the dance of the ink riddled fingers

grade three life lessons

It was 3:05pm when I walked out of the classroom with various worksheets ready to multiply into class copies in one hand and porcelain cup in the other (and bottle of tomato sauce under arm – today was lunch order day).

As I walked the freshly painted path along the perimeter of the classrooms, I imagined some canon in H major being played on an out of scene piano as I slow-motioned my way to the staff room.  Smirking at my imaginary dramatisation of having paralleled today’s procession with fireworks going off in the grade three classroom, I breathed deeply and tried to refresh my perspective. I had to smile at my lack of understanding and the ridiculousness of children… and probably my inability to comprehend them.  Sometimes they puzzle me so, and I just want to smile or laugh… but I have to do it in secret – lest they think I find their misbehaviour amusing. I don’t. I seriously don’t.

Yet I cannot help but wonder what the perfect classroom looks like – and for who? A teacher’s definition of perfect is most definitely different from an eight year old’s definition of perfect.  I’m learning that I cannot control the classroom… and I don’t want to.  I want to do it differently (I’m aware that this is a dangerous thought).  What do I want?

I want absolutely respectful children to find joy in learning infinite amounts, to challenge themselves and continually rewrite their own personal bests; to accept good things and reject bad things; to be resilient and not petty; to love diversity and always play to each other’s strengths; to be confident enough to try and self-esteemed enough to not fear mistakes, instead learning from them; to learn the power of silence (in concentration, self control, and ignoring stupid things other children say); to know who they are… etc, etc. To put it short, I want a million things of children and expect that it is possible.  But such expectation means that days like today can take a toll on such expectant hopefuls.

I’ve just discovered that the most terrifying and God-graceful thing about being a teacher is realising that of all the specks I see around the classroom… they are nothing on the log that I lug around and justify as “me”.  It is amazing that I get to learn very humbling lessons from children without them knowing it, and not feel the pressure to change – I merely want to.  How’s this for cool: the only thing these children don’t like about any of their teachers is that they get in trouble from them – there is nothing about any of us that they know to disapprove of.  They don’t tell us to change, they don’t tell us what we should be.  They get to teach us without either of us even knowing it most of the time.

I am no more perfect than they – perhaps a tad more experienced and matured (one could hope).  Alas I come to the end of myself here.  I am realising almost all of my weaknesses in this grade three classroom. I’m learning more about myself and my ways of dealing with problems (and them) and how effective they really are.  If anything, these children are schooling me on how humanity acts and reacts in various circumstances (myself included).  They are merely shorter and more honest representations of adults.

They’re changing me, little by little, these eight year olds are hitting something very close to my heart. Perhaps they’re actually hitting my heart; because, of every person in my life, they know how best to irk me without even knowing it. They also know how to make me smile and chuckle to myself without knowing it.  They make me wonder about them without even knowing it.  They make me sad when their families are in a rough patch, without me knowing that I’m sad until another teacher asks me why I look sad.  They make me proud of them for the simplest things.  Their habit of stating the obvious make me want to cry and burst out laughing simultaneously. Today I got a classic, “Miss, you look very angry”, and with five spoken words, one ridiculous girl broke my anger (but I made sure not to smile because I was trying to get a point across).

I suppose this is a rant/boast about the ins and outs of the best job in the world.  People who find out I did kindergarten teaching and now primary look at me with respect and tell me I must have a lot of patience.  I suppose I’d like to think that I have.  But secretly, working with children requires much less patience than working with adults and never ceases to reward.

Interestingly, I’m finding it harder to be social with adults than I am with children – unless the adults have something to do with children because anyone with anything to do with children could talk about children until their voice gives out.

Towards the end of my frazzled day, my conversation with the bus girls entailed excited stories on the many methods and experiences of losing teeth.  It was really good conversation!  You just don’t really have those kinds of conversations with grown ups who’ve forgotten the joys of each process of growth.

I’ll leave you with this – of all the people with the most patience in the world.  These children, though they may get impatient about the petty things, are the most patient with the most important things.  And you know patience by abilities to forgive.  Children forgive easily.  And knowing that I can come to school each day and as long as I smile in the morning, these children are going to smile back (bigger) – regardless of the detentions I may have had to distribute the day before – makes it easy to love my job.

They are good to me, these children.  Even if they aren’t always “good”.

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