Powerful Lessons…from a Cupcake?

I’m sure it’s happened to all teachers at some point in time.  A complicated math lesson is underway.  You are about to illuminate a class full of light bulbs as you bridge from the concrete manipulative examples to the more abstract algorithm.  Right before you put the finishing touches on the problem and you’re about to flip that switch of deeper understanding, there is the knock on the door.  All eyes shift from your wonderfully crafted Smartboard examples to the door as another knock echoes through the now restless room.  As the door slowly opens, you see two kids, whom you barely recognize only in passing: one holding an armload of cupcakes and the other wearing a birthday crown.

“Do you want a cupcake??” They eagerly call out over the noise of shuffling papers and light chatting.

Instead of shouting how you really feel about them so rudely interrupting and causing the lesson to short circuit, you politely decide to take the high road and say, “No, thanks! I’m on a diet.  But have a happy birthday anyway.”  That way you can feel better about yourself as you scramble to shoo them out the door in attempt to plug the learning back in after the interruption.   You are so busy redirecting all eyes back to the Smartboard that you don’t notice the disappointed looks of the birthday boy and his helper as they close the door and move down the hall to the next teacher.

When I started teaching, this always seemed to happen, and I always responded the same way.  It was a mere five or so years ago when I complained to a veteran colleague about the very situation to which she replied, “Just take the cupcake.”  There was no more explanation needed.  The look on her face and the pace of her words said it all.

Perhaps there was a higher road.

Ever since that complaint and 14 years into my teaching career, I’ve come to realize that this cupcake situation has actually turned on my own light bulb to how much power a cupcake can have, and to be honest, it happened mostly with unintended but pleasant results.  While I still get SLIGHTLY annoyed by inopportune distractions, I now take a cupcake, and now notice the joy it brings to the face of the birthday child.

But that’s not all.  I know there is a higher road….one that involves a greater lesson than math.

In days, weeks and months after I made the decision to just take a cupcake, when presented with another interruption, I made it a point to say, “I’ll take the UGLIEST cupcake you have.”  This would get me some strange looks and furrowed eyebrows most of the time.  I would just simply explain that it tastes just as good as the others.   Each subsequent birthday visitor would get an evolved response.  I would say things like, “I’m sure that cupcake is good on the inside despite its looks, just like people.” or “That cupcake sure looks lonely and I’m sure it deserves to be enjoyed as much as it’s nicer looking friends.” or “I’ll take that ugly cupcake because it’s not its fault it has flaws.  Its strength is on the inside.” More funny looks ensued but behind my back, a bunch of light bulbs were turning on without me realizing it. Unintentionally.

Nowadays, when cupcakes are passed around, I often hear similar comments from my students about which cupcakes they want.  Instead of fighting over the pretty ones, there are comments about the sad looking cupcakes and how they need love too.  While this is nice to hear, the payoff is what I hear about while discussing the following books:

“Ruby deserves to have a friend.  Her mother may be in jail but she has a good heart on the inside.”

-Ruby on the Outside

Carmen may have been poor and dressed in rags but she taught important lessons to Esperanza about caring for others.”

-Esperanza Rising

“Ally has a disability but deep down she has a lot of good going on for her.”

-Fish in a Tree

Then there is the interaction amongst my students.  While they have their moments of insensitivity, and that’s to be expected once in a while at the 5th grade level, I’ve noticed that more students are making an effort to include those who have lower self-esteem or are very introverted.   In fact, as our class has been on a mission to #spreadkindness and #inspirechange in others in our school, a recent note card was put into a student’s locker from our own class by a classmate than simply said, “You have a lot of smarts and are a good person inside.”

Could this all be a result of the power of a cupcake?  I don’t know for sure but there is one thing I’m sure I want:  Keep ‘em coming!  We have more powerful lessons to learn.