We've all heard that expression, and as teachers we tend to classify children as round or square - they fit in the hole or they don't, they understand or they don't.
But what about the children who don't fit in either category? The ones who don't follow either path.
The answer from the boy waving his hand in the back of the room? "Very, very carefully."
After the laughter stopped, I rephrased the question and the same child was able to provide the answer I was seeking. He understood the question, he knew the answer, and he knew exactly what I was looking to hear. But he chose to take it in a different direction. He is not round, he is not square - he is a triangle.
Did this child's answer benefit the class? Probably, because it forced me to use precise verbiage. The second time I asked the question I knew that every child in the room understood it.
Triangles are creative, bright, add dimension to our classroom, and cause us to be a bit more thoughtful in what we say and do.
They also take our classes off on tangential romps, they hijack focus, they disrupt.
Our job is to harness the triangles and aim their energy into the task at hand. Much easier said than done. Triangles don't always respond to traditional teacher tactics, and more often than not they delight in the attention they bring to themselves. It's challenging, especially when we have to admit that a student noticed a facet of our question/lesson/activity that we failed to foresee.
But that is the beauty of the triangles.
By causing us to consider another meaning, another opinion, another path, they figuratively push the button that prompts us to reevaluate our thinking and our teaching.
Dealing with the triangles can be difficult and sometimes we do need to shut them down. But if we try to view them as an asset and can channel their triangleness in the right direction, it can benefit everyone in the room.
So the next time "that child" brings your lesson to a crashing halt - take a deep breath, think "Triangle!", grab the reins and hang on.
Do you notice anything unusual?
My son sent me this picture with no explanation.
I was able to pick him out immediately - that child who gave rise to many sleepless nights, refined our parenting skills, caused us to consider carefully how we stated things, and taught us that a leap of faith - whether literal or figurative - can indeed end well.
He is not round, nor is he square. This child is our triangle.