Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chaos theory

To the casual observer (who on that day happened to have been a teacher's assistant candidate, poking her head into my classroom on her interview tour of the school), the room was arranged in various gradations of barely controlled chaos.

As always, when I sense a newcomer to my room, I quickly scan the goings-on around me and try to see what kind of an impression I'm making on my guest.

What was known to our class that day as snacktime must have appeared to have been a three ring circus to Little Miss Petrified-But-Smiling-As-If-She's-Immensely-Enjoying-Herself. About a quarter of the class was sitting in varying stages of decorum, although Dena was still tipping her chair back on two legs, even after her twice-learned painful lesson from yesterday. Rikki was calmly pouring the contents of her water bottle onto the table and her neighbor's skirt (bless you, Mrs. Diamond, for only sending in mini water bottles!!), four other girls were loudly cheering in a sort of game they developed similar to a beer-drinking contest, Ahuva was attempting to fly off her chair, hummingbird-stlyle, Yael was innocently trying to stick her cucumber spear into her unsuspecting friend's right ear, Rochel's fruit cup peaches had flown everywhere, and Devorah and Chedva were running over to tell me that, wonder of woners, Chana Simcha had made her way into the potted plants again and was attempting to submerge her nose in with the radish sprouts (remind me next time that potting soil and five-year-olds do not make good companions, will you??). In fact, most of the children were either being very loud or very active or very sneaky, but besides for the lovely darling in the plants, I was not worried.

The assistant-to-be hopeful stood by the door, looking slightly overwhelmed. First taking in the entire scene of flying children, and then directing her attention to each individual commotion, I could see her gulp and almost heard her thoughts screaming, "Will my class be like this too?? This is nuts!! I can't do something like this...." The director, well familiar by now with my little brood, just smiled knowingly at me and proceeded to usher the poor girl down the hall to a (thankfully for her) much more dignified and rather dull class. I chuckled and turned back to my children.
AsI surveyed the classroom once more, I tried to picture purely what she saw: Children being very loud, leaving their seats, jumping up and down, making trouble and messes and who knows what. And to be very honest, that's exactly what was going on.

But things were really very, very different from what she perceived. Because although it seemed to any outsider like unrestrained chaos, there was in fact a very strong backbone of stability and mutual understanding in my class even at the exact moment that they looked so positively flying. I've spent a year with my children, and as a result of observing them day after day in countless situations and experiences, I've come to understand each child with a comprehension that even allows me to predict what they will do next. I know each one's needs and wants, what she will respond to, how she will cope when X happens, and I know that I have control over the classroom. I know that when I say, "Girls, guess what time it is?" they will automatically all jump up and put their garbage in the garbage can and wipe up their messes and come on to the carpet. And that's exactly what they did on that day, as they do every day. At this point of the year, I allow them to be a bit more silly than they were in the beginning, to sing a little louder and come out of their seats more and even do a little bit of harmless trouble for creativity's sake, and that's because I know them so well, and they in turn know me so well, that it's okay at this point. No, not just okay, but good for them. And good for me. Good for their development and happiness and love of school and of life...

And then, with the slowly dawning realization that sometimes creeps up on you when you're not particularly looking for it, I became conscious of the fact that I had just experienced one of the most essential life lessons without even putting my mind to it. On that day my classroom was not just a place for children to learn; it also turned out to be (to the ever-esoterically-inclined characters like myself) a small-scale model of the School where all of us learn our Lessons.

So often we observe what happens around us, and it seems to us like utter pandemonium. We see untold pain, confusion, suffering, horrific events, frightening accounts of accidents, abuse, mass destruction...and we ourselves often stumble around blindly, not understanding or knowing why or how or who or when... To the observers, there is no design, no plan that this is all following. It is simply nonsensical and irrational and in a state of acute disorder.

But things are really very, very different from what we perceive. There is a Plan. There is Someone directing all of this. This is not chaos, but rather a finely orchestrated and executed design which we find ourselves living through. He knows us so well, in fact better than we even know ourselves, understanding exactly what's good for us and what's not. And He will always make sure that we are safe and well cared for and learning in the optimum environments that we can.

And so so often, whether we find ourselves either as the student teacher observing from afar, or as a child in the class experiencing it firsthand, we will look around and say "This is nuts! I can't do this!!..." But we can. Because there is the knowledge that we can just look to the Morah and remind ourselves that she really knows what she's doing by now. That she really has everything under control. That she's doing everything in her power to ensure the best learning and growing experience for her students. That there is a security and stability even within the seemingly confusing environment.

Life can be confusing. Very, very confusing. But I've learned that I'm sent my messages at exactly the time I need to hear them. My G-d is so good to me...

I was blessed with a very productive and growth-filled year. Thank you, my precious little teachers, for helping me learn so much.....

Oh, cuties!! will be so missed...