There is an object lesson that I do on the very first day of the school year. The students come through the door, I greet them, and show them the room. Then, we meet at the carpet, where we will meet every morning for the rest of the year. This carpet is where we do sharing and community circle. It is where we truly get to know each other and where we can laugh together as we tell silly stories about our weekends, pets, experiences..etc. On the very first day of school though, I start this carpet time with an object lesson.
I show them a heart cut out of construction paper. There is not a single crease or line on this heart. As I hold up this perfectly smooth heart, I tell the story of how I first learned I was hearing impaired. As a 5 year old, I was excited to be able to wear hearing aids and to have something that made me unique and special.
I continue to tell them about the comments kids said and experiences that I had that tarnished my innocent and care-free spirit. Each time I tell the students about one of those experiences, I crumple up the paper heart.
I then go on to tell them about how when I met my husband, he showed me again how my hearing loss can be beautiful. He reminded me that I should feel proud of the things I’ve been able to accomplish and who I have become. He constantly reassured me that people wouldn’t think less of me if they knew, rather they’d be impressed with my story. I slowly started to wear my hair up again and to try not to hide my ears. I stopped smiling and nodding when I didn’t hear what people said, and instead asked them to repeat themselves.
As I tell this part of the story, I flatten and smooth out the paper heart.
Then, I hold it up and ask the class if the heart is as good as new. But of course, it still has lines and creases from being crumpled. The words of my peers scarred me, and even though I’ve moved forward and have grown in confidence, I still have that insecurity in the back of my mind. Those words aren’t erased. I still feel vulnerable when I’m in crowds of new people and my hearing aids are exposed. Will people think I am incapable? Handicapped? Will they not what to talk to me?
I also remind the students that the kids that said those mean things to me growing up, were most likely not even trying to be mean. Maybe they were trying to silly, or to fit it, but nonetheless the words had an effect. We can’t take back the things we say.
This crumpled paper heart stays up on our white board all year, as a reminder to think before we speak. When is humor cruel? Is what we are saying necessary and kind? What effect will our words and jokes have?
On the flip side, we also take it as a reminder that even when words hurt us, we have choices in how we choose to look at ourselves. We can be proud of our differences and walk confidence in what makes us unique.
You can watch a video on my Facebook page with all the details of this personal story and how I use it to establish a safe environment for my students, by being real and vulnerable with them on the first day. It is the Facebook Live video entitled, “Creating a Safe Classroom Environment from Day 1”.
“Make a classroom a home. Excite and engage. Love and accept. Be silly, but real. Be so fun, your student even realize they’re learning.” -Teachlikeyoumeanit