The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of a writing community.
The bell had already rung to signal the end of lunch recess, but a crowd of kiddos still hung about my desk, joshing and jostling in the high spirited way of sixth graders. I had not intended to be a part of any of these hijinks, but my kids had drifted my way anyway and just stayed. Our conversations circled around all kinds of topics, swooping here and swerving there, with bouts of laughter and the occasional back thumping and elbowing among each other. As everyone began to drift back to their seats and get ready for writing workshop, Tim turned to me and said, “You’re different than you were in September. I like you better now…”. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked mortified. Before he could say anything, though, I shot back, “That’s okay, I like you better now, too.” And then we, in sixth grade parlance, cracked up.
I thought about that little scene as I was driving home from work. It made me smile, but it also got me thinking…because it was true!
In those first months of the school year, even as we lay the groundwork for reading and writing workshop, we set the tone for expected behavior. It’s a quid pro quo, a mutual understanding of the give and take that will come to define our year together: we will listen to each other, we will work as hard as we can, we will respect our learning space, we will understand that mistakes will be made and that forgiveness and moving on will be essential. We don’t have a long list of class rules, but the few we have are grounded in trust and good will.
This sounds good, of course, but takes time and patience to see through. In the early days of the school year, all learning comes to a halt when someone calls out, interrupts, or steps over the line in the sand – that boundary we have created between what we aspire to and what we know to avoid. There are a lot of coming to a halt moments in those early months. This is sixth grade, after all, and sixth graders are rule benders – they live for such opportunities, even though they feel instant regret as soon as the words have been uttered, the act completed. It’s in that instant, of course, that I feel compelled to react. Wait, and the moment is lost; defer, and it will come back again in the next half hour.
Through these fits and starts we journey, my kids and I, in those early months. It’s hard work, dreary work, but must-do work. Some days, the difficult and mostly “coming to a halt” ones, we are all weary of each other. You may even say that we don’t particularly like each other.
And then, sometime in December, you begin to realize that it’s been days since you’ve had one of “those” days. And then, sometime in January, you begin to realize that you can’t even remember the last time you’ve had one of “those” days. You may even say that we’ve come to really like each other.
It takes a long time to build a classroom community; and even at its best, it is never quite perfect and smoothly running every moment of every day. They are children, still learning about what makes them tick, and I am just a person, too, with many flaws I am trying to rise above. Together, we still make mistakes, still have our moments of regret. But it’s different now that we have learned to like each other, to have earned each others’ affection and respect.
It’s a lovely thought, now, that we have until the end of June to build on this affection and respect…until that last group hug, when we want to hang on most to our sixth grade year together just when it has come to an end.