A few years ago, my friend, Jennifer told me about the wrinkled paper idea. Say we have a clean sheet of paper, and we crumple it. We smooth it out and the wrinkles may be less evident, but the wrinkles remain. She used this analogy to compare harsh words and actions, and the impact they have on our spirits…our paper. No matter how much we smooth out the wrinkles, the memory of the wrinkles never seems to disappear.
This year was the first year I’d been back in the classroom in five years. I spent much of my time talking to the kids about kindness. I used the paper analogy. I crumpled a piece of paper and then smoothed it out. I told them that this was like their hearts. We don’t want to wrinkle each other’s hearts, right?
Later, a student in my class was making unkind remarks to another student.
I heard him say,
“You just put wrinkles in my heart.”
The other student stopped, and apologized.
At the time, I was pleased to hear this. But as the year progressed, and my challenges grew, I thought of those words exchanged between the two students. It began to mean more to me each day.
I have the curriculum, pacing guides, lesson plans, and data everywhere. But, there was no plan to teach my students the impact they have on one another. There was no plan to protect all of our hearts from wrinkles.
August brought high hopes, montages of kids learning, and me standing on the desks imparting literary wisdom. That didn’t happen. From open house to Milestone testing, I’ve been in an existential traffic circle.
The devil is in the details. Things I forgot about….
- taking attendance
- lunch count
- tardy slips
- attendance slips
- specials schedule
- bus numbers
- car riders
They don’t just leave the room, at the end of the day, and I hope for the best. Some got on the wrong bus, or were in car line, when they were supposed to be on the bus. My dismissal clipboard(covered in coffee stains) was full of ‘change of transportation’ slips that I thought I updated. I could have possibly forgotten some other things, which I cannot remember, because I forgot them. The first few weeks of school, I was in a sweat by 8:30 am.
I had lost complete contact with the reality of the classroom.
The 4th grade curriculum eluded me. What do you mean I have to teach explorers, colonies, Native Americans, economics, government, Revolutionary War, New Nation, Westward Expansion, light and sound, solar system, force and motion, adaptations, and ecosystems….in EIGHT MONTHS? How the flippity flop did I do this before?
This year, the ELA pacing for grammar STARTED with the order of adjectives. Honestly, I never knew there was an order. Why is this necessary? If there are that many adjectives in a sentence, that need to be ordered, then there are too many adjectives. Right? I really just wanted my twenty- five, smart, small, young, fourth graders to write complete sentences without emojis, or texting short hand.
If you work in Forsyth County, you will understand what I mean when I say F&P. They are running records, that need to be taken on each child, three times a year. As a literacy coach, I told teachers to schedule a few a day, and they could complete them all, and the world would be a better place. Yah, not so much. There are interruptions; I don’t mean with just the children. The phone rings, people come to the door, fire alarms, UFOs landing, and random portals to other worlds, popping up all over the place.
After fifteen years, I still had a modicum of hope and faith that I could actually help children. I worked in vain, much of the time.
The one thing, I’ve had my entire teaching career is that creative edge. I could pull a great activity out of the ethers, and make it work. I can differentiate an assignment in my sleep. I had my teaching MOJO. It was there, I depended on it, and it always returned. But, it abandoned me this year.
I just wanted my teaching mojo back. Or maybe I can at least visit it. Where is it? Is it coming back? Did I send it scrambling with pessimism and exhaustion? If it’s smart, it’s at a sunny beach with all the other teachers’ mojos. Maybe they are at a mojo retreat? Mojo group counseling?
It is human nature to cling to a negative experience, and allow that experience to obliterate the positive ones. I was met with some challenges that I never would have expected. The challenges weren’t kind either. They were like tidal waves, chasing me down. I couldn’t anticipate or control any of them.
The year passed, and I had better days. Some weeks. I did eek out a few new activities, that the kids seemed to enjoy. We made ecosystems in bottles, Westward Expansion Geoscenes, poetry books, and I was able to teach them a little Shakespeare here and there. It seemed that Macbeth was the touchstone character for most of our literary discussions.
We were wrapping up our year in a morning discussion. I asked the kids what they remember most. One student said:
“The wrinkled paper you showed us. You know when we put wrinkles in each other’s hearts?”
A few other students agreed. That had been more than six months ago. They remembered the wrinkled paper. The small moments, in a classroom, are often overlooked. I wonder how many I missed this year? I imagine there were quite a few, because I was wrapped up in the things that went wrong, instead of focusing on the good things. It is very easy to let others wrinkle our hearts, but it is easier to wrinkle our own hearts.
I received this on the last day of school:
Sometimes it’s the kids who bring us back to what is important.