Third and Nine To Go … How I Learned More Than My Third Grade Students

For Amy and Deborah and anyone else who was there.

Third and Nine to Go …
How I Learned More Than My Third Grade Students

I fired math questions at them first thing in the morning while strolling around the room, writing problems on blackboards at the front and back of the room.

I walked  between the aisles looking into their eyes to see if they were paying attention.  If any kid had that dazed look on their face I pestered them with questions until they were awake and alert.

I gave them the freedom to cut up National Geographic, Sports Illustrated Life and whatever other magazines I could find, paste the pictures together in any sequence they chose (You could find school paste everywhere; on the floor, their desks, their fingers and faces, their hair and of course, in their mouths. A lot of kids out there are addicted to white school paste) then, make up stories to go with the pictures.

If they finished their work before nine thirty, they could get a book and read.  Or, they could work on their stories before going out to recess.

You should have seen the excited looks on their faces when they realized they could work on those stories for fifteen or twenty minutes before recess.

Every day after lunch I read them books like Huckleberry Finn, the Wind In the Willows, a couple of the “Catfish Bend” stories and other stories every kid should be familiar with.

Third and Nine; The Rise And Fall Of Civilization

One day I watched my third grade graders play from behind glass windows running the length of my classroom.

Before recess was even half over several boys had built a snowman.

Afterward, searching for something to do, they pelted the girls with snowballs.

The girls screamed and ran away delighted by the sudden attention.

One girl fell face first into the snow.

I heard peals of laughter from the boys who pointed at her cackling loudly.

Snow covered her face.  A moist black hole appeared where she spit the snow away.  Her eyes appeared through two black dots at the top of her face.

Briefly, she appeared as a live snow-girl.

One boy rolled in the snow laughing.

The girls stood off to the side, mittens covering their mouths hiding their smiles.

With little time left before the bell, I watched four boys demolish the snowman.

After watching the dramas unfold it seemed a couple of life’s secrets were revealed.

Within 15 minutes I had witnessed a model for thousands years of warfare; construction, destruction, the death of innocents. Even the symbolism of rape.

“Maybe warfare is part of who we are,” I thought. “Will we ever rise above it?” I wondered, moving my head side to side.

Then I thought, maybe by the end of the year, I’ll learn more about life from my students than they will learn, from me.

Or at least it’ll be an equal exchange.


Third and Nine … The Rise And Fall Of Civilization


I watched them at recess one day from  behind the glass windows that ran the length of the classroom.  …..

Several boys worked together to build a snowman. They built it so quickly! Recess was only half over when they finished.


Once finished they grew disinterested.  They didn’t know what to do but, once a couple of the boys started throwing snowballs at the girls, they all joined in.


The girls screamed and ran away delighted at the sudden attention being paid to them.


A few snowballs found their targets, exploding in the middle of their backs.


One girl tripped and fell, her face imbedded in the snow.  I heard peals of laughter vibrate through the double pane glass.


Snow covered the girl’s face.  Then a moist black hole appeared where she spit the snow away while at the same time, two black dots at the top of her face … her eyes … appeared.


The boys pointed at her laughing.  The girls stood off to the side, mittens in their mouths to hide their smiles .. maybe control their laughter.


One boy fell down rolling around in the snow laughing.


It looked like a live snowgirl had been created with living black coal for her eyes and mouth.


With what little time that was left before the bell rang, I watched four boys attack and destroy the snowman they had built earlier.


How interesting,  I thought.  It seemed that in fifteen minutes, I had witnessed a model for tens of thousands years of warfare; construction, destruction, the death of innocents and even the symbolism of rape.


I thought to myself, “Maybe warfare is a part of who we are.  When will it ever end?”

I shook my head from side to side.


Then I decided another great secret had been revealed.  I realized that perhaps by the end of the school year, I would learn more about life from my students than they would from me.

Or at least it would be an equal exchange.

Third and Nine To Go .. How I Learned More Than My Students When I Was A Third Grade Teacher

robert_kerr_schoolI never would have imagined I’d  be a third grade teacher at the same elementary school I attended as a kid, until one day toward the end of summer after I graduated, I heard there was an opening at the school for a third grade teacher.


I figured why not?  I wasn’t working and my B.S. degree had to be worth something, didn’t it?


How strange it felt being interviewing by the same principal who gave me permission to bring a live raccoon to school way back in fifth grade.


What was even stranger was, finding myself in the teacher’s lounge eating Weight Watchers salad with my fourth, fifth and sixth grade teachers.


 I was taken aback by the innocent beauty of those thirty pairs of eight year old eyes looking at me with complete adoration my first day in the classroom.


 I figured my students must have thought I was more like one of them compared to the other teachers, most of whom were matronly one room country school house teachers who came in from from the surrounding countryside to teach at the new school.


Not being an Education Major, I gave my students what little I knew about teaching.  I taught by example. But I had great examples growing up.


All of those elementary school teachers I had lunch with, taught grades K-6 every day in those one room school houses.


So, I grew up being taught by master teachers.

continued …

 P.S. By the way that picture is the school I taught at!  Robert Kerr Elementary School … fancy that … . ks

Purple Words

the tapestry became  more complex and beautiful as sun’s light arched higher and higher … continued … 


 … returning to


i had them

 walk in silence …


ponder their



thoughts and

sensations …



with pencils,

brown school paper and their


i watched them


write …


their words formed   




some the color of 

rubies or

emeralds …


vibrated with 





quiet emotion


restless …

anxious to please

listing every 

impression … !


one piece stood out

from the 

rest …   

written in purple ink

by the

shiest girl in class


ten line poem 


the essence 

of the entire 

journey … 


at the end of the



looked back on our


with a 


of thought  

never experienced

 before …  


later that night 

… while having dinner with my 

Dad …

i was told 


people in town

had seen



… my students quietly trailing behind …  


a couple of people said 


reminded them of


pied piper …

Purple Words

After a while they began to/glimpse the world between the/lines … pointing to things I/would never have/noticed … continued …

images-6 Five blocks from 

school at a 

red and yellow 

blinking light


crossed over the 



continued walking

two blocks


to a 

Dairy Queen

where i bought each of them

chocolate or vanilla 

cone … 


We ate our cones sitting

under a 


oak …  


Leaned against the 

tree I marveled at the 

sweet innocence of my 

eight year old 

students … 


At the right moment 


spoke of the unique


sounds and 



experienced along our 

seven block 

journey … 


i asked them to 


what they 

saw, felt and 

heard … 


Once they began sharing


their thoughts





bright streams of 

light … 


And so …..

watched and 

listened as a 


born from winter into spring 



budding leaves

dappling their 


with ever changing 

patterns of 


while they spoke of  


taken from separate 

worlds … 

and …

their thoughts were 



bright …

and …

sunlight streaming through

the leaves  

knitted their words and 


into a


and …

as the 

sun rose


details of their 


grew …

and …

the tapestry became  more 

complex and


as sun’s light


higher and 

higher …

continued …