Find me a reasonably important day, and I will find a way to tie a crisis to it!
The summer before sixth grade, the boy who gave me my first kiss while we watched fireworks light up the sky also exposed me to chicken pox. They arrived the same day that my very first period started and the first day in which the temperature soared past 100 degrees and stayed that way. All I really remember is sitting on the back porch, crying as I watched men load all his grandma’s things into a moving van to take her out of state and him out of my life. It was not one of my happier childhood days.
My husband and I got married in 1993. There was a rather significant, summer-long flood event in the Midwest that year, and it happened to be raining the day of the ceremony. Due to the sustained humidity of the season, the door to the church had swollen, and although the key I had been given actually was the right one, I was unable to open it. I was locked out in the rain on my wedding day, pre-cell phone ownership.
My daughter was an aspiring cake artist in her mid-teens, and for her 15th birthday, she assembled her own work-of-art rainbow cake. Unfortunately while it baked, the oven’s control panel malfunctioned and sent it into self-cleaning mode, turning the painstakingly created, colorful batter into a charcoal briquette that no self-respecting woodland creatures would touch for days as it lingered on our back deck.
Each of these things turned out okay in the end, but they make me realize there are times in life when we could use some guidance to get ourselves out of a mess. Frustration poisons our brain, and simple ideas like going in to sit in the air conditioning, pushing harder on the door while turning the key, and turning off power at the breaker box escape us. Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but honestly, we would probably fail to consult it even if it did.
When I first started teaching, I know I certainly could have used a how-to manual or a Worst-Case Scenario Classroom edition! I admit, however, that those occasions when I needed it most, I would not have thought to consult it, nor would I have had time–especially during the incident when the student fainted during a speech or the after lunch class on Taco Tuesday when a student experienced a sudden and violent onset of extreme stomach flu.
Whether they occurred in daily life or in the classroom, each of these moments has one thing in common– I was overwhelmed because I was facing a situation for which I felt unprepared, yet I was pressed into a decision about how to proceed.
It only took almost twenty years, but I did finally have an epiphany about stress some students feel in English class about four years ago.
Reading and writing both tend to stress some kids out, even when they already kind-of know what to do and how to do it. It depends on the day and the task, but occasionally, what I ask them to do is akin to me trying to break into the church on my wedding day. Even though they probably have the tools they need, they’re overwhelmed, feel a time crunch, and go into panic mode where all thinking stops.
For the past four years, I’ve been taking baby steps to address that, implementing the equivalent of a life instruction manual, but instead it helps with those swampy waters of what-to-do-when-you-don’t-know-what-to-do-in-English. They don’t always remember to use it, but it certainly helps when they give it a try!
Some of my upcoming posts are going to be anecdotes and snapshots of how changing the stress level in my room, slowing things down, and re-opening entry points into success have made my world (and theirs) one without quite so much crisis.