Of Buffaloes and Rutabagas


I have found myself all caught up this year in the pressures of the Common Corpse.  I am teaching math strictly according to the CC workbooks (no matter what interesting side questions the kids may ask), and I am testing and then retesting.

What I’m not doing is asking myself why I am testing and retesting. Its just what we do now, you know?

I am teaching science using the new, updated CC structure.  You know, instead of getting kids to investigate real organisms in real ecosystems, we’re giving them book to read about those organisms.  Leveled books, of course, so that every child is able to read at exactly his or her perfect reading level.  No challenges, no excitement, just reading about nice predictable science at a nice predictable level.

Yuck.

I have also found myself struggling this year, for the first time ever in my entire career, to find a way to really like the kids in my classroom. I am overwhelmed by the social conflicts, the arguments about fairness, the neediness, the oppositional reactions, the enabling parents.

Yuck again.

It has all really gotten me down. So the other day I was absolutely delighted when one of last year’s kids appeared in my classroom door, giggling and blushing and carrying a brown paper bag.  “Its a gift for your new class,” he chortled, placing the bag carefully on my desk.  “Give it a good name!”

My current students broke away from their little cliques and circled around me.  I reached into the bag, smiling.  I pulled out a big white rutabaga, and I burst into laughter.

For some strange reason, last year I had often used the term “rutabaga” in my math lessons.  You know, like, “If I have 3,452 rutabagas and I eat 1, 426 of them, how many rutabagas will I have?”   The rutabaga had become a symbol of our classroom and we had laughed about it all year long.

And here was a rutabaga.

This year it doesn’t seem so easy, so effortless to find a classroom joke around which we can all rally.  This year I am working hard to make them smile.

But the other day, during math, I made a reference to a water buffalo, and one of my quiet, shy, disorganized little boys raised his hand.  When I called on him, he quirked an eyebrow in a totally unexpected way and commented drily, “You certainly seem to have a fascination with water buffaloes.”

For perhaps the first time all year, the children all burst uniformly into laughter, and I joined them happily.

It was fun. It was unifying.  It was slightly silly and more than a little bit liberating.

So this week, instead of practicing to take a test, taking the test, reviewing the test and retaking the godforsaken test, my class is going to come together in order to name our classroom waterbuffalo mascot.  We are going to laugh, giggle, kid each other and come to some group consensus.

And if all of my wishes come true, the children will vote unanimously to name the waterbuffalo “Rutabaga”.

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