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.

1 comment:

  1. That's a mighty powerful lesson for all ages! Thanks:)