Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teacher or Student?

Substitute teaching in fourth grade is proving to be an emotional experience. One day I can hardly keep from laughing (see previous post). The next day I could almost cry…but not for the reasons you might think.

According to the lesson plan we read Chrysanthemum. It’s the story of a mouse named Chrysanthemum who loved her perfectly beautiful name…until she went to school. Everyone made fun of the fact that she was named after a flower. In fact her long name didn’t even fit on her nametag!

At the teacher’s recommendation I handed out a photocopied picture of Chrysanthemum. Each time someone in the story made fun of Chrysanthemum’s name the students were to crumple a corner of their page.

As you might have guessed, by the end of the story there had been so much fun made about Chrysanthemum that each student’s paper was completely crumpled into a ball.

Then the students were instructed to flatten out their papers.

No wrinkles allowed.

Flat as they were when you got them.

Several looked worried. Especially the perfect, performance-oriented girls. Some students dug out  their rulers to try and straighten the mess while others ran the paper back and forth over the straight edge of their desks.

Finally, one boy observed his futile effort, looked at me and sighed, “It’s impossible.”

The girl next to him ran her fingers over her page and lamented, “You can still feel them.”

Yes. Exactly. The point was made.

Words that hurt are impossible to retrieve. Even an apology is only as good as sliding a ruler over a wrinkled paper to straighten it out. While it might be a legitimate and sincere apology, the hurtful words can still be felt.

As I was making the point to the class, my throat tightened. I recalled the infinite patience I seemed to demonstrate at school and the short-tempered snapping I was doing at home with my own kids.

I was reminded that even words aptly spoken in the wrong tone can hurt. And my night time apologies and bedtime kisses, however sincere, were little more than an effort to smooth out wrinkles—to retract words and tone already spoken.

Turns out there’s a lot to learn in fourth grade…even for the substitute teacher.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Solar System Song

There’s something about little boys that just makes me smile, no matter how ornery they are. Maybe it’s because I have three of my own.

Whatever the reason, I find myself smiling again after a week’s worth of fourth grade science.

In learning about the solar system there is just so much to remember. For instance: Is Jupiter made of matter or gas? How many moons does it have? Is the planet hot or cold? Well, to enhance our learning, a musical genius wrote a little song and posted it on

Music and rhythm make learning facts a breeze. And since I am a huge fan of learning through song, I played “The Solar System Song for Kids” for my class.

In a melodic tone that mimics a lullaby the artist sings these words: 

I am the Sun.
I’m a burning ball of fire. 
I’m very big indeed. 
Life on Earth depends on me. 
I am the Sun.

How clever. I congratulated myself on the use of technology in the classroom.

As the song progressed down the line of planets I continued to pat myself on the back for figuring out how to use the Smart board. But the self-congratulatory back-patting was interrupted by a rustling of students and the startling lyrics…

I am Jupiter. 
I’m a gas giant.

A gas giant?

I glanced around our room. Two boys sat upright in their chairs for the first time that day. They eyed each other as if to say, “Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” They muffled their snickers with both hands just in time to hear the next phrase: 

I have the biggest moon.

It almost put them over the top.

With shoulders shaking, one boy crammed his face into the fold of his elbow to stifle his laughter. The other boy leaned expectantly toward the Smart board waiting for the next juicy lyric. While they regained control they made eye contact with almost every other boy in the class as if to silently sing, “Do you hear what I hear?”

And just when they thought they’d heard it all, a big blue planet sang:

I am Uranus. 
I’m an icy gas giant…

Oh my.

At that point, I feared I may laugh out loud myself. Their faces were contorted with happy disbelief at the lyrics being touted as learning. 

As the song ended they scanned my face for any trace of a sense of humor and begged to hear it again. In the interest of time, I declined.

And let me tell you, I don’t know what else they will remember about the solar system, but I’m certain of this: there are at least eleven fourth grade boys (as well as several girls) who will never forget that Jupiter is not made of solid matter but is instead a “gas giant.”