“Kindness is a language which the deaf ear can hear and the blind can see.”
- Mark Twain
Monday evening, I received a call to work at the eight-hour school I’d subbed at recently*. I double-checked with the substitute gatekeeper that it wasn’t an eight-hour assignment. The response; “She didn’t say it was extended day.” Subs.
I reported to the office at 7:40 and found out that it was an extended day assignment.
After explaining what I’d been told, I said, “I can’t work for eight hours because I have to let my children into the house after school.”
“How long can you stay?”
“I can do seven instead of my usual six.” (That’s seven hours without coffee.)
The secretary sighed. “We’ll find someone for the last hour.”
My job was to replace the assistant, so I’d be working for the kindergarten teacher. “This is the worst class I’ve had in twenty years.” (Oh joy.) She wasn’t kidding. While there were sweet kids who hugged me and told me cute things, paid attention and worked hard, there were the others. Seven people were added to the list of students who would sit on the bench for five or ten minutes (depending on the number and type of infractions) for recess.
I had to keep several children, mostly boys, to stay quiet on the rug and on task at the tables. During literary, I helped each child write a cover for its alphabet book, which entailed having it write, “My Name Book by…” This is harder than it sounds since they turn the book the wrong way, make spelling errors (including their names), and many kids came in and out of the room with specialists, so it was difficult to keep track of who did what. Oh, and the teacher sent one student to THE OFFICE. The infraction? When the students left the rug after story time, he crawled a couple of feet and said, “I am a monster.”
Lunch duty felt a bit chaotic. Five students had the privilege of eating lunch with the teacher, so I had to remember who was allowed to go back to the classroom. Unfortunately, the students reminded me one by one, as I helped other students choose their beverages and make sure they took a fruit. It turned out that one student didn’t remember to go upstairs. Later, when I returned to the classroom, the teacher barked at me, “Why didn’t you send him up?” After my lame response, she barked at the student, “Why didn’t you come up? Another student could’ve taken your place.” I failed.
Back to the cafeteria, when I handed the food list to the lunch lady, she asked about a certain student whose name she’d never seen.
“He’s a new student,” I responded.
“He’s not on the list. Go get him.”
I brought the boy who barely spoke English over to the woman. “What’s your name?” I asked.
He replied. She grumbled, “That’s his American name. What’s his Chinese name?”
He said it and we figured it out. Crisis averted.
I sat with the Chinese boy most of the afternoon, trying to interact him and teach him words. He must’ve liked it because he scooted closer to me, and showed me everything he did. He was like a seventh-grade student taking a language for the first time because he knew his colors, numbers, animals, and body parts. But when he tried to speak in complete sentences, it came out like gibberish.
Students at this school take Chinese twice a week, so it was sweet when one girl made a point to speak to him in her limited Chinese. Other than that girl and me, the boy spent his time isolated. I hoped the words would connect soon so he’d speak fluently and make friends.
The girl who helped the Chinese boy looked like a boy herself, with short hair, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants. I was glad the teacher said the girl’s name first. I HATE when I make a mistake with gender. It happens once in a while, and then I feel terrible.
When I was around their age and at the supermarket, waiting for my mother to finish checking out, I hung out with a boy around my age, probably also waiting for his mother. After we played for some time, he asked, “Are you a boy?” In all fairness, I had short, curly hair and probably wasn’t wearing a dress that day. But I still remember it. I waited over ten years before I had short hair again** because I had boobs, so nobody would mistake me for a boy again. Now I don’t want to scar other children for life.
Besides helping the students, photocopying, and laminating, I also had to take the kids out for thirty-minutes to play in the park. In the cold. With the threat of rain. Fun. Things went smoothly while the seven kids sat on the benches for their punishment. As I began releasing them, the problems began. There were accusations galore:
“He threw woodchips in my face.”
“He spit on me.”
“That’s because he told me to shut up.”
“She won’t let me push the tire swing.”
“He kicked me in the knee.”
“She pushed me.”
Each time the kids claimed an injury, I reverted back when my kids were younger, and we were at the park. In case you don’t spend time with kids, they want bandages and/or ice for everything. Pay attention because for the under six set, this works like MAGIC. I took out my tube of lip ointment, wiped it down, put some of my finger, and rubbed it on the booboo. “Does it feel better?” I’d ask. It always did. Not one child went to the nurse.
When the seventh hour ended, nobody was happier than me. After intervening between unruly boys, calling the office twice because two children peed on the bathroom floor, only a thirty-minute break, and no coffee, I was ready to go home.
* A post about the last time I taught at the school (P.E., of course):
** My yearbook photo: