Thank you for offering though

I’ve always really liked working with kids who are considered to be “on the spectrum.” I don’t claim to be particularly good at working with them, but I do typically enjoy the few such students whom I’ve gotten to teach. I like how the thrive on order and structure. They tend to make me more cognizant about my preparation for the day. For example, one of our kids really appreciates it when I write on the whiteboard what they’ll need for that day (calculator, ruler, etc.). Now, if I forget to do this…woe is me. I forgot to write that they would need a calculator a few weeks ago, and he’s still holding it against me. Weeks ago

For the most part, I can still appreciate this love of consistency. 

But sometimes the need for black and white answers doesn’t get met, and then aggression can arise. Which is what happened today. 

Let’s remember: I do not claim to be good at handling such situations. 

I quickly emailed the kid’s AP with an “SOS–come give him a break.” The AP came immediately, but somehow the kids had all calmed down and everyone was working on math peacefully once the principal walked in, making me look like I had everything under control the whole time (thanks, guys–I owe ya).

The AP left and class carried on without any further verbal nonsense. 

At one point, the aforementioned student asked to go the restroom. 

“How about you finish your work first,” I told him. 

“I’m not going to finish in time!” he insisted. (We’re not supposed to let students leave the last ten minutes of class, and I’m usually a stickler for this rule, which the kid knew.)

“I think you can finish as long as you stay focused.”

He didn’t say anything further, but continued to work. 

He finished his work and turned it in to me to check. By the time I was done grading it, there were only nine minutes left of class. 

“See. Not enough time,” he scolded me.

“I know. But I’m going to let you go this time. It’s ok.”

“No,” he insisted matter-of-factly. “I can hold it until my next class.” (Rule followers forever have my heart. I’m half Swedish, what can I say?)

And then his voice soften, “Thank you for offering though.” And he nodded his thanks. 

Thank you for offering though? This is big for me and him. This is very big. 

Watching this kid’s growth this year has been slow, but it’s been steady. Hearing him say little things like this, or thanking people once they say “Bless you” after he sneezes…that’s big for him. 

And we celebrate the big things for each kid. 

Math competition

I invited a couple of my calculus students from first hour to join Mu Alpha Theta in a math competition at a local university next month. Both their eyes lit up and they high-fived each other  as they gave me a verbal commitment to participate. 

After I told fifth hour about it, I personally invited a couple boys that I thought would really enjoy it. One of them gave me a thumbs up and nodded his head, as if to say, “Obviously I’m going.” 

I love that I get to teach kids who love math. And also kids who have lost their love of it. But today it made me a very happy momma to see kids who get excited about a math competition on a Saturday afternoon. 

They’re just the sweetest. 

A harvest of kindness 

Our building-wide goal this year is to practice 21st century communication skills in every class. This can take a wide variety of forms, allowing teachers to tailor it to each of their classes. 

My fabulous co-teacher recommended we practice writing formal thank you letters as our skill, so that’s what we did today in Intermediate. 

When you stray from the normal pace of class, you never quite know how kids are going to take it: they may embrace it enthusiastically; they may throw a fit; they may just sit and refuse to do anything; they may do anything in between. So you think about how you want to present the idea and what guidelines you want to give and not give and then you hope for the best. (And also decide what you’re going to do in case of the worst.) 

To our delight, most of the kids didn’t seem to think it strange at all and sat and wrote their sweet notes. Some wrote to their friends, some to their parents, some to teachers. I told the kids they could go hand-deliver their notes if it was to a teacher in the building. They were unbelievably cute as they put stickers on their notes and walked proudly down the halls to give their letters.

Giving–it’s so ingrained in human nature, I think. We love to give. We love to make other people happy. Every one of us does. 

We teachers give to our kids, but today I saw the importance of letting my kids give, too. Of carving out time just for them to reflect on goodness and then to give back. 

Yes, they’re practicing communication skills; but more importantly, they’re practicing gratitude and kindness. 

The wisdom that comes from God is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy. And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves.

-James 3:17-18, emphasis added

Corn dogs and talks

I teach a calc section right after lunch. Today, one of my boys waltzed in proudly and announced, “Fifty cent corn dogs today at Sonic! I got eight!”

Horrified, I asked, “But you didn’t eat all eight, right?” 

“Yeah! Mrs. P! You gotta take advantage! My friend ate ten!”

“Oh my” was all I was able to respond with. 

In the middle of the lecture, I heard a grumble: “Oh, Mrs. P. I’m starting to regret the corn dogs…”

I laughed out loud. 

This is just so descriptive of what I love about teaching teenagers: they’re not quite children (Mom doesn’t pack their lunches) but also not quite adults (they think it’s normal to eat eight corn dogs). And the combo is just my favorite. It produces both hilarious and heartfelt moments every day. 

*****

After school,  another one of my calc kids came in to finish his homework. When he was done, we talked for a while, and I got to learn more of his story. 

I’m always thankful for the time I get to know my kids on a non-math level. I’d be lying if I said I knew them all the same. I wish I did. But learning more stories has been one of my goals this school year, so I’m grateful for the dialogue I get to have when we’re not in class. 

Talking math 

A couple of my calc girls sat in my room during my plan and worked on homework together. 

Every teacher is a nerd in her respective field. 

And when we hear our kids nerd out on our subject, we are flooded with euphoria. 

Today I listened to these girls talk through problem after problem together, each time their discourse becoming smoother and easier. They paused often to remark how much they love this part of calculus (be still, my heart). 

When they had finished one of their final problems, one of the girls said, “I feel so smart.”

“You should!” I told them, “I’ve been listening to your conversation, and I’m very impressed by you two.”

Obviously I love that they loved doing their homework (don’t be fooled, I don’t think this is a frequent occurrence). But even more, I love the confidence math education can give my kids. When kids feel like they can conquer math, you can see their self esteem rise. 

I’m a big believer in making calculus education as attainable and as accessible to as many kids as possible because I believe kids will do more math when they feel they’re good at it. And when they do more math, you can push them farther…oftentimes farther than anyone else ever beloved they could go, including themselves. 

Limited Edition 

Yesterday my calc kids built their own 3D shapes using a given region and known cross sections and then used integrals to calculate the volumes. I remember a couple years ago prepping this project, with my sister’s help. I was so excited about my kids getting to build their own structures, as opposed to just looking at the ones I had made. 

Now that the project is a couple years old, I, of course, question its educational value. Is it worth the preparation and class time? Does it solidify the math, or is it just something semi-fun to do?

Today one of my students remarked, “Yesterday’s lesson was really easy for me. Especially after we built our own models, it made a lot of sense.”

Ugh. Don’t you love it when they answer your own questions? I guess we’re keeping this mini-project! I just love it, and if it helps even a handful of students, it’s worth it. 

Here are some of their finished products. ❤


*****

When I got back to my desk in between classes, there was a bag of chocolate eggs and a card waiting on my textbook. The chocolates are apparently only seasonal, and are one of my student’s favorites. She wrote, “Just like these eggs, you are limited edition.”

You’ll be glad to know I read this during lunch so I didn’t have to hold it together in front of kids. 

We have to learn from these students’ kindness and generosity. We have to give words of life and love as openly as they do…and encourage them never to lose this sense of openness and inclusion. 

A day in the life…

Sixth hour was not enjoyable for me today. All the little, needless battles just kept on coming one after another. 

At one point, one girl said to me, “You have a little boy? Ew! I do NOT want a boy.” 

No. I am not making this up. This job is by no means all flowers and sunshine. I try to mostly focus on the flowers and sunshine in this blog, because that is what my personality needs. But sometimes I just need to…not. 

In this moment, I wanted to hand in my keys, go pick up my son, wrap him in my arms, and tell him how he’s all I wanted and more. 

Most days I don’t question my decision to give up time with my kid so that I can invest in other people’s kids. Because most days, I can buy into the fact that we belong to each other, and there’s no such thing as other people’s kids. Just kids. And we all have a responsibility to invest in them. 

But today I questioned. Today I just wanted my kid. 

In that moment, anther girl piped in and drew me back into the situation. 

“Oh, well, I don’t want a girl! Can you imagine? ANOTHER girl…with MY attitude?!”

I laughed. 

I thought she was just trying to be funny. 

But when I replayed the conversation in my mind, I realized the second girl was attempting to make me feel better. She was looking out for me. She knew what the first girl had said was not kind…and she was reaching out: an invisible yet verbal hug. 

In my head, I know things like “hurting people hurt people” and “if a kid is making you miserable, the kid is miserable.” But sometimes the heart is slower, and softer, than the brain. 

I know when kids say ugly things, it means that that’s been modeled for them. And that’s really heartbreaking. But that doesn’t excuse their behavior. They shouldn’t roll their eyes at you when you ask them to put  their phones up. They shouldn’t huff and puff when you enforce the rules you’ve been asked to enforce. They shouldn’t walk out of the classroom because they want to go to the restroom but know you’ll tell them no, because that’s the building expectation.  (All things that happened in the course of an hour, by the way.)

But sometimes they do. And sometimes I just need people to know: this job–this thing we do where we teach kids about calculus and kindness, government and compassion, ecosystems and empathy, Golding and thankfulness–it’s so hard at times. 

But your kids are worth it to us. Because they’re our kids, too. 

Even the snotty ones. 

Even the ones that make me want to hand in my keys. 

They’re worth it. 

So, if you have kids, join me in raising the children who work to brighten their teachers’ days. The ones who give those invisible–and visible–hugs. The world can never have enough of those kids.