It's been a pretty rough week in my classroom. The week before a break usually is. The kids get all excited about having extra time off, and basically go in to cruise-control mode...thinking that they don't really have to do much when some time off school is so close.
On top of the added stress going on in my personal life, there has been trying to get the kiddos to understand that just because we get three days off next week, this week was still being ran business as usual. Homework had to be completed, tests were to be taken, grades were being entered. Yet, it was tough. I had several kids that seemed like they had checked out, and it didn't bother them one stinking bit to make a zero on SEVERAL papers because there was absolutely no effort put in on their part.
I get so frustrated during situations like those, because it chaps my behind when the kids don't care about their education. I have tried to explain to them that if I decided to go to work, sit around the classroom all day without teaching them anything, not grading any papers, not turning any grades... just because "I didn't feel like it", I'd be out of a job PRONTO! The real world doesn't work that way. They may be OK with making bad grades because they aren't doing their work, but keeping that mentality throughout their lives will result in no paycheck or no job if that's how they look at their educational profession.
I always try and connect school life to the "real world". Going to school is their job right now. Showing up is important. Being on time is important. Doing the work they are asked to do...and doing it well. Saving their goofing off for their "breaks" during recess. All very comparable to what adults have to do when they go to work. They often retort with how they aren't being paid to come to school, in which I quickly remind them that their education IS their paycheck. The better education they get "paid with" now, will result in better REAL pay when they are finished with school and look to what they want to do with their futures. I know I can get a bit carried away sometimes with how frustrated I get, but I don't think they realize how important it is for me for them to show their full potential.
So, while I've been trying not to pull my hair out this week, I have had something going on that has helped keep my hair firmly intact...and has helped soften my heart just a little when it starts freezing over from the frustration.
At the beginning of the week before last (2 weeks ago), the Student Council announced they were sponsoring a fund raiser for the Shop with a Cop program. They were doing it with a Penny War. Each classroom received a tub, and the classroom that raised the most amount of money for the program wins a game of dodgeball against some of the police officers, the student council members, the principal, and me. Yes, I offered to play on the opposing team as well.
The light in my kids' eyes when that was announced was something I wished I could have caught on camera. It sunk in pretty quickly that the prize was the one and only chance to hurl balls at me, with no consequences. And after being such a Cranky Pants all week, I'm sure that this was a MAJOR perk in the deal.
The first few days, kids were bringing in bags of coins. All the pennies and dimes and nickels they could scrape together around their houses. And our tub started to get a little weight to it.
Then, on Monday of this week, I also announced to the class that I had selected a child off of the school's Angel Tree. I told them that in no way, shape, or form was I expecting them or requiring them to donate...but I explained what the Angel Tree was, it's purpose, and a little about the child I had selected. I then told them that if they wanted to give a dollar or two to the cause, I would use that money to buy items off of the child's wish list.
Now, I can say right off the bat, that the kids in my class aren't from well off homes. Several of them have all either been recipients of some form of help, are recipients, or need to be. The families of my kiddos are all fighting tooth and nail to support their kids, give them good homes, and work their behinds off to make sure the basic needs are given.
One of the reasons I knew I was teaching in the perfect school was because of the diversity in cultures, socio-economic statuses, and because I knew that these were kids that needed the best education they could get so that they could realize their potentials and really make something of their lives. Several of the parents I've met with at some point or another have shared stories of moving to this country to give their kids a chance to make something of their lives, to follow their dreams, and to break the cycles of poverty. Not all, but many families rely on services providing food, housing assistance, and clothing.
I don't teach in this school because I think I'm a person that can swoop in and make all their troubles disappear. I don't live on a pedestal preaching to these kids about following their dreams without having a little background and insight to what their families are facing. I teach there because I can truly relate to some of the scenarios played out with some of the families, and I'm living proof that a little hard work and motivation can have amazing benefits.
You see, when I was trying to raise two small children alone, I had my share of assistance. I had to depend on food stamps to be able to feed my kids. I often had to reach out to charity organizations to help pay some of my bills. I often bought clothes for my kids from thrift stores, or went to churches that gave away coats and warm clothes so that my kids were dressed appropriately for the weather. I have lived in homeless shelters. I have stood in line at an employment office hoping I could find a job that would at least make ends meet. I have lived short periods without electricity or running water because I didn't have the money to pay the bills.
I have been in some of these families' shoes.
And, now, I have the chance to give back and pass along my story. The day I was able to call up the DHS and tell them that I no longer needed any form of assistance was one of the happiest days of my life. To know that I had finally reached a point where I was completely independent from needing handouts. And, it was on that day that I swore I would do my part to give back as often as I could.
Selecting a child off the Angel Tree this year is one of those things.
So, going back to what I was talking about with my class...
The first couple of days, I had several kids give me a dollar that their parents had given them for some sort of treat or ice-cream. I made sure to remind my kiddos that they didn't have to give me their treat money, but they all wanted to. They either split the money they had with me, or just told me they were totally OK with not getting an ice-cream if it meant a little kid was able to get a toy for Christmas (insert Kleenexes, right?). I put the angel tree money in to a small envelope and kept it in my desk.
Yesterday, it was the last day of the Penny War. Over the course of the week, I noticed that it had started to get really full. There were only coins in there, because the kids had given any bills they had to me for the Angel Tree. I had been watching some other teachers' tubs and had noticed that there had been bills added to theirs...so I wondered if we'd really be able to keep up with just the coins.
The curiosity finally took over on Thursday, and I decided to dedicate our math lesson to counting the money in the tub. I gave each child a huge handful of coins, asked them to sort them into piles of like coins, then sort those piles in to groups of five or ten. The kids then had to multiple the piles. A great lesson to go with our estimating and multiplication unit.
While they were counting, I had each child give an estimate on how much money they thought was in the tub. I received guesses ranging from $20 all the way up to $300. I got some optimistic kids in my class.. HA!
Our final total was $67.79. I was floored. I couldn't believe it. We had raised almost $70 with just the coins that they had brought. I was ecstatic. But, it didn't stop there... I had a couple of kids that decided to bring in a few more yesterday, just to really push us up in to that $70 range. Our final total was $72 and some change. Just take a second to think about how much $72 is with mostly pennies, dimes, and nickels. There were some quarters and dollar coins, but the majority were the lower coins. That tub weighed a ton!
At the end of the day, the winners were announced. I had already gotten wind that the top three classrooms would get a game of dodgeball, because there had been such great success with several classrooms.
Our class came in third place!! The classes that beat us had raised $94 and a whopping $112! Of course, those two classes had put in some bills...but I was amazed at how much all the kids had been able to raise. The grand total for the school was over $600!
After the winners were announced, I decided to count the money in our Angel Tree envelope. I had $20 in there. Which was awesome! All together, these past two weeks, my kids have collected almost $100 for two different charities. All by themselves, with whatever money they could gather up.
I am so stinking proud of them!
I whine, I complain, I moan, I yell at them about doing their part to better their lives... but it amazes me how quickly they are willing to help out others. Especially when they are no better off or maybe living in even worse conditions than the kids that will be helped with that money.
My kiddos may have some hard heads, but they sure do have some kind hearts. They show me each and every day they are willing to help and care for those that need it. By helping some of the kids with special needs, by offering to assist a student with answering questions because that child doesn't read very well, to not hesitating to loan pencils or scissors or crayons to the children in the class that don't have those things... even though I have plenty to offer.
It's important to my kids to be nice to others. To help however they see fit. I often forget about how good their hearts are, when I'm too focused on molding their minds.
But, not today. Today, I am so thankful that I get to see true miracles at work. Kids working together to help those that need it... even if they could use some of that help themselves.
And that's something to be truly thankful for.