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The Box, The Big Book of Nothing and it’s Magic Effect

At first, I pay no attention to the box. Paying no attention is key in gaining the attention of everyone else. Kids point. They question. I shrug them off. We do our usual morning routine. Kids are clearly distracted by the ominous black box on the floor. It’s okay, though. I’m sacrificing today’s warm-ups for full effect. Twice, I “accidentally” stub my toe on the side of the box. To my young, impressionable audience, it looks as if it hurts. I wince just for a second each time. The thud of my foot is about all one little guy can take.

“What’s in that box?!” he pleads, slightly rising from his seat. I just stare at him for a while.

“Get to work,” I mutter. His unquenched anticipation resonates as he begrudgingly gets back to reducing fractions.

I have held on long enough. There is a true sweet spot to these theatrics. You can only take this stuff to the brink of a young kid’s attention span before they lose interest and the moment is gone. It is time to open the box. Really, there is a bit more to it than that—it’s an unveiling. It’s an unveiling of something almost conjured from worlds unknown and only rumored to exist. It’s not just any old box, mind you, it’s all black stained wood. I hoist it up onto the desk as if it were a treasure chest pulled from the hull of a pirate’s ship. The lid creaks as if some prince of darkness is about to peer out from within. I cough as if ancient dust has been stirred and I swat away gnats and flies that don’t exist. Necks crane from all parts of the room, straining to get the best possible view. Some follow the imaginary flying bugs up to the ceiling. There is a concerned hush in the room that is often difficult to obtain from a few dozen eight-year-olds. I relish my role and would honestly wear the hangman’s cloak during this unveiling if I didn’t think it would jeopardize my pension. The time has come.

I extend both hands into the box and pull out what appears to be a large heavy binder. Exactly how heavy it seems to be really depends on how much you’re buying my show, so the estimated weight may vary throughout the room. The binder is as dark and menacing as its container. Only two words are written on the front—BEHAVIOR LOG. I can hear kids whispering, “behavior log,” around the room. Like celebrity gossip, it races through the crowd. No matter your reading capabilities, you instantly know what that binder says on the front. I know—this is woefully anticlimactic for you, but I’m guessing you’re a long way from eight. Bear with me.

I place the binder on top of a podium. This podium’s sole purpose is to hold this binder, much like a granite pedestal in a museum. My ONLY purpose for standing at this podium is to keep very detailed and careful accounts of student behavior. After I set the binder down, I leaf through it. I smile and shake my head. I appear to be reminiscing. This is a particularly good year for the binder. I have a few kids in the room that have no idea how much more effective they are about to make my presentation—siblings are good business.

“Ariana, did you know that your brother lost recess on March 3rd three years ago for talking in class?” As expected, they are amazed. I flip a few more pages. “And Marco, your sister missed her homework on November 18th and the 19th a few years back. I wonder what was going on that week?” I just want to come clean right now, that was made up on the spot. March 3rd? November 18th? I have no idea if we even had school those days, both could have been Sundays for all I know. It so didn’t matter. They weren’t hearing me, but they were definitely feeling me. I could have just as easily told them that their older brothers and sisters had special holiday detentions on Christmas morning and they would have bought it. Wide-eyed wonder settles all around. It gives this vibe that I may have injected GPS tracking technology just below their skin; they may just go home and check their siblings for metallic chips. Remember, this is just a notebook—but these are eight-year-olds. I now seem like the great and powerful Oz. It holds up throughout the year.

“He’s going to the binder! He’s walking to the podium!” It’s a frantic whisper that is hardly a hush. You can see the veins in the necks of the whisperers’ strain in an effort to save others. It happens each time. I simply stop and move in a certain direction. Without a word, I stand behind my podium and pick up my pencil. I make eye contact with a few key people and then begin to write. As the room comes to an abrupt silence, I look up and take notice. Then, I stop writing and we get back to the task at hand. All basic rules and procedures have been enforced without uttering a word.

Sure, there were times when I actually used the binder. Kids with more serious or disruptive behaviors would write about their poor choices and I would put those writings in the binder. I would write down notes when necessary. But, most of the time? Most of the time I was totally bluffing. Often, I would go up and literally scribble until we were all back on task. I was bluffing much more than half the time, yet winning every hand. There were new school years when I would open the binder randomly upon its unveiling to a page of scribbles and do my best not to laugh. When coming across a page like that, it felt like just a big book of nothing. But, writing that on the cover clearly would not have had quite the same effect.

For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent bestseller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, cygnoir.

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