Even With Help….

…it all falls apart sometimes. To me, there is no worse feeling in the world.

A falling apart classroom is like standing in quicksand. You feel the earth moving beneath your feet, feel yourself being sucked down into  a vortex, and if you can’t figure out what to do fast enough, the momentum sucks you, and your entire class, into a whirlwind of chaos. That’s how I felt the days that my class fell apart. One year, with a class full of undiagnosed special needs, my assistant abruptly left due to budget cuts. The kids simply fell to pieces. Some, not understanding the loss, blamed me. Others whom she had helped just could not handle the lack of one-on-one assistance. Once the slide starts, can it be reversed?



The Hopes and Dreams of Parents

Parents — and I am one, myself — have a hard time making changes. So when their child comes into my class after having spent years in the care of someone else, a rough patch often ensues. It’s true for me, too. I hate change.

The first two weeks of school are critical in developing a strong community in the classroom. Children are getting to know one another. Parents are getting to know one another. And everyone is getting to know the teacher. While many schools have a stock standard set of rules they pull out that are meant to apply to every classroom and every situation, I prefer using The Responsive Classroom’s collaborative rule making with children. The process involves helping children identify their hopes and  dreams for the year, having the class listen to these dreams and think about how they can support that child in achieving them, and then creating rules based on what will best create a community that supports learning in this way.

It can be a messy process. This year I discovered that part of the messiness is helping children identify dreams for the classroom, and dreams that they could actually achieve. Rather than, “I wish I were rich,” or “I dream of riding a pony to school,” a child might decide that they hope to understand how money works, or that they’d like to learn more about animals, horses in particular.

It is important for parents to identify their hopes and dreams for their children, too. Sometimes they can do this quite articulately. At other times, they may just feel fear and worry and protectiveness. But it is all based on a hope they hold dearly that their child will be valued, that their child will love to learn, and that their child will grow and thrive in school.

It is important to hear the hope behind words that sound like complaints,  the fear behind words that sound like parent criticism, the love hidden in words that ring in our ears as teacher and resonate in our hearts in a painful way. It’s not easy to do.

This morning and yesterday evening, I asked for my own husband, children and friends to give me words of encouragement before I went off to work to face those voices of fear and criticism. I felt their blessings resting in my chest, along with the ache of hurt. And I found I could say the right thing when I needed to, had courage when I needed to draw upon it, and felt supported enough to support these families in finding the love underneath their fear, and coming to a place of understanding and hope.

Clumsy Dance

Clumsy Dance


Some days, the more I try not to tread on toes,

The more feet I seem to step on,

Until I am caught in a clumsy dance,

leaping from foot to face to fall,

In my haste to cross the stream

Without getting my feet wet.


Susan A. Olcott

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