I am about to turn to chapter 67 in my life book and some people tell me they hate birthdays. I get it. Nobody likes getting old once they reach a certain age, but I have wonderful memories of surprise birthday parties my students threw for me every year and the lesson those kids taught me that influenced my teaching and life.
Yes, I ended up cleaning the classroom for an hour after they left, but it always amazed me how these fifth and sixth graders somehow managed to work together and pull off these 'surprises', mostly without adult help. I began to understand that these parties were almost like a test of their ability to put aside individual differences, even dislikes of each other, and organize and work together. It sounds simple, but for many, those surprise parties were a real test of problem-solving and team-work. Some of the ways they got me out of the classroom were devilish and highly organized. I remember many a time suddenly being summoned to the Principal's office and wondering what I'd done wrong only to return to my room and find dozens of balloons, desks rearranged, and my students hurling confetti at me. "SURPRISE!" What a mess! But what an accomplishment!
Was I surprised? That didn't matter. What did count was whether or not these kids could succeed, and why they were in most cases able to do so. What I learned was that they could succeed if they had a specific goal and viewed that goal as doable. I learned that if I could help children set specific goals and help them see learning is doable, they would have a better chance of succeeding so goal-setting with them became a first lesson every year, and was repeated with each new unit. In my own lesson-planning, the goals became more specific and doable.
I'm sure there were arguments and battles for leadership, but even adults have those. But somehow, every year, the cupcakes appeared, the confetti was acquired, the room got decorated or rearranged, and all without me. And every year, that 'surprise' birthday party was a special highlight of my wonderful career and even if the room was a mess, and I had to stay after to pick up thousands of pieces of stray confetti, it was worth it to see those kids working together and reaching their goal. That was the best present of all.