I am fortunate enough to teach at an amazing middle school as a sixth grade language arts teacher. We teach in teams. My partner, Heidi and I share a cohort of 65 students—The Penguins. She teaches math and social studies. This year we have two interesting groups of kids, our Green Penguin group and our Blue Penguin group. We are absolutely besotted with them all.
Our Green Penguin are the docile ones —the Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect. of the bunch. They line up quietly outside before class. With hushed voices, they enter the classroom, many with a book already in hand and begin reading, whispering when they come to a spot in the book that they want to share. We give book talks, listening intently and adding to our list of “books I want to read.” During writers workshop, we listen to inspiring music while the students write and I hold quiet conferences. Our discussions are rich and laden with academic language. It’s a beautiful thing. Nirvana, really.
And then there are the Blue Penguins. Unfortunately, I have them in my afternoon block, right after lunch when they are at their peak sweat. They pile up outside the door, kendamas in hand, completely oblivious to the bell that went off two minutes ago. They are like a giant litter of puppies, tumbling over one another, yipping and squealing.
They enter the classroom and it takes them almost five minutes to settle down. And it’s never ever quiet during readers or writers workshop. They have a lot to say, these Blue Penguins, and it is usually during a mini lesson. The plan is always that I will model a lesson, they will listen intently, I will answer questions, and then they will begin to write. Unfortunately, it never goes as planned. Their participation style is what you might expect from a Baptist church—call and response. By the end of the day, I am worn out. Can I hear a Hallelujah?
The thing is, I love these Blue Penguins and I know they love me. It’s true they are wild and wooly. They talk over me constantly. I confiscate kendamas daily. They are the “Tackys” of the Penguin world, marching and singing to the beat of their own drums. All at once. At the top of their lungs. The cacophony is deafening. But they also are positive, kind, and generous young people. They blow up Edmodo every night helping each other with homework or offering advice on their 20% projects. They are quick to compliment each other and notice if someone might be having a tough day.
Just the other day, I found this recipe card on my table, left by an anonymous Blue Penguin. I couldn’t help but smile to myself and shake my head as I read this recipe to be a good penguin. They’ve got the right ingredients—I’m just not sure about the proportions. One teaspoon of listening isn’t quite cutting it. But I’ll take the five cups of positive.