I love teaching second graders, at least in part because they are still cute and sweet with their snaggly teeth belying the beauties they will become. They are also quite funny, primarily because they are just making that big step from childish misconceptions to grown-up logical thinking. These little folks are real rule followers, black-and-white understanders with little interest in or grasp of the nuances of everyday life and personal interactions. It’s this combination of gapped-toothed countenance and developmental stage-stepping that makes them so much fun to teach.
I have quite a few funny second-grade stories but I’m going to relate just a few here. I’m also changing the names to protect the truly innocent.
Jackson is one of my all-time favorite kids, a truly unique human who will use his great intelligence and quirky ways one day to show the world a thing or two. One afternoon the year I taught him, I’d stayed late to help a mother who was hosting her son’s birthday party on our school playground. Most of the partiers were little boys in my class and when I arrived on the field, they were busy playing a faux football game that primarily consisted of tripping and knocking each other down. I quickly decided that the best thing I could do to help the mom who was busy putting the hotdog picnic together was to keep the kids from killing each other. So I intervened in typical teacher fashion, reminding them of the rules of the playground. At that point, Jackson ran up, looked me straight in the eye and said with perfect deadpan delivery, “This was a whole lot funner before you got here.”
Another great Jackson story happened some time toward the end of that same year. I was having my students do some basic research using an old-fashioned but still important source of information, that being the good old encyclopedia. I'd counseled them to choose a topic before going to the stack of Britannica Jrs I'd imported from the school library. In fact, I’d told them to come to my desk to run their topic by me before choosing a book to use. Most of the kids were somewhat patiently standing in line, waiting to tell me their topic, but Jackson, being the bottom-line guy he is, was nosing around the A volume, which, of course, was the first book in the set. When I realized he’d skipped a step, I called out to him and told him that I wanted him to have a topic in mind and not just to pick the first thing he came to. He assured me he’d thought hard and had made a good decision and wasn’t just choosing the first thing he saw. A few minutes later when I asked what his topic was, he informed me, with absolute seriousness and commitment to the task at hand, that “aardvark” was what he'd decided to research.
I also have a couple Samantha stories. Samantha, who was in Jackson's class, is bright and creative and already her own person. She’s also quite mature and outspoken, intent on figuring things out and then articulating her thoughts to us all.
One morning near Valentine’s Day, our sharing time somehow turned to how the kids’ parents had met. Some had encountered each other in college, others on blind dates, a couple while traveling in Europe. Samantha told us her parents had met at AA.
A while later, we were talking about the Trail of Tears and what a sad time that was in American history. I was trying to get the kids involved by asking them how they would've felt if they’d had to pack up and leave home and walk such a long distance. I asked, “What if, while you were walking, your mother got sick and wasn’t able to go on and your father had to carry her?” Samantha responded with, “Well, my parents are divorced so I don’t think my father would carry my mother. Plus, she’s a lesbian.”
During yet another sharing session, one of my boys was telling about the trip his family had recently taken to Florida. Martha, definitely a developing thinker, then asked the boy, "When you were in Florida, did you see a woman named Helen?" When he said no, she added, "Well, if you go again and if you see someone named Helen, that's my grandmother."
Just a couple of weeks ago, Mrs. Fleckner, one of my colleagues, came into my classroom to tell me something. Her classroom is just a couple of doors down from mine, but because of our schedules, my students don’t see her very often. Mrs. Fleckner is also quite pregnant, and I could tell by the kids' faces and open mouths that they were surprised to see her in this particular state. So, just after she left the room, I said, “Yes, Mrs. Fleckner is going to have a baby.” After a moment's silence, one of my sweet angels asked, “Does she know it?”
Which brings me to Felicity and the birthday cheese. My birthday is this coming up this next week and the kids all seem to know, although I swear I didn’t tell them. Anyway, during our break times, there’s been a good bit of whispering and picture drawing from the girls (but not the boys who lean more toward building tall block towers and then knocking them down). Last Tuesday, Felicity, who is a gorgeous and very quiet little girl came up to me during break and wanted to ask me some questions about my favorite things. It went something like this:
What's your favorite color?
What's your favorite breakfast?
Muffins (I was trying to give her answers she could relate to)
I could tell this wasn't going quite the way she wanted, so she started narrowing down her questions, which, by the way, is a good research strategy, and one that I'm sure Jackson used when he was learning all about aardvarks.
What's your favorite cheese?
What's your favorite sucker?
What are those suckers with the bubble gum in the middle? I like those.
Yes, Blow Pops are my favorite sucker.
The next morning, before school, Felicity stopped to ask me if I also like orange cheese. I didn't mention that I thought cheddar was orange. I just said yes.
At break that day, when I returned to my desk, I found a piece of drawing paper with "I love you Dr. Mayo" on it. Under it was a slice of cellophane-wrapped orange cheese and a cherry Blow Pop. That piece of cheese just might go down in my personal history as one of my all-time favorite birthday gifts ever.
One last story. This one is about Frank and it will lead me to my ending. I was watching Frank the other day while I was teaching math. Frank appeared to be in great agony as if my boring lesson was causing him real physical pain. He started out by laying his head back on his desk after turning around so he could at least pretend to look at the board. Once his head was on his desk, he let it sort of loll there, kind of rolling around like a big old marble. As I was busy helping my students understand the differences between centimeters and inches, I thought to myself: Frank is getting ready to roll his head right off his desk and fall out of his chair. One minute later, there he went, landing on the floor in an embarrassing heap and then jumping back up, pretending, like a cat, that he'd meant to do it.
All of the above serves not only to help me remember what a great and entertaining job I have. It also reminds me that elementary school teaching is the only profession, other than bartending, where people fall out of their seats on a daily basis.