As a teacher, I pack the curriculum into every minute of every hour of every school day. Teaching grammar, writing, and reading in one hour and getting students prepared for not one but three state assessments requires it. So imagine my students' surprise, and mine, when I totally fell off the wagon!
It started in academic support, a 45-minute enrichment class with my homeroom students. They were bickering, and it was constant yapping and yacking as they shot verbal jabs at one another through the air.
"You sound like brothers and sisters," I said, finally, in exasperation. "Haven't you heard the saying that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all?"
"Huh?" They asked with faces turned towards me expectantly.
I told them to look around the room and think about something nice they could say about every single person sitting in there. Then I had them write their name on a slip of paper, which I put into a cup. After they pulled a classmate's name out of the cup, they had to come up to the front of the room and say something nice about that person. And they couldn't just say "she's nice." Having been the recipients of numerous writing lessons during the past four months, they were required to e - l - a - b - o - r - a - t - e. "Details," I said. "Give us details!"
And they did.
They were able to say nice things about every person in that room. The girl who began the year with attitude written all over her face was complimented on her behavior and on her beautiful complexion. Her smile lit up the room. And another girl who has struggled with friendships and self-esteem had at least seven students clamoring to say something nice about her.
These kids are smart. They weren't about to let their teacher off the hook. They said that I had to say something nice about each one of them. And then the tables were turned again as several of them wanted to say something nice about me. Things like "you work us hard, but we know it's because you want us to be better writers." "When I get here in a bad mood, you make me laugh." "You're not all moody on us."
They've proclaimed Thursdays as "Therapy Thursdays."
I was so proud of them. And a bit worried. Our academic support time had rolled into language arts time, and it was thirty minutes of community-building instead of grammar and writing and reading.
But, you know what?
That was the best lesson I've taught all year.