Northerner In Nashville

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 09 2011

Whoever smelt it…

When I first learned I would be teaching elementary school, my favorite memories turned to 4th grade. I had an absolutely remarkable 4th grade teacher who would go on to be a semi-finalist for my state’s teacher of the year award. I remember reading Shadow of a Bull in literature circles, being told my new favorite book was at an 8th grade level, singing along with the girls at recess to the popular songs of the era — either Spice Girls or Titanic. I remember being bullied and picked on, but for things like being really smart and wearing glasses.

My memory, however, is overall pretty foggy on many of the details. I do remember having a crush on the same boy throughout elementary school. He lived right around the corner and every so often growing up our families would have playdates with all the kids. I tried my hardest to hide that I liked him so using my skills in logic, I was mean to him and said I hated him. I’ve learned from my girls this is no longer the accepted rationale in 4th grade. Being mean to a boy is so he doesn’t think you’re easy. Duh.

One thing I have no memory of is how certain bodily functions were dealt with, especially farting. The only thing that sticks out is the phrase “Whoever smelt it, dealt it”

I began to realize this would be an issue in my classroom fairly early on. In the middle of class one day, I had a girl raising her hand, anxiously bouncing up and down in her seat. I let the kids get started on the activity and walked over to her.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I asked (at this point we weren’t really supposed to let students leave by themselves) She shook her head quickly.”Do you need a drink of water?” I inquired, now curious why she was so agitated.

“No, Ms. Astronaut. I need to go in the hall” she replied. I’d let students step out in the hallway if they needed a minute to cool down, but this girl did not seem upset.

“Why?” I asked.

Her neighbor looked at me and rolled her eyes. “Ms. Astronaut, she’s got to toot.”

I agreed to let her leave, and as she walked away I turned toward the board and laughed to myself. How ridiculous it seemed that she would get so worked up about farting in class. Little did I know it was the start of a long saga with farting.

I discovered as the year went on that she would not be the only student who would ask for a reprieve to relieve themselves in this way. Finally, each time that laughter would erupt over a noxious smell I would say “Guys, it’s not funny. It’s natural.” Some of my better behaved students have started to echo this phrase whenever a farting incident occurs.

So why am I just writing about this now?

This week, one of my students was having routine flatulence issues. He was clearly embarrassed and it seemed as though something out of the usual had to be going on in his digestive system. We were sitting in a circle on the floor to introduce a math game, in fairly close proximity to one another, when it happened again for the upteenth time that day. One girl almost always leads the charge in laughing and she was not holding back this time. I could see the boy beside looking nervous, worried, and on the verge of tears beside beside me.

So I did what I had to do. I took responsibility for his fart.

After I claimed responsibility for the smell that was quickly dispersing across the carpet, there was silence. Then the ringleader began to laugh even harder. In my most serious teacher voice, I asked her what was so funny.

“But Ms. Astronaut, I ain’t never had a teacher fart before!”

As the class erupted into laughter, I couldn’t help but smile. Even though my kiddos are in the scary discovering hormones phase, they still are fascinated to learn that their teachers are real people. You own skinny jeans? You have a family? You eat lunch when you’re not with them in the lunchroom? You like who [insert almost any popular artist here]?!?

Lesson of the year: Real people can make mistakes. Mini-lesson of the day: Real people fart.

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