It’s the little things

Teachers generally roll with the punches; lots of mid-step changes and revisions to policy, curriculum, means flexibility is one of the most important traits of a teacher. Even the most compulsive of us — and I include myself in that category — manages to get through the continual stream. Teachers react and respond to split-second changes in what has been planned in a lesson; reading the room and adapting accordingly is so natural that it almost does not appear to be happening unless, of course, you know how the teacher envisioned the lesson during the planning process. Last minute schedule snafus, newly minted processes to handle paperwork, new mandates from the school department — those changes never seem to bother teachers too much. They’re expected.

And then, there are the little things. Last Tuesday the good feeling as a new day started, quickly evaporated in a nanosecond. Why? Because the breakfast milk crate was partly filled with expired milk. Not just old milk, expired as in a week-too-old milk. Given the date on the expired milk (9/12) and the date on the “good” milk (9/22), my guess is that someone at the milk vendor may need a quick lesson on place value.

One would not think that such a small event would set a classroom on edge, but it did. Eight-year-olds are awesome kids — on the verge of becoming quite independent really. But throw in a spoiled milk or two…. in an instant the classroom is in an uproar.

We eat a grab-and-go breakfast in our classrooms each morning. As it happened, Tuesday was cereal day. I was moving around the classroom greeting kids, reminding them of our morning routine which has yet to become automatic despite 10 days of “practice” when I noticed a buzz about milk. The buzz gradually, but with alarming speed, turned into a full blown roar — the milk was not only old, but sour. By this point it had been mixed in with most children’s breakfast cereal bowl. Curdled, smelly, disgusting tasting hunks of spoiled milk among the Cheerios. Ugh.

The wave of panic that ran through my classroom rivaled that of a wildfire. Code orange, code yellow, code red! Energy level raised. Amazingly, the kids still tried to eat their cereal — we had to stop them from continuing. In the end, teacher-turned-surrogate-parent and helped the kids to throw away the spoiled breakfast.

Of course living by the clock as we do there was no time to ask for replacement food — nor was any offered. And a quick mini lesson in, “if it tastes spoiled, throw it away” was implemented times the four 3rd grade classrooms in our wing. This seemingly minor event, however, set the tone for the day.  I was annoyed and cranky about the disruption and the kids were upset and hungry. It took several hours for some resemblance to calm, purposeful learning to return.

As I’ve said, it’s the little things that either put us over the edge or keep us on track.

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