Monday was not a terrific day in my class. I’m sure I was a factor along with my students. I hadn’t slept well (it was, after all, a Sunday night), and I enhanced the problem with the hyperactive intensity I get in the week of Back to School Night. Must create bulletin boards to create the illusion that I care about important things like bulletin boards. Must have classroom charter posted on 15-sheet poster that I puzzle and glue together…because parents really care about our classroom charter. Yes, after 30-plus years the evening gathering still makes me anxious. So, at 7:45 a.m., when sleep-deprived hyper man meets 24 “I’m-a-little-too-tired-to-pay-attention-to-anything-academic” children, it’s something less than synergy. Collectively we had “a case of the Mondays” (a favorite scene)
Today, though, dawned even less promising. I walked the dog in a steady drizzle. That’s okay, because it’s now dark at 6:00 a.m., so I wasn’t going to be enjoying much scenery anyway. The temperature had dropped, too, so I had my first cause to practice the winter hunch. I splashed my way to work, remembering that when I arrived I had to meet with my assistant principal to learn how to check and uncheck accommodations on the standardized assessment I’d be giving to my students today. So, a test instead of real reading, interruptions from instrument lessons sprinkled through the day, and then, of course, indoor recess. It looked like school heaven, for sure.
Imagine my surprise, then, when in the afternoon, around 1:50, the time when fatigue and cabin fever turns ten-year-olds punchy or giddy, or giddily punchy, events took a surprising turn. The rain intensified outside. I had abandoned a plan I’d had from the weekend: tracing our shadows over the course of the day. Hard to do in the rain…the chalk washes away! I had also abandoned the plans I’d had from the day before. No, I’m not sure we’re going to try looking at art cards and writing poetry (though it might have been ready by Back to School Night!). Instead, I told the class I wanted to give them a challenge. I told them about the field trip that was coming up. In true reverse pep talk form, I told them that I was a worried about the trip. I warned them of the challenge of a 500-acre outdoor sculpture museum. I told them it would feel like the world’s biggest playground. The structures would tempt them like climbing equipment. The hills would beckon like ski slopes or runways. Each distant object would call to them, urging them to race from piece to piece. But they could not. They needed to remember that they were in a museum… without a roof…or walls. I warned them that they would need to slow down, not speed up. They would need to stop and observe. Sit and sketch.
Next, I showed a few pictures on the smart board and then set out a hundred photos from previous trips, spreading them over the tables. I said this afternoon’s challenge would be smaller. They needed to walk among these photos until they saw one that seized their attention. Then they should stop on the spot, sit down, and sketch for 5 minutes, about the time that they might reasonably pause in an outdoor museum on 500 acres of forests and fields.
And they did.
On this dreary, soggy Tuesday afternoon, the room was silent for 30 minutes as we wandered, paused, sat, sketched, and wandered more. When it seemed like some were beginning to tire, I asked them to return to their seats and reflect in writing. And they did. And they shared. And they listened to each other! When it was time for dismissal, many didn’t want to stop. Several asked to take photos home so they could sketch more. I sighed (as though it were a great sacrifice I was making), and said, yes, they could, as long as they promised to take good care of my photos.
It was a better day inside than out, and it gave me hope.