Paperclips

For those of you non-teachers out there, there is a section on lesson plans to make notes on “what went well/what didn’t go well/how to improve next time.” What goes in this box is usually the kind of thing you cannot even anticipate. 

“Put your papers together and I will paperclip them,” I said to the class as I began to walk around the room and clean up from our stations. I thought I had planned my twenty-five minute Spanish lesson to the T. I was wrong, of course.

When I arrived, the count-down timer was running and pint-sized students were putting away their snacks. There were books and pencils strewn about under two or three desks. Two girls in the back of the room were up to no good with some Elmer’s glue and an Expo marker, although what it was I could not actually see. Two girls were silently waiting on their classmates to be ready so that class would begin. And one kid was laying in his chair sideways, head touching the floor and legs in the air like a yogi. Or a restless seven-year-old. 

I walked, or rather shuffled, among the scattered snack trash that almost made it into the trash can toward the front of the room to indicate that I was there and ready to begin our lesson. In the midst of my shuffle I was bombarded by no less than three students. “I have three pet fish and a cat!” one girl said at her regular speaking volume – one that could fill a theatre without a microphone. Or even a stadium. 

“I have a fish, two cats, and a dog!”

“I have a pet tiger!”

“I didn’t think tigers lived in North America!”

There are no words to respond to that much information slammed at you in a matter of 2.5 seconds. I love these students with all my heart. I want them to feel heard and I want to hear all about their fish, cats, tiger, and oh I dunno manatee or sloth which I’m sure is yet to be mentioned. Not to mention a tangent about someone’s striped T-shirt  which would ultimately ensue because that’s how this class rolls. (Tiger stripes – T-shirt stripes. You gotta keep up!) Stream of consciousness! But if you give these kids an inch, they’ll take the marathon.

Can you even remember having that zest for life? That whatever you just heard a moment ago made you want to go screaming to the next person you saw about the thought in your head?! I’m sure I had that once. Shoot, I still have it but only in a very narrow range, like talking about language acquisition or Neil Diamond. (And unfortunately there are not many people who meet my same zest. Luckily there are many people who tolerate it!) I like my pets but I don’t have the urge to go exclaim back to these little students about my seventeen year old cat. What if I did? 

“My cat meows like this: MEEEEEOOOOOOOOOAAAAHHW! And she only does it as soon as the house gets quiet at night! It’s like she’s saying, ‘Gimme some dang attention, lady!’” Poor cat would get lost in the chatter in this class. This class is like Lord of the Flies, but without a conch. It’s just whoever has the loudest voice first wins.

As most good teachers do, I had a solid plan. But students happen. I directed my attention to the computer to greet my Zoom students and instructed them kids how to do their assignment. Then I switched gears to give instructions to my class. 

BUT while the online kiddos had a modified vocabulary activity, the in-school kids had a sorting activity – which requires dispersing tiny little pieces of paper AND the ability to give instructions to over a dozen children at one time. Seems simple until you can literally watch time stand still.  I glanced at the little computer faces staring at me while, like walking through quicksand, I attempted to maintain attention as I dispersed little stacks of paper. “Even though I’m walking around the room, I’m still talking!” I encourage my students to continue listening even though I’m weaving through desks and can’t maintain a constant gaze on all of them at once.

Mid-instruction, a parent from the online students asked what they were supposed to be doing. They were already finished and the rest of us were trying to get our wheels up off the ground! “Ya’ll did great!” I commended the online crew. “Just give us a minute to catch up to you!” 

It’s astounding how much extra time some things can take in class. You’d be amazed at how often a pencil goes missing at school. Eventually everyone finished the activity and we were able to all go over it together. Shew! And right on time! One minute left before class ends. Perfect timing. Oh wait — I need to collect all the little pieces of paper from all the students! 

“Stack your papers, paper-clip them together, and I will collect them,” I instructed. Four and a half minutes later I had an overflowing pile of little papers in my hand – all mixed up with paper clips upside-down, inside out, and scarcely clipping any paper. I made a mental note to cushion the next class with five minutes of paper-clipping time. So. Not all seven year olds know their way around a paper clip. Noted.