I had great creative anticipation on Tuesday morning. I was starting my fourth graders off on a new project - Nutcrackers with oil pastels! I was incorporating Tchaikovsky’s music as played by the London Symphony Orchestra and reading The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers.
The day was going beautifully, and I was in love with the energy and the interactive imaginative conversation in the classroom. I felt most like me in those first few hours, but it is the class after lunch that really is difficult for me. I have about three classes (out of 19) that I really struggle with, and all the more if the teacher is absent that day, which in this class, she was.
The program I teach for is set up to have the teacher in the class with me since I am not a certified teacher. Technically the substitute is supposed to stay as well, but that doesn’t always work out. In this class, he didn’t stay. Another fourth grade teacher told me she was across the hall if I needed her help.
I handled it. We got through the 45 minutes. But it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t with grace or ease or finesse. I did not feel light and airy like a sugar plum fairy in a tutu and ballerina slippers.
I have been trying to really assess the differences between my classes. Is it the teacher? Is it the kids? Is it the time of day? Is it my attitude?
I am a teacher, yes, but I am also a student, especially in my toughest classes. I want to know what is so very different? How can the same exact project create such monumentally different results? How can I adapt?
I studied closely the trouble spots, and one thing stood out to me, the main value for the key disrupters in this environment is sarcasm. Everything is subject to ridicule, but especially that which is beautiful. There is a really different spirit between a student who walks in exploring a classroom and a student who walks in destroying a classroom. The choice of a few of the students in this particular classroom is to receive nothing. Everything is rejection. They not only want to reject everything I am sharing, they want others to witness that rejection and buy into it. Their behavior is in an effort to pull attention away from that which is deserving of attention, and in return they gain attention though it is undeserving.
The day after this, I was getting dressed in the morning and put on high heels and a dress. It was what I wanted to wear, until I found myself thinking about that one class after lunch the previous day. Why did I think of that then? I wondered. Two seemingly unrelated events! Digging a little deeper I realized dressing beautiful felt in stark contrast to teaching that class. A dress and high heels would not get to shine in that environment. (Remember - anything beautiful didn’t get to stay.) I was shocked how the memory of that one class made me almost second-guess my wardrobe decision. All the more shocking was the realization that I felt it would be easier to play down beauty, enjoyment and vulnerability so as to limit myself from being an easy target. I was considering playing it safe in my day by making myself more chameleon-ish. How often does this sort of behavior occur without me connecting the pieces?
While I am still assessing and figuring out how to adapt and how to address the trouble spots in each unique class (I am smart, I will figure it out.) the bigger ah-ha moment I walked away with is the knowledge that I value an environment where everyone is beckoned to shine, to excel, to rise. Anyone that creates the sort of environment where others are punished or ridiculed for their desire for happiness, beauty, curiosity, passion and success, is not an environment I will willingly remain in. I value what Ayn Rand refers to as the "upward glance." If a person’s behavior or demeanor requests me (or others I value) to dress down, back down, look down, or lay down like a door mat, I will use every ounce of my magic to return the energy (the glance) back upwards - whether that’s by removing myself from the environment, addressing the people directly or playing with the data until I can remedy the situation. (I can think of at least three different situations currently where this applies in my life.)
No one should ever fear being their most glorious self.
*"WHAT DO YOU VALUE?" is one of the questions on The Magic School application. No coincidence there. I am on a quest to discover my values. Share with me some of yours, but if you do will you get really specific? It's easy to answer this question with loose, general answers. Give me a magnifying glass sort of answer.