Where the Wild Things Really Are

20 Mar

While working on those assignments (which, I finally finished by the way – I know you were just on the edge of your seats!) I realized they were just not that bad.  I mean really: they were pretty easy.  I definitely built them up far more than necessary.

HOWEVER!  While working through them, I also started freaking out a teeny bit.  Like – what if I just can’t do this?  One assignment asked a lot of questions along the lines of, “What will you do if you crash and burn and fail so miserably you will never want to come to class again?” or they would say things like, “On your first day, you will be really, really awful.  Don’t worry, though!  Everyone does and your students will probably look at you like you are a big idiot.”

Maybe it wasn’t quite so in your face.  But they definitely got their point across.  And all of it makes total sense; working as a substitute this past half a year or so, I am definitely comfortable with the idea that sometimes, classes just suck.  It isn’t always just you or what you could have done or one student who causes trouble.  Sometimes, things are just out of sync.

All of this, though, seems just infinitely more terrifying when it is taking place in a different country, in a new classroom with new students in a language I currently know maybe two words in.

This got me thinking about the worst class I ever taught.  Not like worst experience in the classroom; there have definitely been outrageous students and problems while subbing.  But the worst lesson and student response I have ever experienced.  Let me share:

This summer, through a series of various events, I taught a summer school class called “Story Time” to incoming first graders.   Since it was a summer camp,  the activities were were supposed to be educational, but mostly engaging and fun.

The class was just under an hour for five days a week.  So for one week, we explored the magical world of Reader’s Theater – which to kindergarteners really means making cool costumes and shouting short lines from a goofy book.  For two days, we explored Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

I read the students the story, which they just devoured (because have you ever met a kid who doesn’t like that book?) We made cool monster masks from a template I found online and they looked so stinking cute.  (**Seriously, they were awesome.  They were just these color pages they had scribbled with marker and had tied strings to in order to fit around their cute tiny faces.  They wore them all day, and I wish students always wore cute monsters masks because it makes the world such a better place.**)

Anyway, we had the masks, they knew the story, and then each student chose a line from the book to read.  We practiced reading individually; they knew all the hard words and we worked on how to read with emphasis and they were so pumped.  They stood in a line, and as I narrated, they were to jump in with their line.  I wish I could emphasize just how excited and sweet they looked.

We had practiced and talked about what it means to perform and do your best. And at the part where the monsters shout, “Let the wild rumpus start!” we had queued up wild monster music (through the Pandora station “Kids Dance Fun!”) and they were supposed to let loose and do their own wild monster dance.

Everything had been going so well.  They hollered their lines all in a row with their tiny masks on and big doe eyes peaking out through the jagged eye slits.

One by one we moved  in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.

They had roared their terrible roars.

They had gnashed their terrible terrible teeth.

And then, we came to THE RUMPUS.

And they went ape shit.

Like, these sweet little monsters morphed into cracked out, raging beasts.  As soon as “Kids Tunes: Monster Mash” came through the speakers, they became the wildest, most barbaric savages this side of Lord of the Flies.

One kid climbed up on a table, pulled up his shirt and started beating his chest.  Another ran along the windows popping up the blinds screaming at the top of his lungs.

Simultaneously, one of the quietest, sweetest boys I have ever met ran around the whole classroom and then, I kid you not, stopped in the middle of the rug and PEED HIS PANTS.

And while this was all happening, a boy and a girl had been holding hands, singing sweetly.  Suddenly, the boy turned to the girl and growled.  He then pushed up his mask and started clawing his own face.  Like, clawing with blood! And sharp, crazy claws!

It was terrifying.  I quickly ran and turned off the speakers, staring incredulously at these cherubs-turned-demons.  As soon as the music stopped, all ten of them started sobbing.

I spent the remainder of the classroom cleaning up messes, moving on to a cool-down coloring activity, and trying to explain to my supervisor how Mr. Sendak had created a riot.

It was so terrifying.  I mean, in retrospect, I love this.  This is just learning at its finest. As I was working through these lessons for Peace Corps, I kept coming back to this experience and pulling pieces from it to share.

And I realized: if I can first convert sweet babies into brutes AND THEN recover from the Colosseum and have students leaving with smiles and coloring pages and STILL want to come back to work the next day?  I can probably do a lot of things.

I can do this.

(I hope.)

In single file, each shouldering his hod, pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other, the indescribable crowd is gather’d—it is the Fourth of Seventh-month—
(What salutes of cannon and small arms!)
– Walt Whitman
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