Frog and Toad: A Lesson
(Editor’s Note: Originally published in Laura’s blog, JumpingRopeWithBuddha; Spiritual adventures in a first grade classroom.)
The day the children betrayed me we were rehearsing a Readers’ Theater Frog and Toad piece called “The Kite”. Every spring in Room 7, we make it a point to fall in love with these two storybook characters. Toad is grumpy and neurotic. Frog is happy and grounded. They are very good friends.
In The Kite, Frog and Toad decide to fly a kite but are having trouble getting it off the ground. Toad wants to give up but Frog relentlessly encourages him until he succeeds. Some taunting sparrows mocking Toad provide some villainous comic relief.
I had split the students up into four theatre groups and they had time to rehearse independently before rehearsing in front of the class. As you might imagine, some groups take their job more seriously than others and the ones who don’t begin to irritate the teacher.
Such was the case 15 minutes before recess.
I had left the green group for last in hopes that they would be inspired to get their act together by watching the others. The red group had just pulled off a flawless performance. They were on cue, lively, and reading fluently. I was pleased and generous with my praise.
Then came the green group’s turn. The narrators spoke in whispers, the sparrows were boring and disjointed, and Toad was a space cadet. Frog would speak her lines and then take it upon herself to scold the rest of the cast. It was a mess.
As I watched, my frustration grew. My mind grew stormy as I began to plot my response.
I have spent all this time making learning fun, and they obviously don’t appreciate my efforts. They were just fooling around and here is my opportunity to shame them..Maybe I’ll even take away their recess (insert evil laugh).
I was mad and waited patiently for the moment of attack.
As they finished, I realized that I would not have the first word. We have the custom of giving stars (compliments) to the budding actors, pointing out the positive points of their performance. I don’t get to speak until the end. Damn.
But then I brightened as a dark thought took form: No worries. The children will do it for me. All the more powerful. We all watched the same debacle. They will not be able to hide their displeasure.
Dulce commented first: “I give the sparrows a star because no one forgot when they are supposed to talk.”
Geez, always a Pollyanna in every group. How annoying.
Juan went next: “I give Frog a star because she was trying to help everyone know what to do.”
Whatever. I guess you could look at bossiness that way.
“I give the narrators a star because they read so fluently.”
“I give Toad a star because he was trying hard to solve the problem.”
Who are these people?
The little traitors went on and on, relentlessly finding the positive in the situation, using words that I had taught them to twist the the darkness into light. The worst part was that they were right. Every compliment they so generously gave was true.
By the time they were finished I knew I was utterly defeated. They looked at me innocently. It was my turn to speak.
“Good job,” I managed weakly, “Looks like it’s time for recess.”
This month I begin with the first paramita: Generosity.
What is generosity? How does it manifest? What is it really good for anyway? When do i feel generous and, perhaps more importantly, when don’t I?
A Definition: The essence of this paramita is unconditional love, a boundless openness of heart and mind…From the very depths of our heart, we practice generously offering our love, compassion, time, energy, and resources to serve the highest welfare of all beings.
So what do we offer as teachers? At our best; our time, attention, energy, and resources in order to create the best possible learning environment. But most importantly, we offer love.
When my son was born, it became very clear to me that every child who steps into my classroom belongs to someone who is entrusting me to love them and provide for their happiness. As a parent and as a teacher I want kindness and joy. Every day. First priority.
Sounds good, right? But here’s the challenge for me…A Bodhisattva is not concerned as to whether the recipient truly thanks or appreciates his/her help because he/she does not expect any kind of reward in return. A Bodhisattva makes no distinction between one being and another in giving. He/she is interested only in the good act.
Oh snap. No distinction? No expectation of appreciation?
Lets face it. Children can be annoying. Some more than others. They pull at your attention all day long. They inconvenience you with their constant stream of emotions. They get distracted and cranky and want, want, want. Worst of all, they have their own agendas which don’t always coincide with mine.
It’s easy to generously give my best to the children who validate my efforts. The students who are happy, eager to please me, and do well to make me feel appreciated, respected, and clever. I give and I get. It’s a win-win situation.
But what about when they whine? When they don’t try their best? When they don’t listen? ‘Cause at those times I don’t feel like they “deserve” my joy and kindness.
But I think generosity means I get to be kind anyway. That’s the practice. When someone’s at their worst or I’m not seeing the immediate fruits of my labor, I still have the opportunity to be at my best. Or at least abstain from my worst.
Luckily, that day with Frog and Toad, the children in the audience were at their best and blocked my worst. Yes, I need to give guidance and redirection and discipline but I don’t get to be mean. And when I’m feeling mean, I probably will be mean so it’s best to just keep my mouth shut. And maybe if I keep my mouth shut long enough, my mind will clear and I’ll see a different perspective.
So there it is. My dharma advice to myself for the week is this: Do your best to offer joy and kindness to all situations and, at the very least…When you feel mean, keep your mouth shut.
Laura is first and foremost the mother of her own kind warrior who continually amazes her with his insight, sweet heart and curious mind. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Psychology in 1995 and from University of California, Berkeley, with a MA in Education in 1999. The Developmental Teaching Program which she attended at UCB focused on constructivist theory. It was there she realized that teaching in a way which respects a child's natural intelligence and development could be a radical act. She has been a bilingual teacher for the last 14 years and is a staunch supporter of bilingual education and immigrant rights. She currently teaches in East Oakland at Bridges Academy at Melrose, a school whose beauty is not readily evident in its physical landscape but in the strength, warmth, and intelligence of its community. Laura is continually growing and learning alongside her students. She is spending this year contemplating the six enlightened actions: generosity, discipline, joyful effort, patience, mediation, and wisdom and is writing about how she sees them manifest in the classroom.