Recess to pieces (and the best thing I ever did as a teacher)


It’s a good thing we have children in our lives. A fresh perspective, a new generation on the rise to give us exactly what we need: a challenge. I may not have been the teacher that my peers thought I should be, but my students were the right teacher for me.

We had just come back in from recess. My second graders were fighting for some reason. They were short with one another and generally in a foul mood and this was out of character. I had a good natured class. But today child after child came to me during recess complaining about what he said or she said, what he did and what she didn’t. I wondered what kind of curse had blighted my class.

As the students settled down in their seats, I put my hands on my hips and said, “What is going on today?

Somebody shrugged. Mostly they waited for me.

Then I said, “Something is in the air. Everyone is in a bad mood.”

“I know,” #2 declared. “It’s so weird.”

A few of my second graders nodded in agreement.

“Alright since everyone seems to have something bad to say to one another, we’re going to say something good about one another.”

I have no idea where this inspirational thought came from. This was probably one of the best things I did as a teacher. But sometimes the right thought comes at the right time and thankfully I was listening.

“Okay this is what we’re going to do. We will all say something positive about everyone in the room.” My mind quickly spun out the details of the idea, “I’ll say someone’s name, and when I do, I want to see everyone’s hands go up. But be sincere. If you really can’t think of anything at the moment it is better to keep your hand down. But I do expect your hand to eventually go up. Because we can each think of something nice to say about everyone, right?”

Eager nods.

“Then everyone will have nice things said about them. Understand?”

“Yessss,” The children sat up straighter.

“Alright,” I rubbed my hands together, scanning the room for the easiest child to start off with, someone who was well-liked by both boys and girls, “#10.”

Hands shot up.

“Yes, #11.”

“I like #10 because he’s nice to everyone,” #11 giggled and played with his hands. “He’s so nice.” Then he walked over and ruffled his friend’s hair. Everyone laughed. #11 was our class comedian.
“And. . .” He started to begin one of his famous soliloquies.

“Thank you #11.” I interrupted and chose another classmate.

After a few more of these compliments warmth entered into our winter classroom. Shoulders relaxed. The children were eager to say something positive and even if someone didn’t raise their hand at first, they later put it up after they had thought of something to say. It was such a sight to see a child thinking about something positive then excitedly shooting their hand high in the air.

It was a very moving experience. I was touched by what they had to say about one another. I wish I could remember more. Although as you can imagine the most common answer was, “She’s nice.” or “He’s nice.”

It was also good to hear from some of the children who didn’t like one another struggle to explain what they did like. He always plays whatever game you want to play. She makes me laugh. I tried to keep away from materialistic stuff like he has a lot of toys. Because #8 brought a lot of toys to school for show and tell.

Then it was #6’s turn. She was the tiniest girl in class and as a result often given the role of ‘baby’ in the game of make believe house.

I picked a classmate to say something about her, I wish I could remember who exactly but this is what she said, “#6 never says anything bad about anyone.”

Those words sunk in for a long thirsty pause. I was in awe that I never consciously recognized that before, “Yes. That’s true, isn’t it? You never say anything bad about anyone.”

I looked at her curiously. A few other children spoke up in agreement. #6 looked a little embarrassed. My socks had probably been blown off at this point, most likely shot off across the room scrunched up by the bookcases. I was constantly amazed by my students – their astute observations and in their goodness and brilliance.

Yes, she never had a negative thing to say about anyone. I wondered what my first grade parent, the one who insisted that gossip was human nature, would have to say about that? Or any one of us for that matter who feel the need to slay each other, especially when we know how hard life already is, without feeling beaten down by criticism and judgment. Sure it’s not all rainbows and Hershey kisses but it is a wonder to never say anything bad about anyone and to recognize that quality in another human being.

When we finished saying something positive about every student, I smiled, “There! I feel so much better. I’m so proud of all of you.”

“But we haven’t done you yet Miss Cox.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary.”

“No, no, we have to do you too.”

“I’ll go first,” #2 volunteered, “You’re a wonderful teacher.”

I felt misty eyed, “Thank you.”


“I love you Miss Cox,” came a whisper from #3.

Then others piped up, “I love you too Miss Cox,” until they all were saying it.

“And I love all of you,” I whispered fighting the tears, losing the battle, and then walking to my desk to grab a tissue.

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