3rd grade in the big gym. 20 kids, everybody’s here! The plan is on the board: jog 2 laps, kick to a partner (place kick, drop kick, kick a rolling ball) , Garbage Can Kickball or Battleship. After most have jogged the 2 laps, I quickly demonstrate the 3 kinds of kicks with a student and then invite everyone to find a partner and get busy.
“Can we make a group of 3?”
“Have you checked the numbers? Let’s see if we can get everyone a partner and if we have one person left over we can make a group of three if necessary.”
My prescribed steps take the wind out of those particular sails. Turns out we’ve got an even number. No threesomes.
Much kicking ensues. Music is playing. I circulate offering hints towards improvement. I need to run downstairs to grab some equipment that’s missing. It’s fine. I have them separate from their partners to play a quick game of kicking garbage which provides a nice segue into our next activity.
I decide on Garbage Can Kickball realizing that most have had an introduction but not everyone. We can practice kicking, fielding and base running without too many complications and newcomers can catch on pretty quickly. I take a few minutes to explain the game and for the most part, folks listen. They’re ready to play.
Garbage Can involves 3 players kicking and running the bases at one time. They run all the bases without stopping and are racing the fielding team who are trying to get all three balls to their “garbage person” positioned behind to the left of the kicking team before the kickers return home. It’s exciting, fun, briefly chaotic and cognitively manageable. Perfect for 3rd graders with mixed levels of kicking, catching and running abilities.
When it was time to line up, I noticed a strange feeling wash over me. What was it? Something like satisfaction. A kind of private joy of having been able to do what I intended to do. For once, I felt like I taught a class. We had a plan, we followed it, we experienced learning success! After weeks of toggling between indoors and out, conducting class opposite recess or when the wind picks up; selecting activities that don’t require to much hand action because fingers may freeze. Oh my goodness, the pleasure of a contained space, just for our group, no extra weather or people distractions! We just don’t realize what we’ve been working without!
Friends, when we look back on this year of improv and making do, remember that the specific conditions for teaching and learning matter! We can be outstanding educators – creative, engaging, seasoned and committed – but without reasonable conditions and settings to work in and with, we and our students will struggle and/or manage and/or survive but it will be very difficult to thrive.
Today’s rare opportunity to get that happy feeling of having taught a thing, of students learning a thing, just reminded me of what my teaching life in the before times was like (NB, sometimes, certainly not all the time). The tangibility of it all kinda blew me away.