Friday, February 20, 2009

GOOD WORDS are good things

On Wednesday at school my little friend announced, “The best thing about school is going home.”

At recess a different 3rd grade student told another duty teacher and me, “Why don't you mind your own business and get out of my face!”

Taking the kids into lunch, yet another 3rd grader said he was going to go to school in Mexico next year, and in Mexico you don't even have to go to school if you don't want to, and in Mexico you can beat up your teachers if you want.

On Wednesday afternoon I came home feeling exhausted and wiped out.

On Thursday, my little friend told me as I arrived and hung up my coat, “The purpose of school is to drain all the fun out of you.”
I felt like saying, “I know just what you mean.”

I decided my little friend is going to come up with 3 good things about each day, which is a stretch for someone who finds even recess disappointing in its limitations. So I made a book and we are looking for 3 positive things to say about each day, and it can't be that he gets to go home. He did say that the day had gone by very fast and it was a good thing because it meant he got to go home quicker, but I jumped in and shushed him after “good thing” when we were writing it so it reads brightly, “The day went by fast fast and it was a good thing”.
Friday I let him count “recess”, but that was a favor, and fortunately he didn't remember that his frisbee had gone over the locked fence to the softball diamond and that a good portion of his recess was spent kicking the fence and saying, “Stupid fence”. The other two good things today were “I get to go to Choice Time” and “I got all my work done so I could go to Choice Time” (never mind about teachers who are reduced to threats and bribes to get some work produced). I wanted him to throw in a friend's name, any one he'd chatted with or who had been nice to him, but no way was I going to hear more than three things.
I also started writing on black paper his stuck-in-a rut negative thoughts, such as “Teachers get their happiness from making you unhappy”. These are going to be either ceremonially burned in a fire or made into ankle chains for my little friend as an object lesson.

Friday (today) as the kids were getting on the bus a girl shoved a boy and the teacher remonstrated, “Use your words”. That's our mantra with kids learning to get along and with kids like my little friend who don't know how to express frustration appropriately. But my internal response was to cringe, “No, please, no, not the words. I'm so tired of words”. As I left the school another assistant and I agreed it had been a long week. Even with Monday off, she said, hadn't it just gone on forever? At my car, my fellow duty teacher told me she just feels so weighed down, like she can hardly breathe. She repeated that feeling, “I can't breathe, it's so heavy, all this negativity.”

I have started taking a writing class on Tuesday nights. It's not very instructive, really, the purpose is just to get people to write. So the facilitator gives a prompt, ie, “On the way here, I ....” or “She knew she was in trouble when...” and then we are supposed to write for 8 or 10 minutes on our choice. Our pens are supposed to keep moving, even if we are writing, “Help! I don't know what to say and why did I sign up for this dumb class?” (But I haven't thought or written that yet because I really do like it in a non-learning, off the top of my head blathering sort of way. ) Anyhow, after that 10 minute write, we voluntarily read our work to the group and the group responds in a positive way. This is the point: we can only say positive things, such as “good word choice”, or “colorful imagery” or “Wow, that was really powerful”. We can't elaborate on the story they told or share our own experiences, just focus on their writing. It is a RULE: ONLY GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK.

At my first class I read my entry to “On my way here”;
I was talking to my husband on our cell phones and accidentally turned right instead of left. What had been intended as a friendly 'touching base' with him , reminding him that I was going to my writing class, became a snappish complaint, “Rats!! Now I went the wrong way! I have to get off the phone....”
The class laughed and chortled several times. I was ridiculously pleased and blushed with success. Then came the feedback. The girl who had laughed loudest said she liked the direct quotes and she couldn't believe there was anybody who still said “Rats”. She hadn't heard that in years!

I guess we shouldn't look too closely even at the positive feedback we get!

I am thinking that the life lessons here are:
*Keep track of the good things that we encounter each day, and build our thought life there.
*Determine to say good words, because besides discouraging ourselves with negative talk we depress everyone around us, too.
*Write the negative talk on a scrap of paper or a rock and then burn it up rather than carry it around as a burden. Don't get weighed down.
*Give only positive feedback, and practice doing it.

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