It was in art class.
We were painting peacock feathers to make birds to honor India whose national bird is the peacock. I had a first grade class of 20 students. They are the oldest and most independent students I teach. Using the oil pastels is like summer vacation while getting to paint is like Christmas morning. The excitement in the room is paramount. The volume in the room escalates and there is a bit of chaos. Here’s what happened.
Student 1: I need more green.
Student 2: My paper has a hole in it
Me: Get a new sheet. And squeeze the water more from your brush when you rinse.
Student 2: Where is the paper?
Me: Remember? On the table.
Student 3: Blue!
Me: Say, “May I have more blue please?”
Student 3, slowly: May I have blue please?
Me: Good. Yes.
I like to be in control of the big paint bottles for obvious reasons.
Student 1: Mr. Robert, I need green!
They do better, in general, pronouncing my name than I do saying many of theirs: Ming-Chit, Uk-Ho, Sacchit, Ifath, Raaghav.
Me: It’s Mrs. Roberts. Yes, yes. I’m coming.
Student 4 points to someone: He said I’m doing it wrong.
I hurriedly glance at the paper. Me: No, you’re doing just fine. Keep going.
I hear lots of water and notice the sinks aren’t being turned off.
Me: Students, turn off the water when you finish.
Student 5: Miss Robin, I need paper.
Me: Get one off the table.
Student 5: No, this paper.
She points to the paper towel dispenser.
Me: Oh, looks like we’re out. Go in the bathroom.
Several students hurry to the bathroom and I hear lots of noise in there.
I call out: Hey, not a good idea. Let’s not use the bathroom to rinse brushes.
They all exit.
Me: Use your fingers to squeeze the water from your brush.
Student 5: But my fingers will get wet.
I think: Strange. The students love to play in the water.
I smile: Your fingers are already wet. They’ll dry. Shake them.
Student 5: Okay.
Student 6 touches my leg: More blue.
Me: Ask correctly.
Student 6 speaks so slowly and quietly I must slow down: May I have more blue?
I beam with joy as it’s the first time this student has said a whole sentence. I hug her shoulders: Awesome use of your English!
Others: I need more green. We need purple.
I pick up speed again and am hurrying to a table with a bowl of green paint. My foot suddenly catches on the leg of a chair, yet I am moving too quickly to stop. I fall forward, bang my face on a chair and crash onto the floor.
The room becomes silent. Three thoughts come to mind: Am I okay? I hope they don’t laugh. Where is the green paint?
There is no laughter for which I feel immense gratitude. It would have been hard to be kind if they had roared with laughter.
Instead I hear two or three sweet voices: Are you okay Mrs Roberts?
Good question. My face hurts, but by golly, this middle aged lady is okay. In fact, I feel a bit humored.
I also feel an immediate need to reassure them that, though I am on the floor potentially covered in paint, I am still in control of the class. Loudly, I say: That did not feel good, but I am okay.
I pick up the bowl and look inside. The green paint has sloshed up the side. Is it all here? If not, where did it go?
I stand up and find my glasses on a table.
Me: Does anyone have paint on them? Do I?
Two kids walk around me. One says: Yes, right here!
I look on the back side of my pants and there’s a tad bit, hardly noticeable.
Me: Does anyone else have paint on them?
No one answers yes.
I look around the class. Most are still looking at me, but some are painting away as though nothing is amiss.
I smile broadly: Thank you so much for being caring.
And we return to painting peacock feathers to honor our Indian students whose national bird is a splendid bird.