Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Un Mal Dia

“All we are saying is give peace a chance

All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

- John Lennon. Song “Give Peace a Chance”

Daylight savings time: how could something that makes evenings, especially in the summer, so lovely, start with such a bad first Monday? Even though I always know it’s coming, somehow I’m never quite prepared. Does this happen to you? When I awoke on Sunday morning, I was happy that the clock read 8:30 am, which would give me a couple of relaxing hours before we left for my husband’s run.

While I sat in the living room, my husband mentioned his race a couple of times. I chalked it up to him being anxious. Then he said something about leaving around 10:15 am, and it dawned on me – I’d actually woken up at 9:30 and it was now 10:00. He wanted to leave in fifteen minutes. All that reminding and I’d never bothered changing my alarm clock.

This morning at 5:25am, the same alarm clock (now set to the correct time) sounded, and I got up, mourning the loss of light that I’d appreciated for the last few weeks. When you already wake up early, losing an hour’s sleep is cruel. As I write this, I can barely string sentences together because I’m still feeling the ill effects of sleep deprivation. It reminds me of having an infant who wakes up a couple of times in the middle of the night for feedings. At 6:02 am, the gatekeeper called me with a kindergarten job. I suspected that the only people who would handle the lost hour worse than me would be five-year-olds.

This was no ordinary kindergarten sub job. I would be at the Spanish immersion school, which aimed to have half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers. Although I have a friend who has had two children go through the system, I didn’t remember how it worked in kindergarten. The older students had their classes in either English or Spanish by subject, but I figured kindergartners needed more stability.

The building is actually two schools. I’d only taught at this school three times. Art and Music had classes from both schools. The third time was for Science for the other school. I’d never taught in a Spanish classroom.

I got there nice and early and (of course) the door was locked. The next-door teacher got the custodian to open the door for me. He and I noticed how cold the room was and he said he’d come back to repair the heater. (He never did - even when I notified the office after lunch.) I knew there would at least be another full-time assistant whom I assumed would take over the class if Spanish were required. Then I found the plans and I hoped my assumption was correct because the entire two pages of plans were in Spanish. Underneath was the lesson plan book, also in Spanish.

The assistant arrived just as the bell rang and told me that the students alternated between English and Spanish days. Luckily for me, it was a SPANISH DAY. (Oy veh!) It just went downhill from there.

I follow two kindergarten teachers’ blogs faithfully. “Look at My Happy Rainbow” had a post on Friday where he gave a glimpse of a typical schedule*. “Veteran Kindergarten Teacher” wrote a recent post about discipline** (And check out her funny post on daylight savings time***). I thought of these two teachers and their experiences as I endured this one. The assistant wouldn’t stop when students were talking, but would continue with the lesson. If a child misbehaved, the threat of the “take a break” chair (called out from her teaching spot) was given starting at 9:00 am, but the first timeout wasn’t given until 10:30.

Many of these students were OUT OF CONTROL:

“Say it again and I’m going to smash your face.”

Pointing to a girl’s potbelly, which showed under her shirt. “Ewwww!”

“You’re an idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.”

I witnessed many instances of tackling and hitting. One boy kept picking his nose and leaving what he found in interesting places (under the rug, on the cord of the shade, his shoulder). Another boy chewed his sleeve most of the day. When it was soaked and stretched out, resembling a bell, he flopped it in a girl’s face. As I escorted him to the take a break chair, his sleeve touched my hand. Based on these two boys, I washed my hands A LOT. They’re nice and chapped now.

Normally, I have a plethora of cute tales to tell, but not today. There was one sweet boy, and I did a fun math assignment with the kids where they had to measure paper tracings of their classmates’ and teachers’ feet with snap cubes, but while that was going on, I was also supposed to supervise the tape playing area, which kept attracting the more difficult children in the class.

I thought, perhaps, that the kids were acting worse because their regular teacher wasn’t there, but from what the assistant said, I don’t think it’s much better. In this class, the discipline problem children overshadowed the sweet kids who paid attention. After a couple of hours, I stopped taking the assistant’s lead and would go right down to the child’s level and state my expectation. When the child misbehaved again, I’d face the child again and say; “Now it’s time for you to take a break.”

One promising part of the classroom was a “Peace Corner”, which had a beanbag. Two times, children had issues and parked themselves there to resolve them. And it worked. If only it had been a Peace Room.

* Read his heartwarming and funny day:


** Here’s her discipline post:


*** Her daylight savings time post:



  1. One day in English and one day in Spanish sounds very confusing. Maybe that has something to do with the behavior.

  2. My daughter, the one who was so shy she was held back in kindergarten because she wouldn't talk, was placed WITHOUT MY APPROVAL in one of these bi lingual classes in first grade. This poor girl came home after one day in shock. Face white, couldn't speak. After the second day, she managed to tell me "everyone speaks Spanish and I don't understand the teacher." Third day, I go to the school and find out the deal and get her out of there ASAP. It is such a bad bad bad bad idea Period. I can't believe the schools are still doing this. And to kindergarteners? That's insane & ridiculous. If you as teacher were confused, think about what it does to the kids coming to school for the first time.

    Sorry about the rant. It took me back a few years to one of my *awful school experiences in the California public school system* of which there are many.

  3. Sheila, I hear it all comes together after a few years, so the students become fluent in both languages. I had looked at the school when I was choosing a place for my son. Except for the Spanish part, they didn't seem to have any other philosophy about education, so I decided against it.

    KarenG, I can't believe they'd send her without approval. Rant away.

    I could see a lot of English speakers were confused. One poor girl was the day's leader, which meant that it was her job to use the pointer to point at the words they were reciting or singing that were on the easel. But one of the times she was called up, she didn't know she was being called up. The teacher began threatening to send her to the timeout chair in Spanish. The girl's cheeks flushed as she said, "I don't understand what you're saying." That made the assistant stop, speak slower, and use hand signals.

  4. I can't imagine teaching an entire class in Spanish! Yikes! And my schedule will be off for the whole week. I'm still eating breakfast at 10:00am, and I'm not hungry for lunch when it comes around. Daylight Savings Time=blah.

  5. DST is the worst--you're not alone. I dread it every year.

    The Spanish/English sounds good in theory but they should have some type of consistency throughout both days. Seems confusing. The Pre-K class I've subbed for a few times does everything in English and ASL. I think it's kinda cool, but if it was one day on and one day off, it would be confusing. Especially for a sub! Geez.

    Here's to better days this week!

  6. Aubrie, I wish I could say I haven't been hungry. The students had lunch at 10:45, and I was glad my lunch break wasn't then, but I was more than ready to eat by 11:30. In fact, I'm hungry right now.

    Tiffany, I don't know what would work best as far as when to have English and Spanish. I had no idea what the assistant was saying most of the time - just getting snatches of words that I understood.

  7. Hi

    Oh my, what a horrid class for you!

    EW! That child that picks his nose. Double EW!!!
    I'd wash my hands and have them and child disinfected twice and then some. EW.


    Goodness this class sounds so horrible and they're kindergarteners - as in babies?!?!? Oh my giddy aunt! Not good at all. I'm trying to understand why this is? Seems awfully young to be acting out in such a way!

    Anyway - I do look forward to when the hour goes forward here only because it means that summer is round the corner - but I'm happier when the clocks goes backward an hour - cos then I tell myself that I get an extra hour in bed!


    Take care

  8. Old Kitty, it was gross.

    Some classes just have kids that grow up too fast. They're five, and what comes out of their mouths lets me know they're watching shows and listening to music that are inappropriate for them, and they try to act like teenagers instead of the babies that they are.

    I agree with you, the extra hour of sleep is nice in the fall, but I miss extra light.

  9. ESL and language instruction in general seems to be beyond incomprehensible. Putting a student who speaks nothing of the language in a classroomand expecting them to funciton guarantees failure. And resentment.

    And as far as I can tell, no one i any position of authority seems to care about how badly we are failing these students.

  10. What an experience! And to think you could have been home following your writing schedule. Don't go back there again.

    I am finding the mornings hard too. I was so loving the bright mornings. Why do we have daylight savings time??? Can anyone enlighten me. Oh funny, I made a joke!

  11. I love the concept of a peace corner. I could use one of those in my mind!

  12. Yikes. I hear these horror stories in kindergarten and they make me nervous... this is my first year in kindergarten... did I just get lucky with my group? I like to think the teacher sets the tone for learning AND behavior... I'm betting the teacher has allowed this behavior to occur all year long... so sorry you had a bad experience in K - come to my room, you'd have a blast! :)

  13. Wow, what a day. I can relate to working in Spanish. Last week I worked in the library, and during a free period I had two students come in to work in the library, and they didn't speak a word of English. Luckily, I do know Spanish (not fluently, but enough to have a conversation) so I was able to talk to them and give them the minimal instructions that they needed.

    But man, alternating English and Spanish days? That's confusing.

  14. Sarahjayne, I can't speak to the success or failure of the school's mission. It's pretty popular in Cambridge and my friend's children (one now in 9th-grade high school, so completed the K-8 and the other in sixth-grade) like the school and they're fluent in Spanish. But they're advantaged kids - I don't know about the other students.

    Certainly, the class was missing joy and considering it's March, I thought the English speakers would be further along.

    Ann, today was the first day I got to write since last Wednesday. Boy, did I miss it! And I think I'm over the daylight savings time change, unless it was just because I'm off today.

    Rebecca, we could all use peace corners. Maybe I should set up one for my kids. I think they borrowed the idea from Montessori.

    Halpey1, I was surprised that expectations weren't long-ago in place. I agree, students can make or break a class. My daughter's class k class was a nightmare and she had a wonderful veteran teacher and my fifth-grade classes differed greatly from year to year. But a good teacher should still be able to have some handle on behavior.

    I'd love to visit your class!

  15. I sub in a kindergarten today also. Quite a bunch. Alot of behavior issues. I think the day went well. I can be very tough in the classroom. I do love kindergarten. I did start the day by saying when my hand goes up all is quiet. It did seem to work.

  16. Shelley and Choices, your comments popped up while I was responding.

    Shelley, I know some rudimentary Spanish, which I employed most of the day. I've also worked in specialist's rooms (Spanish, Music) when ESL students have come in. I should go back to school to learn Spanish.

    I think alternating days sounds confusing too. It would be interesting to see an English day. Oh no - I hope that I haven't jinxed myself. I heard the assistant say that she's taking off on Friday.

    Choices, kindergarten can be tough to sub, but I think it has a lot to do with the absent teacher. If his/her expectations are high, the kids know how to behave. That's why I like when teachers give subs the discipline prompts/rules, which helps little ones know that even if it's a different teacher, there's still consistency.

  17. I cam back to look and I saw your comment to me. You have a very good point about the teachers expectations. If the teacher has high expectations then all will be good. So, I do think this teacher did. The teacher next door told me she is very strict. So there it is!

  18. I wish I'd had dual language classes as a kid. It might be confusing for a while, but the benefits can last a lifetime. I wish I spoke enough Spanish to communicate in the language!

    And I love the peace corner idea. When I was taking my teaching methods courses, we watched a video of a classroom where they had a peace table. I think it's an excellent tool to help kids work out their own disagreements!

  19. Theresa,

    Thanks for mentioning my posts in your blog. That was awfully kind of you.

    I know I don't have to tell you that if the teacher doesn't establish discipline early in the year, it is going to be harder to gain control later on.

    I love teaching kindergarten and it is a joy to come to work every day. If the teacher hasn't established good classroom management, how can learning take place. Bless her heart! My students have a clear understanding of my expectations for behavior. I do not have to raise my voice. They know what happens when I get to three. I rarely have to go past one!

  20. Vagabond Teacher, I wish I were fluent in Spanish too. Haitian Creole would also come in handy. When I was in school, I took Italian, which doesn't come up much.

    The Peace Corner is a better method than one used in a recent post I wrote, entitled "Passengers".

    VKT, I agree - it's all about expectations. At that age, they're so impulsive. I love that you don't have to raise your voice - that's the best kind of teacher.