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the cupcake

June 7, 2015 , , ,

IMG_0326I am up to my armpits in report-writing at present, and it’s the full-blown “with comments” round this time. Which is fun enough if you’ve started at the beginning of the year, but I’m scrabbling to write about students I have known for exactly 10 weeks, having started in Week 8 of Term 1 this year! Keeping things fresh and exciting, I say!

Be that as it may, there has been enough time and connection for me to write about my students and I find the 300-character limit just not enough some times…many times. That, and the careful report-writing instructions that come with each school to ensure quality control and Teflon-coated accountability, means that some of the most necessary things about students don’t get said because we have to keep things absolutely professional. And I can completely understand this, yet every teaching fibre of my being bursts to write down the words and characteristics of each student that I have the joy of seeing and working with on a daily basis but don’t seem valued enough to be able to put down in a report. Or, and I push up hard against this one, too personal. Teaching IS personal! I can’t imagine teaching WITHOUT it being a personal and connected enterprise every day!

I would like to tell my students that I notice their compassion, their honesty, and their joy. I would like to tell them that I noticed them being thoughtful to another class member they normally don’t get on with. I would like to be able to say that they have an incredibly well-developed sense of justice, even if they have no idea what the key signature of F Major is, because these characteristics are so important to develop in the young people I’m eventually going to send out into the world.

Or when I “release them into the wild”, as I love to say to my students!

But you can’t PUT these personal traits down because they are too personal…and they don’t fit into the 300-character limit. You have to talk about their intellectual development, their ability to plan and execute, their progress, and their marks. And while these are absolutely important, I’d like to know I’m sending out compassionate and authentic young adults into the world, who are going to be imaginative, resilient, and work from a place of integrity.

So I decided to read all the “un-readables” to my classes, starting with the Year 6s. All the little off-cuts, all the little personality traits that didn’t make it into the official comment section but that I loved about each of my students, I put down into a spreadsheet and took them into class. No more than 5 or 6 characteristics for each kid, but so important to me that they knew that I noticed.

I work with two Year 6 classes that (sometimes…often!) have the attention span of pubescent goldfish, but on this morning, they were silent for those first 10 minutes I went through the roll.

To the very loud kid who finds it hard to concentrate, I notice your incredible sense of justice.

To the kid who always gets full marks, I notice that you make everyone feel at ease around you, even though you’re light-years ahead in your development.

And to one sensitive little student, I said that I noticed how she took her time to let her ideas form and, when she was absolutely sure, articulated them beautifully.

“Oh, she’s too quiet!” chimed in the student next to her. “Everyone says she needs to be louder. Or more assertive, as all the teachers say.”

“But she is assertive,” I said, “She just waits for her ideas to be complete rather than sharing them halfway. And there’s nothing wrong with her being thoughtful, sensitive and quiet. She’s still able to speak her mind when she needs to. Not everyone needs to be loud to be heard, and everyone needs to practise being loud and quiet equally.”

I saw Little Miss Year 6 look up at me; one of the first times she’s looked me in the eye.

The next morning as I was frantically getting ready for Year 12s, Little Miss Year 6 appeared on the doorstep of the Senior Music Centre with a single cupcake in hand.

“Ms Kwok, this is for you!”

Me: “Thank you! I love a good dessert after breakfast! But what’s this for?”

“For letting me be me.”

So that would be the first time a cupcake has made me teary.

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