See the pieces of rooftop?
“There seems to be a kind of order to the universe, in the moving of the stars and the turning of the earth and the changing of the seasons, and even in the cycle of human life. But human life itself is almost pure chaos. Everyone takes his stance, asserts his own rights and feelings, mistakes the motives of others and his own.”
- Katherine Anne Porter
When my children have Taekwondo, it’s a two-hour commitment. Last night, I was happy to be out of the rain and anticipated one more jaunt outdoors on the way home. Then my husband called and wanted to go out to celebrate my “birthday week”. I didn’t even know my birthday week had begun. My son has been advocating eating at a tapas restaurant in Somerville, Dali that his Spanish teacher recommended, so we decided to go there.
Besides the fact that my daughter is a picky eater, we had fun. Even when the wait staff embarrassed me by singing Happy Birthday, while blowing bubbles at me and forcing me to blow out a candle perched atop a giant frog candelabra, the (almost evil) glee my children got from the scene made it all worth it.
We returned home in the rain and I checked the answering machine. There were three messages waiting for me, so I knew one of them would be a call to sub. I was correct. The job was at my old school to teach art. I’ve always liked this art teacher. She started as a sub after raising her kids, and then became the building sub, and eventually got the Art teacher position. Her story makes me hope that I won’t be a sub forever.
I arrived at the school, burdened with bags. As I was signing in, a former coworker asked me whom I was subbing for. When I replied, this teacher said, “But she’s here. She’s right in the hallway.” Was I given wrong information two days in a row? I located the teacher, who wound up having a workshop in the afternoon, so she’d be teaching that morning. “We didn’t want to call you for just half a day,” she explained. The principal was deciding what to do with me. For ten minutes, I awaited my fate.
Finally, I was sent to a kindergarten classroom since the assistant was out for the day. I was warned about one particular boy who tends to “freak out”. I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t want to find out. Apparently this was no ordinary erratically behaved five-year-old because when the class went to the library, he wandered off during story time. Another assistant told me to watch him to make sure he didn’t leave the library, but to make sure that he didn’t see me watching him or he was liable to… you guessed it… freak out.
I’ve never seen teachers and support staff so frightened of a child before. I had to admit that I was curious to see what would happen, but not so much that I dared to test him. He was watched like a hawk (the kind of hawk that pretends not to watch), but behaved like other kindergartners, for the most part.
For morning meeting, one student got to choose the greeting (“Hi” in Japanese) and accompanying hand movement (Thumbs up). A couple of the students wanted to make sure I was included in the greeting. Then we did The Hokey Pokey. The teacher called on a kid to say which body part we were doing first. He chose, “backside”. Yes, we did put our backside in, we put our backside out, we put our backside in and we shook it all about.
When the other assistant who is from Ireland read, Corduroy, and explained that a night watchman makes sure a store doesn’t get “burgled”, a laugh almost escaped me. The term isn’t used in America, though I don’t see why not, and I love the way it sounds. During the story, Freak Out Boy said he couldn’t see the book although he was in the second row. The teacher told him to move closer. Then she whispered to me, “He wears glasses, but they broke. I’ve told the family to buy new ones over and over, but of course they haven’t, even though I said that he’s squinting all the time.”
The story didn’t surprise me. In my challenging fifth-grade class as an ETS, I had FOUR students who needed glasses. Of the four, only one got a pair by the end of the year. The problem was that some families didn’t have insurance, so they couldn’t afford them, while others were on Medicaid, which only allowed for one pair a year. One pair of glasses allotted to a child living in poverty and often, a chaotic home. Then these kids can’t see, which interferes with learning, and then act out – shocking!
During station time, when students work at different desks doing various activities (writing sight words in sand, stamping letters on paper, observing a turtle, and writing and drawing about in their journals, fitting puzzle letters to form words, and putting shapes together to form letters), I took pictures of them and assisted when needed.
For my first art class, I got this kindergarten group back. A concerned looking teacher came in to watch Freak Out Boy. When she thought he wouldn’t freak out, she left. After she was gone, there were a few incidents:
1) A kid borrowed his red marker and was still using it when Freak Out Boy wanted it back.
2) Freak Out Boy wanted to wash the marker off his hands and became enchanted with the water. I had to count down when the water would be shut off, but he took it in stride.
3) He had to be asked to not write gibberish on his paper, but put his actual name.
4) When he thought his picture was finished, I told him to add more detail.
I was glad that he held it together because nobody had mentioned what I should actually do if he did lose it.
Fifth-graders came in next. I offered my Bose as the carrot to behave, which worked like a charm, even when I warned them that most of my music was the kind only an, “old, white girl,” would listen to. They were happy with Michael Jackson and The Black Eyed Peas for the period.
Before I left, the librarian told me that a former student of mine, who is in eighth-grade now, and no longer lives in Cambridge, is pregnant. Sadly, this didn’t surprise me. In sixth-grade, she spent almost every day in the office, while her fifth-grade sister (whom I had) was a similar nightmare, her second-grader brother had a kidney defect, and her infant brother periodically stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. There was also a nineteen-year-old sister who tried to commit suicide that year. The mother wasn’t fit to raise them and the father was in prison, so they were shuffled from one set of grandparents to the other. There was an accusation of incest. In the midst of the grandparents threatening to sue (for what, wasn’t exactly clear), the principal had proof that the students actually lived in another town and got the kids removed from our schools. But their lives always stayed with me. Sadly, the mother of this crew of children had her first child at fifteen. Another cycle continues.
On the way home, I noticed the trees that line Hampshire Street are budding. A little bunch of crocuses on my patch of dirt had bloomed. All that rain along with the warm weekend brought spring.