zoom out, zoom in

We have all been going through some hard stuff at the beginning of this school year. And I have been writing about it, for sure. But I have this ongoing urge to refocus, zoom out on the hard parts and zoom way in on some funny and more light hearted topics about teaching. We need to laugh, since so much of the time we might feel like crying. (Okay, does anyone else hear a late eighties ballad echoing in their head right now? Just me?)

I have a new (though not new to the profession) friend and co-teacher in crime. She was someone who had at one time been my supervisor during training, and I was just the teensiest bit nervous about working with her. She is incredibly gifted and experienced and I really had nothing to worry about. I am learning so much. So anyway, fan club meeting over and onto the funny stolen stories from our teacher happy hour yesterday. (Shout out to the cool new teacher friends at the table sharing half price appetizers and peach mango smoothies.)

So story one is from my new co-teacher and one of her students. This year we are again sanitizing everything in sight, including kid hands, counters, desks and ourselves. We are guiding our kids in the fine art of using hand sanitizer. Some kids need more guidance than others. I have students take three to four enormous pumps of sanitizer and then drip across the floor as they try to rub in approximately four cups of liquid before they make it to their seat. But this sanitizer encounter from my friend is a winner.

One of her students (a sibling of one of mine, so I know the family) has more than one toe dipped in elementary school drama. She was directed to wipe sanitizer off the desks with a paper towel, and she did  that. But then she took the paper towel and rubbed it vigorously…over her eyes. She then screamed “My eyes! My eyes! I’m blind!” She fell to the floor in a heap and then feebly crawled to the sink. My friend stared at her, nonplussed,  and simply waited for the hysterics to wind down. It took awhile. 

Fast forward to the next day and my friend wisely decides to work around the kid who could not manage herself around an alcohol wipe. She directs her to a different classroom job. After she (the teacher) completed the distribution of sanitizer to the other, less dramatic children, she notices that  the untrustworthy child recently blinded by a paper towel has just squirted the sanitizer. Into her face. Right into her eyes. Cue the hysterics.

“I’m blind! My eyes! I am blind forever!”

You can’t make this stuff up, I swear.

Story two comes from one of my student social groups in the afternoon. We are working to learn about the zones of regulation and using them to both manage our own feelings and be more thoughtful about the feelings of others. It is a pretty good tool. Each afternoon, the first task we have in our group is a zone check, checking in with each student and asking what zone they are in that day. I generally start.

“Hey, what zone are you in today and would you please tell us why?” 

The student answers or passes their turn and asks the next person.

“What zone are you in and please tell us why?”

Of course, we get a collection of standard answers with standard scenarios. Kids are sad (blue zone) because they didn’t get to play with their friends during recess.(Thank you, covid protocols.) Excited about fun after school plans (yellow zone) and finding it hard to focus on school. You get the idea.

One afternoon last week, one of my friends reported that he was in all the zones at once, so that probably made some version of a gray zone. He held his head in his hands and began to monologue about all of the factors that contributed to his gray zone. Now, this would have been fine if it weren’t for his mask. Instead of the rambling emotional monologue you might expect, what I heard sounded more like the teacher voice on the Peanuts cartoons.

“Whemp whemp whemp whemp whemp whemp. Whemp.”

I nodded sympathetically and made murmuring sounds at him. It was the best I could do. It was not the kind of thing that I wanted to encourage him to repeat, right? I am sure that he was going to be okay, as no other student who could actually understand what he was saying seemed to be phased by it at all. As a teacher with a hearing impairment, I rely on my other, more vigilant students to keep me posted on anything serious that requires my direct intervention. No one alerted me to anything like that.  More sympathetic nodding on my part.

I would like to say that this is a rare occurrence, but it is not. Students who speak quietly and whose voices are already muffled by a mask are a particular challenge for me to hear and I often do that vigorous nodding and hope that I am giving an appropriate response. Add a speech impairment and I am really lost. We do what we must.

Most of the time, it seems like my kids are cool with vigorous nodding. They just want me to listen, understanding is sometimes an afterthought. So I do a lot of nodding and mm hmming to their lengthy stories of mayhem and injustice on the playground.

As we teachers sat around and nibbled on some delicious apps, I heard other stories of children unleashing some pretty colorful language and the various strategies that classroom teachers used to manage these situations, with and without the help of their building administrators. It made me realize how fortunate I have been with the admin in my building.  If nothing else, it seems it could always be worse. I heard a lot of worse at that tabl

So I feel compelled to go into my admin and thank them for their integrity, their professionalism and their investment in my work. It is not perfect; it can never be in this age of priority standards and literacy accountability. But they seem to invest deeply in our building, our kids and our school culture and that is a pretty big thank you right there. I will also thank them for the ongoing supply of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. Even though it has left one student blinded and probably impaired for life, it is keeping our school open and keeping us all well so far.

Update: I was sadly informed today that the newly blind student had an incident on the playground and now has a broken leg.