By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Among the greatest joys of moonlighting as a paraprofessional teacher for part of the week is remembering what it was like to be a kid.
In my four years teaching at the elementary level, I’ve become acquainted with the distractions that today’s children face. These distractions feel endless, especially in our increasingly technological world. However, last week I encountered a timeless distraction: loose teeth.
Among my first-, second- and third-grade students, hole-filled smiles are common. As with everything, kids reach this milestone at their own pace, so when a first-grader announced to her class that she had her first loose tooth, it became clear she was the last of her peers to experience the sensation.
I hushed the choir of little voices shouting “just pull it out” and other unhelpful advice, and told the class that the tooth would come out on its own time. Judging by the way the student pushed it back and forth with her tongue, nearly flat in both directions and likely hanging on by a single nerve, I figured it would be sooner rather than later.
However, the tooth had other, more theatrical, plans.
An entire day had passed since the first-grader made her announcement. I asked her if her tooth had fallen out yet. She gave me a sad, scared look and shook her head, opening her mouth to display that the tooth was, in fact, still (barely) intact.
I could see that the anticipation was too much to bear, so we made a plan. If the tooth fell out in class — and, yes, there will probably be some blood, I warned her — then she could take a friend to the office on her journey to obtain a “tooth necklace,” a small locket-style necklace in which the tooth would live until she got home. This settled her nerves for a while, though I still saw her working the tooth back and forth in her mouth as she solved math problems. At one point, she exclaimed — “It’s coming out!” — but it proved to be a false alarm.
The whole ordeal had me revisiting my own baby-tooth memories. I remember a white, tooth-shaped poster on the wall in my first-grade classroom, where we could log our losses over the month. I remember the unsettling pops of roots breaking loose and the sensation of phantom teeth. I remember the crystal drink tumbler my sisters and I would leave on the kitchen counter for the Tooth Fairy, filling just the bottom with water and plopping in the lost tooth. In the morning, we’d wake to coins in the glass — smaller amounts for the first teeth, quarters for the molars.
A handful of students and I were discussing our tooth-loss memories during recess when the first grader stood indignantly before me, a determined look in her eye.
“I’m just gonna pull it out,” she declared. “Count to 10.”
I wasn’t sure if she’d really follow through, but started an emphatic counting chant with the help of several of her classmates. Around 7 or 8, she ripped off her mitten, grabbed onto the tooth, and with a small shriek, pulled her first tooth from her mouth. We all cheered, and her designated friend escorted her — slightly shocked, mostly proud — to the office.
Talk about a tooth-loss memory.
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