Saturday, February 16, 2013

"I'm Going To Need The Black Eye"

It's funny because it happened to someone else.  ~Homer Simpson

I don't think anyone who knows me would say I'm a cruel person, but I can't help myself. When anyone falls or gets hit in the head by something, I laugh. No, not a big, old, mean-spririted belly laugh, but it's still clearly a guffaw, one that explodes from my chest far too quickly to be stopped. My mom did it too, even when it was her own kids landing on the pavement, so I come by it honestly, but I suppose it's a reaction that could be considered a real liability for a preschool teacher who is responsible for other people's sweet, innocent lion cubs. I've never had the lioness take off my head for it, but, you know, I could hardly blame her.

Sometimes it comes in handy, of course, this knee-jerk reaction at the misfortune of others. It causes me a moment's pause, it means that when the child looks around the first thing she sees is a smiling face, and often in that moment the child decides she's going to laugh too, sometimes right through her tears. It is, I think, a much more productive response than rushing to her side with furrowed brow -- that usually just makes it hurt worse -- but I can see why it sometimes makes me come off as heartless, even if in the next second I'm holding her in my arms, cooing soft words. I can only hope that I've made enough deposits into my loving-caring-nurturing account that when this happens the balance is still in my favor.

Last week, one of the guys in our 5's class, almost by accident, discovered a "catapult" made from wooden blocks. Before anyone knew what was happening, he'd stomped on one end, launching a small block high into the air, where it came down directly atop his own noggin.

I laughed, then said, "You hurt yourself."

He laughed too, "No, I didn't. It didn't hurt at all." 

As he re-loaded the catapult for a second launch, I said, "This time you might hurt yourself."

"No I won't." He stomped again and ducked almost simultaneously, causing the block to just miss his head. He repeated the process several more times, sometimes avoiding the falling block, sometimes not. A couple other kids gave it a go, each of them hitting themselves in the head. The whole time I was making the informative statement, "The blocks are hitting people in the head," although chuckling all the while.

One of his friends said, "Cool! I want to try it."

I said, "You're going to hurt yourself. The blocks are hitting people in the head." He ignored me, forgetting to duck and shooting the block with great velocity into his own eye.

Yes, I laughed again, even though this time it looked like it might have really hurt. As he held his eye, I said, "Let me see it." 

He uncovered his face to reveal a red mark just below his eye and a huge smile that covered for the pain. He said, "I guess you were right, Teacher Tom."

I said, "I think you're going to have a black eye. I'll get an ice pack."

He answered, "What's a black eye?"

"It's when you get hit by something hard by your eye and you get a big bruise. Check the mirror, you already have a red mark."

He looked into a classroom mirror. I said, "I'll get the ice pack."

He answered, "No thanks, I think I'm going to need the black eye to remind me not to do that again."

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Chantel said...

I will be so interested to hear if anyone comments on this post. I am an early childhood educator and I would love to be able to follow through as you have here, Tom. I just know that so many people would NOT react the same way if they saw this happening, both other educators and parents. I think since I'm new to the field and not yet a parent I feel a little guilty 'letting' children get not just hurt, but the kind of hurt that leaves marks. Thanks for being an inspiration, though, it makes me feel better knowing that someone else is out there doing exactly what I want to and not apologizing for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mother of 3 and wish there were more people out there like you, Teacher Tom. I'm constantly laughing at the wipe-outs and crashes and I always feel like fist-pumping when they laugh with me, especially when they clearly wanted to cry or complain. I love that little boy for choosing to keep his black eye, too. High fives for him and you!

Faigie said...

I think the chuckling probably comes from growing up with the 3 stooges

Unknown said...

I laugh too when the little ones come a cropper- usually it is in some fairly slapstick way! I've found that they've grown up laughing at their own tumbles, and if they don't laugh it generally means they are genuinely injured- so it's a good indicator!

Mary Ellen said...

I have been teaching preschool for over 20 years. I am also mother to 5 children - one who I lost to the negligience of professionals (in a different profession).

I share that background so that Chantal and others may take my feedback to heart -

Yay, Teacher Tom! Allow the children to learn. Teachers and parents tend to talk their little, well-intentioned hearts out to young children who learn most excitedly through experiences.
People make mistakes. We all do. We learn forgiveness for others by learning how to forgive ourselves.
Teacher Tom has set an early foundation for his students to give space and time for the actions and reactions, hypotheses and results of experiential learning.

This young boy did not blame Teacher Tom for not stopping, nor did he blame himself for trying something despite a warning. He took responsibility and accountability for his actions. He also took steps to improve his actions moving forward.What more could we ask from any adult or any professional.

Summer said...

Being on the other side of this (as a parent of a preschooler) this definitely makes me nervous, but in the "stepping outside of the comfort zone" kind of way. Those kiddos got a valuable lesson that day AND got to send blocks flying into the air, so I'd say that's a win :)

And I laugh too! I wholeheartedly agree with the smiling face concept.