Sunday, December 07, 2014

Checking It Twice

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in an elementary school are a very mixed bag. On one hand, we have our first report cards of the year to hand out. Those loom large. On the other hand, every child's mind is an active advent calendar, counting the days to the next vacation. And to the next big celebration. Even the kids whose families don't actively celebrate Christmas for spiritual or emotional or financial reasons get caught up in the fever. How does a classroom teacher maintain any semblance of order during this countdown?
First, and most important, there is the dual prong of report cards and pending gifts. If a student is recklessly careening off track, it behooves that kid's teacher to remind them that report card grades can change right up to the last instant before they are handed to a parent. All that great work in October and November could be obscured by a truly awful December. For those who have already decided that grades don't matter, we have the immediate and tangible connection between performance and reward. For the younger set, a simple reminder that Santa knows when they are sleeping, he knows when they're awake, and he knows when their behavior clip moves south of "role model." The more mature audience gets a simple reminder about how those presents find their way under the tree, and a refresher on cause and effect. If Sammy doesn't do her homework, Sammy's parents might not do the shopping necessary to make Christmas morning bright. This does nothing for those cases in which either the parents, the child, or both have given up on the whole education thing. Still, it's the holidays and there's that hope for renewal, so there's that new year to look for some resolution.
The second thing that teachers do is simply surrender to the season. Even out here in drought-ravaged California, we make our cotton ball snowmen, and we create snowflakes from a wide array of colors besides the traditional white. The halls are filled with the raucous and familiar din of children's voices singing at the top of their lungs, practicing for their three minutes of fame at the Winter Holiday Assembly. We like to kid ourselves into believing that we are providing some measure of rigorous curriculum, but we know that the public speaking standard will not be met by lip-synching "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree."
Then there are those who simply go to the bottom line. Go ahead and have your students write a Christmas list. This year, our fifth graders were in general agreement that an X-Box One would be the ideal gift for a girl or boy. There were a few who asked for iPads, and the girl who asked for clothes also wanted a motorcycle, so their wants seemed simple enough. Even if they weren't exactly altruistic. I held out hope that someone would ask for peace or harmony, and after reading an entire bulletin board, I had almost given up hope. In the very last corner was a picture, and beneath it was that word: Peace. For a moment I was swept away with the spirit of the Winter Solstice, and then I realized that the list I was looking at had been made by a fifth grade teacher. When I made that connection, it made as much sense as any of the rest of these three weeks.

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