As writers, we write what we know best. As teachers, what we know best is our students. After serving eight years as a literacy coach in my district, I decided to dip my toes back into the rejuvenating waters of the classroom this past year. I changed schools and accepted a position as a first grade teacher. We’ve all had those moments when we say, “Man, I should really be writing this stuff down!” Well, this year I did. Here is a tiny window into some of the many priceless experiences I shared with eighteen 6-year-olds over the course of our ten months together.
First graders are really eager to share jokes with anyone who will listen, although admittedly for me, a big part of the hilarity is seeing them figure out the process of trying to be funny. One particular morning at breakfast, I was chatting with a group of my boys and they started swapping jokes. It pretty much went something like this:
Student: “Knock, knock.”
Me: “Who’s there?”
Me: “Apple who?”
Student: “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?!”
Me: “Ummm… yes?”
Student: “Knock, knock.”
Me; “Who’s there?”
Student: “Interrupting cow.”
Me (prepared for what’s coming): “Interrupting cow who?”
Me: “I think you were supposed to interrupt me.”
Student: “Oh, yeah. I forgot.”
Then there’s the all the marvelous malaprops, like:
-what first graders call the gel you squirt on your hands to clean them when you can’t use soap and water- “HANITIZER!”
-the time when one of my students was really full and exclaimed, “My stomach hurts! I overate myself today at lunch!”
-the time I asked my student how she was feeling after she’d been home sick for a few days and she replied, “I’m ok. They thought I might have ammonia, but I don’t!”
-when a student gave me a hug and said, “Good luck with your gobble bladder surgery!”
-during our week-long “camp” experience at the end of the year, I told the kids they didn’t have to take their sleeping bags home if they didn’t want to; they could leave them at school until the next day. One boy whispered, “No, I can’t. I snooked it and mama doesn’t know I brought it!” (Which, for those of you wondering, is the official combination of ‘took’ and ‘sneaked.’)
I’ll never forget the day we were dressed up in old fashioned clothes, as we learned about the Westward Movement. One girl who had forgotten to dress up that day, looked at me, exasperated, and shouted, “I don’t look like a pioneer! I look like I was born yesterday!”
This, and so much more, is what I missed during my years out of the full-time classroom. This second time around, I’m slowing down and being present, truly present, for my students. I’m reminding myself that engaging with them and connecting with them must be the precursors to any curricular standards I expect them to meet. Writing down the anecdotes of our day-to-day life together in the classroom helps me preserve those moments in my mind that always seems to have way too many “tabs” open at once. More importantly, it shows that I value them. It was so fun to recall all those moments and interactions and say to kids, “Remember the time…” Even if they had forgotten, the fact that I hadn’t, was really significant to them. Every so often, they would ask me to read to them from my collection of musings and it brought us closer together as a community of learners and people.
So as we gear up for another school year, I’m looking forward to adding another chapter to the story of our classroom. The characters and dialogue will change, but the feeling of satisfaction in knowing that I was able to capture the small moments is enough to keep me writing this stuff down for the next 180 days to come.
About the Author
Hi, my name is Jenn Chafin. I’m a first grade teacher in the Oxford Hills School District in western Maine. I’ve been in education for 39 years- I started at age 5 and haven’t stopped yet! In my spare time, I read, write, read some more, and loudly critique Red Sox games from my living room. You can find me on Twitter at @LitTeacherJenn and on my blog, FeltLikeReading.com.