Monday, October 10, 2016

Day 19- Friday, Farts and MIddle School Life

On Friday night, after the crazy day that came before it, I was lucky enough to go see Ziggy Marley perform. Beyond the amazing music and 2 hours of dancing, a notable sight was the t-shirt one of the girls in the row in front of me was wearing. It read, "Inhale the good shit, Exhale the bullshit," and I thought that pretty much sums up everything I do. I considered telling her that the message of her t-shirt is what I try to teach my middle school students, but I figured she probably didn't care that much and definitely wouldn't think it as funny as I did. I also imagined telling me students about her t-shirt, just to see their response to the "S" word- always entertaining. But its message was strong and resonates with me- it is also very fitting for this past Friday.

The temperature in a middle school is very easy to read and on a Friday morning before a long weekend the excitement is palpable, as was it on Friday. As I started with my class, with one period of French, and first thing in the morning there was a buzz in the air and a lot of energy in the room. Student B and the boys around him were particularly antsy. Student A was a little calmer as we had located his binder in the back of the other room and as we started the meditation, he put his head down. So did most of the other students.

Student B and his buddies had more trouble settling and in and I addressed it, standing behind them, telling them they need to relax and attempting to direct them to breathe in their calm and exhale the excess energy, the nervousness, the agitation. I stayed in their proximity for a couple of minutes, until they finally settled into a quieter, stiller state.

By this point we were into the last two minutes of our 5 minute and 44 seconds, so I moved to my chair in the circle, sat down, prompted them to stay with their breath and enjoy the silence, and closed my eyes as I joined them. I had taken 2 or 3 breaths. when I felt the movement beside me. I opened my eyes to find the student sitting beside Student B standing beside me. He leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Ms. Satran, someone farted."

I looked at him in complete surprise- I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't that. In the moment, I wasn't sure if I was annoyed. or it was funny, but I wasn't amused and I was not going to letting it disrupt everyone else. I quietly but sternly said, "Sit down and be quiet," which he did. He was quiet again and so was everyone else. I didn't close my eyes again, keeping them on the boys.

It was a short few breaths later that the track ended and the meditation came to its close. As I ended it and turned on the lights, without mentioning what had happened specifically at first, I addressed the fart. I asked the student who had gotten up what he could have done about what happened? I asked him what he could have changed about what had happened or the result of the event?

He acknowledged that there was nothing he could have done, and nothing that could have changed what already happened, to which I made the connection to meditation and one of the reasons we meditate every day. We cannot control the events around us, and sometimes it is uncomfortable to live through them, but we have no choice, However, we have power over our responses to those events and how we let them impact our lives and our choices.

Once I had outlined that the events that cause our distractions or discomfort can be just about anything, I then addressed the fart itself. I noted that it is a bodily function that happens to everyone at some time or another, often at the most inconvenient or embarrassing time, which is why it didn't matter who farted. If it was them (whoever) then it happens to everyone, and if it wasn't them this time they could feel lucky, because one day it would be, because it happens to everyone. Finally, before closing the discussion and getting to a little French that morning, I also noted that if it ever did happen to them, when they were in public and they did fart, a big, loud fart, to which I added exaggerated sound effects, then they should try to have a sense of humour and laugh with everyone else. Again I emphasized that it happens to everyone at some point, and laughing at ourselves and life, and not taking things too seriously, is another way we have power over our responses, and makes life a whole lot easier and more amusing, I was a good reminder for me on a crazy Friday morning before the long weekend.

Thankfully, by the time my switch class came to me for the period just before lunch, everyone was a little calmer and this meditation was far less eventful. My switch class, which had begun as the more restless, chatty class, is starting to settle into silence more quickly and remain stiller and quieter throughout more frequently, especially in the mornings.

Today was no different. My readers have moved away from the window and put their books aways. Most students in this class put their heads down, most days. My breather and his friend and a couple of others sit up straight,  a couple of others continue to look around the room now and again. Student 1 continues to fidget, especially playing with his hoodie, but doesn't like to attract attention- usually whenever he notices I am looking at him, he stops. Same with the boy who likes to look at me, as soon as we make eye contact he puts his head down. In my switch class it was a quiet and peaceful 5 minutes and 44 seconds, at least for this Friday morning.

That would have been enough for a Friday, but that was just the morning, we had the entire afternoon, a lifetime of its own on a Friday in middle school. The first two periods were Math and LA, or LA and Math for both classes and then, because middle school teachers are their own special brand of crazy, we ended the day with two periods of Social Studies with both classes together. We are moving further on in our studies and applying our discussions of culture, society and stereotyping to Universal Human Rights and how they are supposed to work. We were beginning with some text work, to practice working in small groups, with a textbook, and gain a basic understanding of Human Rights and the responsibilities that go with them. It would be challenging at any time, but especially on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend.

We came together in Mr. Y's room and I thought we would do a short, 2 minute, track to help us get focused. I was curious to see how it would work and what I learned is the two minute track is not really worthwhile- we are better off just taking a few breaths without the process of the music and prompting. I guess I was overly optimistic in their ability, or perhaps willingness, to settle into the stillness and silence more quickly. With the large group, a few restless pockets, and the usual suspects, it took about a minute to get settled. It wasn't terrible, or even out of the ordinary, it just took too long to serve its purpose of two minutes of silence. The spontaneous breaths, in silence and with the lights on, seem to work better, at least for now. Maybe I will try the shorter track again in a few months, but I think for now I will stick with standing at the front and just taking some breaths when we get started in the larger group.

After our meditation, and before they got into their groups, Mr. Y took a few moments to explain the "Happygram," a system of feedback we would implement when working in small groups to encourage cooperation, respect and team building. Students were generally still pretty excited, but also relatively calm and respectful- we do have great kids-but there was quite a bit of noise and a lot of laughter, as the explanation the process.

As Mr. Y was calling for student examples, he called our breather, who when looking at him was noticeably upset. At first I thought it was in response to Mr. Y, and made a joke that he looked like he was being tortured, but within a second I realized it was no joke. I went over to him and not only was he visibly angry, but every muscle in his arms, torso and face were tensed. I told him it was clear he was upset, he was going to be okay, and suggested we go for a walk, indicating to Mr. Y that that is what we were doing- another benefit of co-teaching, I could leave to help support a student while he kept teaching.

We went into the hall and he indicated he was not ready to talk, but was okay. I suggested he take a few minutes to cool off, get some water and wash his face and then come back when he was ready. I went back to the room and checked in with his friends who claimed they were clueless as to what had happened.

I went back and found our student in the guidance area talking to the acting principal. On the way, I had met the guidance counselor, who shed some light on my breather's situation and his experience handling his anger in the past. My breather is a capable, self-motivated student who has high expectations of himself, as do his parents- this was not news to me. His tendency to bottle up his emotions, especially anger, and then explode, was- this was the first time I had seen it, and it is good to have this awareness and be able to work through it with him, today and in the future.

I joined his conversation with the acting admin and they let me know his friends had been bothering him and not letting him do his work to the point that he got very agitated. I congratulated him on his response, his ability to contain himself and not get physical. Both the acting admin, who also knows the other students. his "friends," well through his role as a phys. ed. teacher, and I, acknowledged that their behaviour can indeed be very annoying, and though we would not condone it, we would have understood had it become physical, and very much appreciated that it did not. It really reflected the caring, compassionate and stand up kind of person my breather is. I also let him know that for a moment, I thought his anger was a response to me and my joke, and I was relieved it wasn't, but if it had been he could tell me and I would be okay hearing it. But he didn't feeling like talking.

Whether he appreciated the words or not, he wasn't much less angry and indicated he was happy sitting by himself in the guidance area, which was a good choice, and we are lucky to have the space in our school. I told him I would come back and check in with him intermittently and was around to talk whenever he was ready.

When I got back to the classroom, everyone else was divided into their groups and more or less on task, for which I was once again grateful, as I can never take it for granted. I guess the two minutes had been more helpful than I thought, or maybe it is just the nature of our students, but as I walked around the rooms, checking their work, I noted their focus, efforts and progress were impressive. It is the paradox of teaching- I expect they will do the work I set out for them, whatever it may be, but am always amazed when they actually do, and they do it so well. Mr. Y and I reflected on this in a conversation, as well as how great our students are, especially on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Not perfect, but we couldn't ask for much more- except for Student A to stop cutting up paper and join in- I remain hopeful.

At around 3:10, I went back to check on my breather, who hadn't moved, but appeared a little more relaxed. He wasn't open to talking, but said he would be willing to listen- or at least pretend he was- and I reminded him he had choices, to move away from his "friends," or ask for help, both talking to them and stopping their behaviours, before he got so angry that it affected him adversely. Once again I spoke of the power in our responses and where we give our power away.

Then I asked him if he wanted to do a little breathing activity with me. I have rarely had this opportunity, or perhaps more accurately, noticed the opportunity, to breathe with a student one on one, and figured as he has been practicing his breathing since we began, there would never be a better time to start. He seemed amenable in that he didn't object, and I told him I often do this little exercise, this ten breath here/now, when I am stuck or feeling very emotional.

Together we took ten slow, deep breaths. I had my eyes closed so I didn't watch him, but I assume he was breathing along with me. For the first 5 breaths, we inhaled calm and exhaled anger. I encouraged him to feel the calm throughout his body as he breathed in, and feel the anger leaving as he emptied his lungs.

For the next five breaths, we inhaled "present" and exhaled "past." As he filled his lungs, I emphasized the present, the here and now, which is all that is. As he exhaled, I encouraged him to let go of the past, the events of the afternoon were over and done, and to come back to the present with the next inhale.

The ten breaths took just about two minutes and when we were done and I opened my eyes, my breather seemed a little calmer. I was hopeful, and asked if that had helped. "No," was his immediate response, but with a little less of a scowl. I smiled and told him that was okay, and reminded him what I had said before we started, "It couldn't hurt."

I am not entirely convinced that it didn't help, and I plan to follow up with my breather, first as to how he has recovered from the event and can handle things moving forward, and his breathing and practice in general, and so it may go deeper. But even if it doesn't, it isn't important.

In those moments, I made a connection with my student. I let him know he is supported and cared for as a student, and a person, and that his feelings count. That is already enough. I also let him know it was okay if he thought I was really weird, or that if  the breathing isn't helpful in the way I think it will be, it was all okay, helping to build trust between us, which will let us continue to work together for the rest of the year. Who knows where it could lead, for me, him and all of my students?

For today, and on Friday, I was grateful the day was done. I am grateful for this weekend and this Thanksgiving Day holiday (for my Canadian readers anyway). Tomorrow, Tuesday will be like a Monday, and be another day, which I will face tomorrow. For today, I will be present and enjoy the time- and maybe do some marking. I hope you enjoy the time too...minus the marking.

1 comment:

  1. Cari, I am so impressed with the attention you give each student. As a retired teacher, I know how difficult it can be to give our students exactly what they need in the moment. Your students will remember this and be grateful. Love, Mom