The Joys and Sorrows of June.


I’m not teaching anymore, but I still feel the intense emotions of June. I remember 22 years of “last day of school” tears and celebrations. For teachers, that last day is a profoundly exhausting combination of delight and grief.

Every year, the nest would empty. Every year, the hugs got me through, and the promises of staying in touch helped me to let go.

Every year I cried my heart out all the way home, then threw myself into the pleasures of summer with a sense of accomplishment. Every year, every June, on every last day, this is what I wanted to say.

Dear kids,

Dear 24 funny, silly, confusing, demanding, charming, annoying, inspiring children who have been in my classroom for the past 180 days.

I love you.

I really love your silliness and the way that you got me to laugh out loud even when I was trying to read you the riot act. I’ll never forget the time one of you sat through an entire math lesson with a crown of leaves in your hair, just because you were having so much fun learning about the first Olympics. I’ll always laugh when I remember you all flipping origami frogs into the air when I turned my back.

You were so much fun!

Dear class of mine, I also love you so much for all of the ways you’ve matured and grown this year. I will always be touched and pleased when I remember your parents telling me, “My son said that in your class everyone always got along.” I’ll always be proud of the way all of you decided, on your own, that you should skip recess one day because you realized that you had been cruel to a classmate with invisible disabilities. I will forever be brought to tears as I remember you, the handsome, smart, funny, cool kids as you apologized to your classmate and asked him to be “captain” of your recess football team.

You gave me such hope for the future, back then; knowing that you are out there in the world gives me hope even today.

Dear, sweet fifth grade class,

I surely love you for the ways that you have made me stop and think.

Thanks for helping me to understand what I meant when I told you that we would all need to be able to work together. Thank you for teaching me that a group of people can be “colleagues” and “team mates” even if they aren’t actually friends.

Thank you for helping me to learn what it means to be my best self. You helped me to understand that it was OK, and more than OK, to tell you that I loved you. You helped me to accept the fact that children learn best from those they trust to love them. You taught me that I didn’t need to be aloof or emotionally protected or separate from you. All of you taught me that when I showed my weaknesses, it helped you to manage your own. You taught me that we are all a little scared, all a little overwhelmed, all afraid that “nobody will like me.”

It’s June. Our time together is coming to its inevitable final day.

What in the world will I do without you?

Dear beloved, exhausting kids,

I bet you don’t have any idea of just how hard this month is for teachers like me. You probably think we are happy about the end of another school year.

But you are wrong. I am not happy to be leaving you behind. I am not happy to be handing you off to an entirely new team of teachers.

Sure, those teachers are my colleagues and my friends, but that doesn’t matter. They are great teachers, wonderful people, kind and supportive adults….but whatevs. YOU are MINE. I have spent the past ten months dreaming about you, planning for you, talking about you and loving every little thing that makes you so special.

I am not happy about passing you on to the next teaching team. In my deepest, darkest, secret Momma/teacher heart, I worry that next year’s teacher won’t understand you the way that I do.

I mean. C’mon. Could any other teacher possibly be as excited as me about your fractions projects? I think not.

So.

Dear kids,

Dear unique, wonderful, lovely and loving group of kids,

I am not even a tiny bit happy about the fact that our short year together has come to an end.

June is not a happy month for loving and engaged teachers.

June means letting go, and trusting that other adults will love you as much as I do.

But I will open my arms and let you fly free, because that’s what all good nurturing adults must do. It may break our hearts, but it lets you move up and on and away, into the life that awaits you.

Dear parents of young children,

Thank you so very much for sharing your beautiful kids with me. Thank you for trusting me to guide them through the scary world of fifth grade math and the scarier world of fifth grade social life.

Dear parents, thank you for telling me what you think. And thank you for asking me what I see as I look at your child.

It’s June. Thank you, dear trusting parents. Thank you for letting me love and guide and support your child for the past nine months. Without your trust, I could never have moved your child forward in all of these ways. You and I have been a great team this year; I will always be so grateful to you for letting me take on my role on that team.

It has been a long and challenging year. To be honest, they are all long and challenging. And every one of them is filled with the process of shaping friendships and creating a healthy educational community.

And now, as always, we find ourselves faced with the stresses of June and the inevitable goodbyes that come with every summer break.

As always, the best teachers are mourning the loss of this year’s special community of learners. As always, the ticking of the clock into summer fills our teachers with a sense of loss and sadness that people outside of public education cannot begin to understand.

It is June.

I hope that everyone who has ever been a student, everyone who has ever parented a student, everyone who has ever supported, taught and nurtured a student, will take this moment to look back in awe in all that has been accomplished in ten short months of life.

Being a teacher is a gift and a joy and blessing that I think only those in the trenches can fully understand.

So to every child and every parent, I say, “Happy summer! I will never forget you or our time together as a micro community. You have forever changed my life.”

Oh, I do so miss them


I remember back when I struggled so much with the sadness of the empty nest. Back then, it was the children who had left me behind. I missed them terribly, and had to give myself the time to grieve.

Now I find myself facing a different kind of emptiness.  This time, I am the one who has left the children.

Last June I retired from teaching, well before I was ready to go.  I left before I had finished the job.  Before I had reached my best, before I had grown too old and tired to love the children.

But I retired, having read the handwriting on the wall.  I understood that I was no longer seen as relevant or valuable, at least not by the people who do the evaluations.  My usual well respected questions were no longer welcome, but were now seen as insurrection.  All of the knowledge about children that I had gathered and learned over my 30 years of teaching were suddenly “outdated” and in need of replacement.  When I couldn’t manage to forget what I knew, it was time to move on.

So I said goodbye to a job I loved and was so proud to do.  I took myself out of the world of “teachers”.  I left my wonderful school behind.  I left the comforting support of my colleagues and friends.

I’m the one who left the nest.

So today I am sad. I miss those children so much! I miss the bright eyes, the goofy grins, the lame bathroom jokes.  I miss the rapt faces as I read out loud. I miss the morning meetings and the “sharing” stories of soccer games and birthday parties and new puppies.

I miss the flushed faces of children coming back inside after recess on a cold day. I miss the hushed conversations in the hall as I help a group of girls work out a social struggle.

I miss the math lessons, the moments of “lightbulb” realization.  God, I miss the hugs and the little drawings and the poems and the handmade bracelets.  I miss knowing that they are happy to see me.  I miss the incredible validation that comes from the realization that they trust me, and respect me.

I miss seeing those children make progress. I miss the moments when they surprise themselves.  I miss seeing them slowly come to the realization that they disagree with my interpretation of something, and gather the courage to challenge me.

I miss being a teacher. I do.

I miss the hugs that came at the end of almost every day.  I miss having all those smiling little faces saying, “See you tomorrow!” as they headed out the door.

I wasn’t ready to go.

I miss it.

Have a Happy New Year, Friends!


My old self......

My old self……

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and colleagues in the district where I used to teach.  I know exactly and precisely how they feel.

They feel like today is the longest of days, as each second ticks-ticks-ticks away. They feel like today is the shortest of days, as each hour speeds by.

I’m sure that they are anxious.  I can imagine the thoughts that are racing around in their heads. “Did I label all of the cubbies?”  “Did I copy the classroom scavenger hunts?”  I bet that they are double checking their work bags on and off all day, making sure that the popsicle sticks have been labelled with all of the names. Reorganizing the folders into alphabetical order.

If they are like me, they are also mentally planning what they’ll wear all week, what they will bring for lunch, maybe what easy and quick dinners they can whip up .  If they are like me at all, they are also wishing that the next two days, the days of sitting in endless meetings, would fly by so that they could get to the day when the kids arrive.

I am willing to bet that a lot of them are very sad to see the restful days of summer ending.  My colleagues with children are thinking about the fact that they will miss their time together.  They will look at their sleeping babies just a little bit longer tonight, sighing a bit and thinking forward to the next vacation.

I know that they are all a bit excited, too.  They know that every year is a new start. They have new books this year, new materials to use, new lessons to teach.  They will have some kids who will be a challenge, and some kids who will be a dream. They are determined to do their best for both.

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and former colleagues.  I won’t be with them this time around.  For the first time in 21 years, I won’t be there to swap vacation stories, to hug them hello, to hand out the agendas for the staff meeting.

I won’t be there. But I’ll be thinking of them.  Wishing them all a Happy New Year!

I’ll miss them.

BIG mistake……Huge…..


I made a wicked big mistake today.

Huge.

I was driving around, doing various and sundry errands, and I had the radio on.  I like to listen to XM radio, and have a special affinity for POTUS, the station that covers national politics in a very non-partisan and highly intelligent way.

Today, to my great sorrow, they were covering a convention of conservatives on the topic of public K-12 education, and a few of the candidates were there to answer questions.

Holy heart attack.  This how I felt by the time I got to the end of the third Republican candidate:

 WHAT THE HELL??????

It was NOT a pretty sight (obviously).

I was literally shaking by the time I parked the car.  I wanted to reach right out and strangle someone.

Since they were on the radio, though, I couldn’t actually get to them.  Instead,  I had to force myself to breathe deep and repeat my mantra, “Teachers are fighting the good fight.”

But now that I am all calmed down, and the raging fire of the sun has set, and I’ve had a good dinner a glass or two of wine, I have decided to use my vast mastery of the English language to shed a bit of light on just what it was that I found so egregious about the crap that was spewed at that conference.

First of all, dear Republican Candidates, you really cannot value education and despise educators at the same time.  Truly. If you denigrate and disparage those who give their lives to educating the young then you cannot add a side note to tell us how much you appreciate teachers.

Second of all, when you say things like, “Teachers want our children to succeed, its the unions who don’t!”, you sound like a complete imbecile.  Who the hell do you think the union IS, if not the teachers?  Who do you think the union representatives are, if not teachers?

When you make claims about unions only representing the needs of the teachers, and not those of the children, you ignore the very real fact that without the unions behind them, teachers could not feel secure enough to stand up for the rights and needs of the students.  Without collective bargaining, do you really think that teachers would be able to advocate for increased services for kids? Do you honestly think that they could request smaller class sizes, or updated materials or more technology?  Of course not. In a world without collective bargaining, in your dream world of no unions, teachers would be forced to comply with every administrative mandate that came down the school hallway, whether from the school office, the district, the state or Washington DC.  Teachers would be completely without any recourse when told to do more with less, to reach ever greater numbers of children with ever greater needs, and to make do with outdated and limited resources.

Dear Republican Candidates, you do not support public education. You do not support children.  You know how I can tell? I can tell because you claim that you want “an excellent teacher in front of every class”, but you describe teachers as selfish and self serving. You claim that they refuse to be “accountable”.  You say that they refuse to adapt, refuse to be “innovative”, refuse to change the “status quo”. You would deny those “excellent” young scholars the protection of a contract, making them essentially employees at will.  You expect the very best of our young people to choose teaching?  What on earth do you think you offer that would make teaching the professional choice of smart young men and women?

I know that there will always be teachers. I know that there will always be young people who want to step into the classroom, to shape the lives of children.  I know this because I have been a teacher for many, many years.  I’ve seen the fads come and go, I’ve seen countless politicians pontificating about “fixing our schools”.  And I’ve seen an endless stream of idealistic, devoted, intelligent, caring young people coming up through the ranks of the education work force.

The thing is, Dear Republican EdReform Wannabees, these young people are coming into teaching in spite of you, not because of you.

As far as I can tell, you have nothing to offer our schools, our parents, our children. You would do your best to further demoralize our already embattled teachers. You would take away their safety net, take away their job security, take away their right to due process.  In fact, you seem to be doing your level best to make sure that there are no “excellent teachers” left to serve our schools.

I left teaching this year, so I am not here to defend my own lazy habits.  I’m not here to protest on my own behalf.   But I know a LOT of teachers, dear Candidates, a lot. Whether or not some of you brag about “fighting” them, whether or not one of you wants to “punch them in the face”, they are all out there right now, planning for a good school year. They are organizing, cleaning, setting up, writing lesson plans, taking classes, learning about your children, collaborating with colleagues, making their schedules.

They deserve a lot better than what you are offering, Dear Republican Candidates.

And so do our kids.

A Final Teaching Thought


OK, I promise. I really am ready to let it go.

Or at least, I’m ready to try to get ready to let it go.  (Sorry about the “Frozen” song now embedded in your brain).

I won’t keep ruminating on the sudden abrupt end of my teaching life.

But I do have one final thing to say, and it is about “data”.

If you are a teacher, you know that you are now expected to gather reams of “data points” on each child. Test scores, retest scores, reading levels, spelling levels, writing rubrics, formative assessments, summative assessments, standardized test scores. You are supposed to use all of this data as “evidence” to prove that the kids have improved.  In other words, to prove that you have done your job.  Without this data, in theory, the parents of your students will not know that their children have grown or improved under your care.

So over the past few years, I’ve done my best to gather data.  This year, in particular, it was made clear to me that I had better come up with reams of hard data about each child.  So I gathered information, I scored work and tests and retests, and I graphed it, recorded it, kept it in a spreadsheet.  I had rubrics, score sheets, explanations and bar graphs.  I had all of this “evidence” at my fingertips as I got ready for my end-of-year conferences.

And guess what?

I had 23 conferences.  I spent 45 minutes with each set of parents.  I had parents tell  me, “You know my child so well!”  and “We can’t believe how much he has grown and matured this year!”   I had one Mom tell me, “No one has ever understood her and her learning style as well as you do.”

I’m not trying to brag, although I am delighted and proud that these parents feel that way about my teaching.   What I’m trying to say is this:

Not only did I complete 23 conferences without having one single person ask me for my data, but all 23 sets of parents declined when I offered to show them my graphs and spreadsheets and scores.

They don’t see their kids as a collection of numerical scores.

And neither do I.

Goodbye, teaching life.  It was wonderful while it lasted.

Letting go, moving on…..


It’s the very end of the year.

I always try to let the kids help me as I pack up the classroom for the summer. I know that some teachers feel that its too hard on the kids to watch their classroom being taken apart in these final days.

But as a teacher of those tender, smart, observant fifth graders, I have always felt that it is a healthy part of saying “goodbye” to have the kids participate as I “close up shop”.   We work together, my kids and I, taking down posters and finding the dried up markers.  We organize the books, we clean out the supplies.

I think that it is helpful for them to thoughtfully pack away the sweet memories of our time together.  We laugh, we sigh, we carefully fold up the year and put it into a safe place.

Usually, this process brings me a bittersweet joy.  Usually, it helps me to think, “Good bye, beautiful children!  Hello, next crop of kids!”

This year, though, is very different.

This year I am carefully packing away every little bit of my teaching life. Every single item pulls at my heart.  Every tiny objects presents a small dilemma.  Do I leave this little woven basket to the colleague who will follow me?  What about this old book of Civil War photos?  What did I buy with my own money, years ago?  What belongs to my school?

I carefully wrap up the little blue pinch pot that my first born child made for me some 15 years ago.  For all those years, it has held paperclips for the class to use.  Now it will come home, to rest in empty sadness on my shelf.   I pick up my brass recess bell, rubbing my thumb along its worn edge. How many kids have raced into line at the sound of its pealing voice?  I sigh, putting it down in the pile of things to leave.  I will have no more use of that quintessential symbol of elementary school.  I leave it for the young woman who will take my place here in the fall.

I am calm and relatively serene as I slowly pack my personal items in my bag. I am ready to go. It is time. It is most likely past time.  I am strong, and resolute.  I am ready.

Then I raise my eyes to the back of my bookshelf. To the place where my most special items have been stored.  And I see this:

IMG_1786

My little boys gave me this paper, on my birthday, 14 years ago.

I picture their sweet, smiling faces, presenting me with this birthday card. I can feel myself hugging them close, so touched at the tender words.  I can feel their pride, see them grinning at me.

I carefully, slowly, take my precious birthday card down from the bookshelf.

I sit at my desk, just for a moment, seeing my little boys.  Seeing the long parade of children who have made me laugh and made me so proud after all these years of teaching.

I reach for a tissue, pull myself together. I carefully pack up my beautiful birthday gift and place it in my workbag to take home.

“Let’s put on a show!”


drama

At the end of every school year, my class puts on a play.

They cut up huge cardboard boxes to make sets, they create the costumes out of old scraps and outgrown clothes.

They create the script.  They direct.  They make the posters and the programs. They practice and memorize and improvise and fine tune.

At the end of every school year, I ask myself why I tolerate the chaos and the mess and the paint smell. I ask myself if all of the time and money spent is really worth it.

And every year, I realize that it definitely is.

My students create a play that is original, always a bit random, and often completely confusing. By the time they have completed the creation, the rehearsals and the multiple performances, I am always exhausted.

But it is worth it.

It. Is. So. Worth. It.

Why?

I’ll tell you why.

There is no rubric.

There are no scores to measure success.

The children are allowed to create on their own.  They are allowed to make the story their own.

There is almost no adult guidance or control

Which means that the kids have to compromise, work together, support each other, listen to each other.  They have to learn how to share a stage.  They have to be able to imagine a place and then to create that place.  They have to learn how to depend upon each other and upon themselves.

They get to laugh.

They get to be silly.

Every year, every single year, at least one shy child steps forward and assumes a leading role.  Every year, at least one assertive child learns to step back and listen with an open mind.  Every year, children learn how powerful it is to share a stage with friends, and how exhilarating it is to be a part of a cooperative group.

I don’t interfere in the play. I don’t insert my ideas or my beliefs.  As much as I possibly can, I do something else while the play is being created and shaped and fine tuned.

And this is the true meaning of education.

When the kids in my class put on their wigs, their bacon costumes, their tiaras and their matching tutus, they are showing all of us what they have learned in the fifth grade.

It is so not about the rubrics. Or the test scores. Or the stupid state tests.

What they have learned is that they are competent.  They have learned that they are kind.  They are cooperative. They are funny.

They have learned that they can work in a group and can put forth their very best efforts to make that group a success.

When we do our play, my students have learned that nothing is sweeter than hearing the audience laugh, and knowing that you and your friends made that magic happen.

Number two on the list of things that I will miss.  My annual class play. 

Builders


SONY DSC

Dianthus. In bloom.

Some people in this life help us to bloom.  They help us to burst into the best life that we can achieve.

Some people reflect our very best selves.  They show us the beauty that we hold inside of us, even when we are not aware of that beauty.  Even when the doubters have made us question whether that beauty truly exists.

Some people see us as we wish ourselves to be seen.  They shine a light on that hidden self that we all want to highlight.

These people are the “Builders” in our lives.  They see and recognize the hidden strengths that lie within us; they hold those strengths up to the light, so that we become aware of how special they are.

These people, these Builders, allow us to find that hidden jewel that lies within each of us, so that we can use it as the foundation of the very best self that we can create.  We recognize that jewel, that special gift, because those “Builders” have pointed it out for us.  They have celebrated us in ways that we would never have achieved without them.

“Look!”, they cry, “This is YOU!”  They hold up our strength, our humor, our compassion, our love, our honesty.  They force us to recognize the unique part of ourselves that makes us stand out from the crowd.  “This is you”, our Builders say, “This is why I look up to you, why I admire you, why I am so happy to have met you.”

We all need Builders in our lives.

We all need to become Builders for those around us who are struggling to find their own inner light.

I’m writing this tonight to thank my Builders.  My sweet, thoughtful, brave, strong colleagues, who refuse to let me think of myself as a failure.  You are my heroes!

My students, my kids, who surround me every day with trust and love; my wonderful students who show me the truth of myself, for good or ill, and who love me anyway.

Thank you, Builders.

Thank you for stopping me from believing the ghouls.  Thank you for helping me to hold on to what I hope and pray is my real, true, honest-to-goodness teaching self.

Read Aloud


Every day, no matter what else has gone on, I read aloud to my class.

They are fifth graders, growing tall, beginning to mature, just entering the terrible miracle of puberty.

You would think that they’d be too old to have an adult reading them stories, wouldn’t you?

They aren’t.

They love “Read Aloud”.  I love it even more.  In a time when so much of education is focused on gathering data, on scoring rubrics, on force feeding those Common Core State Standards, it is both a relief and a joy to settle into my chair after lunch, a good book in my hands, the children draped on the rug at my feet.

I love to watch them as I read to them; I love to see them as they react to the action.

Sometimes, when the book is familiar, I can glance at the text and then look out at the kids, knowing the words that are coming next.  I can really look at them in those moments, because they do not see me looking.  They are seeing the characters in the book, watching the action unfold.  They are unaware of the classroom around them, or the teacher who is looking at them tenderly as she reads.

I love to read the words, “She narrowed her eyes”, because I see those beautiful children trying it out, narrowing their own bright eyes.  I love to read, “He shook his head”, because so many of them shake theirs.

After lunch on a bright spring day, I love to read aloud to my class.  I see the unconscious smiles on the lips of the girls, watching as they twirl a bit of their hair around a finger.  I love to read aloud as those quickly growing boys sit, so uncharacteristically quiet, their gleaming eyes unseeing, the sweat in their hair drying, a smudge of dirt on their cheeks. I love to come to a moment of action, hearing their indrawn breath, catching the glances they throw at each other.

Most of all, I love to come to the end of a chapter, hearing them groan and complain as I place my bookmark in the pages that I am closing.

I love “Read Aloud”.

I hope that it is never subjected to a rubric, or lost to a misguided desire to teach them to read “at their own level.”

book-112117_640

Frog Fights and Teachable Moments


Oh, the best laid plans!

bull-frogs-sing-to-the-skies-the-dark-rift-draws-nigh-all-reptiles-vibrate-the-oceans-and-seas-to-protect-earths-magnetic-field

Yesterday was the first really warm day of the year; we haven’t seen 70 degrees in Massachusetts since October.  We really, really NEEDED this great weather!

And its the day before the stupid, accursed, pointless, boring, way-too-long standardized math tests.  We will be trapped in our classroom for HOURS over the next two days.

So I did what any self-respecting classroom teacher would do: I took the kids outside for some “Ecosystem Review”.

They all knew, of course, that “Ecosystem Review” meant “Let’s get outta here!”, but they pretended to play along when I told them to record their observations and to write a piece of poetry inspired by the experience with the water ecosystem.

They tried to act semi-studious as I herded them out the door after lunch, toward our outdoor classroom.  “Remember”, I told them, “You need to record your observations of the environment today.  Record what it is that you see, hear, feel, smell.”

“So is this extra recess?”, one eager little boy inquired with a joyful grin.

“No!”, I assured him, giving my best serious teacher frownie face.  “This is SCIENCE.”

We headed out into the gorgeous mid day sunshine, feeling the heat on our faces and the warm breeze in our hair. We semi-walked and semi-raced down the grassy hill toward the pond and the pretty spring gardens.  I sat on the wooden benches in the shade as the kids ran out onto the boardwalk that circles the little pond.  I heard them chattering and calling as they ran around, pointing to various bugs, plants and piles of litter.

I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the kids voices at this point: I had instituted “teacher ear”, a sort of “organic app” that allows us to filter out everything other than words pertaining to poop, sex, vomit or guns.   Its a kind of survival technique that we use in the classroom.  Don’t tell anyone about it, OK?

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the warm sun, face raised to catch the full benefit. I was hearing the humming of the bees and the wind in the flowering trees.  All was well.

My “teacher ear” was gently filtering the language of the kids.  This is what it heard:

“What’s that lump?”

“Do you think its a frog?”

Yep! Its a frog!”

“OH, MY GOD! A FROG!!! IN THE WATER!!!”

“Oh, my God!”

“What’s he doing?”

“They’re playing LeapFrog!”

“For real????”

“Yeah, one frog is jumping on the other frog’s back!!!”

Just as my brain began to register this newest bit of information, one of my most savvy, most sophisticated boys let out a gasp of amazement, and I heard him shout, even as I was coming to my feet to head them off,
Oh, my God!!! They’re MATING!!!!!”

common frogs mating

There was a cry of general disbelief and confusion, then the pounding sound of 46 feet racing around the boardwalk.   I stood up and hurried onto the walkway, trying to catch up to the kids.   As I reached the spot where all of them were huddled, looking into the water, I wondered what to say.

“Boys and girls”, I began.  “I think that we………” I didn’t get very far before the excited voices of the kids cut into my “explanation”.

“I think they’re DOING IT.”

“Doing what?”

“Playing leapfrog.”

“No! Mating!  They’re making baby frogs!”

“Gross!” “Awesome!” “Cool!” “Disgusting” “What???”

“Boys and girls,” I tried again, sounding at my most serious and most seriously intimidating. “We are scientists, and this is nature at work.” I thought desperately about how to get the kids to see the serious biological issues of the day. How should I explain this?  What should I say?  I looked into the pond, where I saw one large green frog solidly planted on the back of another, slightly smaller frog.  The top frog’s front legs were firmly wrapped around the other frog’s midsection, and I swear to God, both of them were smiling.

I gulped and turned toward the class.

 “All of nature has the goal of reproduction….” I began, somewhat lamely.

“I know!!”, one boy interrupted.  “And all the boys try to get the girls!”  There was a general outburst of snickers.  “Yeah. Why does that happen?”, asked one serious and intelligent little girl.

“Well, see….” I began.

“Really”, answered one of her male classmates. “Why do all the boys try to get all the girls anyway?”

“OK”, I began again, “We are using scientific words here, like “male and female” instead of ‘boys and girls’. You are wondering why in so many species, the males try to fight for the female’s attention, right?”

“Yeah,” said one little lady, with a little frown. “I mean, on all those animal shows, the male lions fight for the females, and the male deer do it, too.  What’s that about?”

I stood sweating in the hot spring sunshine with 23 pairs of innocent eyes fixed on my face, looking for some answers to one of life’s most pressing questions.  What was I supposed to say?   I started to panic as various answers flew through my flustered brain. “Ask your Dad!” was one possibility, but that didn’t seem like the wisest response.  I figured I’d have to fake the serious scientist bit, and tell them about the male of every species wanting to pass on his genetic heritage.  I took a breath and wiped the sweat off my neck.

“Ah, so, see, the male animals are hoping to pass on the, um, the genes, and the, um, their, ya know, they want to be the ones who have their…..characteristics, and, like…..”  I stammered along, with literally no idea of where to go next.

I was saved from total fake-outery, though, when a shrill voice began to scream, “Another frog!!!  Another frog!!! Its a fight!!!!”

Everyone raced to the edge of the boardwalk, me included, peering into the murky greenish brown bubbles of the little pond.  Sure enough, another bug eyed green frog had appeared on the scene, and seemed to be determined to beat the living crap out of the frog in the “topside” position. As we all looked on in amazement, Mr. Newcomer opened his mouth as wide as he could and attempted to tear the head of Mr. Happy-on-top. There was a collective gasp from the mesmerized kids, and someone said reverently, “Whoah!  That dude means business!”

For the next thirty minutes, the entire class watched the drama unfolding before us.  No one seemed to give a hoot about genetics or natural selection.  But they were completely captivated by the mating ritual in the water. I’m not at all sure of what they learned, but I’ve never seen fifth graders demonstrate better focus and attention. I can still hear those excited voices, echoing over the water.

“I think the males are the ones who sing out of that big bubble on their throats.”

“But they’re all singing.”

“So which one is the female?”

“I still think they’re playing leapfrog.”

“Dude. That’s just dumb!”

“Well, why do you think they gave it that name then? It’s definitely leapfrog.”

“Naw, he’s trying to kill the other guy!”

“Frog kissing frog on hims head.” (This from a student who speaks little English).

“This is the coolest thing ever!”

“What, frog sex?”

“Duuuuude!”

“It isn’t sex. It’s mating.”

“I think that might be the same thing.”

That was the part where I rang the bell.  Really loud.  “OK!” I said in happy teacher voice. “Time to go inside!”

Next year, I think I’ll check out the pond to make sure its all G rated before I take the kids outside to observe nature.