Monday, March 7, 2011
With all the worker's rights stuff going on, and the bashing of teachers - what with their "part time" work - I would like to relay this story of a morning I spent in the classroom.
I volunteered, around Thanksgiving a few years ago, for Kindergarten "specials" day; a day when the room was divided into "stations" ,with three parent hosts managing a table for three disciplines. There were word things at one table, number things at another and art.
"I'll take Art!" I elbow in, knocking the other parents to the carpet. Because its in my nature to avoid anything too hard, and because the art table seems the most laid back - it always has been, and I've been choosing it my entire life - and the place where the kids would be most relaxed, the one I thought would be the most like play.
We were to make paper-bag turkey centerpieces. Yes! I love those damn turkeys; sweet things.
The kids had to rotate through all three stations during the hour long session, a little word sorting over here, some math facts over there, and sack fowl. No problem.
So we're off, and my first group sits down at the table. I figure this premier group really are my people, because, like me, they chose the art table first.
"ok, so, first take your bag, a sheet of xeroxed feathers, a beak, feet and a waddle."
Boy number one goes nuts over the word, waddle. I don't blame him. What's not to love? But then he gets a little hysterical over the word, falling out of his chair, laughing really much too loud. Two girls begin coloring their four turkey feathers right away, crayoning with an unsettling precision and intensity. Another child looks sort of dazed and unsure and another just gripped her bag with white knuckles.
"Ok guys, so now you need to crumple up some newspaper, like this, and stuff your bag." Four sets of hands start grabbing newspaper off the pile and crumpling. Immediately one bag rips from the force and velocity of the stuffing. I hand out a new bag. Waddle boy is just now pulling his shit together and noticing the project in front of him. The sisters Gauguin have already stapled their bags and are gluing feathers to the bag's ass. One other boy has the bag on his head.
This is taking quite a bit of time. Some of these kids can barely hold a scissors, let alone master the symmetry and hand strength required to pile staples through a tri-fold of lunch bag. Time is slipping away. Math group one is finishing at their table and they are getting restless. Waddle boy has colored one feather.
My voice gets a little pinched as I try to keep the kids on task. "Marni, your turkey looks great, take it into the hall to dry. Larry, don't put the feathers in your mouth. Glue, Derek, you need to start gluing! Esther, the waddle goes on the front - color, people, COLOR!
Is it warm in here? Really is it like incredibly, oppressively hot in here? Seriously, can someone open a window?
Only three of the first six turkeys leave looking like anything other than a 12-pack of chicken parts. Mutant, discount fowl line the hallway.
Group two comes to the table as I'm gathering construction paper scraps off the floor from group one. I have a new strategy. We're all going to do this together, one step at a time.
"Shake open your bag. Good. Now take the first sheet of newspaper and crumple it into a ball like this. Excellent Connor, but don't grab Elizabeth's bag. THIS is your bag, Connor. Ok, now crumple another sheet. That's ok, Grace, the ink will come off your hands. No, you don't need to wash them now. No, you can't wash them...Grace, please sit back down, you can wash them after... Lauren, that's great work. Don't lean back in your chair Martin, MARTIN?! That looked like it hurt, Martin, you ok? Ok, guys, lets get those feathers on the right end of these birds. I want to see those waddlers under the beak, kids, not between the legs. Grace, you're back. Please glue that beak on and get moving on the legs. You can't color the entire bag, Liz, sorry right, Elizabeth, we don't have time for that. Martin, really, you're holding the scissors under your chin like that? Does that seem like a good plan? Lauren, you're awesome girl, that is a centerpiece - now take it to the hall."
Paper is flying, glue is spreading out, misshapen gobble waddles, forgotten, have been left behind to be swept into the recycling box. Two more tables to go. And they all get snack in this period as well. What the hell is happening here?? I've lost my ability to control the group. Its bird-part anarchy. Sweat is coming out of my hairline its so fucking hot in this room.
"Mrs. Vild, could you please have the children get their lunchboxes after they've finished their project?" asks teacher.
Are you out of your mind, lady, don't you see what's going on here?!
"Sure, Mrs. Hammer, will do.
"Kids, you need to get these centerpieces done and put away. Clean up by your feet, eat your snack and get your lunchboxes out of the hamper."
I've got my hair jabbed up with a Dixon Ticonderoga, trying to catch anything remotely resembling air on my neck. Sitting on one of the miniature kid's chairs, my arse spilling off the sides and my knees tucked uncomfortably up under my own turkey waddle, all I want is for one of these souls to share their Shrek gummies with me so I don't have some kind of low blood sugar episode.
I'm hot, and not a little bit stymied by the chaos of artistic pursuit.
I need something stiff to drink and its 11:17am.
The women, and occasional men, who do this work, deserve more than collective bargaining rights, they need something big, like a yacht. I think yachts would be a good place to start.
That anyone would think that $60, 000 a year, the salary for a well-seasoned teacher, one who hasn't run for the hills, is exorbitant, hasn't tried stuffing 24 turkeys with liberal media in time for snack on a Tuesday. I can't even imagine what it takes to actually teach them something.