Saturday, January 29, 2005

Whatever Happened to those Foot-Long Rulers?

You have to be a near-saint to even consider teaching a group of 5-year-olds. (at younger ages you are mainly just interested in preserving their lives until they are returned to the parents) Because 5-year-olds have the attention spans of Frozen Peas. Dump them out anywhere and they will immediately scatter far and wide, and they certainly don't come when you call them. I was helping out at my son's class the other day. They were in the school parking lot obscured behind a cloud of dense non-toxic smoke, where Firefighter Jeff and Firefighter Sandy were teaching them how to survive a house fire. They all thought this was a great deal of fun, possibly even more fun than rolling in dirt. Except for one girl who was visibly traumatized, maybe because she realized they were practicing to AVOID DEATH, while everyone else was trying to see whose butt they could pinch as they crawled through the Trailer of Smoke. So the teacher had to console the sobbing girl, which made it all the more difficult for her to get the rest of the Frozen Peas to "settle down" and "stay in line" and "keep moving" as they headed back to class. When they reached the awning over the outdoor hallway, the teacher reminded everyone, "When there is a ROOF over our heads, we turn our voices OFF." Three children at the end of the line then shrieked, "WE'RE not under the roof yet!" And then they dissolved into lumps of hysterical laughter. Thawing peas. One boy leapt from the middle of the line and shouted gleefully, "Now I'M not under the roof either." At this point I helped the teacher horsewhip them all until they cried. Eh, kidding of course. We herded them back into line and toward the classroom. One apparently well-off little boy was shedding change -- QUARTERS, in fact -- out of his pocket, in a purposeful manner, as if he were starring in a private production of Hansel & Donald Trump. (You know, they dropped crumbs...? Not certain everyone is "up" on their fairly tale lore these days.) I tried to retrieve coins as they rolled down a cement ramp and bounced into the grass. I debated opening a small trust fund, but eventually turned it in. You may have to be saint-like to work with 5-year-olds, but I am sure before each day is out these teachers and aides feel more like fascist dictators of a very short nation, because they are constantly trying to get their students' attention and maintain order. One student was moaning because his knees hurt from crawling through the carpeted smoke-filled trailer during the fire escape adventure. The teacher inspected his knees and pronounced him perfectly healthy. The moaning temporarily ceased. Then she began prompting them for words beginning with the letter "B" to write on her giant pad. (I guess they use giant pads more than blackboards these days.) The first kid who raised his hand yelled out, "Brachiosaurus!" Kids know the dinosaur world better than they know their own extended families. Anyone who has ever seen Fred Flintstone devour a Brontosaurus Burger is going to be disappointed to learn that the term Brontosaurus has been retired, and replaced by the aforementioned Brachiosauraus. It is not the easiest word to spell, either. The child with the knee problem then burst into tears. His knees were fine, but now his elbows were in great pain. Although no sign of injury could be seen, the aide decided to take him to the nurse for some Imaginary First Aid. When we broke up into groups, the teacher asked if I was comfortable with "math." Haha. My specialty is the Mangled Metaphor, but we're not talking calculus here. We were measuring common classroom objects such as staplers, scissors and tape dispensers using Paper Clip Units. One girl, who I suspect had early onset signs of ADHDD (Already Doing Heinous Deeds Disorder) was unrolling the Scotch-brand Scotch Tape and affixing it to other students' foreheads so they could be Indians. I unstuck a few tribal members and tried to confine them to the reservation. The worst part was when the book asked us to measure a shoe. Before you could say "macarena" all the children in the group had whipped off their shoes and plunked them on the table. We had to measure each and every shoe in paper clips. Instead of one representative shoe. (Note to self: send educational publisher a nasty letter about that exercise) I spent the remainder of the period as a blacksmith, helping to re-shoe all these 5-year-olds, many of whom had extremely complicated knots in their laces. After two hours of helping, I felt my brain had retreated into my pituitary gland. So next time you see a kindergarten (or younger-aged) teacher socially, offer them a drink. Or a sedative.

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