A favorite memory from teaching 6th grade
The entire school was bouncing. I expected the building itself to go boing, boing, boing any time, with the amount of pre-holiday energy inside it. One of our specialists commented, “Ms. M. has the ‘too-cool-for-school’ class this year, and you have the energetic one.” She was right. My class, full of really nice kids from wonderful parents, has turned into the elementary equivalent of Animal Planet. Since tranquilizer darts are frowned upon in public schools (I’m KIDDING, I’m kidding!), I had to resort to creative drama to bring them to attention.
My class, as a whole, had been quiet exactly twice the previous day.
The questions of the day revolved around Christmas and Santa. All. Day. Long. “Is Santa real?” “How many reindeer does Santa have?” “Is Santa Claus real?” “How did all this Santa stuff start, anyway?” “Is Santa real?”
They were 6th graders, ages eleven and twelve. They were old enough to know the truth, but did they? I couldn’t take a chance on destroying someone’s innocence and having their parents hit the roof. So I gave them my stock answer: it depends on who you ask. Well, that didn’t last long.
During my graduate program, I took a class in storytelling from a professional storyteller. I relied on those skills to get the students’ attention. When they asked me how many reindeer there were, I stopped, put on my hmmm, there’s a story in here somewhere pose, and waited for quiet. Amazingly, quiet descended almost immediately.
“How many reindeer? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask Clement C. Moore, he’d have said Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen.” They were almost nodding along with me. Some were counting on their fingers. “Now of course you recall the most famous reindeer of all.”
“Rudolph!” they chimed in.
“And Rudolph makes nine. But there’s a tenth reindeer, too. Do you know her name?”
One highly gifted child knew. “Olive!!!”
Yes, Olive the other reindeer… you know, the one who “…used to laugh and call him names.”
And that was just math class.
The “Is Santa real?” question wouldn’t die. They finally cornered me during Classroom Guidance on my “It depends on who you ask” with the statement “We’re asking you.”
Thank goodness for the Internet.
I found a copy of Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, told them the story, and read them the editorial. For those few moments, they were spellbound.
That year my class left me exhausted and happy every single day. They wore me out with their energy, and they energized me with their enthusiasm. And every year around this time, I remember the way they listened and absorbed my answer to their question. This year, I’ll quote Journey and the Glee cast: Don’t stop believing.