[Editor’s note: Miss Brave is the pseudonym for a first-year elementary school writing teacher.]
Characters: Miss Brave and Darryl
(Enter Darryl, pouting and looking miserable.)
Darryl: “Alejandro called me Darryl Banana!”
(Enter Alejandro, looking quite pleased with himself while Darryl is about to have a meltdown. Evidently, this is a serious insult. The gauntlet is thrown! Miss Brave tries very hard not to smile.)
Miss Brave: “You know what, Darryl, sometimes friends call each other silly names because they like each other and they want to say something funny, not because they’re trying to be mean. Sometimes my daddy calls me silly names, too, and he’s not trying to make fun of me.”
(Darryl considers Miss Brave’s speech for approximately one millisecond, then becomes distracted by the brilliance of his writing.)
Darryl: “Oooooh, look at this! Look at this!”
(A Darryl-prompted misdirection! Miss Brave is relieved. Crisis averted!)
I still have a cold (actually, since all of my 400+ students appear to have colds as well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a cold for the rest of my life), so my head is all congested. As a consequence, I feel like I can’t hear myself clearly, so I tend to talk louder in all of my classes. To over-compensate for feeling tired and run-down, I produce a slightly manic kind of energy when I’m in front of my students.
So this morning (perhaps determined to prove that Miss Brave is, in fact, as funny as Mr. M), I put on the performance of a lifetime in my kindergarten classes. I was attempting to demonstrate that writers can include speech bubbles in their pictures to show that people are talking. Acting on a key piece of advice from my friend’s mother — a special education teacher — I snuck some hand puppets out of the library (the librarian was away at a conference. Shhhh!) and prepared to break a leg.
My “story” went like this: Page 1 — “First we put on our hats and mittens.” Page 2 — “Then we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge.” Page 3 — “Last we found the subway.”
Ho-hum. But then it was showtime! Watch as Miss Brave dazzles you with delightful dialogue! I picked up a hand puppet with long brown braids, slapped on a Post-It labeled “me,” and read: “First we put on our hats and mittens.” (Miss Brave affects funny, un-Miss Brave-like high-pitched voice and shakes hand puppet so her braids wiggle.) “I said, ‘It is soooo cold out!'” (Cue kindergarten laughter.)
Then I recruited audience members to participate in the drama. My young thespians, armed with Post-It-noted hand puppets of their own, were eager to play the parts of my friends, and in no time I had them reciting their lines with great gusto. Quickly we dispatched with my original story and replaced it, via the transforming power of hand puppets and speech bubbles, with a script to rival the great works of Shakespeare: “First we put on our hats and mittens. I said, ‘It is soooo cold out!’ Then we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Frank said, ‘Wow!’ Last we found the subway. Melissa said, ‘It’s right there!'” Writers’ strike, eat your heart out.
When the curtains fell, the question for the director was not “Can I go to the bathroom?” but instead “Can we play again?” So for an encore, we speech bubbled The Rainbow Fish by imagining what the fish might be saying to each other. Who needs Marcus Pfister when you have kindergarteners: “Can I have one of your scales? NO!”
Alas, Miss Brave’s First Law of School dictates that a class will behave perfectly during either the mini lesson or independent practice, but almost never both on the same day. So when I sent my miniature actors’ guild back to their seats, armed with the power to add dialogue to their stories, they drew on each other’s papers, sharpened their pencils without permission and (my personal favorite) wasted time by measuring their pencils next to each other to determine whose was the tallest (with my older classes, I have tried explaining that the more writing you do, the shorter your pencil will be, and therefore the most prolific writers will have shorter pencils, but this Miss Brave logic is clearly too circular for them).
Oh, and Mario of “Alejandro said I was a girl” fame — who is a perfect example of a kid who can exhaust your patience with naughty behavior but be so adorable and charming and clever that you can’t help but love him to pieces anyway — spent the whole period persisting in trying to explain to me how someone else at his table had attempted to defame him. (I believe the offending word this time was “pig,” but I have a hunch that this was a misunderstanding resulting from a matching game that I eventually took away from them.)
By the time I got to 50 minutes, I had a splitting headache, and because it was Hanukkah, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read my third graders Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, one of my favorite books. To my great surprise, they seemed familiar with the dreidel song, if not quite the exact nature of Hanukkah (“It’s like the same as Christmas, only it’s not Christmas”), so I promised them that tomorrow, I would teach them how to play dreidel (dividing the pot in half is so a mathematical concept). And that’s how I ended up going to three different stores after school in the snow trying to track down a dreidel, dashing in vain down aisles filled with candy canes and mistletoe while the speakers blared Christmas carols.
Miss Brave, desperately: “Do you have any Hanukkah stuff? Any Hanukkah stuff at all?”
Rite-Aid dude, blankly: “No, sorry, we didn’t get that in this year.”