One morning, not long ago, Miss Johnson posed a question to her first grade class. “Class, why are we not having as much fun at recess as we used to have?”
Sally raised her hand. “It’s because we have bullies, and kids that don’t share, and meanies in our playground.”
“We don’t allow that kind of behavior in our classroom, why do we have it in the playground? Is it because I’m not outside with you,” asked Miss Johnson. The class all agreed that some kids acted up when Miss Johnson was not there to supervise.
“I’ve got an idea, why don’t we elect a teacher’s helper who can act in my place during recess when I can’t be with you. Do you like this idea? Okay, we’ll have our election tomorrow. Think about who you would like as my helper and be ready to vote.”
Miss Johnson was so proud of the energy the kids put into this their first taste of the democratic process. Without any controversy the class elected Tommy as their new teacher’s helper and playground supervisor.
She had Tommy come up to the front of the class where she presented him with a shinny new referee’s whistle on a black cord necklace.
“Now children when Tommy blows this whistle you must remember that he is acting for me and you must do as he says, just as if I were there. Does everybody understand and agree to have more fun at recess?”
“Yes,” the class yelled enthusiastically
Things immediately got better and the kids were all having more fun at recess. No one was bullying other kids, everyone shared the swings, and the four-square competition was conflict free. Tommy enjoyed his little bit of power and often went days without having to blow his whistle.
Miss Johnson was even prouder of the way the kids behaved and how they took to her teacher’s helper idea.
A couple of months later Billy asked to talk privately with Miss Johnson. “The playground isn’t fun any more; Tommy is pushing everybody around and is blowing his whistle just to make noise. And besides that, he is saying bad things about you,” Billy nervously whispered.
The following day Miss Johnson announced to her class. “Let’s have a discussion about this whole teacher’s helper thing this afternoon after class. Those of you that want to stay and discuss this please stay for a few minutes after the bell rings. Those of you that aren’t interested or have other commitments are free to go home at your regular time.”
About half of the class stayed late that afternoon. Miss Johnson thought it interesting that Tommy didn’t stay for the discussion. The kids all had stories about Tommy’s abuse of power and his incessant whistle blowing. The general consensus was that nobody in the room wanted to go out for recess anymore because it just wasn’t any fun. Miss Johnson realized that she had to do something fast. The situation was even worse that it was before she came up with her teacher’s helper idea.
The children thought having a teacher’s helper was a good thing but they had elected the wrong person. “Lets give someone else a chance to be the teacher’s helper and see how thing go,” said Miss Johnson. The class was enthusiastic and began shouting out names of good candidates. With a show of hands the kids all thought that Mary would make a great teacher’s helper.
“Done, tomorrow we’ll tell the rest of the class about our decision and Mary will assume her new position as the teacher’s helper.”
The next morning Miss Johnson recapped the previous night’s discussion and the election results. No one said anything but she could tell by their expressions that everyone wasn’t happy with the outcome of last night’s meeting. She would just have to wait for recess and see how things went.
The kids filed out for recess and immediately formed into two groups; one was those that stayed late last night and elected Mary and the other was those that didn’t stay and stood by Tommy.Mary demanded the whistle. Tommy refused to give it up and a big argument ensued. No actual fights broke out but a lot of angry words were spoken. It was obvious that nobody was having fun.
Tommy said, “I’m the duly elected teacher’s helper, I keep the whistle."
Mary fires back, “We recalled you and I am Miss Johnson’s preferred helper.”
“Her vote doesn’t count and your election wasn’t legal because everyone wasn’t there to vote,” responded Tommy with a snarl.
The swings and the merry-go-round sit idle while the kids huddle in their two groups, bickering. The kids don’t plays at recess anymore, they just yell, argue, and, fight. No one is having any fun.
©2008 by Bob Rockwell