|Hurrah! Fourth grade!|
I want to use this post to mark a few changes that show that my students are, indeed, on their way to being fourth graders. It's just that time of year.
1. Tefillah (prayer) in the morning -- On my first day at the school, as soon as tefillah ended, I scurried over to my notebook and wrote down, "Tefillah: DISASTER." Then I scribbled down a list of idealistic plans of how I was going to change it all and make these kids love tefillah more than they loved Oreos or Rainbow Loom. Needless to say, that didn't exactly happen. What did happen, however, was that as we incorporated more prayers, more songs, more what-and-why discussions and more hand motions, tefillah became less of a disaster. Now they pray the entire amidah quietly. They enthusiastically sing the shema because they act it out with hand motions and know what it means. Their fingers bumble along the many lines of Az Yashir (Song of the Sea) as they listen to a Sephardi guy sing the tongue-twisting Biblical words (take a listen here. It's the second one). They have learned so much.
To be sure, sometimes tefillah still qualifies as a disaster. Sometimes they don't stop talking or poking or shoving. Sometimes that loud kid just leaves everyone else five notes behind. Sometimes they eat or sleep or play with their spy watches. Sometimes I can barely sing three words in a row because boy after boy asks if he can go to the bathroom. But the disaster days are notably fewer and the disasters are often confined to only one desk cluster (there was a hot chocolate spill on a siddur this week -- oy vey).
At the beginning of the year, I was in constant debate with myself about whether or not I needed to pray on my own before I got to school. If I did so, I would have to be careful to omit God's name in certain places when leading the kids so I wouldn't be repeating a blessing unnecessarily. That caused some internal anxiety. But now I know for sure that I can pray with the kids and I don't have to pray beforehand. We say all of the morning blessings, ashrei, az yashir, yishtabach, the shema, the amidah, aleinu, and some other bits and pieces. And now that the kids say the amidah in sweet silence, sometimes I can even pray with grateful intention. :)
We taught the kids the Shema in American Sign Language
2. Believe it or not, these kids are getting smarter. Their paragraphs are longer. They (mostly) stopped writing "I to eat" in Hebrew. They know the classroom routines and some of them even write down their homework before we tell them to. They know way more about Purim than they did a few months ago (most of them did really well on their pop test!) and they sit on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what Avraham actually did with that knife. Oh, and they can read Rashi script. No big deal.
3. Hugs. Some of the girls now give me hugs. I'm not sure this indicates fourth-grader-ness, but it does indicate that the girls have grown more comfortable with me, and this was definitely not happening six months ago. Some of the boys have grown more comfortable with me, too, but they express it in different ways: telling me about their ski trips, their moms, their dads, their play dates, and by trying to pronounce my last name.
4. Sarcasm. It is a well-known fact that young kids do not understand sarcasm. If you use sarcasm with them, they think you are being mean and they cry. Or, on the off chance that they don't think you are being mean, they still do not think you are funny, so they give you a blank stare and go back to playing with their rubber bands.
Third grade is the age where an understanding of sarcasm can begin to dawn. There is one girl in particular who totally gets it. During the apocalyptic fortnight of snow, she started asking me if I had climbed any snow mountains on my way to work, and we soon began a daily ritual of telling each other about our earthen adventures. Had her leggings always been blue? No, she had come across some snail dye. Had my scarf always been red ? Only after I killed that lion. When another student (or teacher) walks by looking confused, we share a knowing look.
Another instance of understanding that people often mean the opposite of what they say: I always go to art with the kids because the art teacher wants an extra set of adult hands (and I not-so-secretly love going to art). Recently, the kids were making Minions and other various objects out of clay. I sat next one boy and quickly noted what he was making.
"Is that a whale?" I asked.
"No!" he exclaimed. "It's an airplane!"
"Right," I replied. "I knew that."
A few minutes later, another boy came up to me.
"He said you thought he was making a whale!"
I looked at him with a straight face. "I never said that."
"He said you did!"
"No, I always knew it was an airplane."
"You're lying!" With this, my lips began to smile.
"I wouldn't lie."
"Yes you would!"
"I definitely would not."
He is laughing by now.
"Ahh!! I can't tell if you're lying or not!!"
At this point I burst out laughing, and my conversation partner flies around the room laughing frustrated-ly and trying to figure out Is Morah Naomi lying? He's definitely onto something.
5. Young love. One of the best parts of working in a third grade classroom is that there is no romance -- right?
Recently, a boy named R walked into class and dropped a home-made bracelet onto a girl's desk. The girl, J, looked shocked but pleased. Although I thought they were an unlikely match, J seemed to return R's affections. They started writing notes and leaving them in each other's classroom mailboxes. R made a bracelet for himself, too, so now they can match. Parent-teacher conferences gave us more information: J has a small picture of R taped inside her jewelry box. R's mom hopes this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Today at recess, R threw a paper airplane at J, and she smiled at him. To me, that seals that deal: if she's able to cope with his immature qualities and poor communication skills, this relationship could last a long time. Maybe even into fourth grade.