Thursday, February 14, 2013

Truly Organized Chaos...

One of the cruelest twists of fate in Virginia schools is that because we start after labor day we are forced to have the 100th day of school and Valentines' Day close together. In my own district, they were back to back.

We. Are. Exhausted.

And it is only Thursday.

However, while it has been an exhausting and overwhelming couple of days, it has also been fabulously fun and exciting.

We started planning for our Valentines party a few weeks ago. We made a list of everything we needed to accomplish and slowly but surely crossed everything off. Make valentines, decorate valentines, make decorations, cook a treat. I used the 100th day of school to force the students into making 100 links in a chain as a decoration for our party. (Not only did we work on fine motor skills but we were counting by ones and tens, over and over again, AND worked on a sense of magnitude. And in the end it just looked really pretty. Ha! I love hitting 5 birds with one stone!)

Our party wasn't just with our class, but was a combined party for all three classes in the intellectual disabilities program. The idea of bringing our classes together made it much more of a real PARTY for my kids. It wasn't just any old classroom celebration. Partying in another room is a BIG DEAL.

When it was finally time for our party this afternoon we somehow struggled through the door of the other classroom carrying our homemade valentines, our store bought valentines, our Valentines snack mix, and our decorations. I was exhausted before we even sat down.

It didn't take long to realize that despite the fact the exhaustion never disappeared, the party was worth every moment of chaos.

My second grade girls had a great time decorating for the party- what a sense of purpose they had as they got to practice their vocabulary (up, down) and direct us in where their chains should go. Then children took turns serving one another the treats, each one asking one another what they would like- allowing them to practice their language and encouraging them to listen and interact with their peers.

Then came time to pass out the valentines. I have never, ever, in ten years of teaching, seen valentine-passing-out go smoothly. Not in the primary grades where kids have trouble reading one another's names. I don't think it is possible for it to go smoothly. There is too much excitement and just too many little paper cards with candy falling off for it to go well. (That's OK. If it went well the kids probably wouldn't have any fun.)

So, needless to say, it was CHAOS. But happy, organized, productive chaos. We took children around the room directing them to hand one another valentines or put valentines into one another's bags. We tried to work on eye contact and language when we could ("say thank you", "say Happy Valentines Day") and at moments when it was just too chaotic to push the language we settled for smiles.

The kids were so happy. Despite the noise and confusion they

I've come to find that it is a bit rare for our students to have the opportunity to give people something. Many of them don't draw so they aren't in the typical childhood habit of drawing pictures and giving it to every adult they see. They don't make arts and crafts independently, and they aren't writing love notes to teachers. Frequently they are in the position to have things given to them, often by younger siblings who busy parents trust to hand out snacks, backpacks, or toys. But giving to others is something everyone enjoys doing. It makes us feel good to help others, and we should never deny anyone the chance to make someone else happy.

Our kids loved the interactions with one another. They of course loved getting the valentines, but they also loved handing out their valentines.

At one moment I looked up to watch one child slowly walk toward another, his hand clutching a valentine and a huge grin on his face. The girl he handed the valentine to lit up, looked him straight in the eye and smiled. For a moment it was just the two of them, two kids celebrating Valentines day the way every child in America does.

It was one moment that all the chaos and confusion of our Valentines' party seemed to come clear. As teachers we were exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering if at any moment all of our students were going to fall apart from too much sugar and too much stimulation. As I watched those two I realized it was a risk that we needed to take as teachers. Interrupting all of that instruction time to plan the party, make treats and cards for one another- it was worth the opportunity to give our kids the chance to just be kids. To make one another happy, to enjoy one another's company, to just be silly and goofy and have an authentic purpose to use language.

Yesterday I wondered about my sanity and whether or not I was in the right profession. Today I drove home once again thanking God for my amazing and eye opening job. This job has me turned into a bipolar mess, but it is worth every moment.

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