Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ragtag Group of Weirdos

For two years now I've had the same group of kids in homeroom and also in language arts. They were last year's seventh grade, and they are now, obviously, this year's eighth grade. That class has 11 boys and two girls, and we have been through so many ups and downs in the past year and a half that they'd be impossible to enumerate here.

They can be a real handful. They're not always the best behaved, they don't always turn their work in, they they don't always make the right choices, and, frankly, they are exhausting. But, to me, they are wonderful. They are HILARIOUS (seriously, I could write a book), they are rambunctious, they are caring, they are original. Truly, this group of kids could best be described as a ragtag group of weirdos (in the best way), and I absolutely love them dearly. Let's be honest, if there's any group of people I should be with, it's probably a ragtag group of weirdos. They're my people, and I'd do anything for them.

Last week was Catholic Schools Week, and if you talked to me at all last week (and some of you unfortunately had to), you know that my sole mission in life was to get these kids to win the spirit stick at Friday's pep rally. They had a hard job -- they had to cheer the loudest and be the most peppy while also playing volleyball against the faculty and staff.

I usually teach these kids right before and right after lunch, so from about 11:23 to 12:11 and then again from 12:44 to 1:29. The pep rally was to begin at 2 p.m. I made them do actual language arts work before lunch (God forbid they learn something), but then after lunch I let them get ready for the pep rally.

It was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me in my teaching career.

The kids asked me to turn on some music. One of my girls set up an assembly line painting faces, one boy took small groups of kids outside to spray paint hair. They were making signs, getting their game faces on. They all had matching shirts. I went around tying up shirt sleeves with string, making piles of props, and taking photos to commemorate the fun. Around 1:20 I told them we only had about 10 minutes left.

"Miss Lafferre, we really don't want to go to seventh period. Can we stay?"

"Let me ask Miss Saseen (the principal)."

Miss Saseen said they could stay, if I was willing to keep them, and I was more than willing. I was having a ball. They worked together. They came up with a game plan to walk down the hall and enter the gym. At 1:55, after a few rounds of Sandstorm (Incidentally, who knew that's what that song was called? I thought it was just called like Euro Techno Club Jam), Thunderstruck, and Eye of the Tiger, it was time. I kept watch in the hallway, making sure the other kids in the school were well on their ways into the gym, and then I opened my door.

"It's time guys!"

They walked down the hall in silence, following their game plan, and carrying the tee-shirt of one of my sweet kids who had had his ankle broken in a basketball game earlier in the week and wasn't at school. They were silent, except for this one thing they call their "Celtic chant" which goes a little something like "Ahh-ooh, ahh-ooh, ahh-ooh." It's great.

They ran into the gym screaming, then went into the locker room. They wanted to make an entrance, and I wanted them to have what they wanted.

"Miss Saseen, they want to run out of the locker room when everyone else is seated."

"I'll have the cheerleaders make a tunnel like we do for basketball."

"Perfect."

I went to the locker room door and opened it. I could hear them getting pumped up inside, so I just stood there for a minute, listening to them and smiling. I went over to them and told them I'd open the door when we were all ready and that the cheerleaders would make a tunnel.

When everyone was seated, I opened the door. They went tearing through the gym, yelling and shouting, making tons of noise. All the other kids in the gym were cheering for them.

IT. WAS. AWESOME.

But not even the most awesome thing that was to happen.

First we took our spot on the bleachers and participated in some of the cheerleaders' crowd cheers that were part of the spirit contest. They did great! Then it was time for volleyball.

They took one side of the court, and other faculty and staff members and I took the other side. Playing against my own kids man, the worst. I played the first game with the staff and then my principal waived me over.

"They need a pep talk."

So I ditched my team for the eighth grade. I picked up a sign, took my place on their sidelines, and told them to pump it up. The ones who weren't on the court at the time would run over to the bleachers and pump up the crowd, yelling and high fiving. They were playing volleyball so hard. Hearing them during time outs in a huddle was amazing. They were pumping each other up and working together, all of them. What was awesome was that the kids in the stands -- the kindergarteners through the seventh graders -- were cheering for them USING THEIR CHANT. I was like "GUYS. Do you hear them chanting your chant?!"

Very sadly, they lost to the staff by the narrowest of margins (I'm still not convinced the score was totally accurate), but even then they kept up the pep. One of my quietest kids, upon them losing the game, said to the rest of them, "We have to keep it up guys."

And then, it was time.

"The winner of the spirit contest is ...

... the eighth grade!!!"

I. DIED. There were tears in my eyes.

They were dying too. They got the actual spirit stick and were waving it around.

Everyone got dismissed and they went back down the hall, so excited. I picked up all the stuff they left behind in the gym (one of the only two times I've EVER cleaned up after them ... time number two was after school when I cleaned up the bomb fallout that was my classroom) and went back to the room to join them.

I was like Guys. GUYS. I am so proud of you.

They wanted to do a victory lap. So, of course, "VICTORY LAP AROUND THE SCHOOL!" I took it with them.

We went back to class for afternoon prayer, and then I took a couple photos of them with the spirit stick. Then it was time to go home.

The thing is, we needed this so bad. These kids needed to feel like they were looked at in a good light by the people of our school. (Some of them. Some of them love them as much as I do!) Like I said, they have been notoriously hard to handle for YEARS, and that can be exhausting. But they have changed so much, and they needed that change noticed. Every single one of those kids contributed to the win. No one sat on the bench, no one was too cool. They all gave it their all. It was validation. Winning this spirit stick meant so much. It was validation.

In fact, one of my kids, one whom you would probably think really wouldn't have cared, said to me: "I have waited nine years to touch that thing."

If I hadn't already been pretty much crying, I would have cried.

And, as only this particular story with this particular group of kids could end, when I went back to class after parking lot duty I couldn't see the spirit stick anywhere. I was like REALLY. We have lost this thing after 10 minutes.

But then I quickly realized, what I am saying. These kids are the ultimate pranksters. (Turning things upside down, putting my class raven in the bathroom, etc.) So, after looking for about 15 minutes, I finally spotted it, wedged in between a metal cabinet and the wall.

I put it in its rightly deserved place of honor, in the front of the room.

Since Friday I have reflected on the fact that this spirit stick mission was truly my whole life. Like my current happiness depended upon whether or not 13 eighth graders. won a pep rally. spirit contest. And you know what? I'm okay with that. If that is my life, then I'm okay with it. Some people might think that is small when other people are out there saving lives and winning court cases and traveling the world and caring for their own kids, and maybe it is. But it was worth something to me. And the thing is, it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with them.

I just feel super lucky to know them and to teach them. It was one of the best days of my life.

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