"Southwest Airlines is now boarding passengers B31-60 from Chicago Midway to Houston Hobby" crackled over the speakers in the terminal. I walked down the tunnel behind the ninety people before me, suitcase behind me, stepped into the plane and made the right turn. The realization then hit me that my choices were going to be very limited. I moved down the long walkway looking (and possibly praying) for a not-middle-seat. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t pass up those middle seats. We know this isn’t what you want to hear but that’s all that’s left.” Wonderful.
On to plan B: find a middle seat between two (preferably smaller) people. Totally doable. So, I find my seat, stow my suitcase into the overhead bin and shove my backpack into the storage under the seat. You know, the one that's not really big enough to store anything? In my seat, I strap my seat belt around my waste. As we move slowly towards the runway, the pilot announces that we have been cleared for take-off. The force of the engines smashing me back into my seat and my stomach swaps places with my small intestines as we begin to ascend. Within a few minutes, the pilot announces, barely loud enough to hear over the roar of the engines, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 10,000 feet. You may now use your..." and the horror begins. “Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!” I think to myself sarcastically, “Great! I love crying babies. Especially when they’re sitting close to me on planes.” As she continued to cry, and people around her became more and more visibly annoyed (possibly including me) I had to remind myself, “Brent, you’re a daddy too and you’ve been there. You know, with the eyes glaring at you. Every eye within earshot of your baby.” That would be umm, all of the eyes on the plane because well, you’re on a plane. And YOUR baby is screaming.
I began to think about what I could do to take her focus off of whatever it was that had her worked up. What could I do to help her calm down? As I sat across the aisle from her, those big, tear-filled brown eyes made contact with mine. So, what did I do? I waved. Lame. She continued to cry and the tears continued to flow. Strike one.
She looked to her daddy and back to me, continuing to wail. This time I waved and added a big smile. Still lame. Tears like a waterfall. Strike two.
I went back to eating my delectable pre-made airport sandwich and Fritos searching for option three. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her looking back at me again so what did I do? I looked over and put both hands over my eyes. When I slowly opened them up, I saw a big, toothy grin. Grand slam! She giggled and looked at her daddy, back to me and back at her daddy. He glanced over and saw what had made her big alligator tears stop flowing and a smile flash across her face. In an instant, the panic drained and a grin of relief came across his face. Without even opening his mouth, he said "thank you."
Why do I tell you this story? Because it reminds me of our classrooms. And, no, not because we have crying babies. Ok, maybe some of us do at times, but that's not my point. Could I have quit when my first and second attempt didn’t work to help calm her? Sure, but why? Because people nearby might think I look like an idiot playing peek-a-boo with a baby I don’t even know? Because of the frustration of failure? Seeing her sitting in daddy’s lap, giggling and playing with his hat was worth looking like a fool and the failed attempts. Sometimes, as educators, we get frustrated or feel foolish when the attempts we make fail to meet the individual needs of our students. Do we quit? No. We make adjustments and try again. And again. And again…until we find the right fit. Because every failure we experience is worth it for that light bulb moment.
I refuse to quit trying when it gets difficult. Hopefully you will too. Keep pressing on and find your “peek-a-boo" because #KidsDeserveIt.
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.