Beyond Room 119

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Top 3 Teaching Moments of the Week

Well, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a another snow week. In honor of my kiddos who are probably playing in the ice and snow right now, here are my top three moments of the week:

3. They announced Tuesday morning that school would be closed Wednesday. We do Mad Minute for multiplication on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and as you master each set of multiplication tables, you move up to the next “club.” Upon hearing this announcement, the immediate reaction of one of my girls, accompanied by the pouty face she has perfected so well: “Oh, no Mad Minute tomorrow!”

2. We’ve been learning elapsed time for the past week or so. Third graders come in barely able to read a clock, so the concept of how much time has passed from one time to the next is a tricky one. One of my boys who has struggled with many different concepts this year grasped the idea on the first day I introduced it. Now, every day he zips through the questions (getting them all correct!) and rewards me with a proud thumbs-up and a smile brighter than sunshine when he finishes, and I can see his self-confidence growing.

1. Pretty much every interaction with a specific one of my students. He’s one that I really focused on connecting with at the beginning of the year because he’s a natural leader and the other students look up to him. When he acts up, everyone else follows suit. When he’s focused, well, it’s not perfect, but the room is that much better. Well, he’s really grown and matured a lot even in the last month. Lately, he’s been working so hard, taking notes like the best of them and really trying. Now he takes it upon himself to loudly “SHHHHHH” the class if they are talking while I’m speaking. Or when the line is crazy and I’m taking a deep breath before getting them out of control, he just looks at me and gives me that little half-smile of his, as though he knows exactly what is going through my mind. He knows someone cares about him, and I’d like to think that’s made a difference.

Off to go enjoy some coffee and news now. The best part about these snow days is the luxury of enjoying the morning!

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Unhappiness: The Solution?

Philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, “Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world, but people capable of giving them their attention.”

Makes you think. With the millions of unhappy people in this world, we can trace it all to one single cause? Before we go any farther, there is a need to distinguish between unhappiness and sadness. Sadness is situational and often has a specific cause – say, a death in the family. With support, love, and time, we can work through sadness. Unhappiness is more pervasive and harder to overcome. It sneaks into our lives like a cockroach infestation – unwanted, quietly, and impossible to shake the feeling that there aren’t more of them, hiding in your pantry.

We don’t feel progressively unhappy, but instead, it’s suddenly there. We are left with the realization that we’re in a funk, we’re not unhappy, we’re frustrated, but oftentimes, we are left with the universal question: Why?

Simone Weil creates a blanket answer to that question. We are ignored. We lack attention. Love. Care. It it really that easy?

I think back to different people who have walked through my life. Students who I can always rely on to grow my patience. Friends who, no matter what, always saw that glass half-empty. Family members who share their frustrations and upsets. The woman at the gym, who never quite looks at peace, a smile never reaching her eyes.

Can attention really change all that?

I reflect on other people in my life. The man who works at the Y, who gave me a tour of the facilities on my first day. He’s there every time I go in, and we always talk for even two or three minutes. About his work, his family, his son’s basketball games – whatever comes up.

Thinking about when I’m at Target, and I not just robotically ask the cashier how she is, but really care about the answer.

When I worked at Build A Bear, stuffing bear after moose after dinosaur, and a customer would make the effort to look at my name tag, and ask, “How’s life today, Jamie?”

When I’m on the phone, and I stop everything else – cleaning my room, checking Facebook, making my bed – and be present with that person, truly listening to what they have to say.

The times when I’m talking with my roommates and all electronics are gone – phones, computers, iPads – stashed on the granite kitchen counter. When it’s just the three of us, laughing, joking, confiding, talking.

Simply being. 

In all these interactions, I know that I leave the conversation a bit happier. A bit more connected to the wonderfulness that is the humanity around me. And if I’m happier, and I’m the one giving the attention, I would hope that the one receiving the attention feels connected. Special. Because no matter who they are or what their relationship is to me, they are special. They have a purpose. They are loved, and they need to be reminded of that every day.

It’s nothing radical. To be attentive. To care. To be present in the moment.

But to suggest that by doing so, we can eradicate unhappiness?

Unhappiness is as pervasive as air, as widespread as the oceans, and as hard to pinpoint as success.

It’s the biggest problems that often have the smallest solutions, though.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

We’ve all grown up hearing these tenets. Only now, as I experience more of the world, do I realize exactly how much they encompass.

So it’s time for me to get off my computer. To go out into the world. Call an old friend. Shower someone with attention and see how it changes them. I may not be able to cure the world of unhappiness, but by starting with one person, I sure can try.