January 19, 2015
Many years ago, one of my favorite students gave me a gift of a room spray that smells like vanilla. In general, I hate fake smells. Yankee Candle literally makes me sick, and Bath and Body products all have the same sickly odor underneath the supposed individual “scents”. But this spray truly smells delicious. Last year, I started spraying it, just a little, around the classroom before the students came in. When my homeroom kids stumbled and grumbled and slouched their ways into the room one Monday morning, their eyes opened wide and they started to sniff like my dog on a summer afternoon at the pond.
“I smell cookies!”
“ What’s that marshmallow smell?” another asked, closing her eyes and breathing slowly in.
“Ohhhhh, it smells so good in here, Ms. Babs,” Bobby sighed. “What is that?”
“I guess the Cookie Fairy came again last night,” I said, smiling. “She comes a lot, but she never leaves cookies. I wish she would.”
What I absolutely adore about 7th graders is they just accept this. I have no misconceptions that they totally believe me or anything, but they are very much like me in some ways: they want to believe, so why not?
January 16, 2015
Yesterday we finished reading the painful last chapter of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. I had to read it five times. Five times I had to think of random boring objects (socks, tea, chicken food…) as quick as I could so I didn’t start crying in front of the class. If I do start, I just can’t stop, and the kids don’t need that. Seeing a teacher cry is both tantalizing and terrifying to a 12 year old. I really think they never see me the same way.
I know this from several mortifying experiences through the years. The first time, I had assigned a short essay about a pet, and I offered to share mine. I had written about Hickety-Pickety, my favorite chicken. She was the one who would actually stand on the back steps, her head cocked to look up at the window for me, waiting for me to come out. She would follow me across the yard, singing soft songs of delicious bugs and of her beautiful blue-green eggs – a little feathered peaceful friend. She was beautiful, too: fawn and white feathers, a mostly white head, and green legs. But one late afternoon just before I wrote about her, I found her feathers in the yard and knew the fox had taken her.
I thought I was all right about it – after all, she was just a chicken and we had fifteen others, but as I read to my class my voice suddenly broke, and before I knew it I was doing the ugly-cry (as Oprah called it), where my face was all scrunched up. I was mortified, but I couldn’t stop. A kind girl who I’ve never forgotten came up and wrapped me in a hug. “I’m sorry, Ms. Babs,” she whispered. The others, however, were wide-eyed and miserable, not knowing what they were supposed to do.
Then there was Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick, one of my very favorite books ever to teach (the administration decided it was not “rigorous enough” and took it away in favor of thematic books…). The ending is very sad in the book, but somehow hopeful. The movie’s end, however, with the music and the character’s ravaged grief, almost brings me to my knees. Every year I would show it to the students after we finished the book. I tried to leave the room for a supposed bathroom break during the hardest part, but one year we all watched it together in the auditorium. I was sitting behind the students, tears running down my face, when someone noticed. Suddenly they all turned to watch me instead of the movie, whispers of “Ms. Babs is crying!” like wind in pines filling the whole enormous space.
So I’ve learned, for the most part, to be able to shut a door to enormous sorrow when I’m teaching. Yesterday I held it together all day, but my wonderful aide, Mr. T, did not. He read the last chapter for me in his magnificent rich voice, and actually stopped for a minute before going on, lifting his glasses to wipe his eyes. I don’t think the kids noticed, but I did, and I loved him for it.
I MUST BE A SAINT
My blog of teaching 7th grade English
INTRODUCTION: Invariably, when I tell a stranger that I teach 7th grade, their eyes widen in horror and they tell me they can’t think of anything worse. “You must be a saint!” they exclaim.
I disagree. It’s pretty simple, really – I’m greedy for their energy and joy and enthusiasm for life. Every single day at least one student, but usually more, validate me as a human being and as a teacher. Because of my students, I know I matter in this world.