Friday, 3:30 PM. All elementary students are outside, corralled into groups by grade level, waiting for their parents to pick them up from school. My fourth graders are grouped with third graders in a designated space of sidewalk that I affectionately refer to as “the Cage.” There is a sidewalk break that marks the boundary of the Cage that no student is allowed to cross until his or her parent arrives. As it is Friday, the kids are extra wired, and the supervising teachers (myself included) are holding on to their last shreds of sanity by entertaining visions of a kid-free weekend.
At the end of the day, the third grade students were given caramel apples as a treat. The apples were supposed to stay wrapped up to be eaten after school. However, one third grade girl (I’ll call her “Dora”) had opened hers and was sneaking bites in front of the jealous eyes of one of my fourth grade boys, whom I will refer to with the overwhelmingly appropriate nickname “Loki.”
Dora’s taunting apple-eating had taken place while my back had been turned as I visited with another teacher. By the time I turned around, Loki was kneeling low to the ground, with his face in the dirt. Having no idea what was happening, but with an awareness of Loki’s track record of poor choices, I immediately began yelling.
“LOKI! What are you doing?”
Loki looked up at me, spitting dirt out of his mouth, which was ringed with mud. “I was kissing the ground,” he explained, as if no further information was necessary.
“Why?” I prompted.
“Because Dora said that she would give me a bite of her apple if I kissed the ground for as long as she said.”
As an employee of a private Christian school, my options were limited in how I could respond. I used the strongest language available: “That was a very poor choice!”
Meanwhile, the third grade teacher was delivering a similar lecture to Dora. She prompted Dora to come and apologize to Loki: “I am sorry for making you kiss the ground. I didn’t know it would get you in trouble.”
This sort of story is the best and the worst part of teaching. Sometimes I wish for a corporate job where I could be surrounded by adults and the padded walls of a little cubicle. There would certainly be fewer uncontrollable variables in my day. Kids are crazy, and I certainly could have done without mud-kissing on an already frazzled Friday. At the same time, kids are funny, and I get to laugh with (and at) them all day for nine months out of the year. And then, I get a much-earned three months’ rest.