This past weekend I did something I haven’t done in a long time – a jigsaw puzzle. It was a rainy Saturday, and my son and I were ready for a change. With enthusiasm, we got out the box and dumped 750 small cardboard pieces all over the dining room table. As I began sifting through the pieces, a sense of dread began to rise in my stomach. All the pieces looked the same. They were all a bluish greenish brownish whatever. I’m never getting my table back. I hid my dismay from my son, and feigned enthusiasm. “Here’s another edge piece!” “Here’s another piece with some rainbow!” “This might be part of a teepee?” I said cheerfully, sorting the mystery pieces. For at least 30 minutes. And then, after a while, a long while of studying and sorting, suddenly the pieces started to look different. Some were a grainy blue, and some were a striated blue. Some were a little green. Some were light green and some were actually yellow. My confidence grew, but as we got to that point where you have single-piece puzzle-sized holes, I couldn’t find that one piece. I knew what it had to look like, I knew its shape, but I couldn’t find it. Then it occurred to me, what if it actually looks different than what I expect? With new eyes and open expectations, I sifted through the box again. Maybe this one? Yes. How unexpected!
At that moment I realized that our students are like these puzzle pieces. They come to us, grouped by grade, dressed in khaki, blue, and yellow, wearing their trendy sneakers, and raising their hands to answer our questions. But they need to be studied. Each one needs to be poured over, and turned on our mental palm. What do they bring from their family? What makes them worry? What makes them excited? What will they remember when their 41? And when you have that one student that is acting out, not listening, breaking a pencil, staring out a window – take a fresh look. Maybe they aren’t what you were expecting, but they still fit. They still have a place.
I still haven’t recovered the use of my table. Our jigsaw puzzle, and my classroom puzzle, are both going to take time.
Learner, Thinker, Writer, and Puzzler: Becky Maas serves Trinity School as the 5th Grade science teacher. You can follow the wonderful myriad of students that attend her science class on Twitter @science4fifth.