I’m not even a minute into my right-after-lunch sophomore class when it starts – the quiet tee-hee of laughter among a handful of students, clearly the cool kids enjoying an inside joke.
“Okay, okay, let’s go,” I say, directing attention back to my vocab warm-up on the whiteboard.
Soft snickering continues. Undaunted, I launch my introduction of the word “tenuous.”
“Tenuous, an adjective, means really thin or insubstantial. If something’s tenuous, it’s definitely in need of strengthening.” Like my hold on this class, I think.
Students write the definition, but I still hear muffled laughter. I arch my eyebrow, a classic teacher move to show I know what they’re up to and they need to knock it off. But I don’t what know what they’re doing and it’s throwing off my game.
Vocabulary wraps and it’s onto logical fallacies, part of our current work on argument writing. As I round the room handing out guided notesheets, more kids are laughing now. The infection is spreading. I covertly glance at the front of my pants. Whew, my zipper’s not down. Shoes? Toilet paper free. Okay…what is this about? Everyone’s distracted by the noisy binder snaps of transition, so I lean in to a popular but scholarly girl and whisper, “What’s going on?” But she just shakes her head “no,” silently shrugging her shoulders. Her pink cheeks tell me that she does know, but she’s not cracking.
Is there something on my face? No. Spinach in my teeth? I don’t think so. Their joke is lost on me, but I also suspect the joke is on me.
I’m ready to start the logical fallacies overview, but I just can’t. “Okay, what is going on?” I ask the class.
“Nothing, really, Ms. Randazzo,” says Anthony, self-appointed class spokesman. “It’s nothing. Just a dumb joke we told each other at lunch.” The others nod.
“It’s not about you,” a kind girl quickly adds.
“Okayyyy…then let’s pull ourselves together. Everyone take a deep breath and let it go, so we can move on,” I say.
And then four different boys in four different corners of the room start singing, “Let it gooooo, let it go-ooooo” from Frozen. My blood pressure rises. “Oh no, now let’s not start that,” I admonish with a forced smile, trying to get them back on track.
After a painfully long wait for the group to come to order, I finally begin our study of logical fallacies with a description of hasty generalizations, but the class still isn’t fully mine. Red cheeks. Watery eyes. Small bursts of giggles that physically cannot be contained.
What the hell? Is my entire class stoned? And then Roger’s phone goes off with one of those stupid meowing ring tones. “Really?” I say to him, defeat enveloping me.
“Sorry, Ms. R.,” he says, grabbing the phone from his desk. “I thought I’d turned it off.”
As Roger fumbles with his phone and I move toward his desk, the “phone” meows again, only this time I realize it’s not coming from his phone; the noise is coming from…Ethan’s hoodie. A tiny gray-and-white striped kitten emerges from the fleece and the class erupts in laughter.
I laugh, too, relieved that it wasn’t me, that I haven’t lost my mind, that my whole class isn’t baked. I’ve been upstaged for nearly 15 minutes by this itty-bitty interloper and I had no idea. I sigh with relief and ask Ethan to give me the kitten, a stray he found at the end of lunch who’s already been given the name “Lou.” Gingerly, I take Lou and hold him in the crook of my arm. I can’t help but make an example out of our incident, explaining that my own hasty generalization today was assuming that they’d all lost their minds.
I continue holding Lou and dropping puns in my lecture (Okay, let’s stop kitten around and get back to work…Yes, that’s a purrfect answer…) for a few more minutes until it’s time to walk to the computer lab for our argument research session. “Alright, everyone, we have to paws now and we’ll pick things back up here next time.”
On our way to the lab, we pass the administration office, where I’m able to deposit Ethan and his little distraction. Though it’s against school policy to bring animals to school, I didn’t want Ethan to be punished; his heart is big, even if his judgment needs some refinement.
Turns out that his family couldn’t adopt Lou because Ethan’s step-dad is allergic to cats, but one of their neighbors was willing to give Lou a furever home, just in time for Christmouse. (Okay, I’ll stop.)
Thinking over the craziness of that class period, I’ve had a few insights:
1. The Code of Silence is strong with this group. No one cracked, even while they were cracking up. I asked some of my kids why they just didn’t tell me. One girl said she wasn’t sure how I would react and she didn’t want Ethan to get in trouble. Others said they thought I’d yell at him and kick him out of class. Wow. Even after all of these months, they still don’t know me at all.
(Number of times I’ve yelled at them this year = Zero)
2. Some of them are great liars. Without skipping a beat, Anthony threw out the line about the joke and Roger led me down the ring tone path. I believed them both.
3. My priorities are definitely not their priorities. I’d built what I think is a pretty cool lesson about logical fallacies, but all it took was a few ounces of fluff to distract my students. And they loved the distraction. During our lab time later, one girl told me that this day was The Best Day she’s ever had in my class, all because of the kitten. Seriously? Multimedia lessons with pop culture references, modern articles with real-world relevancy and debates, personalized writing feedback that documents her actual growth, brain games in trio groups – are ANY of the things we’ve done worth getting excited about? Nah, none of that can compete with a cat in a hoodie. Awesome.
4. It’s a huge problem that I was so focused on getting the class through the lesson materials that I missed the elephant (or kitten) in the room. Moment of self-reflection: I need to realize what’s actually happening around me and know when it’s time to set aside the lesson plan.
5. Although incredibly frustrating in the moment, I’m laughing now as I think about Ethan and Lou. One of the reasons I love teaching is that something unexpected and usually pretty wacky happens almost every day. Some adults have jobs where they sit in cubicles and push papers day after day. Me? My days are filled with challenges, laughter, and a lot of growth – for them and me. I’ll take it.
Teach on, everyone!
Note: Student names were changed to protect the goofy.
Photo Credit: Normanack, Flickr, CC2.0.