At The Mercy of Short People

When I earned my teaching certificate, the university I attended had an additional specialty that gave me a certification for short people (early childhood specialist). My own children had thoroughly outgrown the preschool/primary stage and I was pathetically grateful to have moved past it. When asked by the university to do additional work for the certificate, I told the administrators I would beg on the street before I taught pre-school.

Fast forward, many years later. Happy career teaching 4th and 5th grade, followed by a decade in a high school. I loved it and I think I was good at it. But then my love of writing beckoned. I mostly left teaching behind and hit the computer keys.

However, sometimes I want a little traveling money or better still, a kid fix. I’ve tried to stay clear of the little people – those under eight. Last week I accepted a job in an elementary school computer lab. At the last nanosecond, the office manager insisted I cover a first grade classroom for a teacher who went home sick.

It was as bad as I expected.

First of all, a lesson plan for kids that age involves changing things at least every 20 minutes. Sometimes the teachers fool you and say things like, “This activity should last about 45 minutes.” However, when you read further, it’s for “centers” which is code for switch ‘em up and move ‘em around every 12 minutes.

Small children do not just follow directions. They have to ask where to put their papers (even though they do it every day); they have to “fall” off a chair and laugh hysterically; they require yet another trip to the bathroom; they ask where their new papers are even though you’ve laid them on the desk in front of them; they need to show you how their loose teeth wiggle; they want to know if they can use markers instead of crayons; they ask if they can use the teacher’s permanent markers because they don’t have a red; they have to tell me about what another kid did at recess…and could I tie their shoe, please?

I did not scream. I kept smiling even when every child who had a question (as in all of them) poked me in the arm, back, stomach, wherever. If there had been pins on their fingers, I would have died the death of a thousand cuts.

The teacher left math worksheets which would have been great if more than four of the kids had a clue how to do the math. So I taught that (I can teach – no problem). But I got caught with the inside sheets of word problems.  Turns out about a third of the kids didn’t read well enough to decipher the questions about Luis’ oranges and Wendy’s apples. So a third of the class finished in about six minutes, a third labored away making hopeful guesses, and another third practiced falling off their chairs and screaming to the applause of the third who had finished.

It was ugly. Kindergarten Cop ugly.

I wanted to scream and fall off a chair myself.

But when in doubt, pull out a book. I gave every kid 3 sheets of paper, told them to only use the crayons or markers in their desks, and began to read. For forty-five minutes there was happy silence, broken only by murmurs as they shared crayons or admired each other’s pictures. I asked if their teacher read to them every day, and they said no. I told them I was sorry, and we had better read another story. They all nodded and smiled…and listened.

So my lesson in short people is, if you can’t avoid them, enthrall their minds and hearts with a wonderful book.

Such a great way to spend an afternoon.



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