|The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers|
The first time I painted these rocks was during my first year teaching, almost 12 years ago. I had just been trained to run support groups during my plan period, along with our school counselor, a science teacher, and a dean. I collected the rocks while I still lived at my parents’ house—we had an empty lot next door that had yet to be sold and turned into house and yard.
Most recently, I painted these rocks this weekend.
Once they were dry, I placed them into a sturdy gym bag, with packing peanuts to cushion them from each other. The bag is representative of the emotional baggage we all carry around inside our hearts.
Our team needed these rocks.
Lately, our 8th grade team meetings—no matter how hard we try to steer them in other directions—have been disintegrating into frustrated venting about our inability as teachers to meet our students’ needs because of the pressures and mandates put on us.
Finally, we said enough is enough. We knew what our students needed. We knew how we could give it to them. We knew we couldn’t get anywhere with our curricula if we didn’t address these issues that needed addressing.
So, I dug out my support group resources. We brainstormed a plan. We got our assistant principal on board. And we started Community Meetings one day per week in each core subject area (so 4 days a week the students have a meeting like this in one class per day).
Last week was all about building community in each classroom (a little late in the year, but it is now or never). This week is about feelings.
Today, we pulled out the bag of rocks in each of our language arts classes. We talked about what it represented. We took turns trying to pick it up. We speculated how well we would be able to do our work all day if we had to carry that bag of rocks around.
Then we unpacked the bag.
I knew our students needed to be noticed. I knew our students have a lot of life to deal with outside of school. I knew our students carried baggage. And yet, I had no idea.
My honors class, the class I foolishly thought might think this community stuff was hokey, was so involved in sharing that when the bell rang for lunch, they asked if they could stay. So, I gave all 30 of them the option to get their lunches and return to continue our conversation. 29 returned. The 30th told her friends she just couldn’t eat and cry at the same time. She needed a break.
29 students quietly ate their lunches, listened to each other, cried together.
During such a short lunch period, we quickly ran out of time…again, even though I was really watching the clock because I understand the importance of shoring them up before sending them back to the reality of school.
Luckily, this cluster of students has social studies together right after lunch with a friend of mine. She also teaches language arts and understood where they were. The group moved to her classroom, just next door, finished their conversation, discussed the positive effects of sharing, and found reasons to laugh together.
And maybe, just maybe they left school today feeling a little bit lighter.