There are a few days left in July. However, due to a refridgerator-water-splashing accident (don’t ask), I had to re-do my dry-erase calendar. Which meant that it was time to put August on it. Which meant that the first day of In-service is now on it. I will miss being home with my children every day (and being in pajamas until 10 am), but I love my job. Changing the calendar to August is a good thing in many ways and I am almost ready to go back to the classroom.
I just finished reading a really sweet and inspiring book that is helping me to get there. 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons From Teaching, by Phillip Done. The author has taught 3rd grade for around 25 years, he has a great sense of humor and an obvious love of children. The book is a series of lists and short stories that range from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-jerking. I identified with Done in many ways, both as a teacher and as a parent; as an observer of education, children and their lovely quirks. I have turned down the corner of a bunch of pages that I plan to return to throughout the years to come.
The first chapter, I Am a Teacher, has four pages of great comments like “I fix staplers that won’t staple and zippers that won’t zip, and I poke pins in the orange caps of glue bottles that will not pour. I hand out papers and pencils and stickers and envelopes for newly pulled teeth. I know the difference between Austria and Australia”. Most of the things on his list are not taught in college, but they are a huge part of the job and part of one’s identity as a teacher. For me, I suppose that Austria = fsharp and that Australia = bflat.
I can tell that Done has a love of standarized tests, just like me. The chapter Testing tells of the day in March when he realizes that the time has come for filling in bubbles. No more discussions. No more reading after lunch. No more questions. Everything must be taught right away even though there are three more months of school to go. He says to his class (p. 187):
“You don’t like these tests?” I asked. “You don’t want to do these tests? Don’t you realize that these scores are published in the newspaper and parents and real estate agents everywhere look at these scores? Don’t you realize that your parents’ property values are affected if you don’t know how to find the diameter of a circle?
“You want to paint?” I continued. “You want to run? You want to sing? You want to do a play? You want to go on a field trip? You want to play your song flute? Ha! What do you think this is? A school?”
It is nice to know that I am not the only teacher in the country with a nice sense of humor sarcasm about testing. Thank you, Phillip Done!
He has a musical background too, and several of his comments reveal a good understanding of what music teaching is like. The chapter entitled Why for instance asks many questions about why kids do the things that they do, “Why do kids choose to play instruments that are similar to their own personalities?” That is so funny to me, because I have wondered about that for years. I swear, I can meet someone, and guess their instrument of choice in just two guesses. He also jokes about how the band director in his building will feel when she figures out that the entire class has signed up for trumpet. Eeeek! At least it is not saxophone, right?
One of my favorite chapters is Teacher Speeches, where Done comments about the speeches that teachers make repeatedly throughout the year. “It would be so much easier if I could just shout out the number of the speech.” #479 is my absolute favorite, one that I have stood by and proclaimed for years. “Do not ‘Sorry’ when you make a mistake. Never say ‘Sorry’ if you make a mistake. I want you to make mistakes. If you make mistakes, then I have something to teach you.”
I tell that to kids all of the time. I love to tell them about my beloved beginning band teacher. She always said “if you are going to make a mistake, make a big one!” I wish she had lived long enough for me to have gone back and asked her about that one. It has been 25 years since I heard her say that; I think she meant to be bold and brave and to not be afraid of making a mistake.
I laughed out loud when I read Spring is Here. I was sitting at Starbucks, enjoying a latte and honestly burst out laughing and probably looked like an idiot. Mr. Done writes that he knows it is spring when the song flutes are passed out. Me too!!! For a couple years now, I have teased my colleague Nancy about how I know it is spring when I hear her flutophone classes tooting. I walk down the hall for a quick cup of coffee and I can hear their oh-so-sweet song. I know that Nancy loves teaching classroom music and that she is a big advocate of using flutophones in her classroom, but let’s be honest… 25 flutophones chirping out “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” at 9:15 am is enough to test the fortitude of any teacher. It even tests her patience, I suspect.
Still, those flutophones mean spring to me, and that vacation is just around the corner!
How to Know When You Need a Vacation helped me to realize that I am almost ready to be done with vacation, almost ready to feel like I do not need a vacation anymore. Last on his list of when one needs vacation: “When it is three in the morning and you are humming ‘Frosty the Snowman’ for the 157th time with your eyes wide open in bed.”
Oh, how I have been there. Except that for me, it is “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”.
I am almost ready to hear it again. Almost. Not quite, though… just this morning, my daughter Marissa wanted to play it on the piano for me. I cowered, cringed and cried “NO!!!” I am not ready for that yet.
Nancy is coming to my house to teach Marissa’s lesson today… I wonder if she is ready to hear St. Nick yet. We shall see!