Laura’s classroom is number 33, at the far end of the building. She’s talking with another woman when we walk in; the other woman soon leaves and Laura greets us kindly. I immediately notice that she’s wearing a green sweater as well. I must have selected the most teacher-ly thing in my closet, perhaps the first step to a successful career in teaching. My mentor has shoulder length reddish-blonde hair and a somewhat solemn countenance. She doesn’t smile much, but her eyes are even and not unkind. I am to learn that she is a strict disciplinarian, but also a tender, sympathetic woman.
The classroom is much more cluttered than I had expected. In my mind kindergarten classrooms were neat and orderly, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Here it looks like a home-school supply store had exploded. Puzzles, bingo games, and blocks overflow from a bookcase in one corner, and a counter that runs the length of the room is crammed with papers, maps, projects, snack cakes, and juice boxes. The room is literally covered from floor to ceiling with letters and numbers. The desks are all in the middle of the room, and for some inexplicable reason the chairs are perched on top of them. A large rug covered in big numbers, shapes, and the alphabet is against the wall opposite the counter, and above the rug a large white board, awaiting the day’s first lesson. Laura’s desk is against the wall farthest from the door, crammed between some filing cabinets and a computer station.
There’s nothing for me to do right away, so I busy myself with putting away my purse and coat and taking notes on everything I see. Laura is working on a weekly newsletter she sends out to her students’ parents to keep them updated on their scholastic progress. I can see that she has written a page of interesting ways to drill kids on their numbers, as well as the announcement that they will soon be learning about maps.
She’s keeping a close watch on the clock and in a few moments she tells me that it is time to get the kids. We walk down to the gym, stopping on the way at the teacher’s workroom to pick up her newsletters from the copier. The workroom is spacious, very white and smells of warm copy paper. As we go out I notice several boxes of cereal box-tops. I knew that those things were supposed to help out schools, but I never really thought about anyone having to go through the trouble of redeeming them.
We arrive at the gym a few moments later. it is a big echo-ey room with a spongy floor, where a man who looks like a coach (the whistle kind of gives it away) is rewinding a Magic School Bus video. The room is almost empty, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. As if on cue, swarms of children begin to flood the gym. Little groups of ten to fifteen come keep coming, one right after another. Little towheaded boys and brunette girls, some loud, some shy, many who Laura has to remind not to run. Some of the children are well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-mannered, but others look like they just tumbled out of bed. I see a girl has not combed her hair, and at least one child is wearing dirty clothes. The ones that really stand out, however, are those who run up to Laura and throw their arms around her waist, hugging her as tight as they can. She hugs them back, says a few words to them and then sends them off to watch the television. Soon there are dozens of them sitting on the gym floor, and the volume of their conversation is rising. it is really amazing how much noise a few classes of elementary students can make.
The coach then blows his whistle and everyone scrapes and stumbles to a standing position, then the whole mass begins moving towards the big double doors into the hall. Eighteen children stay behind to follow Laura and I back to classroom 33. The hallways are almost impassible with swarming children. As we herd our little flock a little dark-haired girl tries to get my attention. At first I can’t tell what she’s saying, it is very noisy in here, but I finally make it out, “Are you a real teacher?” I have to laugh.
“No, I am just here to watch Ms. Taldo and learn from her.”
Again, those black eyes, wide with wonder, “Are you an actual teenager?” I have to laugh again. I will soon learn that kindergartners, at least the little girls, are intensely interested in new faces. I am fascinating to them, an entirely new experience for me. Apparently Laura has overheard our little exchange, and when she relates it to another teacher a moment later the woman smiles and tells me, “That’s Audrey, don’t let her bother you.” She seems to think that the little girl might have been annoying me. I actually think that she is rather sweet.
When we get back to the classroom all of the children go to their tables and desks and begin setting their chairs on the floor. Soon everyone is seated and babbling away while Laura sorts through some papers at the counter. She begins something she calls ‘morning work’, a time when the children cut and paste words into vowel-sound categories and practice writing their names.
Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment!