By Michael Perik
I was surrounded by a crowd of six-year-olds, shouting, whining, throwing everything in sight, and generally not paying attention. It was nearing the end of the day and at this moment, none of them seemed to be thinking about anything that even resembled math. My head spun as hand after hand shot into the air. Few students were asking for help, most sharply pointed their index fingers at me, which directly translated to, “I want water!”. Frantically I sent some of my most trustworthy students out of the room to get water. I then began shouting out every callback phrase I knew, attempting to calm the hurricane of first graders pouring down on me. I was new to the classroom and still learning how to lead the students. As a result in this moment my stress was building to a peak.
Despite my incredible frustration and the lack of focus in my corner of the room, there was something very endearing about the wild nature of the children around me. Because for all of the “not learning” they were doing, I could still see how much they tried. Even if they were struggling to pay attention, it was apparent that they were trying to solve the problems put before them. When you’re six years old it’s almost impossible to understand how truly important learning is, yet all these kids were naturally curious and eager to tackle challenges put before them.
One small girl kept grabbing my finger, alerting me to her most recent attempt at an addition problem. She looked up at me with anticipation in her wide eyes. While I told her that her answer was incorrect multiple times, she would eagerly dive back into her work each time, despite all the distractions around her. With every problem she attempted, I could see her brow furrow and wiggle, which always meant that the gears in her brain were turning. I couldn’t help but smile.
As frustrating as it was to see students struggle over and over, I found it heartwarming to see kids be kids. For all the problems they faced inside and out of school, they still maintained a basic desire to learn. Yet still, this wonderfully goofy group of first graders was out of control. I stepped away for a moment, turning around to look out the window. I was almost blinded by the magnificent sun perched just beyond the tree line. No wonder these kids couldn’t sit still. I closed my eyes briefly, preparing to regain control of the class. I turned back around, raising my voice in steady increments, trying to brush off any and all frustration. I brought a single finger to my mouth. Pursing my lips, I sucked in a deep breath of air and loudly shushed the kids. Their voices sputtered and came to a staggering halt. Silence at last. Well for a moment anyway…