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Slow down, you move too fast

August 7, 2012

So in my other life, I’m a teacher: grades five through eight, at an absolutely wonderful school, with absolutely wonderful students. Very soon, all of us will be reunited. The summer is slip-sliding away, as it does every year. And I’m thinking I speak for all teachers, all across the country, when I say, Make. It. Stop.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been at it for seventeen years. When I used to hear veteran teachers talk about how they’d been teaching for twenty years or more, I’d smile and arrange my face to look very impressed. But secretly, I’d be thinking, my God, you poor bastard! I couldn’t do the same thing for that long! Yet here I am. Looking back on the years I’ve spent in education, there are certain moments that beg to be told. I’m not talking about the feel-good, I’ve-made-a-difference, this-child-started-out-as-a-failure-and-now-he’s-President-of-the-United-States moments (I’ve had those, of course). I’m talking about the moments you sure as hell wouldn’t relive, but never want to forget. And each of these gems has an individual lesson to be learned. Step into my classroom, sit down at a desk, and I will teach you my lesson for the day. You may want to take notes.

In the very early years of my educational career, when I was young and foolish (as opposed to middle-aged and foolish), I taught kindergarten. I’d only had a few years of experience, and that was teaching fourth graders, so going from the intermediate level to brand new babies made me quite nervous. And by “quite nervous” I mean utterly terrified. A big event in kindergarten was 100’s Day, where you’d celebrate the 100th day of school. Sounds innocent enough. But during this particular year, 100’s Day fell on Valentine’s Day–another major event in kindergarten. So I did what any naive, inexperienced teacher would do. I crammed both events into one morning. I was quite proud of myself for having lots of activities for the children to do. And by “lots” I mean way too many.

We started off the morning by making 100’s crowns and using 100 little stickers to decorate them. We counted to 100 by ones, fives and tens and learned “Happy 100’s Day” in sign language. We did 100’s Day centers, including making a design with 100 pattern blocks and making pages for a big “I wish I had 100 ___” book. We ate 100’s Day snacks (I’d had parents send in 100 edible items such as Cheerios, M & M’s, Skittles, and raisins) and made Froot Loop necklaces using–you guessed it–100 Froot Loops. We also decorated a 100-inch snake and played a Find The Dot game which involved hunting for colored stickers around the room, numbered–you guessed it–1 to 100.

This would have been all well and good, had the children been allowed to take oh, maybe, the rest of the year to do this. But we did it in about an hour and a half. I kept an eye on the clock, because we still had Valentine’s Day to celebrate, after all. I bounced around from table to table, cheering on the children, wanting them to experience the full scope of all the amazing things I had to offer. “Great job!” I burbled. “You’re doing really well! Let’s hurry up, though, so we can go on to something else!” I threw lollipops on the tables and told the kids to lick them 100 times. After about ten minutes of frantic licking, one little boy said his tongue was getting sore. I was undaunted. “You’re doing great!” I told him. “Just keep it up! Only about seventy-five more licks!”

When I was satisfied that the children had fulfilled my expectations for 100’s Day, we quickly switched over to Valentine’s, which involved decorating paper bags to collect cards. I was quite pleased with myself for having the children put their finished bags on a long table, because I was going to have them form an orderly line and drop their Valentines into the other children’s bags. This would have gone so, so much more smoothly, had I remembered to check that the children had put their actual names on the bags. Instead of the orderly line I’d dreamed of, there were five year olds crowded around the table, bumping and shoving each other, putting in Valentines, taking them out, looking in their own bags to see how many cards they’d gotten, and looking into everyone else’s bags as well. During this melee, I’d neglected to watch the clock, and when I finally glanced up, I realized to my horror that the bus was coming in fifteen minutes. Kindergartners, on a good day, need about an hour to pack up. And we hadn’t even eaten the Valentine’s Day party food.

I told the children to hurry up and finish putting their Valentines into bags. More bumping and shoving, with cards fluttering down to the floor. I bent down and grabbed the stray Valentines, shoving them into the bags nearest to me. I told the children to quickly find a seat, and I began filling plates with cupcakes and candy and fruit that had been sent in by parents and pouring (spilling) drinks, all the while telling the kids to hurry and eat, the bus would be coming. It was a valiant effort. The little troopers slurped their drinks and wolfed down the goodies, which had to squeeze in beside the 100’s Day snacks they’d just eaten.

The clock was ticking. Panicked, I told the children to throw their plates in the trash and get their backpacks. Half-eaten brownies and cupcakes sailed through the air. The children tripped over each other in their haste to get to the bus. I grabbed the overstuffed Valentine’s bags and tossed them at the kids as they headed for the door, praying that at least a couple of these bags would find their rightful owners. Never had I been so glad I didn’t have a room mother present for this fiasco…but never had I needed one more.

So…what is to be learned from this experience, apt pupil? Yes, that’s right: sometimes, less is more. And more importantly: Slow down. Savor. Enjoy. Lazily lick a lollipop. Taste the chocolate frosting on a cupcake. Delight in making swirly designs on a homemade card for a special someone. Fill your eyes with the sunrise on a lazy August morning that promises to be yours alone. Watch the sky turn to flame at dusk as the sun slips below the horizon. Hang on to sultry summer…to tender moments…to who you are, right now–because all are fleeting. I have taught, but I have also learned.


From → Teaching

  1. Ellen permalink

    Hilarious post. I remember a certain birthday party where I had the opposite problem. 25 kids ran through all the activites in 10 minutes. It was a barely controlled riot for hours until their parents came and took them away. They talked about it for a while: “Remember that? It was so awesome!” Never. Again.

    • Ellen, thank you for commenting – I can soo picture the opposite of not having enough being a problem! The “barely controlled riot” comment made me laugh :). Good hearing from you!

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