I finally finished my report cards today after what felt like a marathon of entering comments and trying without much success to personalize them. I mean I really made a little bit of effort this time. But in the end they still all sounded kinda the same. At least they aren’t my problem anymore for a few days. So here I am, back writing about my job, but in a different way. Sad, I know.
My kids were absolutely bananas today. I could hear them full-on screaming outside my portable before the 8:15 bell rang. It was worse than nails on a chalkboard as I sat at my computer trying to whip up some sort of math lesson after neglecting my daily planning for the last two weeks in favour of not getting fired for incomplete report cards. (They were still late.) I don’t know at what age you change from externally screaming to internally screaming at 8 am, but it’s not at ten years old.
The morning started calmly enough because I had a short prep period first thing. When I came back we started drama. I had planned to do a fun activity I like to call Noun Drama during which each student puts a person, place, or thing on a post-it, and they all go into the appropriate paper bags. Then each drama group chooses a person, place, and thing to incorporate into a skit. Well apparently the freedom of choosing three things that could reflect one’s personality, especially in the current infamy of Donald Trump, was just too much for some to handle. They started screaming their ideas out (“I’m going to do DONALD TRUMP! NO! NO! JOHN CENA!!!!”) and shaking each other by the shoulders and knocking over chairs. I was just standing there, bewildered by their misdirected enthusiasm and also wondering how the hell I was ever going to get them to rope it in enough to actually do some drama.
Once each group chose their three nouns, there were instant fights over who was doing what. One group was out of sorts because both boys wanted to have the “gun” they had chosen from the “thing” bag. (I had hesitated on leaving that one in the mix, but then I let it slide because I felt like it could lead to a teachable moment…. Yeah. I know.) And before I knew it I heard myself saying, “Look you can both have a gun. Why can’t there be two guns?”
Only teachers will understand what it’s like to be making literally hundreds (a study was done) of split-second decisions, all day long, in a perpetual attempt to keep a riot from breaking out. Most of them aren’t the right one.
I was so busy trying to put out fires that I didn’t get the kids organized before the bell rang for first break, and they all scrambled out of the portable, leaving a million post-its scattered around the room, desks shoved in every direction, and chairs toppled over. So I spent my first break trying to put the room back together, having only myself to blame because I wasn’t watching the clock. The truth is, I usually only ever have myself to blame.
The next block was language, and I felt really good about the new project I had organized with my grade partner. The students were going to be using a family recipe to create a little cooking show. We had a great graphic organizer ready to go, with learning goals and success criteria all clearly laid out, and a very thorough step-by-step procedure in place. In normal circumstances, this would have been smooth sailing. But we had to do it in fucking French.
Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching French Immersion. I really do. But literally the smallest things become so difficult. I started the block with some independent work during which they were to look up a list of ten cooking verbs like to dice, to simmer, to fry, etc. in the dictionary, to get their French vocabulary warmed up. I showed them how to look for the word with the “v” beside it to indicate that it was in fact a verb. I put an example on the board. No problem.
As the students were just getting to work and I sat down to do a reading assessment with a student, some of my boys started screaming and running around the portable waving their hands in the air. “What? What???” I said.
“MADAME THE EFF WORD IS IN THE DICTIONARY!” one boy screamed at me gleefully.
Teachable moment. “Yep it is. It’s a word. Learn the French word for it if you want and then get back to work.” Such is my teaching style. We went through the same thing with the pages with the naked people on them back in September.
But they didn’t get back to work, and three of my boys continued to run around and scream and knock things over. I finally set them with their work to the learning support room, but one of the three boys has major emotional moments and chose this as one of them. He ran and hid under my desk. I wanted to just leave him under there where I knew he wouldn’t bother anyone for a good ten minutes, but I felt the need to make a point out of it. So I told him, “You have a choice: You can either go on your own, or I’ll have someone come get you.”
“NO I’M NOT GOING!” he wailed.
“You have a choice. You can either go on your own, or I’ll have someone come get you,” I repeated, remembering my training.
“That doesn’t sound like much of a choice to me!” he said from under the desk.
And I had to sympathize with him, because it really wasn’t much of choice as far as choices go, but there we were. So I walked over to the PA system and hovered my finger over the call button, giving him a “Don’t make me” look. “Okay I’ll go!” he finally conceded. Of course, during all of this, the rest of my class had fully abandoned any form of work they were doing and were now either watching our showdown with mental popcorn, or were busy engaging in other shenanigans. And there was no time left for independent work. So much for that reading assessment.
After the second break, my same emotional grade four boy came back in, clutching his elbow and kind of fake-crying. He whimpered something about someone shoving him at recess. A grade five student gave it an official medical examination and declared, “You didn’t break it or sprain it, but you definitely chipped it.”
My grade four boy got all wide eyed and said, “Oh, no!” and I knew it was the beginning of the end. I tried to convince him that he shouldn’t take medical diagnoses from his classmates but he was having none of it. He started pacing and crying and I offered for him to go get some ice-every teacher’s most tried & true solution. “They already told me there wasn’t any left!” he whimpered. “I have to call my parents!”
“I don’t think you should call them,” I said, knowing there was no way in hell I could let his parents leave work to come pick him up for what I was pretty sure was a non-injury. “It’s the last block of the day.”
“BUT IT HURTS!” he wailed louder, working himself up. I heaved the heaviest of sighs and tried my next best strategy after ice:
“Ok, leave it for five minutes, and then tell me if it still hurts.”
This appeased him for the time being, but at that moment, my most challenging student-the one whom I refer to as “Tornado” because he leaves a perpetual path of destruction-swung his metal water bottle into his brow bone and started bleeding onto his desk. He was shocked for a minute, then reacted by pulling his hood over his head and hiding his face, probably in embarrassment. So it took me a few minutes to convince him to go to the office with a buddy. Then we were left to deal with the mess of blood on the desk.
We got it cleaned up and at this time I looked over and saw my grade four boy doing some sort of karate dance, and when he caught my eye he quickly grabbed his elbow and put his pout back on.
And so much for math.
As we were doing agendas, one of my fourth grade students came up to me and she said in French the equivalent of: “Madame, what does to fuck mean?”
I was taken aback and hesitated for a moment because the word sounded so strange coming from someone so small and innocent who I knew didn’t know its meaning-but alas, she did, because she had discovered it that morning during language class and I guess she maybe wanted me to confirm it for her. I’m still not convinced that she knew what it really means, she just knew that it had something to do with the word fuck, which is a bad word. So I said, “It depends on the context,” and then ran away. And that’s technically true. It can mean to kiss, but in most contexts, it probably means to fuck.
I can’t tell if this was simply another typical day in the world of elementary teaching and I was just too burnt out from report cards to let it roll on by, or if this really was an extreme day. All I know is that after school I went and bought fifty dollars worth of candy for my bribery bin. Tomorrow’s a new day.