Monday, October 31, 2016

Day 31- Halloween Monday

Halloween in middle school is really like no other day. It is hard to describe, because it is its own special kind of crazy. Some kids dress up and go all out, others act like it is any other day, and most fall somewhere in between, with subtle costumes or accessories that don't get in the way. Teachers fall into pretty much the same category, and those who dress up are pretty entertaining. When they are talking to you, or at the front of their room, with a crayon cap or in a lion suit, it is kind of hard to take them seriously.

I like that Halloween allows for some fall activities that generally bring kids together, and a break for the afternoon, but if it disappeared from the calendar, I wouldn't miss it. My "costume" was "a teacher who used the opportunity to wear sweats to school," which is the pretty much the extent of my participation, beyond noting that on this day we also have to be especially grateful. The highlight of my Halloweens over the years is commenting to different students- to those who are dressed up, I always ask, "Where's your costume?," while those in their street clothes get a resounding, "Nice costume." Most kids get it and laugh regardless of their "costume," many begin to explain their costumes to me, and others are completely confused. Almost like any other day in middle school, but with a lot more sugar, activities and a dance in the afternoon.

It is a very fun day, and like all of our fun days, it must be tempered with calm, to help student be mindful of their thoughts and feelings. those of others, and the choices they make, as well as being grateful for the day and all it will bring. This is the purpose behind all of our learning experiences, in and out of the classroom, as far as I'm concerned.

We stuck with our regular schedule for the first two periods of the morning, because I had booked the library for my switch class. It is tough for get time in there for writing and it was free. We met there and I gave them back their first drafts of edited writing, marked up with edits and questions and the challenge to most of them to double the length of what they already had written.

I spent the time their computers were loading giving instructions, pointers and encouragement. I knew we would be bringing both classes together for a Halloween METTA meditation after the morning break, so we didn't take the time to meditate in the library. Instead, as we got ready to write, I suggested everyone take a few deep breaths, set their focus, visualize their ability and their writing and just write.

Whether it was the quiet of Monday morning in the library, even on Halloween, the few breaths we took, or the fact that they we completely overwhelmed by the editing and drafting they saw in front of them, the next 45 minutes or so in the library were practically silent. I worked with different kids, and others came and asked me questions, but there was hardly any other chatter or noise. Everyone was focused on their writing. I was really surprised, I likely would have been on any Monday morning, but it was especially surprising on Halloween,

The two periods weren't perfect,but they were really close, and almost everyone finished a second draft. For the last two periods of the morning, we decided to include a bit of Halloween fun. Mr. Y and I decided our students are working really hard and deserve it. He brought in a movie and some candy for the kids- to get them going on the sugar early- but before we started the celebrations we did a Halloween METTA meditation for the safety, health and happiness of all the kids in Manitoba and around the country on Halloween.

As the kids came to Mr. Y's room after break, they knew they were coming to watch a movie and sat in groups and clumps, rather than filling out the rows. As we got settled both Mr. Y and I let them know they were okay with it, as long as they could sit where they were successfully and be respectful, especially during the meditation.

It didn't take much more than that to settle before we got started. Though sitting with their friends, all the players were scattered around the room. My breather and his friend, Student 2, were together, but away from, Student A and Student 1, my fidgeter, who also happened to sit together. On the other side of the room were Student B, and his buddies, including the one who usually sits on the other side of the room, but they were on the comfortable chairs, usually reserved for adults, and so I imagine that is why they didn't call attention. Whatever the reason, they were quiet throughout the 14 minutes, as was everyone else.

The room wasn't perfectly still, there were still 45 grade 7 students in a middle school on Halloween, but it was silent throughout the meditation. There were no issues or disruptions in the group, and whether that is the result of the practice we have had, their desire to get to their treats and movie, or the power of a METTA meditation, I will take it. While I did stand near Students A and 1 more often and for longer, it wasn't because they needed supervision. As I led my students through our METTA meditation today, I didn't need to manage behaviour much at all, and I noted how far we have come over the last 2 months, and how little time has actually passed since our first METTA meditation just over six weeks ago.

I circled around the large room as best I could, maneuvering among the students clumped together, sitting silently and relatively still, as I prompted their posture, the breath count and we moved into the METTA meditation, sharing our caring and compassion first inward with ourselves, then with a loved one, then the familiar stranger, the person we know, but don't, and then finally extending it outward into the world.

Today, for Halloween we extended our caring and compassion to kids, first in our school, then the city, the province, and the country, who would be out trick-or-treating, wishing for all the children, the same things we had wished for ourselves, "May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe," as they went out tonight. We went on to acknowledge all the kids who would be unable to go out, because they don't have what we have- because they don't have anyone to take them, or neighbourhoods are unsafe, or they are sick in the hospital, or physically unable- and we shared our caring and compassion with those children who do not have everything we have, again wishing for them the same things we wished for ourselves, "May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe."

As we concluded extending our caring and compassion, we moved into a minute of silent gratitude, for our relative safety and health, and the choices we can make to be happy. One track ended just as the silence began, and today I didn't worry at all, I knew everyone would be comfortable within it and they were. I took a deep breath and enjoyed the silence and then the next track began.

At this point I was sitting at the front of the room, looking over the class, taking it all in, when a student came in the door. He was from another room, collecting the non-perishables students bring as an entrance fee to the dance and activities, and despite the darkness and stillness in the room, he opened the door and was just about to announce his presence, when I gestured for him to stop and Mr. Y sshed him.

Just as in the past, my students were unaffected. They remained quiet and didn't notice him turn to leave, or me follow the boy out, tell him when to come back, and return to the room again quietly closing the door behind me. They are learning to block out the distractions life brings and retain their power. We spent a few more breaths in silence before I started to bring them back and close the meditation.

Everyone came back calmly and they were all patient and respectful as Mr. Y handed out some treats and we chose our movie. As we were doing this, I realized part of the reason Student A needed so little support today was he had fallen asleep. Everyone was moving for a few minutes before he woke up and joined the activities. When we started the movie, Students A and 1 came into my room and passed the time playing board games, together along with a few others.

It was a pretty peaceful morning considering the craziness Halloween brings, and the afternoon was uneventful, which is the best a middle school teacher can ask for, especially when Halloween falls on a Monday. Now we will see what tomorrow brings, once the sugar high wear off.


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