Reflections inspired by a clothespin

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One night last week, I was preparing the coffee break/breakfast invitation morning activity for Mon Cœur (MC), and I needed some clothespins.  I grabbed some from our pantry, and instantly hit rewind to my last French teaching post.

PAUSE. REWIND:  

You’re asking….Clothespins? French? What?

The clothespins have the first names of my students from all of my classes I taught while at my former school.  It was part of the first day’s set of activities.  Every student had to write his/her name on a pince-nez (literally – a nose pinch!; clothespin).  Why?  Oh I had many reasons why…it became part of the classroom entry routine.

  1. Checking in with the students feelings: Low-stress, indirect check in. Every day they came to class they’d find their pince-nez at the board, organized by class, and they would place it where they were feeling for the day, answering the question “Comment ça va?” (How are you?)– I had really happy faces and really sad faces and everything in between.  
  2. Attendance: I used the clothespins that were left over to know who was absent.
  3. Gauging students potential moods: I used the ones that were with happy faces/sad faces to gauge student attitudes for the day.  It was a conversation starter, and a sort of mood tracker for my students.
  4. Participation and pairing: I also used the clothespins of those that were present to randomly pick students to answer questions and to pair up students for conversational work.

I thought this was a pretty clever idea, and the display was always a conversation starter for administration, parents, and other visitors when they came in.  “So, what exactly is that?,” they asked.  Or, “Is that a behavior chart?!”

Missing teaching

As I grabbed the pins and began repurposing them, I thought back to all of my students, and especially those whose names I had picked.  There have been many, many, many….countless times since the short time I left the teaching profession that I have felt a longing to return to it.  

What I miss most is the relationship building with the students.  There are students from my first year of teaching that have kept in touch with me throughout their school years, into college, and now as they have embarked into the real world as adults.  I love the subjects I teach, and yet, that’s not the drive to continue teaching.  It’s the connections along the way that make the journey worthwhile.

I had the opportunity to long-term sub last year for some French classes, and that’s when I realized that I missed it so much…In just a few months, I had formed bonds with these kids and we had made impressions on each other. It felt good to be back in the classroom.

I also had the chance to try other gigs this past year, both in class and virtual teaching gigs and other jobs outside of education, that made me realize: despite all the politics, paperwork, and extra hard work that goes into teaching, it’s a labor of love and so worth it to make those connections with the students. 

Repurposing the clothespins

I decided to use the clothespins to make a literacy activity more interactive, and add a fine-motor skills element to it. I took the clothespins and a hot glue gun and affixed a label to each for this literacy activity that was a part of our ocean-themed lessons.  

I found the activity online, dans le sac de maitresse Claire. It’s a literacy/reading activity– really it is matching words together.  In France, they begin learning to recognize three different letterings beginning in preschool: uppercase, lowercase, and cursive. We focused just on the uppercase for now. Since I thought this might be a little much for MC, I color coded each of the words on the mat and each of the labels. 

As she completed the activity, we did one row at a time, focused on the first letters in the words, and I pointed out the matching colors.  Breaking the activity down for her like this definitely helped her to be successful.  

The clothespins were an added opportunity to practice fine motor skills with pinching, and as we’ve repeated this activity over the past week, she has really strengthened those finger muscles!

Today, while MC napped, I took the clothespins and hid them around the living room and kitchen – pinching them onto various objects – her straw on her cup, stuffed animals’ ears, a magazine, etc.  She had so much fun looking for them that she was ready to dive in and match once she had collected them all.  

The clothespin seek and find was a hit, as she’s asked me to hide them over and over and over again, so I will try to incorporate this in future activities for her!

It’s funny how such a mundane object can make one reflect and remember. As much as I am glad to be at home with MC to watch her learn, grow, and thrive, there are times when I am thrust back into the fondest memories of teaching, making me want to re-enter this profession…someday.

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