Yellow marks and whistles for school’s first day

This article was originally published in North County News.

“So how was the first day of school?” I asked my sister. Both her children had started new schools as they transitioned from Dallas to their new home in Georgia.

“Adam had a great day,” she began, and then stopped with an awkward pause. “But Ashley got a yellow mark,” she whispered.

“Really,” I whispered back, then listened intently as she described how her warm and engaging 5-year-old daughter had offered a fellow classmate help tying shoelaces. Obviously, Ashley’s timing was off, hence the yellow mark.

We breezed through the rest of the conversation and I hung up, reflecting on my precious niece’s introduction to kindergarten.

A yellow mark? On her first day? How brutal! But it’s the season of yellow marks, I came to realize. The routines of school are upon us, with structure settling on the unruly flexibilities of summer.

It’s impressive when you think about it. Groups of same-aged children conform to new classrooms, classmates, and teachers, shedding their individualized summertime agendas to gather for one common purpose _ to learn. Teachers wallpaper their rooms with schedules and procedures, reminding the children of group-defined expectations. Rules of acceptable behavior are defined. And yes, there’s a corner reserved for “yellow marks.”

I never asked what the yellow mark meant exactly. Nor do I know the escalation process – do two yellow marks equal a red mark and then an even more severe consequence? I have no clue.

However, I’ll bet Ashley could tell me. I could pretty much guarantee that there is a clear system of “yellow marks” in that kindergarten classroom in Georgia. That teacher, as all teachers do this time of year, has created her own system of justice to preserve the necessary sense of order.

Once defined and explained to the group, the rules become the unspoken expectation for all children, giving the teacher freedom to both teach and inspire the children to learn.

Whistles join the yellow-mark philosophy as the sports fields come to life for the fall season. Peter, my 8-year-old, began his first year of travel soccer. I recalled watching his first-ever soccer game two years ago. Ninety percent of the game was played in the center of the field with the majority of the kicks landing on the kids’ shins.

Now I don’t know whether to credit the soccer camps, the coaching, or simply maturity, but the level of play at this season’s first game stunned me. Neatly uniformed kids manned their positions as they kicked and passed up and down the field. A few kicks still missed their mark, sending one player from the opposing team down to the ground.

A whistle blew, and with a quick reminder from the coach, “Take a knee,” seven 8-year-olds’ right knees hit the dirt out of respect for the fallen player, a soccer tradition. It was impressive.

Rooted in baseball, football and basketball, I questioned Peter about calls or terms that I didn’t understand when he sat out to cool down. He quickly tutored me on the rules as they applied, reciting them with conviction.

Knowing the rules gave him confidence to play. Rules give structure, creating a context for achievement and acceptable behavior.

Once we understand the “yellow marks” and whistles, we can get on with learning and skill-building, confidently mastering the game before us.