This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article published on http://www.edutopia.org.
I’m going to close my grade book now. I’m taking it to the top of a snowy hill. I’ll sit upon it and go sliding down the hill. It’s the only good use for that book, now that December is here.
Christmas is coming, and my students can’t think about schoolwork. They’re too busy wiggling in their seats. They’re tapping out Christmas carols with their toes. They’re giving each other reindeer names. They’re searching for this year’s “Santa’s Bad List” on Google.
I pass them math sheets, but they forget to fill in the answers. I ask them to open their English books, but they’d rather turn off all the classroom lights, close their eyes, and listen for far-off jingling noises. They don’t want to write their spelling words, they want to draw me a sketch of the elf they just spied out of the corner of their eye.
What is a teacher to do? I can’t compete with Christmas. I can’t deliver the fanfare the children expect. I’m just an ordinary lady, holding some chalk. I don’t have Santa’s phone number. I don’t know where I’d find three wise men toting presents. I have no manger, I don’t know any shepherd boys, and I refuse to ride a camel. I can’t measure up to a little baby in a stable, born beneath the brightest star anyone has ever seen.
So that’s that. I can’t make it happen. I don’t have what it takes. But the truth is, no teacher does. Christmas offers promises that teachers can’t keep.
It’s the children who know how to bring Christmas to the classroom. I picture it like this: they bring it in like it’s a big old pine tree. The whole class works together, they turn it on its side, and they shove it through the door. It looks like it couldn’t possibly fit, but the children know what they’re doing. If a teacher’s smart, she’ll get out of the way.
When the children bring Christmas, it arrives in its fullness. Its joy and wonder fill the room — big and beautiful — as high as the ceiling and as wide around as twenty small people linking arms. You can practically smell Christmas in the air. It’s better than anything a teacher could do.
And then something magical happens: When the teacher lets Christmas in, the children love her for it. They take her by the hand, and they show her how the holiday should be done.
They teach her how to make fancy ornaments out of nothing but a brown paper bag, a few drops of glue, and three pinches of glitter. They show her how to take an old Reader’s Digest, fold all of the pages, spray on some gold metallic paint, and – voila!- that magazine becomes a stunning Christmas angel.
They cue her when it’s time to pass out candy canes.
They steady the ladder for her and hand her the tape while she hangs a red and green paper chain that stretches the length of the school’s main hallway and flows all the way down to the principal’s office. They let her know — tactfully — to stop buying those stale wreath cookies from the gas station.
They give her a CD of a group of Chipmunks who can really sing the Christmas carols.
They tell her not to worry about checking papers right now. They say there will be plenty of time for the grade book later on. They suggest it might be fun to go sliding down a hill upon it. They take her to the hill, and they watch her go down.
They’re proud of all the things the lady has learned. They’re delighted with the Christmas they brought her. They’ve really delivered for this gal, and they know it.
They slap each other on the back, and they shake hands all around. They meet her at the bottom of the hill, they pick her up and they dust her off.
She tells them it was a fabulous ride. And then they all cheer.