Head down, she took her place in line for the first time ever, nervously turning the pink, plastic necklace around in her small, dirty hand. She slowly shuffled forward toward the jump rope, avoiding eye contact with those around her. She quietly chanted the jump rope rhyme, took the end of the rope in her hand and turned it for her classmate. Her turn would be next. As the jumper missed a jump, the shy, small girl moved toward the center of the rope and waited for her classmates to turn the rope for her. One of the louder girls then announced that it was time to play kickball. The rope was dropped to the ground and all of the jumping girls, except one, ran to follow the loud girl to the playfield. The one girl left behind, began nervously turning her pink, plastic necklace around in her small, dirty hand. She slowly shuffled toward the brick wall, avoiding eye contact with those around her. She quietly sat down against the wall and began to cry.
I stood with my head up, in the middle of the blacktop, turning the cheap whistle of power around in my mitten covered hand. I walked around the playground and blacktop and field, attempting to make eye contact with all of the children around me. The brisk, aggressive, chilling wind tried to sneak down my neck. I zipped my girl’s size 16 coat up as high as it would go and marveled at the boy who wore only a short sleeved t -shirt. I pulled the boy aside. “Where is your coat?” I asked him.
“I don’t have one.”
“Did you leave it in the classroom?"
“No, I told you. I don’t have one. My dad got laid off and my mom lives with her friend Tyler now and my grandma died so I didn’t get a coat this year. I do have a sweatshirt though. I left that in my class. Can I go get it? I’m kind of cold.”
A gaggle of 2nd grade girls ran up to me. “Are you really a recess teacher? Because, we’ve never seen you and you’re very short.”
“I’m a substitute recess teacher. “
“Well we were wondering because Emily has the same coat as you and we wondered who had the same coat as Emily because we had never seen a girl on the playground with the same coat as Emily and we were wondering if there was a new girl at school and then we were going to be her friend because she had the same coat as Emily and that was a sign that she could be in our club. But if you are really a teacher then you probably can’t be in our 'Webkinz-Jonas Brothers-iPod club' because you probably don’t have a Webkinz or an iPod or know who hot Nick from the Jonas Brothers is, do you?”
“Well, I don’t have a Webkinz but my daughter had some Beanie Babies. I do know who the Jonas Brothers are and I do have an mp3 player. So can I be in your club?”
“Ewwww!!! No way! You didn’t give the 'Cheeky Monkey Nick is so HOT!!' secret password!” And with that, they all screamed and ran into the field stopping to play somewhere just beyond an innocent childhood.
A small familiar boy ran up to me and pummeled me with desperate hug after desperate hug. “Hey teacher, hey teacher! I’m going to sing you a song. I can sing good. Can I sing good for you? Do you know the name of my song? “
“No, I don’t. What is the name of your song?”
“Well, I haven’t really named it yet, but you know I wanna sing it for you. Except, I can’t really ever sing you my song good without my guitar. I need my guitar.”
“Do you have a guitar?” I asked.
“No, that’s why I can’t sing you my song.”
“Do you have a guitar at home? Do you take lessons?”
“Nope. I don’t have a guitar anywhere. I wanted one but I got a skateboard for Christmas instead which doesn’t help me much because my mom won’t let me go to the skateboard park without an adult, but she is always working or on the computer. So I just mess around in my driveway.”
“So, do you wanna hear my song or not?” the boy impatiently asked. “I’m going to sing it for you now. So if you wanna listen to me and tell me how good I am this would be the time.”
“Ok, sing me your song. I’d love to hear it.”
“I am the wind and I am the river. I am the things that flow past me. I am the light that goes away and I am the dust that flies away. I am the thing that will never be.”
I am stunned into silence.
“Where did you hear that song?” I finally ask him. He must have heard it somewhere.
“I made it up. I live near a creek and I float bark down it and that made me write that song. Do you like it?”
What was I to do? I should have bought that boy a guitar.
I blow my whistle of power and a leaping boy in baggy pants stops and turns to face me.
“Hey, that section of the field is closed.” I yell to him. “It’s flooded and it’s not safe.”
“Yeah, I know,” the boy yelled back, “but my ball rolled down the hill into the water and I need to get it.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you get it. That part of the field is closed. You’ll have to wait until your ball is not sitting in three feet of water before you can get it.”
“But, my ball is down there!”
“Yes, I see that. We will get it when the water goes down.”
“But, my ball is down there and I need it now!”
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you go down there.”
“I hate recess teachers!!” the boy screams. “They only exist to ruin my fun!!” Then he punches his friend in the shoulder and runs off to the basketball hoops.
“Teacher, teacher! He’s chasing meeeee! And I don’t liiiike it! I think he’s sexually harassing me too!” screamed the girl wearing the Apple Bottom jeans and the boots with the fur and the shirt that said “Fitch” on the front underneath a South Pole hoodie.
“What?” he yelled incredulously. “She ASKED me to chase her! Girls! I just don’t get ‘em!”
As I roamed the playground that afternoon, I encountered smelly boys, nitpicky girls, comic book reading boys, muddy girls and all sorts of kids who needed their shoes tied. I witnessed many accidents-waiting-to-happen and many baskets that really should have gone in. I saw a little bit of crying, a little more yelling and a whole lot of laughing. I searched for 1 lost tooth in the pea gravel, bandaged 3 scraped knees and was told of 7 questionable home situations. I learned all about 2 crushes gone bad (in excruciating detail), counted a dozen children in desperate need of a coat, and talked with too many children in desperate need of some attention. I listened to more tattletales than I could have counted, became an expert in wall ball rules and was hit in the head by a hula hoop. I laughed at knock knock jokes, kept stuffed animals safe inside my coat pockets and was hugged more times in 20 minutes than the husband and I do in a month.
At the end of recess, when I blew my whistle of power, the children all stopped what they were doing and ran to their classrooms. “This is so cool!” I thought to myself. “I LOVE recess! People actually like me, I get tons of attention, and they do what I say! How could anyone NOT like recess?”
And when I made my way toward the door of the school I saw the little girl straggling ahead of me. Head down, she walked behind her classmates, nervously turning the pink, plastic necklace around in her small, dirty hand. She slowly shuffled forward toward the door, avoiding eye contact with those around her. She quietly sniffled, took the end of her sleeve and wiped her nose and eyes with it. I walked up beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me and quietly whispered, “I hate recess.”
Check This Out!
John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and founder of the charity, Room to Read is the kind of person we should all be. Read his book to find out what it is like to selflessly do more and be more than you thought you could. Find out what it is like to contribute more to society than you take from it. Learn what it takes to make a real difference in this world. If we had a world full of John Woods it would be a very different world.