Lessons Learned in the Fifth Grade: How the Word ‘Good’ Became Chili-Peppers

Fifth grade was a difficult year for me as a student.  I struggled with social issues, academic difficulties, and much more.  I don’t remember having much fun when I was in the fifth grade because of all of the other stuff that I was dealing with at the time.  While I’m sure my teacher did her best to create a positive learning environment for me and my peers, I just can’t recall any specific memories from that year in school.  The brain, sadly, is really good at focusing on the negative and washing away the positive, as we are wired to survive in the wild and always be prepared for worst-case scenarios.  This does make remembering the wonderful things that happen to us much more difficult, but not impossible.  We simply need to be more mindful and cognizant of how our brain interprets the world so that we can celebrate the many amazing things that happen in our lives on a daily basis.

As a fifth grade teacher, I make it a daily goal to bring joy and happiness into my classroom.  I celebrate the big and little victories with my students.  I work to form strong bonds and relationships with my students so that they know they have an advocate and mentor who cares about them.  I laugh at myself and point out my mistakes on a regular basis in the classroom, to help the students see that no one is infallible.  I play fun music to begin each morning as the students enter the classroom.  I embrace the silly to remind my students that age is just a number.  I wear a teaching cape to help the students see that its not a me versus them situation in the classroom; we are a classroom community working together towards common goals of growth, failure, learning, compassion, kindness, and fun.  I strive to make my classroom a safe and positive place for my students, so that no matter what they may be dealing with outside of the confines of our classroom, they are able to experience happiness and fun while at school.

Throughout my journey teaching fifth grade this year, I’ve often wondered who is having more fun and learning more, me or my students?  I walk out of my classroom every day with a huge smile on my face and memories of wonderful experiences dancing in my head like clumsy ballerinas.  This week has been an especially educational and fun week for me, as I’m learning to be much more mindful and present in each and every moment.  You see, at the start of the school year, I made the mistake of creating a short list of outlaw words.  I thought that I was doing the students a favor by helping to point out the value in utilizing precise language.  Well, that would be all good and dandy, if I could do the same.  It turns out that the word ‘good’ is ingrained within my language centers like a horrible tattoo professing love to someone who is no longer in your life.  I say ‘good’ morning to people, I notice ‘good’ behavior, and I often answer questions about my health status as ‘good.’  Now, as I work hard to be a role model for my students, I’ve been trying to rid myself of this wretched word since September.  Do you know how hard it is to stop using such a common word?  It’s wicked hard.  However, with the help of my students, reminding me, in mostly silly and appropriate ways, when I say the g-word, I’m learning to eliminate broad and imprecise words from my vocabulary.  It’s no easy task, but I’m working on it, one day at a time.

Yesterday, was an especially difficult day for me and the g-word.  It seemed like I used it in almost every sentence as I wrapped up our day together.  “It’s good to work hard and be aware of expectations.  Good work today, girls and boys.”  I couldn’t seem to escape the atrocious g-word.  It haunted me like those MC Hammer pants I wore in middle school.  Were they ever really cool?  My students kept raising their hands or making gestures to point out when I used that outlawed word.  It was quite hilarious in fact.  It got to the point where I had to create a substitute word on the fly for the g-word.  Quick thinking lead me to choose the word ‘chili-peppers.’  What was I thinking about in the moment, you are probably asking yourself right now.  I wish I had an answer for you.  For some bizarre reason, chili-peppers popped into my head.  It’s strange really, I don’t like chili-peppers or spicy food in general, and I certainly can’t stand the music of  the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I’m not exactly sure how I came up with that replacement word, but I did.  I introduced it to the students yesterday and explained how that would be my substitute for the g-word as I worked to purge it from my vocabulary.  This morning, as I was about to utter the g-word aloud, I remembered my new word.  “Chili-peppers morning to you all,” I said.  The students laughed, I think, because, for a moment, they had forgotten what I had mentioned yesterday.  So, for the rest of the day, whenever I said the g-word or was about to say it, I subbed in ‘chili-peppers.’  It made for a fun day of laughter in the fifth grade classroom.

This whole experience was just what I needed to be more mindful and focused on the words erupting from my mouth on a daily basis.  I explained this issue to my students this morning, “Because I get so excited while teaching, my brain is usually 2-3 sentences ahead of my voice.  Having you keep me focused on not saying a particular word is forcing me to slow my thought processes down and really think about every word I’m saying.”  I love that I have the opportunity to grow and learn on a daily basis.  It’s amazing.  However, my highlight of the day came during the final few minutes of our Closing Meeting.  A student raised his hand to share, and said, “Starting tomorrow, when one of the other students asks you how you are doing, just say ‘chili-peppers.'”  The class burst out in laughter.  It was perfect.  We are embracing the silliness as a way of growing, having fun, and making positive memories.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  So, on that note, I wish you all a chili-peppers day.