I teach in a very high-poverty area. I teach children who have needs I can’t even begin to understand, much less explain or meet. I love my job. I love these children.
I should also say right now that I’ve been doing this for a long time. I am an old dog who is pretty sure she knows what she’s doing. It’s hard and I am not always “successful,” but I don’t think there are too many others in my line of work who can actually do this better than I can. And yes, I can be pretty smug.
I learned something significant this spring.
Have y’all seen that post on facebook about the first grade teacher who did the rock-stacking project with her fidgety first graders? I love that. All of a sudden those children developed the ability to focus and control themselves in very unexpected ways because they cared about stacking those rocks.
Crawfish live in a little draw that runs through our playground. On two sides of the yard, there are low places (say, hip deep on a ten-year-old) that stay wet most of the school year. The sidewalk acts as a bridge over these water holes, which are about ten feet wide. When it rains there is a shoe-soaking stream all the way across the whole field, connecting the two. And crawfish live out there, some in the deeper ponds, and some in chimney-topped dens along the “creek.”
I gradually became aware that the children were gravitating to the water in a way that was different from what I had seen in the past. They were not trying to push each other in, or get wet themselves. They were crouching around the circumference of the ponds, or sprawling flat on their bellies on the sidewalk bridges, and peering studiously into the water. It was the most STILL I had ever seen some of them!
Shortly I began realizing that I had little boys with half-eaten bologna sandwiches or part of their lunchtime corn dogs in their pockets. I saw them running out the doors at recess whipping off one shoe to strip out the shoe lace. Bait attached, they would skitter to a halt and flop down beside the water and FISH.
Children who hadn’t remembered to bring back library books on the right day ALL YEAR could remember to put bait meat in their pockets every day? People who could not keep up with where they just put down the pencil they were half-way done working a math problem with could remember which crawfish hole they sat by yesterday. Can’t sit still for six minutes while you read a story, Miss, but I will kneel absolutely motionless holding a string and praying for a bite for the full 12 minutes you will give me for recess!
Not only that, they were nice to each other. You don’t have any bait – I’ll break this piece of chicken in half for you. Your shoes don’t have string? You can use my other one. Heaven forbid the corner of your Social Studies book ever slips one centimeter over the edge of my desk, but OF COURSE I will show you how to catch a crawfish!
I taught a ridiculous amount of math, science, reading and writing trading on crawfish. We measured them, compared and contrasted, pretended to be them, did research on everything I could think of about them… and I was flat astounded by how the kids got into it. Crawfish were excellent bait, too – “You were perfect during the firedrill, so we will stay outside for ten extra minutes.” It was a wonderful spring.
Here’s what I learned – – –
You can’t make this happen. Lots of springs have gone by, and last year’s kids didn’t even notice the crawfish. Next year they may not care about them.
I have to be alert for what drops into my path as a teacher. I got the blessing of the crawfish because I listened to my children, and let them love what they loved, and taught THEM. It might be rock stacking. It might be fishing. It could be anything, but teachers HAVE to be tuned into those babies and take the blessing of teaching the children where it pops up.