Slice of Life 2: Body Language
By Janice Ewing
Peering out at our back steps and driveway this morning, taking in the icy slushy mess, I’m somehow reminded of an old-fashioned refrigerator in need of defrosting. Once that image enters my mind, I’m taken back to childhood memories of my mother defrosting our chunky old General Electric. I’m back in the small, normally neat kitchen, suddenly cluttered with odd-shaped packages that bear little resemblance to foods we eat. I think this must have been one of my mother’s least favorite tasks. I didn’t know this from anything she said, but, even then, I could read it from her body language. Her usually calm, measured movements were abrupt and choppy, almost violent as she did battle with the recalcitrant ice.
As a preschooler in the 1950s, I spent a good part of my day watching, accompanying, or helping my mother with the various chores that occupied her day. For the most part, I don’t think I paid much attention to which ones she enjoyed more than others; in fact, there was a general air of purposefulness to our day, and, I believe, much less thought given to what we did or did not want to do. That said, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who had a sense of fun, and was not too sensible to allow for the occasional splurge. There was a certain gleam in her eye when, after a few rounds with the laundry she’d look at me and say, “How about going out for an ice cream cone?’ The early spring mornings when her normally brisk pace would slow and we would stop and look up to appreciate the new leaves appearing on the maple trees that lined the city streets. Body language.
My thoughts begin to slide back into the present. I’m thinking that, as teachers, we’re usually aware of our students’ body language, aren’t we? The eye-roller, the seat-slumper, the smile that says “Now, I get it!” But I’m wondering, how aware are we of our own? When we introduce a book, a writing project, a science unit, are we defrosting the refrigerator, embarking on an ice cream outing, or marveling at new growth? What do our students see, when they read our body language?
* This “Slice of Life” post is part of a larger blog series, hosted by the blog site, Two Writing Teachers: A Meeting Place for a World of Reflective Writers.
Janice Ewing is an adjunct for Cabrini College and a co-director for the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Janice co-facilitates PAWLP’s “Continuity Days” and this blog. She is an avid reader and writer, and especially enjoys writing poems.
Defrosting the refrigerator. Wow. I used to think my mom loved torturing me with tasks such as this. Now I realize she probably didn’t like it any more than I did. I just had different eyes. Seems like your mom disliked it as well and rewarded herself. I love your repeated phrase “body language”.
Janice, your slice of life poked some of my hibernating memories. Hadn’t thought about that defrosting process for such a long time. Body language, in both the giving and receiving, is an important part of our work as teachers. And just as your mother could take a break from her daily routine, we need some breaks in our routines to brighten the efforts of our students and reaffirm the purposefulness of our time together in the classroom.
Your piece brings back memories of my own mother defrosting the refrigerator and the freezer in our garage. Her usually calm, measured movements were abrupt and choppy, almost violent as she did battle with the recalcitrant ice. Yes, that’s how I remember it too. Your ending is a good reminder of what’s important!
This was wonderful, Janice. I really appreciate how you took today’s imagery of slush and snow and went back in time. I know what you mean about our students’ body language – there’s so much they’re communicating even when they’re not speaking. I think of myself, too, and what I communicate to students by my own body language.
Great question! I’m guessing my students can tell when I’m tired, or annoyed, or any number of things, assuming they’re observant. Most likely the things I don’t want them to see! What I do find interesting and slightly worrisome is the number of students who seem unable to read body language, who don’t seem to understand when to stop or get out of someone else’s personal space – and these are high school students!
I love this slice and how you go back to your past and then return to the present and leave us with a great thought about teacher body language.