Thursday, April 3, 2008

Classroom Helper, Part Deux

You may recall that back in November I visited Ainsley's classroom to get some family service hours. One of the kids said I was ugly, and my fragile self-esteem took a hit. Enough time has passed that I ventured back on my spring break to work two entire days in both the office and her classroom. And while no one said I'm ugly (at least, not that I know of; I did wear earrings this time) I have realized that there is no way that I could ever ever EVER work with a large number of small children on a daily basis.

My own kid loved having me there. On both days, I started my time by "eating lunch with Ainsley in the cafeteria." I put quotes around that because, even though that's the wording her teacher used, what she meant was, "Supervise a class of 14 kindergartners at lunch so that I can get the hell away from them for half an hour." And while I can't blame her, it would have been nice to know that I wasn't just there to eat pressed turkey and faux chicken fingers with my kid. The first day went fine, because there was a surplus of lunch monitors, plus I was still working with the element of surprise. The fear of the unknown is a powerful educational tool. But today, they had my number. See, I was all nice and crap yesterday. So today there were kids stealing food from the packers, and one kid tried to choke another (his defense was, "But he's my brother,") while the notorious Greg was mixing every sauce offered with the chicken "tenders" and taking dares from the other kids about eating it with his spoon and was about to pour his chocolate milk into the mix when I had to unleash the bitch and use my high-school teacher voice on them. The look on their faces told me they no longer see me as "nice." Good. Little punk-asses. Oh, snap.

Lucky for me (and for the kids) most of my time was spent helping the secretary. The school accountant, who mans the fort while Karen eats and goes to the potty and directs traffic outside during dismissal, was out this week to be home with her kids during their spring break. I got a rare inside look at the inner sanctum of an elementary school office, where Karen isn't just the secretary but also the school nurse, mailman, janitor, cheerleader, activities director, and, to put it mildly, resident saint. Over these two days, I've learned:

1. Security blankets come in all forms. There's this one girl who has to come in every day around 12:45 to get a throat drop; one boy who wants to play with the same red bouncy ball every day at recess and always asks that someone put more air in it for him; and a middle-school girl who comes in every afternoon for a kind word or a hug before going out to be picked up.

2. Never underestimate the power of a Tum or a drink of water to cure vague belly aches, sore throats, and boo-boos.

3. The telephone of a school office will ring most frequently during the only 15 minutes a day the secretary gets to pee and walk down to the cafeteria. Karen attempted this at two different times of day the last two days, and neither was anywhere close to a "standard" lunch hour where people should be getting breaks from their own jobs to call their kids' school.

4. Schools under tight budgets become very creative. My biggest job today was cutting some donated paper so that it would be the right size to fit the copier; as I cut, Karen immediately threw it into the machine so that she could make some copies that had to go out today. My biggest job yesterday was tagging used uniforms for the annual uniform sale; with the money, Karen is going to buy enough copy paper and basic supplies to keep the office and the teachers going the rest of the year. They are out of freakin' paperclips, for goodness' sake.

I didn't just work in the office; I did spend a hilarious half-hour yesterday filing for Ainsley's teacher and cracking up behind the cubby of student folders. The kids are participating in a school-wide project to make ABC books for our local hospital emergency room. The kindergartners' part of this is to come up with a list of words for every letter that have to do with the hospital or being sick; someone else will be charged with taking these words and creating the books that will somehow or other provide comfort to kids in the waiting room. The teacher went to the board and wrote "A" and asked for hospital words starting with that letter.

"Apple!" yelled one kid.
"That's a great A word, but it doesn't really have anything to do with the hospital. Raise your hand if you have a hospital A word."
Five hands went up.
"My dad broke his collarbone once!"
"My grandfather died in the hospital last summer because he had something in his lungs because he smoked cigarettes, my mommy said."
"Yeah, well my grandfather just got out of the hospital because he has a plaque on his neck."
"My little sister, um, she had this rash on her neck one time, and, um, guess what? It went away."
"My cat, yeah, my cat goed to the pet hospital once to get fixed because she was broken or something...."

And this was just for the letter A, people!

The teacher let them get off track, and get it out of their system, and gently brought them back to earth as only a patient kindergarten teacher can, while I was both amused and aggravated beyond belief at how easily these kids got off on tangents and how easily they spilled the details of their lives. Those kindergarten teachers are truly special, special people. Who probably go home every night and drink heavily.

My own little one sat quietly. I thought for sure when they got to C that she would pull from her own experience from this school year and wow the crowd with "concussion." Alas, she waited for E and threw up her little hand and said, "Eye problem!" and shot me her best, "Look, ma! No hands!" grin. Yeah, I don't know either. And with that my time with them was up.

I think my time there filled up my dance card as far as family serice hours go. I think I've caught us up for the 07/08 school year. And I am freakin' exhausted.

Go out and hug an elementary teacher or school secretary this week. Tell them they are heroes. Hell, buy one a drink. Lord knows they've probably earned it.

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