Yesterday I wrote about my incredible second day of school. In fact the first three days of school were heavenly.
The following four were a bit, uh, different. It’s the period of time I dread every year: testing time. Not paper to pencil testing. It’s the period right after the honeymoon when my little ones get comfortable enough to test the boundaries.
To give you a quick snapshot of just what I mean, let me tell you the things that happened in the lunchroom on the sixth day of school, as reported to me by a lunch duty aide. A little boy took a seam ripper with a handle that had been sharpened to a point out of his pocket and threatened kids with it. Another little boy called a girl a “b*%ch” after he wouldn’t stop pestering her and she told the lunch duty aide. A third little boy pointed to his private area and shouted “Penis! Penis! Penis!” over and over again for the entire cafeteria to hear. And the grand finale was the little girl who pulled on another girl’s ponytail and then went home and pulled out handfuls of her own hair and told her mother the other little girl did it.
After lunch that day, I made sure the little ones who’d been picked on were okay and then I followed through with consequences for the aggressors. All of them were absolutely shocked that I’d be talking to their parents after school. They were even more shocked that their actions had consequences like writing apology letters and loss of privileges. But what I think they were most surprised by is that I didn’t get angry or raise my voice. They’re used to stirring things up.
Later that day we had a class meeting about how we can all make school a safe and happy place to grow and learn. I followed up by reading a story about a school bully and how to respond to bullies. Interestingly enough, in the discussion that followed the story, none of those kids saw their actions as those of a bully. When other kids pointed out that their were behaving like bullies, the aggressors were completely surprised that the other kids would consider them bullies.
This is the thing though, within that testing period, each of those kids had really sweet, tender moments, too. But just when we’d be rolling along having a nice day, one or all of them would do something to try to throw the whole class off balance again.
Have you ever met people who thrive on drama? You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who can’t stand it when everything is going well in their lives. The ones who take the smallest difficulty and whip it into a frothy mess. The ones who create chaos just for the sake of creating chaos.
If something doesn’t change, these little ones are going to grow up to be those people, whirling dervishes who wreak havoc because that’s what they think life should feel like. I know a handful of adults like this. I think of how miserable they really are, I think about what a lonely life they lead and it breaks my heart to think of that kind of future for these little ones.
Earlier this summer I encountered the word ‘ballast’ for the first time. Then I heard it again the following day. And again the next. It was like this word had something to tell me and if I didn’t listen, it was going to keep repeating itself. I’ve been chewing on this word for months, thinking about it in terms of my life in general and in terms of my life as a teacher.
Maybe you’re new to this word, too. Here’s one definition:
ballast, noun 1: heavy material, such as gravel, sand, iron, water, or lead, placed low in a vessel to improve its stability
Ships use ballast so they don’t tip or capsize in high winds. By placing the weight in the very bottom of the keel, the ship sits lower in the water and is less likely to be swayed. Even people can serve as ballast. The weight of the crew can serve as ballast. So can that guy hanging over the edge of a sailing boat.
This idea of ballast makes me think of my little ones because for whatever reason, and I’m sure there are several, they aren’t just aren’t filled with enough weight to be steady. They think life is about capsizing and then recovering. Or not. And the attention they get for capsizing things has made them good at it, very good at it. They don’t know the pleasure of being steady, the joy of sailing through the chop unharmed and upright.
These little ones and this idea of ballast has left me thinking of what it is I want to put deep in their hulls this year. What can I fill them with that will keep them steady? How can I make them stop craving the chaos?
Ballast is a verb, too.
ballast, verb 1: giving stability (as in character or conduct)
In thinking about filling these little ones with things that will help them steady themselves, I’m also thinking about the things I can do to give them stability. I’ll continue to respond to their inappropriate behaviors calmly with logical consequences. I won’t give rise to their undesirable behaviors or allow them to create chaos in my classroom. I’ll be on the constant look out for instances when they act in ways that are helpful and kind. Those are the things I’ll give attention to, the things I’ll crow about. And best yet, I’ll weight their hearts with stories of people who exhibit integrity, courage and compassion.
Did you know that when a heeled vessel returns itself to its upright position it’s called the “righting moment”? This year is going to be a year of learning to read and write and do math and all of those things, but what’s exciting to me, what has me still believing it’s going to be the best year yet is that it’s going to be a year full of creating ballast in place of chaos.
It’s going to be a year full of righting moments.