Bees and Behavior??
This was the week that spring really arrived in Minneapolis. It was set to be a week that my 5th grade class would be as busy as bees. Yes, bees even though it was still snowing. We were scheduled for two field trips ( a no no for a group that does not handle transitions well). We had the state math test and we had not been on a regular schedule for what feels like weeks. My fears for the week were mounting.
Monday we set the stage. Tuesday the first trip was to the large Science Museum of Minnesota. There were six classes and one from a joining school. There was to much free exhibit time for students who can’t or won’t read the exhibits, and one structured class for each group. We weathered the day and most decided it was an okay trip but – I won’t go into details.
We moved directly into state math tests on Wednesday. The stress level could be cut with a knife. My students were picking fights with any one of looked at them. The test this year had been revised and was much more difficult. Teachers and students were fraying at the edges by late in the day. M was fighting with any one who got near him and almost hit me out of frustration in the after school program. When we sat and talked he finally said he was sure he had flunked the math test – ” I just could not hold all the information in my head. I was to scared.”
Thursday we left testing behind and I worked hard to establish a normal day. We were studying bees in science and would be traveling to the Bell Museum of Minnesota to take classes on pollination, the life of bees and colony collapse. We would be working with another class from a school across the city. Our classrooms were and are like night and day. ( This trip was part of a city diversity grant pairing classrooms across the city around a high interest topic to build relationships.)
My classroom is almost all students of color. Our partner class is almost all white. Most of my students live in high poverty and single parent homes or shelters. Our other class is financially well off, most live with both parents. They were bringing 4 or 5 parents to help. I was seeking any one I could free up at school to help hold behavior together.
Thursday was our last prep day. I wanted to be sure my students understood enough of the material so they could participate – ask questions, answer questions and feel confident in their knowledge. It did not start out well – they came in mouthy and “off the chain” as they would put it. We went to music class with a strong warning that they needed to show me they knew how to work with a variety of teachers if we were going to make the Friday trip. They needed to get a 3 or 4 on the behavior chart (4 being the top score). When I came to pick them up they were heads down and the little note handed me had a zero on it. They had not even made it to one. This trip was quickly being lost.
We walked upstairs. They were the quietest they have been all year. I did not talk other than to say sit in the circle and we just sat. I did not know what to say to them and they knew they had disappointed me. I know they wanted this trip – it had gone from snow to beautiful sunshine and warmth, the bees would be out and they had worked hard to learn the material. What to do??!!
I explained my disappointment, the expectations that were not met and said I might need to cancel the trip. I was not going to go and be embarrassed by their rude behavior. I was very quiet and showed them how I felt. I sent them to finish reading and answering questions about bees and I did not want any talking. The room was silent. I sent them home without an answer to if we were going or not.
When Friday dawned I knew I needed to try and take them. We gathered in the morning and boarded the bus. They kept looking at me and were nervous but excited that I was giving them another chance.
Another chance is just what they needed. I could not have been more proud of this group of students. They were polite, answered questions with hands raised, split into groups without a fight, approached the new students as friends and helped anyone they could. They tried eating dried bees, watched and could find the queen bee in the hive, they used microscopes and helped everyone focus the lens, they knew and talked about colony collapse. They worked at building friendships with students so very different and yet not different at all.
As our new friends left the museum there were hugs and exchanges of e-mail and phone numbers. They asked if we would continue to write to them as pen pals and yes we will.
I rode back to school on a bus with loud but happy students. They were a team again, proud of themselves, chatting playing hand games and asking about the jars of honey I had on the front seat of the bus.