It’s Wednesday morning and my students are at another school in our district, learning to swim for gym class. They’re having a blast, I know, yet I can’t wait for them to return to the classroom. It’s the week after our first of two house championship competitions has ended and the students are dying to know who won. Better yet, I just received a mysterious text message on my phone that I need to share with the kids.
As I walk down the hallway to pick them up from the swim bus, my own anticipation and excitement have my heart beating out of my chest. When we return to the room, the storytelling begins.
The weirdest thing happened while you were all at swimming. What? What? Tell us! Well, you know how you all wrote stories this morning about what teachers do while you are at special? Yes! I don’t usually check my phone during the day but since you all said that’s what I do when you’re gone, I decided to check my phone. And something really strange happened. [Pause for an awkwardly long amount of time]. Tell us! You have to! No! I don’t think you can handle this. Yes, we can! No, this time is different. You know how we joke around all the time and I always have crazy ideas? Yes! Well this time isn’t the same. I have no clue what’s going on. I’m afraid if I tell you you’ll go home and tell your parents. They’ll be worried, call me and I’ll have no answers for them this time. Oh my gosh! You haaaave to tell us.
At this point, they are nearly dying. So, naturally, I begin read-aloud. Now, I know they aren’t listening to a word I say and quite frankly, it’s nearly impossible for me to read the words that are on the page too. I’ll reread this part of the book later. But it’s part of the plan and I must keep it together. After I read a terribly long paragraph I abruptly close the book.
Okay, seriously, I can’t even pay attention to what I’m reading right now. This thing is bothering me so much. Do you think you can handle it? YES! [They’re nearly screaming now]. Okay, fine. But you are going to need to be brave. We are so brave!
I run to grab my phone.
So while you were at special today, I got this weird text message from a mystery sender. This is what it says….
The questions and predictions begin. How do they know we had a competition? Let me see that phone! How did they get your cell phone number? It has to be the other teachers. This is exactly the anticipation I was hoping to build. Not by accident, it’s time for lunch and I send them to the cafeteria to wait a little longer.
Before I even pick them up, it’s obvious they are still thinking about these messages. Two teachers have come to me and asked what is going on. They both have lunch duty and tell me the kids were interrogating them the whole time. For the kids, they’re the first suspects. And when I pick the kids up from recess, it’s obvious the class is excited and nervous. Did you get any messages while we were gone? Where is your phone? Is it on loud? Turn it up! Then there are the skeptics (there will always be a few). They’re convinced that I sent the messages so my next job is to prove them wrong and get them on board too. The phone sits on the ELMO during math and I am all the way across the room when the next text comes in. The kids practically fall out of their seats and run to see what it says.
So the question remains.
Do you want to know?
Who won the house championship?
Let’s give it a go!
Your first clue is in a textbook of a subject you study.
Just think and once you can figure it out
Listen for this phone one more time
You’ll know more about the house champion- no doubt!
After some discussion of what constitutes a textbook (we never use them) they figure out it must be the science book deep in the closet. We continue on with math and the energy in the room couldn’t be higher. After math, we celebrate one of my student’s birthdays and another text rolls in.
Yes! You’re right!
The clue hides in a science book
But there are so many of them
You’ll just have to look
Wait! Aren’t the books numbered?
Inside the front page
It’s science book eleven
Which is [student name]’s new age!
Whatever you do
Don’t go through the book!
Don’t EVEN peek!
I’ll know if you looked.
Now they are thoroughly freaked out. This mystery sender is watching us for sure. This person was listening to our discussion about the science book. He/she knows we just celebrated a birthday and even knows how old that student turned today. I overhear one student say, If there is a note in book 11 I will seriously run out of this room screaming. Can you predict what comes next? The science book is purposefully the one that is in the very back of the cabinet and it’s on the bottom of the stack. They practically throw the books out of the cabinet to find book 11.
We keep going with word study. At this point, the book sits at the front of the room so we can all monitor it and certain students have deemed themselves in charge of my phone. It sits on their table so they know I’m not manipulating it in any way. Others are doing their work in the corner of the room farthest from the phone because they can’t bear to be near it. It’s about seven minutes before dismissal when the last text of the day arrives.
Oh my goodness! You found it!
But where is this clue?
It’s the pages of the book
You must continue to flip through
You’ll find it I’m sure
You all work very hard
It won’t tell you the winner
But you’ll know ONE clue word on a small card
The reaction is priceless. They shake it, turn it upside down and flip through it but their nervous energy makes them overlook the note, further building the excitement. It’s a minute or two before the bell rings when they find the clue. All it says is the word “FOLLOW.” It’s written all shaky so they say the sender is scared. They are the perfect mix of excited, energetic and terrified. So much so, that I must squeeze in one more unplanned message before they go home.
Please don’t fear
At all tonight
I’m not one bit creepy- I’m here to help!
You shouldn’t have any fright
Miss Babcock can bring
Her phone home and survive
Nothing bad will happen
But tomorrow more messages will arrive
Fast forward to Thursday. When they come in the room, here are some of my favorite comments I overhear.
I looked up the area code of the mystery sender last night and they are from Mississippi. (Other student chimes in) No they aren’t! I looked it up and they are from New Hampshire. (A third student chimes in) No way! I looked it up and it’s Palm Beach, Florida. They’re all wrong. The area code is from Minnesota but that’s not the point. At least three of the four students in the room so far went home and looked up the phone number.
Miss Babcock, I had a dream your phone rang and the whole class screamed. I was like SHUSH! SHUSH! I won’t be able to hear what he says. I’m going to be so creeped out if my dream comes true.
Girl who class has put in charge of phone: If I pass out, who will get the phone?
I bet they’re watching us from outside because when I’m outside of my house I can see into the windows when I’m far away.
I don’t know if I’m just cold or I have chills because I’m so scared.
This is all before the day has even begun. They’re thrilled to be at school. They’re dying to know what is coming next and I’m having the time of my life. Win. Win. Win. The phone is now being hidden by one of the students, deep inside her desk, when the first text of the day arrives.
You made it to another clue
I’m so happy to help you
On this journey of WHO
WHO won the championship?
WHO rose to the top?
WHO worked well together?
WHO never did stop?
The first word is follow
I’m dying to know
Follow what? Follow who?
Next clue will arrive in a place that you go
They’re about to go to art class so they immediately think it’s there. They find nothing and when they arrive back to the classroom they have to adjust their theories. The phone goes off again.
You thought it was in art class
You obviously were wrong
The clue isn’t there
Keep that curiosity strong
It might be in the hallway
Or maybe in the room
It might be in the office
Or under a witch’s evil broom
Keep on guessing
Wait for more clues
One more thing
Listen to my voice if you choose
(With an attached audio clip of a creepy male laugh)
They are about to head to lunch and the female teacher who works in the cafeteria has now been cleared by the kids based on the laugh. They head downstairs and immediately ask the male teacher to do his evil laugh. They’re convinced it’s him despite all the reasons this wouldn’t make sense. I want to clear his name in the afternoon so when they return they get a text.
Stop looking around the room
I’ll tell you some more
It’s not under the wicked witch’s broom
I’m not Mr. E
So just give him a break
His evil laugh is phony
It sounds so fake
Your next clue will come at 1:30
On the dot!
But only if you give your math work
All the effort you’ve got!
My students are the hardest workers I know but I’ve never seen them work so hard in my life. The next hour is pure torture for them. What they don’t know is an envelope has been planted in the office and the secretaries are on board.
Were you waiting for 1:30?
You crack me up!
Next clue was delivered
On a mail truck
Send two brave scholars
To the office right away
Politely ask for a piece of mail
It’s the last clue for today
Don’t open it ’til
You’re with the class to figure it out
The final winner
Will make you cheer & shout!
We pick sticks and send two students running down the hallway. I make them slow down and they do the fastest speed walk I’ve ever seen. I blink and they’re back at the door with an envelope. The envelope has the note from yesterday which mysteriously disappeared this morning and a new note that says the word “THE.” It, too, is written all shaky and the colors conjure up numerous theories about who won. A final text arrives.
Follow the WHAT?!?!?! Goodnight!
Fast forward to Friday. The floor of the classroom is filled with balloons and I begin the storytelling once again.
Last night I went out for ice cream and came back to my apartment. On my doorstep there was a bag of balloons and a bunch of small note cards. There was a note that told me to blow up the balloons and stick the cards inside. I had to number each balloon, too, so I’m a little tired today. I was up really late! But, now I know who won the house championship!
It is really getting hard to stretch the truth any longer so I have to get on board with this mystery sender. The kids now know that I am “working for” them but it’s still not me. Another text arrives.
Good moooooorning! Did Miss Babcock tell you about these odd balloons? I had some monkeys send them from another land to her doorstep last night. These hold the final clues to the house champion. Just listen for a text to tell you when to pop each one! The clue is inside.
One student puts together this clue with the witch’s broom and decides it has something to do with The Wizard of Oz. There are so many theories, though, that get the discussion sidetracked. Just about every twenty minutes throughout the day, we get a text telling the kids to pop a new balloon. After each pop, they are guessing what the clue means and what words are in the next balloons. They’ve even taped the sequence of cards on the white board and refer to it all day. They’ve got the words “Follow the yellow brick road. The house champion is…”
When they pop the final three balloons the cards say, “announced on Monday.” Seriously?! They are so pumped. I tell them that good things come to those who wait. They leave for the day and I spend the next three hours decorating the room. On Monday they’ll find out that Isibindi has won the championship after a three year drought. We will, no doubt, have the time of our lives.
On Wednesday, I could have told them, “Isibindi won!” It would have been the biggest letdown of their lives. These students have worked their tails off all day, every day, for the entire first half of the year for this competition. If I want them to bring it in the second half of the year competition, I have to build it up so much that they carry the anticipation and excitement into the new competition. It has to be worth it for them.
So this announcement is not only about the end of the first competition. It’s also a start to defending the championship or redeeming your team’s name. It’s the best week we’ve had all year, the most energetic the room has ever been and the most fun I have ever had. When I close my door at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night, I snap the final shot of the Land of Oz that the students and I will enjoy on Monday. I’m not tired at all. I’m buzzing like the students, even more eager for Monday than they are. And I can’t help but think… People seriously pay me to do this? I’m the luckiest teacher in the world.