Saturday, May 30, 2009

Strange problems that teachers face

There are times when problems arise in a class that the college of education   have not prepared you for.  What should a teacher do when a kid gets sick in class--all over his desk!  Or the parent that comes mid morning to take his boy for a haircut.  Really.  Little problems like this are just not discussed in college classes on how to teach.  Behavior problems, yes, we do a good job of behavior modification training and we can teach reading to just about anyone.  But sometimes you get a problem that just wasn't in the books.

I had a fifth grade--a really nice bunch of kids.  Pretty evenly divided between boys and girls.  That's always nice as it seems to keep the goofiness index low.  I had my room arranged with the individual student's desk in rows but we did move them around.  I found that I would change the desk arrangements about every six weeks.  It seemed to help the kids from getting into cliques or groups that would then exclude someone.  I wanted a friendly class.  Sometimes I would put the desks into groups of four or five.  Interestingly enough I found this to assist the kids to help each other and learning increased.

But as I said, at the moment I had the desks and chairs in rows by and large.  I always kept my desk in the back of the room--hardly every used it but it was a good place to send a kid who was behaving poorly to do his/her school work at my desk.  In the parlance of today's kids, "it was cool to work at Mr. Blackwell's desk."

I remember walking into my class one morning before school started and walking around.  I always like to have ten minutes or so just to look at my classroom and get a feel for it.  Sometimes I'd see a desk that needed cleaning (inside) or someone had left a lunch pail somewheres and I would want to remind that student to take it home.  However on this morning as I walked around I seem to smell an oder  that didn't see quite right.  I sniffed here and there but couldn't quite put my finger....or nose on it.

But life goes on in a classroom and we got through the day.  The next morning I went through my usual procedure and going around the room and still I smelled something not quite right.  I remember opening the coat closet doors and sniffing in there.  There were always an extra jacket or two.  One day I remembered a dress hanging in there as well.  How and why?  I have no idea.  The dress was probably to be taken home from one girl's house to another.   Best for me not to go there.

The next day the smell was a bit stronger.  I remember asking the janitor if he was using a new cleaning agent but he said he wasn't.  However, he hadn't noticed anything yet.  He keep his eyes open or nose.......

On Friday of that week the problem was getting to me.  I could smell something but I could not place it.  So doing the day when we were between this subject and that, I told the class that we were going to clean out our desks.  Always an exciting time for the kids and too much noise for me.  Some of the boys would actually pick up their desks and dump the contents onto the floor.  But most students just took everything out and placed it on the top of the desks.  I had rags available for them to wipe out their desks and then they could put back things in some sort of neatness however they would like.  It was always amazing what the kids would find in their desks.  Always a permission slip that was suppose to be turned it weeks earlier, lunch bags that were never taken  home, someone else's textbook that had been missing and of course at least four or five overdue library books.  

As I walked around the room guiding the kids and looking at what they were doing, I noticed one boy who had four milk cartons that he appeared to be saving.  As I got closer to his desk the smell was stronger.  Aha! I had found the source of the strange smell.  It was in Samuel's desk.  Now Samuel was a good student--very bright and somewhat popular.  Not athletic and he didn't run around with any one peer.  But the kids liked him and he was a happy kid.  I enjoyed having him in class and he was always asking interesting questions.  I suspect he would have won the award for being sent to the encyclopedia  the most to look something up--he enjoyed that activity.

So I asked Samuel--"What are those milk cartons for?"  "Oh, Mr. Blackwell, this is my wormatorium.  I am growing worms."  And then he proceeded to tell me how many worms he had and where he had gotten them.  He also mentioned that they didn't need sunlight so it was good to keep them in his desk.  But as I leaned closer to his "wormatorium" I recognize the smell--old milk.  Only milk can make that smell.  Ugh!  He had not rinsed his lunch milk cartons out before putting in some dirt from the playground and finding some worms to keep him company.

I found Samuel a brown bag and had him take home his wormatorium with the promise that I would ask him to tell the class how things went.  That suited him well and he remained happy.  And the room had a much better.....and normal smell to it after that. 

If you had a happy classroom and the room smelled nice when you were growing up, be sure to thank a teacher for taking time to make sure that happened for you.

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