By Josiana Lacrete
The hottest new term this year (besides “critical race theory”) is “social emotional learning.” They want us to teach children to connect to their emotions, listen to their bodies, and voice their needs. To face social and emotional challenges with an open mind. There are websites and videos and sample lessons that are supposed to help us teach these things, but here are some situations that I still don’t feel like I was trained to handle:
Brynn crawled under her desk the other day because I asked her to sit at the carpet with the rest of the class, and she didn’t want to. No one had been mean to her (I asked) and nothing else was wrong; she was just tired and didn’t want to do anything else for the rest of the day.
Miley broke down and cried after I asked her to stop approaching me with questions when I was speaking to the class and giving directions. I had just blown the whistle for the girls to line up after recess, and it’s always moments like that where several students will suddenly need to ask what we’re doing next, or whether we have PE today, or tell me they have to use the bathroom.
Anna couldn’t handle it when another girl didn’t want to jump rope with her at recess.
Laura fell apart when she wanted to watch YouTube during the school day and I didn’t let her.
Those behaviors are normal in kindergarteners; kids who are not yet used to being one of twenty two in a room with one adult. Those behaviors are less normal for seven and eight year olds. And none of my college classes prepared me for these situations. The class on classroom management doesn’t warn you that kids think bathroom time is fun-time, and that touch-free paper towel dispensers are magic toys. My contract didn’t specify that I need to develop a mind-reading technique to determine who needs to go to the restroom the most urgently, because everyone has to go at once, and when asked, “is this an emergency,” the answer is always “yes” accompanied by the pee dance.
A few times a week, students run to me during a lesson to tell me “so-and-so is stuck in the bathroom stall!” Their tone always makes it sound like this is a life-or-death situation. I give the students a quick activity to do for the next 5 minutes, I ask the teacher in the adjoining room to monitor my class for a moment, and walk over to the girls’ restroom.
“So-and-so, are you okay? Can I come in?” I ask, in a slightly annoyed, but patient tone. She says she is stuck and confirms that she is dressed. She gives me permission to crawl under the stall door so I can finally get to the bottom of this- like I said, this happens a few times a week.
Upon inspection, I see that the latch is open. Only friction is holding the door shut. So, I tell her to hold the door by the bottom, and pull it open. Voila! She’s free.
This is a child who can look up Ariana Grande music videos on YouTube, by herself. She can read at a third grade level. She can tell you all the rules to play “Red Light Green Light,” and discuss, in detail, the difference between “cheating on purpose to win” and “breaking the rules because you don’t understand them.”
But she can’t figure out how to get out of a bathroom stall?
Getting “trapped,” and having someone go get the teacher to “save” you became the most exciting thing that happened to that student that day. I overheard her retelling the story at recess time. We changed the class rule so that only one student could go to the bathroom at a time after that. Magically, the number of kids getting “trapped” decreased by almost one hundred percent.
It is my job to make sure situations like this don’t eat up too much learning time. It is my job to have a classroom management system, and I’m sure you have seen all the creative objects teachers on facebook use as hall passes: water jugs, paint brushes, magnets, little hand sanitizer bottles.
(None of these are meant to “shame” students for going during class, for the record; the rest of the class just needs a signal that someone is already using the restroom, and only one student is allowed to go at a time. So bathroom time does not become fun-time.)
I accept that these children are young, and still learning how to use the bathroom during the breaks so that they don’t keep missing class time. It is a social emotional skill. I have patience, and confidence, that they will be better by the end of the year.
But seriously, someone’s stuck in the stall again?
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