Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Kinder Kindergarten

Me, First Grade (Don't judge my hair)

“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:


  1. What a precious picture! You were an adorable first grader. As for that kindergarten teacher, why didn't she go outside, why did she single those children out, has she ever had any workshops on classroom management, and does she really like her job? Okay, I will go sit in the thinking chair now for being so snippy!

  2. This seems like kind of a confusing schedule for small children--you sit here, you play now, no, stop, now go, eat here, no--there today.

    Eek! At least you got out of staying the entire eight hours.

    Small kids are a handful. I hope today's gig was a little smoother.

  3. No coffee! I'm a zombie without it. You must be a substitute hero.


  4. Wow! I'm already exhausted and I don't even watch children! I'm not a teacher or a substitute I think it's amazing that you are able to watch such little one's especially without coffee!!

    At least tomorrow has the possibility of being less chaotic, one can hope right?

  5. VKT, she has an ASSISTANT to do those things. You know, she was on top of the kids and kept them in line pretty well, considering the impulse control issues, but she was so... sour.

    Tiffany, today began in chaos (basically, no plans), but improved. The story of my subbing life.

    Aubrie, I'm so tired that this post is most likely filled with typos.

    Jen, already have tomorrow's assignment and let me just say, I'm not psyched!

  6. Your posts about real-life subbing crack me up. By the way, I love the picture! I think it's adorable. I can't tell you how many of my school photos were taken with bed head. Very sad.

  7. The picture of you is adorable. I truly admire you for going into all those different situations on your sub jobs. I am not that brave.

  8. Hee! How cute are you? :) And again I say, major props to you for doing the kiddies. I can't imagine myself doing K-6 at my age.

  9. Awww, I think you were cute! (Big hair was all the rage back then.)

    No way could I handle that many little ones.

  10. Aww so cute!

    Your class sounds like one of the classes I teach Sunday School for. At least you are an adult however. When a 15 year old GIRL is the teacher and SHOULD have complete authority, everything I say goes in one year out the other. That class really does remind me of my 3 year old class... Just glad it isnt quite such a long day....

  11. I was exhausted just reading your post and needed a coffee, great story and the photo is gorgeous. I hate that gender mix up thing, can be very embarrassing.

  12. A new boy has started school here and I could have sworn he was a girl, with long blonde wavy hair and a very pretty face. When I first saw him, I thought why is that wee girl wearing a boys school uniform. hehe His name is Jack.

    Interesting about NZ being 1st for marijuana. I thought U.S was 1st, with NZ second and Spain 3rd. Not good!!

  13. Oh Theresa Milstein

    What a sweet pic of you!! I love your hair!! It's bouncy and curly and red! It's brilliant hair.

    My goodness what a day!!! I'm exhausted just reading it - these kids are so hard work - goodness!!

    I do feel for that little boy with limited English. I hope, hope, hope he finds the strength to come out of his shell and not be so frightened. It doesn't help that the big adult world seems horrible - that grumpy dinner lady for instance - actually that whole school seemed grumpy from the teachers to the dinner ladies!

    But it was so sweet of that little girl to try and make friends with him. I know these kids were playing up and peeing on the floor and what have you but at least there was a lot of innocent kindness too.

    I hope you treated yourself to a great big Starbucks coffee thing with a flake!

    You deserve it!!
    Take care

  14. Julie, sadly, I think my mother actually styled it. I remember a lot of tears every time I grew it out because it got so knotty. My parents would work on me until I agree let her cut it into a shorter afro. Come to think of it, part of my problem was my mother cut my hair!

    Choices, this job is waaayyy out of my comfort zone. Thanks for the comment.

    Sarahjayne, the younger grades are often easier to sub because they haven't gotten to the, "Oh good sub. Now we can get away with everything," atitutude yet.

  15. Lola, luckily I wasn't on my own or I would've been in BIG trouble.

    Kenzie, teaching at your age can't be easy. I don't know how 22-year-olds get authority in a classroom. It's hard when you look young.

    Brigid, a couple of weeks ago, I had a boy at the same school that was so, well, pretty with long lashes and longer hair, I thought he was a girl. I referred to him as "she". Ugh.

  16. Niki, I thought you'd get a laugh from my comment on your last post. Now you see that you could've had a completely different subject for your "M" post!

    Old Kitty, my hair does look red, but it was brown. My sister is the redhead.

    Yes, there were too many grumps at the school. But there were a lot of sweet kids and I got a few hugs along the way. Too bad they have to deal with the less wholesome ones.

    I brewed a cup of coffee as soon as I got home!

  17. Chinese? That's not fair. I only had normal choices for my foreign language.

  18. I think what got me the most here was that the teacher had the nerve to bark at YOU, the sub, helping her out. She's not helping matters much, is she?

  19. Chris, one school has French because of the growing Haitian population, but most learn Spanish. This one does Chinese. There was a school that had Korean, but I think it ended. My old school did Italian and then switched to Spanish for the older grades. Poor confused kids.

    Joanne, I didn't appreciate the bark. There are teachers who don't understand how hard it is to be thrown into new situations everyday and how hard it is to do everything perfectly.

  20. What a lovely photo! Weren't you the sweet little thing.

    I am just starting my day, and I need coffee after reading your post. I don't know how you do it. Pat on the back for you!!

    The lip gloss made me smile. I remember those magic remedies!

  21. Now, that was a hard day. I never knew managing kids can be this difficult. Loved reading it. Especially the accusations from the punished ones...:)
    BTW, your pic looks very cute!

    Have an awesome day.

  22. Oh my god, I am exhausted just reading this post. How do you keep on with your writing after days like that? I would have zero energy.

  23. Ann, I'm a big fan of magic remedies too! Without it, two children would've gone to the nurse, and possibly two others.

    I'm with seventh-graders. I could use some coffee right about now.

    Mr. Stupid, I think being there for eight hours doesn't help these little ones. Most of the problems happened after they'd done their six hours.

    Rebecca, I'm on my fourth day subbing and I have no energy left. My writing is suffering today.

  24. Well, I think the hair is gorgeous. And wow. What a day. I'm lucky to get in five hours -- so you earn a prize for doing six -- oops seven!

  25. That's an awesome Twain quote. And the subbing experience is fascinating!

  26. The teacher sounds rather rigid! Couldn't be much fun for children that young (and in school for 8 hours - that seems so long for that age group!). I loved how you cured their booboos with your magic ointment!

    Now I need to go rest - just reading about your day exhausted me :)

  27. Elana, I'm shocked that anyone finds anything good about my old look. What is your schedule like?

    Lydia, I'm glad you like the Twain quote.

    Belle, my days exhaust me too. I"m trying to decide whether to parent or to nap.

  28. Ugh...Kinders can be angels or demons! Congrats on making it through that!

  29. Vagabond Teacher, they are angels or demons! I may use that title in my next kindergarten post.

  30. you sound like a trooper;keep on keeping on.

  31. hee hee. This sounds hilarious. But definitely exasperating!

    I love the chapstick trick. I will keep this in mind for my future children lol.

    Also, you were a very cute first grader and did not look like a boy!!

    Thanks for being kind to the poor boy still figuring out English. I can't imaging how lonely that would be. But how cool that they teach Chinese in school!!

  32. Ee Leen Lee, thanks.

    MBW aka Olleymae, thanks for telling me I don't look like a boy. The dress helps and the hair wasn't as short as I was forced to have it sometimes.

    Hearing how much Chinese they've picked up and their authentic their accent is pretty impressive.