Monday, August 11, 2014

The Impact of a Laugh

We were all seated at the tables and dinner had just begun. I was still a bit uncomfortable, being a first year teacher and the only staff member on a three-day outdoor education adventure. There were eight parents with me to chaperon and two or three program employees, so I was far from the only adult. Although this was my ninth trip as an adult chaperon, I was now the teacher of record and wanted to make sure that everything over these days went perfectly. While the parents I brought on the trip were great, there is still the nagging thought in the back of your mind that they are watching you, too, judging how you interact with your students.

There were eight or ten students sitting at my table, and one who snuck over whenever she could. Conversations continued on as you might expect: how was your day? what was your favorite part? what are you looking forward to for the remainder of our trip? One of the girls got up to refill her lemonade without noticing that one of the boys was walking by to do the same. He walked up to the cooler and said, "Wait a minute. Sorry. Go ahead." He then moved out of the way and signaled for her to go ahead of him. To which she responded, "No, it's OK. You go ahead. You were there first." This back and forth continued for five or ten seconds before she finally filled her glass and said thank you.

Observing this from my seat, I couldn't help but smile. I was impressed at his gesture, knowing that at this point many of my students are very self-centered. And I was glad that she offered to let him take his place, as he was in line first. And their interaction gave me hope and helped me relax some of my concerns from the trip. So when one of the other students at my table made a comment shortly after, I couldn't help but laugh.

After I started laughing, other kids at my table also did. Our table would settle down, but something would set us off again. I'll admit, we did receive looks from every parent in the room, and one or two kids rushed over, "What's going on?!" but we enjoyed that dinner. I cannot tell you what we ate, or even what we talked about that made everyone laugh, but for those of us at the table, it was one of the best moments on the trip. There were even a few parents, not chaperons, that asked about the dinner a few days later, but all we could do was smile. Whenever any of us think about it now, it still brings a smile to our faces. "Remember the time..."

I recently read a blog written by a principal challenging his readers to think about the last time that they laughed aloud uncontrollably, lost track of time because it wasn't the most important concern, or simply enjoyed an activity.

His blog challenged me, perhaps a bit more than it should have. As a first year teacher, there are a significant number of difficulties, but also a number of victories. I find that it is all too easy to focus on the negative, even while encouraging my students to focus on the positive and work to overcome adversity. Sometimes patience is in short supply or some students are acting out and attempted redirections are not working. In those moments, I find it easy to forget that my students are children and that there is more to them being there than imparting some of my knowledge.

Sometimes, I need to remember to step back. What is the real purpose of being here with these children? How do I make them feel? Yes, they are there to learn, but there is so much more to it than core academics. There needs to be a balance of what I am required by the state or school district to include and that which will build up my students and encourage positive character development. They need to know that they are cared for and have a safe environment.

On the last day of school, I asked my class to share what some of their favorite memories were from the year. One of my students raised her hand and said the night at dinner when we made you cry - and all the students at the table agreed.

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