I just wanted to share one of my favorite rituals in my classroom with you. It’s birthdays, and everybody loves birthdays, especially my students. They love to be celebrated on their special day. In my classroom management handbook that I send to my parents, I expect what to expect when it comes to birthdays. Yep, I’m a mom of two busy boys. And I get it when students want to share their birthday with a treat. And I’ve got a story for you that I will never forget for my classroom management plan. I always let my parents know right up front what my expectations are for the school year, from assignments to get in touch with me during the school day, and even birthdays, yes, birthdays. Now my colleagues always give me a hard time in the right way. Because they know there’s a ‘no cupcake rule’ in my classroom. And why you might add? Oh, Jebeh, it’s their birthday, don’t you want to celebrate them and have them have a sweet treat just a little bit. Listen,
I love some good buttercream. And I love cake like everyone else. Even my husband got me a cake that literally was the size of his truck bed.
I love the cake. But to me, as an educator, the cake can go. I wanted to promote something healthy and fun and activities for all of my students. Let me give you an example. In my first year of teaching, I had the conviction of knowing that food sensitivity on the rise; I thought to myself, my ideal classroom will be inclusive for all of my kids. So I decided to get rid of the birthday cake rule. I didn’t say we weren’t going to celebrate their children in my classroom. Oh, we’re gonna celebrate. But we don’t need sugar to honor them for that day. Think of this as an educator, especially when I first started teaching six and seven-year-olds. When I taught first grade, parents will go down the hallway with their big sheet cake, and in my colleagues’ classrooms, bring a knife. The teacher ended up cutting up all the cake pieces for the students, and the parent leaves. And they’d show up at like 8:30 in the morning. To get the kids sugared up, say,” bye.” And go.
And then that teacher has to deal with the sugar crash before lunch. And as a teacher myself thinking about this and visualizing it. Oh, my goodness. I’m not a teacher. Now. I’m like a Chuck E Cheese, and I did not want any part of it. With the rise of food allergies and food sensitivities. Can I imagine myself cutting a piece of cake for one child and tell the other one? Oh, no, because you can’t have it, you don’t get it. Do you really want to see a six-year-old kid cry? Do that to them. So I decided I’m gonna do a fun little Liberian birthday dance. It’s not patented. It can be any song you want. But what I decided to do for all of my students when I first started teaching was a birthday song. My favorite birthday song that I’ve used, and I don’t have any rights to it, is Prince Nico Margba Happy birthday. And that is the title of the dance that we dance to. And it can be fun and festive. And I tell you my students loved it every year because we are doing the birthday dance, Mrs. Edmunds, and that’s what I wanted to instill in my students. Let me tell you when I implemented my no cupcake rule.
I was the only black teacher in the building. It was my first year teaching in the classroom with my own group of ducklings. And that mama came up with her Angry Birds cupcakes. And I looked her in the eye and said, No, cupcakes are not allowed in this classroom. What?! she got mad. She was furious. You’re telling me my child can’t have cupcakes? It’s his birthday. And I looked at her, and I said, Yes, ma’am. He can have cupcakes at home. And you did sign my parent handbook saying that you read my expectation was no cupcakes and that your child will still be celebrated, but just in a different way. She huffed and puffed went right to the principal’s office. And I handed her a copy of her signed expectations that I told her that “you said you read it, you signed it. And now, cupcakes on you. ” And I marched back in there. And I tell you, butterflies in my stomach.
I am not confrontational at all. Her little boy was none the wiser. We played our music, we started making our dance moves to my made-up choreography names like “wash the windows” and “sweep that floor.” And we “broke our back and then break it.” We did the “Shaky- shaky.” Then we went back to do our Dolch words. She saw the contract that she signed. She saw her signature. And she left that day with those Angry Birds cupcakes and didn’t look back. That was my first year of teaching. But I guarantee you every single year that I have that no cupcake rule, there’s always one parent, and my colleagues and principals, and I just laugh,because Jebeh has copies. Jebeh has proof that you signed it, knew the rules, and still thought you could sneak one past her.
And so to me, teachers and educators, whatever you decide, do it. And you know what I know for a fact, some parents probably told my principals, we don’t want to be in her class because she’s got a cupcake embargo. And you know what, I feel sorry for your kids. Because if that was the only thing you didn’t want to have me in? Well, they missed out on a lot. And you know what, go with grace. That’s all I have to say on that piece. But I will never forget my first year teaching my little firsties that year. And she came in angrier than those Angry Bird rings on those cupcakes. But I stuck to my guns. I knew what I was doing.
Because first and foremost, I wanted an inclusive classroom community that didn’t have to worry about their own dietary restrictions or sensitivities to make themselves feel othered. Because of what the norm was, it’s time to change the standard, people. And we can do it. When my principles in my building knew my expectations from the jump. They were there to support me as an educator. And I even made little quip cupcakes that aren’t in my teaching contract. So I don’t need to have cupcakes in my classroom. And you can hem and haw all you want. But trust me, my students are happy, they’re engaged, they are getting recognized.
I’ve taught in buildings where the poverty rate is over 85%. I cannot tell you how many times families have come to me and say, Thank you, Jebeh. I can’t afford to get cupcakes for 22 kids in this class.
That’s one less thing I need to worry about. of all the stuff I need to deal with. When you are an educator, you cannot assume that. Because I’m in where I’m at, as an educator, not all of my students, families are in that same boat. Not all of my students, families are thinking, Oh, my son’s birthday is coming up, I have to deal and get my son or my daughter’s birthday set up for my family in any way that I see that is okay. But then I also have to do the exact expectations at school. That is really very sensitive. And when you feel like a parent that you can’t provide for your child, and you’re barely making it at home, you have that extra stress on top for school and alleviates that pressure.
As an educator, first, I implore you to think about how you do celebrations in your classroom. Also, keep in mind, families come from different religious backgrounds. Families probably don’t celebrate their birthdays. So you also need to be sensitive to the fact and ask your parents how you would feel if we celebrated your child in an appropriate way for your family? Because the last thing we as educators want to do is we always have our good intentions. But we do seem to trip over that as well. When you move forward, especially in a time like this, you can still celebrate your students in a fun, engaging; you can do dances that are different genres. It doesn’t have to be an African song, but I want you to think outside of the box for once and leave the treats at home.