Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Grade school teachers have mixed feelings about Valentine's Day.  Some elementary schools have officially ignored it but it is a hard thing to do.  Even in those schools that do not acknowledge Valentine's Day, some kids will slip a Valentine into a friends desk during recess or lunch break.

It is a cultural event no matter your thoughts pro or conn.  It's hard to ignore in the stores and on television.  And if the kids today are like those that I had in my fourth and fifth grades, they know that Mommy and Daddy in most cases are up to something with kissing (ewueeee) and presents (yeah).

As a first year fifth grade teacher I was totally unprepared for Valentine's Day.  If it wasn't for the more experienced teachers I would have had problems on my hands.  The experienced teachers in many cases had already secured enough red and white construction paper for their kids to make Valentines for their parents.  I had to go down to the Art store as the school had run out of those colors.  That was my first problem

But then I found out that kids would give Valentine cards to their friends but not to others.  So major problem was those children that didn't get a card or two.  Hey, they didn't teach me anything about this in my college education courses.  This problem bothered me and by the second year I ordered that if you gave one card to a friend you had to give a card to everyone in the class.  Some grumbling by the kids but the parents by and large supported my policy.  At that time you could buy a booklet of Valentine cards that "punched" out of each page and had folded envelopes.  

Then the problem of each child being sure of getting a Valentine card turned to....  "I gave her my best card but I didn't give you one of my best cards."    It was obvious that I had to take my class in hand and sort out feelings, comments and what the day was all about.

Every so often when I though we had a subject worth the time I would have the kids push their desks to the wall and bring the chair up front somewhat in a semi-circle with me as the head.  And we talked--me first!  Where did this day come from and the kids were always fascinated that it was a religious holiday way back long, long ago.  They agreed it had changed.  Then we talked about getting a card and what it meant in our classroom--primarily friendship.  Okay, class, what is friendship.  And I'd let them talk.  It was times like this that I was impressed with the intelligence of grade school children.  Not much was escaping them.  Sometimes the discussion would go in a direction that I had not foreseen, like those kids that came from homes with divorced parents or single parents.

And what was love?  Yes, we skirted the subject of sex but kids of this age just aren't interested in the physical properties of Valentine's Day.  I really think some of my early kids in that first fifth grade invented the term, "best friends forever" or BFF.  I could see it on notes being passed around.

Eventually I got this unique holiday under control.  All the kids would have a small paper sack taped to the side of the desk--if you had large paper bags it would look like you weren't getting many Valentine--smaller bags were good!  I have to admit I took great enjoyment watching them try to go around the room delivering Valentine cards and trying very hard to look like they were very unconcerned.  This activity would take place during recess and lunch hour.  How to look non-commital.  

One problem I never solved was that most of my students wanted to send me the biggest Valentine Day card they could find.  I understood the desire but tried hard to suggest that they might do well by my getting one like the rest of the kids in the class.  And of course, I had to be sure each child got a Valentine card from me.

In later years I signed the card with my dog's name, Stormy.  This was a big time hit.  Getting a card from Stormy was valuable.  And in a few cases, some Valentine Cards were erased and Stormy's name written over.  

In today's world I can see a whole line of reasoning in teaching the kids about being green and being conservationist.  I suspect i would have to have some rules or policy on sending Valentine cards by e-mail.  But I suspect that discussion we use to have on why everyone should get a card might evolve into why we ought to send nice cards and not mean cards.  Is there a place in our classroom for meanness?  

Isn't this interesting that even today we are trying to teach our children about the cultures and norms of our society.  John Dewey had it correct--we pass on the values that we hold dear.  But where does this fit into the curriculum?  Can we add it to the test scores.  Are the schools that "outlaw" Valentine Day correct?  Personally I think it was always a good thing and would mandate that we keep it in the curriculum even today.  It is part of the social milieu that makes life interesting, fascinating and worthwhile.

So....happy Valentine Day to you all.  Have you sent a Valentine to your favorite teacher?  You ought to.   


  1. Hi, Les--

    This is the first time I have chosen to comment on your blog--and I want to say this is a delightful read. The situation may well have changed among fifth graders now, but approaching the problem of meanness is always a timely an appropriate activity! You are right that Valentine's Day is a good topic to use.

    I did send a Valentine to my favorite teacher--did you get it?

  2. I love your story-telling abilities. Keep sharing your stories. It's strange the way narrative can so capture the essence of an idea.