OF TOYS AND HATS
I was in the classroom awaiting the arrival of my twenty-four
angels. As I waited I busied myself by writing a possible plan of the
day's activities. It always seems to change but I have to do it anyway.
The morning bell rings at 8:50.
"Good Morning, Mr. Griggs."
"Hello, Katie, Glad you're here bright and early
"Nick, put the toy away please."
"Tucker, maybe you should put that away now and sign
in to your center."
"Can the cards go in the book bags please."
It's only 8:57 and I'm tired of listening to myself. The
children must be bored hearing the same thing each morning, too.
It's 9:00. Someone begins to sing O Canada over the PA.
Instead of being patriotic, I decide to reflect on the morning's conversations.
"Excuse me folks. Before the captain takes the safe
arrival to the office and the Reading Circle starts, let's have a quick
chat. Who's tired of hearing me say 'put away your toys...,' 'put away
your toys...,' 'you, too..., put away your toy.' I seem to hear myself
saying this every crazy morning."
Four or five hands flap in the air in agreement. A few of
the active toy bringer-iners nodded to each other.
"What are we going to do about it?"
Tamara, a very common-sense individual says, "You can
stop saying it." I agreed with Tamara's to-the-point response, but
brought up the fact that I must be saying 'put away your toys' for a reason.
Right? I hope so.
"Why do you think I ask that toys be put away each
morning? Am I trying to be a mean, nasty, grouchy troll?"
Some of the children laughed as I hunched my back and pretended
to grow fangs.
"Help me out. I want to know what to do about this.
I want to be able to talk to you in the morning instead of nagging you
about your toys as soon as you walk into the classroom."
Thus, the intense conversation on the toy issue began. The
students were given an opportunity to voice their opinions on an issue
they considered extremely important. Big stuff for six and seven year
olds. This is their classroom life, they want to have a say about how
it's run. Stopping and talking allows me to see the seriousness of what
may seem to be an irrelevant situation.
Some children felt everyone should stop bringing toys to
school altogether; others felt they were responsible enough to have a
toy around and not play with it; still others felt they couldn't control
themselves and thought they should leave their toys in their book bags;
some of them even put their toys away in the middle of the conversation.
The outcome of this discussion was the students decided that whether they
were capable of having a toy around during class or not. I did add that
I might have to remind some of them to put a toy away while they got used
to making that decision for themselves.
The toy conversation blossomed into an even more sensitive
topic about hat wearing. Because of a recent outbreak of lice in our school,
we have been allowing student to wear hats in the building. Now that the
lice are gone, wearing hats is once again forbidden.
"But why can't we wear our hats?" asked Mark.
When I heard myself explaining why we don't wear hats...in
the olden days it was proper to take off your hat in public places, and
gentlemen tipped their hats to ladies to show courtesy...blah, blah, blah;
I realized how silly my reasons sounded. The no hat rule wasn't part of
their value system. It sure wasn't part of mine. So whose value system
Many of the constraints which shape classroom life are senseless.
The expectation of parents, administrators, and fellow teachers who believe
effective teaching means quiet rooms and neat, obedient students are scaring
teachers from teaching in ways that might engage students more effectively.
But in classrooms which don't look or sound the way classrooms used to
be are classrooms where students are truly being empowered.
Now my students are welcome to wear their hats in the classroom--not
just when there is an outbreak of lice!