Today is payday.
Other than I love you, are there three more glorious words in the English language?
This is so true for teachers in my school district; we get 21 paychecks each year. That’s it. We don’t get paid in July and August. Needless to say, the arrival of a paycheck is cause for my teaching partner and me to celebrate. But it’s not just the teachers on our team that get psyched on our paydays…the great thing about working with sixth graders is that they’re always up for a celebration, too.
One Friday five years ago, I brought my teaching partner her paycheck during morning homeroom. That morning Kim was particularly excited about getting paid and she broke out into an impromptu dance in front of the sixty students we share on our team. She had done something similar with her previous teaching partner.
Someone started clapping out a beat and Kim waved kids up to the front of our adjoining classrooms to dance. She didn’t get many takers, but the kids who joined in had a blast. They loved it.
I loved it too. I love it when teachers relax, put their ever-present curriculum demands aside for a moment and just get real in front of their students. Kim’s enthusiasm and ability to let go made up for anything she lacked in the dance move department. Picture Elaine dancing to “Shining Star” on Seinfeld. I joined in for a bit, but I dance worse than Kim and Elaine combined.
Two Fridays later, one of our students asked if we could do the paycheck dance again. It was like it was an official thing on our team. I scrambled to YouTube, found the old Katrina and the Waves video for “Walking on Sunshine” and cranked it up to eleven for the kids. By the end of the song, most of our students were up and out of their seats, either dancing, clapping or singing. A new team tradition was born, and like the song says, “Don’t it feel good?”
In the years since, we’ve perfected the routine. Students always get to pick the songs we play (with my approval of the lyrics), and the whole thing cannot take longer than five minutes. It’s pretty amazing – one minute our students are belting out the inane lyrics of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” song and the next I’m going over the leads they’re working on for their feature articles. As we grow together as a team, kids that were too shy to bust a move in September find themselves shuffling along in a conga line with newfound friends in November. Plus…it’s payday.
Kim announced last month that she would retire this June after thirty-two years of teaching. She only has eight paycheck dances left. I’m determined to make them great.
In this era of scripted curriculum, test prep, high anxiety and school phobia, I am so glad I work with another teacher that sees the world as I do. I also feel blessed that I work at a middle school that embraces the middle school philosophy and builds learning teams around the specific and idiosyncratic needs of 11 – 14 year-olds. It’ll never be on the test, but I think devoting a few minutes every other week to dancing and singing and laughing in our English and Science classrooms is valuable.
Our students see us as real people that enjoy their work, and perhaps most importantly, that enjoy their company. When you see joyful twelve year-olds bounce around on a Friday to the beat of the latest Walk the Moon song, begging their middle-aged teachers to “Shut Up and Dance with Me,” you can easily guess that most of them will eagerly show up on Monday morning too.
State tests are coming up next month. The end of the school year looms as we try to fit everything in. What if teachers resolved to make sure there was something in their plans for next week that allows kids to be kids and for teachers to relax a bit in their presence? Perhaps more kids would get off the bus next Friday and deliver these three words to their parents…
School was fun!