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Tom | January 21, 2013

The Triple-Girl Friendship


Mean-girls-photoBy Tom

I am a reasonably effective fourth grade teacher. I know how to plan lessons, deliver instruction and grade papers. I can manage a classroom and hold the attention of students. I can scold.

I have other talents. I can fly-fish, sail a J 24 single-handed and ski through moguls. I can grill a steak, fry a burger and toast a cheese sandwich. I can make meat lasagna, chicken curry and turkey enchiladas. I can blend a daiquiri, shoot tequila and mix a martini. I have made beer.

I can ride a bike from Seattle to Portland in one day. I have run a marathon. I have climbed Mount Si, Mount Pilchuk and most of Mount Baker. I have swum laps.

I can write a five-paragraph essay. About anything. I can write a business letter, a friendly letter and a resume. I can write a personal narrative, a trickster tale or a fable. I can write a haiku.

I can paint a house. I can clean a roof, fix a pipe and unclog a toilet. I can replace rain gutters, start a lawn from seed and build a fence. I have replaced a garbage disposal.

I can do all of these things and more; yet I cannot, for the life of me, support, sustain or even fathom the triple-girl friendship.

Like wet snow on a steep slope or a six-point lead at halftime, the triple-girl friendship is inherently unstable. It’s asking for trouble, like a fish tank on a golf course or an old man on ice skates. It is caesium. It is your first bike ride.

The triple-girl friendship has no memory of its own failure. It ruined last week’s literature circle, yet honestly believes it can collaborate on a five-slide Oregon Trail PowerPoint. It cannot. It drove last month’s chaperone crazy, yet pleads to be together on next month’s field trip. It will not. The triple girl friendship goes out to recess with three smiles and a long jump rope. It comes back crying.

The triple-girl friendship defies counseling. It can write in eloquent cursive exactly what it did wrong and what it will do differently next time, and then do exactly what it did wrong again. It can recite the anti-bullying pledge with no sense of irony.

It is late January. There are just about 100 more days of school. Lord help me.


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Where's Harper Lee when I need her! Great advice, Kristin. I'll hang in there.

Okay. This is hilarious.

You know what they're doing? They're mastering the subtle rules, signals, and tangled emotions of human relationships. They mostly get it all wrong - send the wrong signals and misinterpret wrong signals sent - but they're kids. When you read To Kill a Mockingbird with tenth graders and you ask about Scout's relationship with Calpurnia, and Scout's trip to Calpurnia's church and what's going on there, girls are more likely to feel it. Boys are more likely to be clueless. That's sexist too, but it's what I've seen.

Girls say, "They're polite to the white kids because, well, they are, but really they're mad that they're there, and Scout realizes that racism exists."

Boys say, "Calpurnia made them go."

So be gentle with your tangled, angst-rashed girls. Keep encouraging them to work it out, to communicate and trust and deal with it themselves. Keep telling them they're wonderful and it's okay to give the other pair some space. Somewhere down the line a literature teacher will thank you.

You speak a great truth, Tom. The sad reality is I already see this trio in Kindergarten. Something about 3....tough business and many drama-filled tears.

You're right, Maren. Cesium plus water equals awesome!
Check it out:

And I apologize if I come across as sexist, but for some reason boys seem to be capable of a three-corner friendship. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of depth in our relationships.

Cesium--many of my students claim it's their favorite element. I have a great video of cesium in water, and that about describes the situation you talk about here!

Tom, this is hilarious. They haven't outgrown it by the time they hit my classroom, either, and it seems to add players as the game progresses. I don't even try to keep track of who is "dating" whom in the 9th grade, it's like tracking a square dance. In all seriousness, though, it's amazing how easily such relationships derail a lesson, a project, a walk from the classroom to the library... Where was that lesson in teacher school?

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