumbled into an oddly meaningful activity. Somehow, in letting their creative juices run free, in such a mundane way, the students were able to wind down from the day in a redeeming, and affirming way. And no less than these youngsters, I was uplifted and encouraged by the moment.