Good Life

Notes From a Teacher | No words can prepare a teacher for greatest show on Earth

I was thrilled when I answered the phone late in August and got the call that I’d been hoping for. I felt a lot like the Triple-A ballplayer who, after having been in the show for quite a few years before ending up the minors, was returning to the place he loved best. The voice on the other end of the line that sounded surprisingly like my principal was offering me a chance to return to the big leagues. And I’ll be completely honest with you, I’m pretty sure I screamed like a girl being asked to the prom. Except this particular prom involved a room full of 20 brand-new kindergarteners.

I spent the week before school furiously packing and moving my entire classroom from one side of the building to another. I tried desperately to retrieve all of the kindergarten expertise from my brain that I had so conveniently disposed of. (It’s incredible how easily you can clean and empty your brain, but how very hard it is to clean and empty your closets.)

I gathered all of the resources left by the two talented teachers I followed and reached deep into my own resource shelf. I studied again the language every good teacher uses when helping the children in a classroom become all that they can be. I reviewed the responsive classroom materials, “Ways We Want Our Class to Be” and “The Power of our Words.” The books detail “scripts” that teachers should use with their children and include responses the authors are sure the children will use when the script is followed. Except, the authors might have forgotten to try the scripts out on real children.

My new kindergarten teammates and I met after school today and we laughed about our own “powerful words.” We began to share the real words and phrases we’ve found ourselves using these past several weeks and realized that not only do we have the best job ever, but we say things that most professionals don’t. These are the phrases that you might not find in any resources, but are incredibly effective when working with 5-year-olds:

• “Jack, please don’t stand on your head during calendar math.”

• “OK girls, you can have a threesome today but tomorrow we are back to pairs.”

• “Boys and girls, please don’t put the markers in your noses.”

• “Sally, listen carefully. I know you were hungry but you are not allowed to get your lunch and go to the cafeteria to eat by yourself. Especially when you don’t tell the teacher, and especially when you don’t see any other kindergarten children there. This isn’t a food court. OK? OK.”

• “Jack, playtime is over. Please get out of the rainbow and come to the carpet.”

• “No, Dylan, you cannot take the puppets into the bathroom with you. Just because, that’s why.”

• “Carly, you cannot burp Maya because she is not a baby.”

• “Jessie, you cannot get a salad in the lunch line just because you feel like it. You brought your lunch.”

• “Stanley. Please tell me you did not put that rock in your nose. That’s a math manipulative.”

• During the all-school assembly, “David, please put your shirt back on and listen to the speaker.”

• “Boys and girls, keep your balls in your hands when you’re walking back from recess.”

• “Jack, please sit up and swallow your spit so you can count.”

Sure, the experts have great advice to teachers on how they can be the best that they can be. And while you should always “chew your words before you speak,” it’s nice to know that when you use pre-selected words and phrases, the children still utter the magical words that make our hearts swell:

“See you tomorrow, Ms. Marsh. You’re the best teacher ever!”

And those words are even more powerful than the ones that invited me back to the greatest show on Earth: kindergarten.