Disclaimer: Educators are taught that there is no place for sarcasm in the classroom. It is my belief that blatant, obvious sarcasm that allows for discussion is OK and can be a great way to really reach a student. No children were harmed in the teaching of this lesson.
I teach a class called Novels to sixth graders. It is an exploratory class, which means it is a class intended to give students a chance to explore something they might not normally get to in the regular classroom. This is a new class for me this year, and I had the privilege of choosing the curriculum myself. So, in this quarter-long class we read Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engel, two YA favorites. Today while reaching the end of Absolutely Almost, we had a teachable moment. Because I think this is an important lesson, I would like to share it with all of you.
At the end of a chapter, Betsy and Albie are telling the new girl Darissa about all of the cool things to see and do in New York City. In this particular scene they are describing the Central Park Zoo and the penguin exhibit. “Betsy nodded again. ‘You can wr-write n-notes on the w-window too.’ She said (Betsy has a stutter). ‘Maybe we could go this weekend,’ Darissa said. ‘I’ll have my dads ask your parents.’” ::GASPS::
At this point my students generally begin backtracking to make sure they read that correctly. Then the whispering starts. After several seconds of giggling, smirking, and contemplation, I wait to see if some brave soul will ask me a question about it. There is a brave soul every time. “Mrs. Odde, why does it say ‘dads’?” The giggling and “eewwws” don’t stop at this point. But, when I ask the students to raise their hands if they live in the same house with their biological mom and dad, things change. There are usually only about a handful of students who raise their hands. When I mockingly giggle and ask one of them (the brave soul) why the other kids’ hands aren’t raised, feelings start to change. This is a good spot to stop and explain that all families are different. I tell them that I grew up in a house with a mom and dad, but that didn’t mean we were normal. All families are a little weird (they all agreed with that statement). I ask, “How did it make you feel when I giggled at the difference in your family? Whether we understand something or not doesn’t mean we should laugh or judge, because the only thing that does is cause people to have hurt feelings.”
To deepen their understanding, like any good teacher would do, I explain it with a metaphor. Here it goes:
Me: Sometimes teachers bring treats to class. Let’s imagine I brought all of you chocolate chip cookies.
Students: Will you? That’d be AWESOME!
Me: Maybe. Now, if I walk around the room and pass them out, someone notices there is oatmeal in those cookies. If you do not like oatmeal, how should you respond?
Students: Say “No thank you.” Or “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
Me: Exactly. Those are polite responses. But, there’s usually a student who says something like, “YUCK! I hate OATMEAL!” or “No way. Gross.” Or something else that is not very polite. How does that make me feel?
Students: Bad. Upset. It maybe makes you sad.
Me: You are right. It is hurtful. So, when we don’t like something or don’t understand something, let’s think of it like an oatmeal cookie. We do not have to like it, but we don’t need to be rude about it either.
This is a good lesson for me to remember. I can be a little too quick to judge, and this not only hurts the people around me, but it also hurts myself. I don’t have to think very hard about why I feel bad when I know I hurt someone else’s feelings. In the future, I am going to do a better job thinking about that oatmeal cookie. I might not like it, but I don’t need to share my personal feelings about it.
Thankful for my students and the lessons they help me learn,
The Displaced City Girl