Written by Johnie Flores, TE Instructional Coach
The first day of my first year as a teacher started off like most other first year teachers. I was excited to meet my students, nervous about whether they’d like me, and planned the entire first day to each minute. I thought my team-building activities were above average in the fun department and I couldn’t wait to share things about myself and learn all about my new students. Just as I planned, the day started off perfectly. I introduced myself with a slideshow presentation and took tons of questions from my audience. Then, we all wrote one fact about ourselves on a tiny piece of paper and stuck it in a balloon. We gathered them into the middle of the room and proceeded to pop the balloons, one by one, reading each fact and trying to guess which student the fact matched up with. It was wonderful! Students laughed, popped balloons in creative ways, and were genuinely having a great time. The next activity was our class quilt. Each student would paint a square of fabric to represent themselves and we would sew them together to metaphorically bind ourselves as a class. It started off fabulously. Until. Out of the corner of my eye….
A student raised his hand while he awkwardly held his mouth. I thought maybe he needed to use the restroom or was feeling parched from all the class discussion about family. When I finally called on him, he said, “My tooth fell out.”
“My tooth fell out” echoed in my head as silence pervaded the classroom. Everyone’s heads swiveled from the toothless student back to me, waiting for some reaction. I didn’t have one. The next 10 seconds of time didn’t move while my brain processed the situation slowly. My master plan for team building activities didn’t include a tooth falling out. As the class stared at me, I had a quick internal conversation. “What happens when a tooth falls out? When was the last time I lost a tooth? Were the fun activities so strenuous that it launched a tooth out of my student’s mouth? No one mentioned losing a tooth at beginning of school training!” My delayed response was finally, “Okay. Walk yourself to the nurse, I guess?”
I didn’t remember, in that moment, that I had to fill out a nurse’s pass. Waves of uncertainty from being caught off-guard were still rolling around in my head, washing away the idea of something as logical as a nurse’s pass. I stared at my student as he grabbed a napkin in one hand to sop up the blood in his mouth and carried his tooth in the other hand, walking out of the room. A small pool of blood on a desk and 26 pairs of tiny eyes silently waited to see how I would handle this unplanned situation. Looking at those eyes, unbearable silence snapped me back into the moment. I managed to say, “Well, that was unexpected.” The room burst into laughter and I breathed again.
What did I figure out that day? The ability to adapt in life and in the classroom is what pushes us forward and allows us to breathe again. Unexpected situations are guaranteed to happen. Hamsters will escape. Air conditioning won’t work. Teeth will fall out. What matters most is how you handle it when it’s happening. My lesson that day and the advice I would give any new teacher is neatly packaged in the words of Dory, the fish. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
What lessons have you learned in your classroom?