I was RIGHT there… and it happened so quickly, that I think everyone in the room was in shock, and didn't know what to do.
Being a veteran teacher, and probably seeing over 100 spills in my career (that might even be a low number, but I really don't keep track), I knew how to handle it immediately, and how to use it as a great teaching moment afterwards.
We were about to go over our morning seat work (which consists of our Math packet, another little Math booklet, and a grammar packet) when "the spill" occurred.
Right away, I could see that it was going to be a HUGE problem for all of the papers at the table if I didn't act quickly. As the milk started to pour out onto the table and towards 3 or 4 students' papers, I started pushing everything out of its way… snapping my fingers with my other hand in the air, and saying "All right everyone, we have a spill over at Table C, let's help her out… quickly! I need paper towels, quickly!"
As 8 or 9 students followed my directions, I also said, "Let's work as a team, everyone!"
It was as if we were in a grocery store, and someone came on the loudspeaker and said: "Cleanup on aisle C…" and I chuckled on the inside a little bit.
As I was saying this, the girl that spilled the milk didn't even move. I think she was afraid of the repercussions from her classmates, and possibly from her very tall teacher… I could just see it in her eyes.
What she didn't realize was that I've seen this happen many times, and kept on thinking in my head: "It's not IF something goes wrong, but WHEN it goes wrong, and how you handle it." Stay calm, Mr. Putney… it's only a little milk (that might smell the rest of the day!)
I could have handled it like it was a scene from the movie "A League of Their Own" … when Tom Hanks famously looks into the girl's eyes as she comes off of the field and says: "Are you crying? There's no crying in baseball !!!"
No…. that definitely wouldn't work in a second grade classroom. I knew that much.
Instead, I called our very first "Emergency Classroom Meeting" of the school year, and put everyone in a circle on the ground (after the spill was all cleaned up). This was going to be WAY better than the morning seat work.
First, I congratulated everyone for their fast thinking. Then, I told a story about how I, myself, have spilled lots of things in my life, and how people have helped me clean things up, too. I also told them how it made me feel knowing that I had people around me that cared.
Then, I opened it up for discussion, and talked about how other problems will inevitably happen in our classroom, and definitely used the "It's not If, but when" phrase a few times.
They stared at me in awe, and I could see the classroom coming together… as if that milk was the "glue" that we needed early in this school year to understand each other, and what our classroom is all about.
Just as I was finishing off one of the best discussions we've had in this early stage of the school year…. you guessed it… the fire alarm goes off, and we had to cut the discussion a few minutes short. Go figure.
That was OK, though… nobody cried, and the rest of the day was smooth sailing.
Crisis averted, and the room didn't smell either.