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Warm Handshakes Trump Cold Names
“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” Woody Allen is famously credited with saying. While this may very well be true in show business, and even most businesses, I think it falls short in the classroom.
To learn, it helps greatly if kids show up enthused.
Think back to your own school days. I am fairly confident you had one, maybe a couple – and if you were rabbit-foot lucky, a handful – of teachers who made you happy you showed up for class. They made you feel like your veins coursed with carbonated soda bubbles.
My first-grade teacher, Miss Bauer, was one of these effervescent educators. One memorable example of what made her special: she would occasionally greet us outside Room 4’s door with a pop quiz.
And this quiz was as much fun as the recess we were coming in from.
Miss Bauer would do a rhythmic series of knocks on our open classroom door, each unique offering sounding like a mixture of Morse code and drumming. One by one, we needed to duplicate her knockity-knock-knockings to pass the quiz before we could pass in through the doorway.
As mentioned, this grandly fun entrance happened only occasionally. Which is why a teacher in the Wichita Public Schools trumps even my beloved Miss Bauer. I do not know this teacher’s name – I shall call her “Miss Bonjour” – but I have seen a viral on-line video of her ritual with her students that warms my heart.
Every morning before the start of class, Miss Bonjour greets each student – fourth-graders, I’m guessing, perhaps fifth-graders – with a handshake. Not any handshake, mind you, but an individualized welcoming for every single kid.
This is no small thing, for on the day the video was recorded 19 students lined up in the hallway waiting their turn. Also, these handshakes are far from simple. They are choreographed and rehearsed routines, some as complex as a Laker Girls halftime dance number.
There are high fives, low fives and patty-cake slaps.
There are fist bumps, elbow thumps and hopping jumps.
There are fingers touched lightly and hands clasped quickly.
Palms are slapped and backs of hands are softly whacked, sometimes in a music-making rapid sequence – slap-whack-slap-slap-whack . . .
Toes are even tapped in a fist-bump-like manner.
All of these various components are combined in singular ways. Some kids incorporate a handful of the pieces and others use the entire kit and caboodle in their signature shake.
While the students only have to memorize their own stylized greeting, Miss Bonjour has each and every one of these “handshakes” down pat – rather, pitty-pat.
A few of the good-morning “handshakes” have a hug, or even two, orchestrated into them between the various hand maneuvers and dance steps.
All the “handshakes” end with a hug – and two smiles, teacher’s and student’s.
The whole procession takes nearly a minute and half, but certainly it is not time wasted or stolen from English, Math or History. Rather, it helps ensure the kids will be enthused learners the rest of the day.
I have watched this video a dozen times, if not twice that, the past month and each viewing has made me smile anew. This week, however, it also saddened me – for why can’t the current president of the United States behave like Miss Bonjour?
Why, instead, must he make up individual disrespectful nicknames for others – such as “Low-Energy Jeb” and “Little Marco,” “Lying Ted” and “Crooked Hillary,” and the bitterly offensive “Pocahontas” for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
And, earlier this week speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, “Rocket Man.” Regardless of which country, which leader, such name-calling is below the dignity of the presidency of the United States.
I wish our president would use his little hands to be welcoming, like a role-model public school teacher in Wichita does each morning, instead of his big mouth to constantly bully.
As Miss Bauer said, and all grade-school teachers do: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Golden advice for all of us, even – no, especially – America’s current president.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
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