I have a confession to make. It’s that kind of confession that you’ve been holding on to until the last minute and then that moment arrives and you are afraid to admit things. Well here goes nothing….
When I was told in August that there would be 28 students, I was not happy. I didn’t want all of them. I didn’t even know them. If anyone would listen, I’d mention how hard 28 would be and ask how I’d fit them all, teach everyone, and stay sane this year. When people would walk by, they’d say how sorry they were for me, how unfair it was to me and the class, and how 4th grade was so lucky that they were building a new class by shuffling up the list and building new class lists.
I was jealous.
And then came number 29.
As I sit here in June, with this being at least my 100th time trying to type this while fighting back tears, I realize just how wrong I was at the beginning of the year. I was wrong in so many ways.
I was wrong because with all the hate in the world on the news, it’s with the strength of 29 voices in our conversations and research about tough issues in our world that made me look forward to coming to work every day. I proudly watched each student stand up for each other, for people they didn’t know, and stood proudly as they spoke out for those voices that weren’t being heard or defended.
I was wrong because it’s with the strength of 29 hands, that we were able to use our writing to ask for change when we realized that something needed to be done to make our world and community a better place. Each student proudly spoke up in front of parents, Mr. Mong, and anyone who would listen to them. They have found out that their voice matters.
I was wrong because it’s with the strength of 29 hearts that you collectively sought out someone who had been treated unfairly for years, raised over $145 of your own money, and put on the show of a lifetime to let David know he matters and will always have someone to call a friend.
Speaking of that show of a lifetime, for those who don’t know, my classes have taken on an identity of a class that flash mobs as a way to inspire random acts of kindness, positive atmosphere in the building, and most importantly, bring smiles to those who need it most. In a nutshell, 4 years ago, a student gave my class a random act of kindness in the form of a nice card and asked us to pay it forward. We did so by creating a small dance for a student who was devastated after breaking a prized wooden owl and presented her with a new stuffed owl puppet via a flashmob performance. You can read about that tear-jerking moment, and view the genesis of the flashmob dance #inspirechange movement here:
The following year, I looped with the same group of kids and they wanted to continue the flashmob tradition so we upped our game, added costumes that I bought, acquired custom t-shirts from a group of colleagues, and upped the difficulty of the dance, requiring us to start working on day one of school. Shortly into the school year, the boy, who started the whole thing with the random act of kindness suffered the loss of his father. Naturally, we had our next target. This time students raised their own money and I matched it to get him a nice basketball, a gift card to Game Stop, and some treats. You can read about this uplifting chain of events and watch the routine here:
The following year, the tradition continued with another heartfelt case and an even fancier routine that can be seen here:
That brings us to this year. The year of 29. I had researched a routine that was more than difficult and was stressed that I’d never find enough time to teach it, along with the core academic subjects I was accountable for.
The 29 proved me wrong.
They learned all 128 counts by December. Even the new kids that joined mid year picked up the moves quickly!
When it came time to pick a target for the gift and surprise flash mob performance, I figured that since this class was so far removed from the initial reason we started this tradition, they’d pick one of their friends.
The 29 proved me wrong again.
Not only did they seek out a boy who had been picked on, left alone, pushed aside, and treated poorly for many of his school years, they befriended him, asked if he could join our class lunch table, found out what he liked, raised over $145, and we presented him with 4 bags that included a snow cone maker, 6 bottles of flavor, straws, cones, ice cube trays, 6 packs of watermelon gum, Cherry Pepsi, Minecraft watch, towel, sunglasses, and wallet.
The look on his face was priceless when we presented the gifts. On top of it, reports from colleagues and parents were flooding my inbox about random acts of kindness that were happening just because of the culture that was created. One student repurposed trophies to give to his grandma, who battled cancer. Another student included names of students who she felt never got invited to birthday parties and made sure they were invited to hers this year. You can’t make this stuff up and I could go on and on….
Finally, it was time to spread our message to the school school and perform for an assembly. We got so into it that I enlisted a few musically inclined teacher friends to help me form a band to deconstruct the dance song, Love Never Felt So Good by Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake into a jazzy lounge version of the song with two brave boys to sing solo for the first time along with me playing piano for the first time in public since quitting at age 10. I thought there was a chance the boys would have second thoughts (me too) and we’d have to abandon the song.
Once again, they proved me wrong.
Not only did they perform with confidence, they were less nervous than I was! It was difficult fighting back the tears while playing the keys as I was bursting with pride.
You can watch the song here: Love Never Felt So Good – jazz version
and the dance here: Staged Flash Mob
When I look back at all we have done together, I have to laugh at myself for every thinking that this would be a tough year! With 29 kids like this crew, there was nothing that could have held us back. Some might think the school year is only for reading, writing, science, social studies, math, a bunch of tests, and two state assessments. I’m sure it didn’t take long for them or anyone else involved to figure out that while those things need to be done, it was more important that we learned to come together as a classroom family to learn how to take care of ourselves, others, and show the world what kindness really looks like. I’m just glad that it didn’t take me very long to figure out how this year wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of them. All 29 of them. It was so sad to send them on their way….
I’m glad I was wrong.