Monday, August 29, 2011

It's Not A Carrot! It's Not A Carrot!

During the first week of kindergarten, recess somewhat resembles that old seventies football board game with all the little metal players sitting on a tin field.  You turn it on and herds of little painted men oscillate forward in commingling groupings of collapsing confusion.  Into this melee throw basketballs, six students at a time climbing up the wrong ends of slides, and students with no English running around in glee as unheard teachers chase after with waving arms and unheeded pleas.  I spent my own time plucking dangling five-year olds from the tops of slides, chanting out phrases as mantras, “bumper not tummy, feet first not behind, look before going, one at a time, don’t jump from that thing keep your feet on the ground, where did that come from please put it down.”  One student went wandering right out of the playground, right through the gate near the back car lot.  Then we saw Arnold Schwartzenegger come running across the grass, shouting, “I’ve got a ferret!  I’ve got a ferret!”  Or so we first thought.  Turned out to be a rather tall, chunky kindergartner holding something of orangeish hue in his hands and yelling, “It’s not a carrot!  It’s not a carrot!”  None of us felt like investigating. 

Yet all of this is a cake walk compared to dismissal.  What exactly does “cake walk” mean?  Do people take strolls along cake alleyways?  Do they take a beloved cake for an afternoon saunter?  Do daring adventurers canter across icing covered boston-cream pies?  Is a boston cream pie indeed a pie and not a cake?  Whatever the case may be, I’ve heard Vietnam veterans shudder in fear over the first week of dismissal for the Kindergarten Year.  Armies of students might trample afoot, and adults think they’re safe, with shoulders aloof.  Busses lined up, all ready to go.  What could go wrong? Oh, wait, there’re kinders along.  Grab hold of those backpacks, snatch hands and don’t wait, but please, oh, please, don’t they know where they belong?  No?  Oh, dear.  Rush back to the rooms.  Call one teacher, another.  Who is this, and where do they go?  Oh, please, but please, don’t they know what they’re called?  A name?  A nickname?  A brother or sister?  Don’t they know their teacher, or for the love of God a preacher?  I don’t know where to go, I don’t know who to call, now they’ve taken off one shoe and are scampering down a hall.  I’d chase after the one, but another kinder’s crying, that one’s tripped over their laces and I do believe she’s flying.  Whatever the case may be, I’ve heard Vietnam vets shudder in fear, over the first week of dismissal for the Kindergarten Year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today, we tried cutting.

 My students are usually pretty good with scissors, I swear.  That's what I'll have to tell their parents after today, I'm sure.

We're cutting up numbered squares to sequence them on writing strips (tomorrow we glue popcorn kernels on each square). I don't hear screams or see blood or clumps of hair - I assume things are going fine.  I start walking around.  What I find: One student could have a career in confetti making.  One student decided she didn't want to cut out squares so much as quarter inch sections of the numbers.  Not too conductive to step two, I would think.

Then there's the third student:

This student - and he is a very special flower, yes he is - stands up and yells, in a completely shocked voice "Mr. Gardner!  I accidentally cut my shirt!"

Now, he is one who I would not blink if he did such a thing on purpose, but all the students around his table were repeating that he accidentally cut his shirt (of course, with kindergartners, that doesn't stand for much - they generally repeat whatever they hear, regardless).  I look over and see him standing up (he's quite the little guy to boot.  He looks, and acts, more like a pre-schooler than a kindergartner) with a completely stunned look on his face.  He still has his kid belly, and his belly button is just greeting the world for all to see from a hole in his shirt.

I couldn't help it.  I laughed.  Something, under the circumstances, I knew was a no-no.  I tried to address it - pointed out how we need to be careful with our scissors, yadda, yadda, yadda.  The damage was already done.  Within three minutes, another student (a spanish speaking student with almost no English), had decided that laughter must point out the correct path.  He in turn cut his shirt, and proceeded to stand up and beam happily at me.  It was like a mini-reenactment of "The Dead Poets' Society," with less meaning.

I give this student my best language-bridging "Teacher look" (and yes, I am acquiring one, thank you very much - though I am still years away from the famous Ms. Vella "Oh, God, I swear I didn't do it, I was just out here in front of your house, it was my friends who toilet papered your house, and besides you know me, and Lyss is okay with it, I swear she practically invited us to come over, please don't kill me" kindergarten teacher look).

No sooner than I feel that I've given him the teacher "aren't you ashamed of what you did, I know it won't happen again" stare down, than I re-circulate the room, and discover that the original student, also pleased at the laughing, had decided to add on to his work by cutting down from his belly button to the end of his shirt.

Next week, I'm thinking of teaching them how to carve their own turkeys.

Excuse me, Miss, do you accept frog?

            Day one went too quickly to say much about it.  It's too early in the ball game.

I'm still putting in ten-hour days, it seems, but it makes a difference when half of your team is there, as well.

Trying not to feel overwhelmed with whether I'll be able to manage them into procedures, and being a family unit. And then there's the whole curriculum side to tackle.
All in all, a better day than my first day at high school. Probably in large part to the people that are there, and seeing some old students of mine.

I had two criers in the morning, but both calmed down after a while and with some assistance from the aide.  One never rejoined us (they only go till twelve, the first week, which is nice), but I didn't force it.  One has already shown that he likes to do what he wants to do, and two more may cause some mischief between them. But they're my kids.  For the whole year.  I find that exciting (and, again, somewhat overwhelming).


After work on Thursday, I went to pull out my wallet to buy a soda in the work-room.  Only, instead of my wallet, I pull out a stuffed frog.  The surprises of being a kindergarten teacher.

On Friday, some of my students told me they had a surprise for me at the writing table. I look, and they had glued some of their work to the wall. :0) They had seen me staple some students' work on the bulletin board, and decided to take matters into their own hands to make it easier on me. They were too proud for me to point out that that's not quite appropriate. :]

I like my job. I hope they keep me.
Our new kinder teacher, who has even less experience than me, and had to come in five weeks after the year started, is a natural. It's crazy. On the plus side, it keeps pushing me forward.  I hope it's a good year all around for the students, teachers, and school.

Amusing moment:

I was talking with the kids about how we can count backwards from ten, and asked if any of them knew how we could do this.  One young girl raised her hand, and very enthusiastically said, "Like this!" She then turned around backwards on the floor and started to count to ten.
There are times when you are just thrilled to be around these kids.


Long, long day.  I'm pooped.  We had an apple day, where the kids rotated through all of our classes, and we did an activity with each class.  It was non-stop, and hyper, and messy, and insane at the end, as I tried to do too much in too little time and the kids were off the wall, so to speak. They actually weren't all that insane; it was just the culmination of it all.

I was also observed for the first time yesterday (basically ever, as I never really had one last year at the high school).  It went okay.  The kids were themselves, but it worked.  We even met that day.  She liked the positive atmosphere, and my level of drama/enthusiasm, which was nice.  I would have been much, much more nervous if it was the principal, instead of assistant. He self-admittedly doesn't really grasp kindergarten.  Not in a negative way; he's just more geared to the upper levels.  Anyway, it went fine.  They were a bit antsy and wiggly, but she was kind because they were eager to participate.  I did a very simple lesson, which is good, because I was just nervous enough to forget to do a major section of the lesson. Whoops.  I kind of just went with what was going on, and extended the activity we were doing.

One of my students counted “One, two, three, two one” when asked to count to five.  This is the same student who told me she could count backwards - and proceeded to turn herself around and count regularly.

Another of my students has come in the past three mornings to tell me very unique vignettes.  First, he described to me how he brought his horse with him to school on his handlebars.  It was a toy horse.

The next day, he tells me in the hall that he has something very important to tell me, and can he please tell me in the room.  We step in the room, and he proceeds to tell me an extraordinarily long story that can be best summed up as follows: His dad told him and his brother to walk to school this morning. And they did. And they saw two other students they knew.  The end.

             Glad he got that off his chest.

The third day, he tells me he's going to ask his dad if he can invite me over to his house. It's a red-brick house so the wolf can't blow it down, even if he huffs and puffs.

There is another student, however, who has made me actually laugh out loud twice. It's a student I've had a lot of trouble with - very immature.  He's emotionally more about the level of a three year old.  He's had quite a few major hardships in his life, such his mom passing away from cancer.  This makes my third student who has lost a mother by the age of kindergarten.  On this day, he's really upset because he says a student at the table is bothering him.  I ask him what the student was doing.  Well, you know how little kids like to repeat what they hear another student say?  He's sitting there, all upset, breathing erratically, and he starts to inform me in a stutter that "So-and-so, so-and-so, he, he..." It is at this point that a different student at the table says "nothing". And, of course, the student I'm talking to ends his own sentence with "nothing.”  And then stops, as though confused, or as though everything is apparently fine.  I couldn't help it.  I laughed.

Today, the same student again made me laugh out loud in class. I've been testing all day, today (tomorrow, too). They come back from lunch and if they have been quiet, they have a ticket that allows them to go to recess.  Since I have to test, I tell them I’m going to allow them to play at centers, instead.  I tell them to raise their tickets up if they have them.  I then realize that I still have to go over some of the centers.  I begin to do so.  This student starts whining, and keeps trying to get out of his seat and give me his ticket.  I ignore him/tell him he has to wait at his seat until I collect his ticket.  This all takes place as I spend several minutes going over their centers.

Finally, the student cries out: "Mr. Gardner!  I can't hold my ticket up in the air anymore!  My arm hurts!" He had been holding it in the air, like I told him to, the entire time.  Again, I couldn't help it.  I laughed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Why, yes, I AM wearing a Care-Bears band-aide. Thanks for noticing."

                I was asked to teach coach for summer school.  This is the second time I’ve said yes.  It’s fun.  A complete 180 from my year working as a high school teacher.  I have tons of planning time, people stop in to see how the day’s going, I can actually go over lesson plans for the week with a fellow teacher, and the kids are, almost exclusively, engaged and excited.   And everything I plan has an element of fun to it.  I ran a pirate theme for the summer.  I wore a costume, built cardboard boats, incorporated relay races and feats for treasure.  It culminated in an epic pirate ship and water balloon battle between the fourth and fifth graders.  It was bloody and beautiful. 

    At the end of the program, four teachers cornered me in a classroom.  Four teachers gave me the teacher stare.  And four teachers told me I was teaching kindergarten next year.  Have you ever been faced with the power of four teacher stares?  Once, right out of high school, my friends and I were toilet papering another friend’s house.  Her mother was a kindergarten teacher.  Sweetest woman on the planet, next to my mom.  She came out in full teacher stare-down mode, and I’ve never been so terrified in my life.  We all ran like hell, and I’m pretty sure I smelled flesh burning.  Never did find out which one of us didn’t make it out.  Anyway, faced with four such stares, I didn’t stand a chance.  Not only do they want me to teach, they already went to the principal, and cleared it with him.  They said it was mine if I wanted it.  Shizer.


Thoughts while jogging:

-Next time, don't do your stretches next to an ant's home.  It'll give new meaning to "I've got ants in my pants." Well, no, I guess that's sort of the old meaning, as well.

-Songs grow lengthier when jogging.  For example, behold my thought process:  "Wow, I've been jogging for a while, now.  It has to have been at least ten, fifteen minutes.  Maybe even twenty.  I can't believe this one song has been playing the whole time.  I didn't even know Alkaline Trio HAD any jam sessions on here.  Oh.  Four minutes, huh?

I've been in to work today, and I may be going in tomorrow, as well as doing some homework, which has me worried about burning out. I've been more excited about going in, though, as it doesn't feel like it's just me, on my own.  The team has been there just as much as I have.  And my mentor teacher is four feet away from my door.  And she had to leave early one afternoon for her daughter, and felt so bad that she came back afterwards to touch base with me.  Did I mention that my last mentor, at the high school, never once came to my room?  In the whole year?  And she left at 2:45 (or 3:15?  I forget the day's times) every day to pick up her daughter?

             Yeah.  Nice change.  Oh, and I had seven out of nineteen kids show up for back to school night.  Out of those seven, three don't know any or nearly any English.  I think I'm looking at close to half my class in a similar boat.  We'll see.

              I'm so going to be teaching kindergarten.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pink Fuzzy Handcuffs and Other February Snippets.

Today, after after-school (no, that wasn't a typo), one of the first graders tried calling her mom to find out when she was getting picked up.  She talked into the phone a little, then listened intently. She handed us back the phone and told us that her mom would call us back.
"Why is your mom going to call us back?  Hold on." ::the secretary redials the number and listens:: "Honey, that was the answering machine."

After being in kindergarten for a few months, I'm already beginning to spell words phonetically. "Famile" "Hav".  Yep, looks right to me.

I have to say my favorite valentine message went as follows: "You are the nicest princess around".  Hells, yeah.  I'm one bad-ass princess and don't you forget it!  It even came with a punch-out ring.

A couple of days ago, a kindergartener told me she had "boy pee in her backpack." 
“You have what?” 
"Boy pee." 
[Ummmm, I’m sure that can't be what she's saying...] "Show me?”  She proceeds to open her backpack.  “Ohhhhhh, you have a BARBIE in your backpack.”  Still working on that whole kindergarten language barrier.

Yesterday, one of the kindergarten girls brought handcuffs to school for show and tell.   Pink, fluffy handcuffs.   Which belonged to her Grandmother.  She told me that her grandma bought them, and if she loses them, she'll turn her black and blue.  I reaaaaaaaaaaaaaally don't want to hear the details about this one.  Just don't bring them tomorrow.

I discovered that a fourth or fifth grade girl at our school, when she gets home, calls the school, and keeps dialing until she gets someone/anyone in a classroom. She then proceeds to sing into the phone, at full volume, with music in the background, for a long, long, long amount of time.  And she does this every single day.  I was in one of the fourth grade classrooms when it happened, and the teacher put it on speaker phone. She certainly wasn't afraid to belt it out.  The teacher said she almost never answers anymore when she sees who's calling.  But she doesn't feel bad, as the student will just keep trying different classrooms till someone else picks up.  I guess she's home alone and becomes bored.  Knowing the girl, I never would have expected her to do this.  The teacher even tried to break in a few times, and we tried applauding, but she just kept on going.


"You hear that? There are dinosaurs coming!  I can hear their footsteps.  I can also tell they're coming because Mr. Gardner's hair is moving."

Uh-huh. That's right. Mr. Gardner's hair is a sure sign of impending dinosaurs.

The window of the first class I'm in during the morning is directly across from the V.E. room I used to work in. Well, apparently, one of my old students (you may remember him as "Check your zipper!  Check your zipper!") just realized this, because he burst into the V.E. room and exclaimed: "I know what happened to Mr. Gardner!  She took him!" Well, Della had no recourse but to lead him to me, so he could accuse Kris (the teacher) of stealing me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Warning: We have a man down. I repeat: we have a man down.

In January, after a year of working as a substitute Teacher Assistant for V.E., I accepted a position as a Teacher Aide for Kindergarten.  The pay is sadly lacking to try and live on, but it's a good step up into the school system.  This is the first thing I jotted down:
Day Two at my new position as a teacher's aide for kindergartners.
I don't feel tired while I'm here, but both days, I come home and sleep for an hour.

Let's see what happens.


Kindergarten isn't a class, it's a war zone.
Within the first two hours, I am escorting one child to the clinic, holding a trash-can before him in case he vomits, and returning to find one little girl has to go home because she has lice.  The actual conversation went something like this:

“Why are you standing in the hallway?”
-“I don't want to go home.”
“Oh, did you get in trouble?  Were you at the office?”
“Oh, you said you WANT to go home?”
-“No.  I don't want to go home.”
“Why do you have to go home?  Wait, where did you just come from?”
-“The clinic.”
“Ohhhhhhh” [Doesn't appear sick.  Doesn't want to go home.  Came from the clinic.  Note: Do NOT touch her head.  Ground Control, we have lice].

It's probably only a matter of time before I get lice.  I grab and/or shake kids' heads all the time (um, not sure that came out right).  Their heads are just right there, at hand level.  And the kids are so dang cute.  Sigh.  Better break that habit.  Actually, this particular action has already given me pause.  I told some of my old church youth kids that I would visit them at Young Life.  I showed up at Club, see my now-high-school kids way in the corner, and start wading through a multitude of unknown high schoolers sitting cross-legged on the floor.  Half-way through this sea, I realize to my mortified horror that I had been 'laying hands' on random stranger's heads as I walked by.  Maybe if this had been a Pentecostal youth group I could have snuck past as a simple, spirit-filled stranger.  Random Young Life students, I apologize for grabbing and shaking your heads without at least a "May God be with you."  I even find myself out in public greeting a friend by wagging a finger, or giving a "self-hug".  Kindergarten teachers aren't crazy, we're just conditioned.


During recess, a student runs up to me while holding onto another student.  The little guy (a first grader, I believe) was bleeding incessantly from the mouth and screaming something horrible.
I immediately escorted him to the clinic.  Blood was pouring out of his mouth, and he at first tried stemming the flood with his hands.  Then he dropped his hands to hold on to my pants (yay), and thus began leaking all over the floor. I asked him if he could continue to hold his mouth, which was answered with a blood-chilling howl, and more blood.  'I guess not.'  I kept having to downplay the situation to every other student I passed.  "It's okay. It's just a mouth bleed.  You can lose six pints of this before dying from blood loss."
It turns out he broke both his front teeth (which were adult teeth).  He and someone else had run smack into each other, face first.  Well, technically, face and head first.  The other student was discovered with a big teeth-shaped gash on his head.  He did not seem the least perturbed.  The first student ended up having his teeth wired in hopes that they would heal (something I did not even know was possible), and was not allowed to play at recess while they healed.  He really was just playing, but he's always been too rough outside (Note: three years later, I would catch him running in the hallway at dismissal, ignoring shouts to stop, only to collide - face forward- with a walking student.  Guess who again escorted the teeth-bleeding student to the clinic?).
Anyway, not five minutes after I had brought him to the clinic, another student came in, also with a bleeding mouth, for doing the exact same thing (although it was less serious with him).  As I leave, a third child comes in, and promptly begins vomiting.  It was a very wet day at the clinic that day, and made me quite thankful that I am not a nurse.


Oh, and kindergartners scoff at the power of the double knot.  Do what you will.  It doesn’t matter.  You'll be retying it in less than an hour.


"Wheeeeeeee - where is it, where is it, where - oommph. There it is." 
::I sit down in a kindergarten chair::
There's just something odd about walking into a room and seeing a bunch of grown-ups sitting in little midget chairs around a midget table. ::no offense meant to any shorter than average individual who chances upon this journal::

I received two stickers, today.  I guess I done good.

Also, I think this may be the first time in many a decade that I’m storing up a surplus of those “necessary hugs a day' thingies. Usually at inappropriate times. "You need to be in your seat!  Um, okay.  Thanks for the hug.  Now go back to your seat." And then there's the random walk-by hug.

One thing that exasperated me when I was a substitute, but now also amuses me, is the fact that some of these guys simply haven't mastered the art of walking, yet.  Their stumpy little legs and feet get confused, or they get excited, and Plop!  Down they go.  Usually managing to drag at least one to three other students down with them.

You know, I've been washing my hands at every opportunity, but there's only so much you can do.  Especially when, while bending down to find out why one of your kids is doubled over on the floor, another one approaches you to ask you how to sound something out, and sneezes directly in your face.  I actually felt the droplets enter my eye, plant a flag, and declare a new colony.  I’m pretty certain that if I survive kindergarten, I’m going to be immune.  To everything.