Pudding


I have worked in education for many years, but I only became a classroom teacher four years ago.   I took the job with the belief that all I had to do to keep the students under control was to love them and give them some rules.   I was SO wrong!

My first class, like most, consisted of a wide range of personalities and intellects.  There were the sweet, naiive rule followers, the “gonna be a baseball player” jocks, the work avoiders, the whiners and the emotionally fragile children who simply couldn’t control their anger and frustration. I loved them all.   I was absolutely delighted to have a class of “my own” after many years of providing speech/language services to one or two children at a time.  I took them into my classroom and my heart. I came into the first week of September with dreams of creating a cohesive and united learning community.  I followed the plans laid out in the “First Six Weeks of School” by the Responsive Classroom.   I was kind, I was child centered, I was patient, and I was exhausted by October first.

No matter how hard I tried, it seemed to me that the kids were resisting my efforts to create a pleasant and supportive classroom environment. They forgot to hand in homework.  They failed to do their daily “jobs”.  They argued with each other and with me. They asked for guidance on every simple task.  I spent the majority of every day trying to reinforce the rules and remind them of our behavior expectations.  How could I teach math when I spent the better part of every day just trying to get the kids to listen to me?!

I came to school one warm October day, tired and slightly discouraged.  I still enjoyed being with the kids, but I felt that my constant nagging and frequent admonishments were falling on deaf ears.  As I reached for my key, and shifted the heavy bag on my shoulder, I wondered whether my efforts would ever pay off.  Would I ever have a day when I felt surrounded by a cohesive working group, all of us engaged in learning together?  Would I ever be able to create a happy, thriving “Room 303”?

I stood by my desk, key in hand, looking at the pile of uncorrected work, and gave a heartfelt sigh.  I would give it a couple of weeks, and then I would go to my principal for some guidance.   I would ask her what I should do to get past the need to constantly redirect and remind the kids about behavior.  I wondered if I had made a mistake in changing from speech/language specialist to fifth grade teacher.  “Maybe I just don’t have what it takes,” I thought sadly.   Maybe I lacked that magic that makes a truly great teacher.

The kids came in, and we jumped into our week of math facts and reading in common and ecosystems and recess.  Everything seemed the same as always, with U. needing a daily chat to reassure him about his place in our group, and R. needing constant vigilance to avoid a blowup or a violent outburst.  A. kept asking questions, and S. kept losing his homework somewhere between his kitchen and my desk.

By Thursday of that week, though, I became aware of a subtle shift in the mood of the classroom.  Children were arriving and moving through the morning routine without my voice to guide them.  They were working in cooperative groups, and playing together at recess.  I was able to look away for a minute, without fear of an outburst.  My fears eased and my heart soared.

On Monday of the following week, as I was writing out our “morning message”, I began to think about the process of making homemade pudding.  I remembered what it was like to stir, and stir and stir, swirling the milk and sugar and cornstarch and chocolate together in the pan.  There were always little lumps floating in a watery mess, refusing to relax and give themselves up to the mixture.  I remember thinking, every time that I had ever cooked this delicious dessert, “I did something wrong!  It isn’t working!  I need to give up and start over….”  And I realized that every single time, with no warning, I suddenly found myself stirring a beautiful, smooth, creamy pot of chocolate pudding. I never saw or felt the change; the pudding was simply and suddenly there.  It was the constant, patient stirring that lead somehow to the miracle of the pudding.  The analogy was perfect.

As the kids arrived at the classroom that day, they read the morning message before entering.   “Congratulations!” it read.  “You are chocolate pudding!”

It was a wonderful day!

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