Monday, November 04, 2013

"Tomorrow Is My Day"

There are small irritations in every job and teaching is no different. I try not to let them get to me, to acquire a bit of philosophy about them, to take a deep breath when something that is really immaterial tries to get under my skin. Sometimes I've even managed to ritualize these petty irritations, turning them into ceremonial parts of my daily routine, finding a kind of hair shirt edification in doing them, without complaint, day-after-day.

But it's not always possible. For instance, we have play dough out in the classroom every day. It doesn't last forever, of course, but my mom's recipe can stay moist and pliable for a good long time if it's put away properly at the end of each day. So, it tends to frustrate me when I arrive in the morning to find a wad of it left out in the open air. It's the material waste that gets to me, but also the waste of time in that I, or someone, will now need to make more.

I've learned to reduce the incidence of this particular frustration by always reminding a parent-teacher to "hunt" for missing hunks of play dough when the storage containers come up less than completely full. I've been doing this long enough now that it has become a kind of habit, one that has, in its turn become a similar sort of irritation for some of our parent-teachers, who respond to me through twitchy smiles, "I know" or "You don't have to remind me."

These are the kinds of irritations that build over time. One-off flubs and flaws might be annoying, but they're easy to put behind us, to put into perspective, to laugh off with a shrug. But these day-after-day things can come to grind on us, becoming bigger than they deserve to be, unless we take measures to mitigate them.

Since the beginning of this school year a new potential irritation has been budding, one I recently decided I needed to nip. Someone has been covering up our crib full of baby dolls each day. Most of our in-class storage is open shelving from which we remove, or over which we hang, fabric covers to signal what is "open" and what is "closed" for the day. This is an important tool for how we work with our environment, the "third teacher." Likewise, when we place a cloth over the sensory table, that means it's closed. So when someone covers the baby crib with a blanket, it sends a specific message to the children that the dolls are closed, and the dolls are a part of the classroom that is never supposed to be "closed." 

It's such a stupid, little thing, this blanket over the babies, but it has meant that each morning I've had to take a few extra minutes to remove it, fold it, then carry it to the place where we keep our blankets. There are already dozens of things I do each morning that consume a few extra minutes and they add up, so I decided I'd figure out who has been taking the initiative to close the babies and kindly let them know it's entirely unnecessary. 

The problem is that in the ebb and flow of the day, and because it really hasn't yet risen to the level of a full-blown "irritation," I've repeatedly forgotten to follow through, meaning that each morning I've still found the babies "closed" when they are supposed to be open. I mildly curse myself as I re-fold the blanket, always the same blanket chosen from the stack of blankets that are kept under the loft, then once more promptly forget to track down the misguided do-gooder, or do-gooders, as I was beginning to suspect given the consistency with which this was happening.

Last week as I was singing the children in our 3-5's class over to the rug for circle time, having once more completely forgotten about the small irritation of the closed babies, I noticed that Claire was not responding along with the rest of the kids who were already assembling, but rather futzing around on the other side of the room. I sang out, "Claire, I want you to join us!"

Her friend Callie stood up to confront me, looking from Claire to me with earnest eyebrows. "Teacher Tom, Claire can't come until she covers the babies." At this, several of the younger girls stood up as well, looking from Claire to me, their own faces mirroring Callie's. And Callie added, "Tomorrow is my day to cover the babies." 

Then Clara said, "And the next day after the next is my day."

There are also small joys in every job, and that blanket over the babies had, in a moment, become one of them.

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Unknown said...

I actually teared up a little at the end here, Teacher Tom. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Got me teary eyed too, just lovely:)

Unknown said...

I love how a child (or children in this case) can teach us more in one sentence and bring us to the end of ourselves.

ShareandRemember said...

Aww, that's adorable!

akitchenqueen said...

How sweet......

Melinda said...

Everything is viewed differently through the eyes of a child!

Kendal said...

Yup! Tearing up over here too.

Anonymous said...

Late to the party but tearing up here too.