I am now given my first assignment as a kindergarten-teacher-shadower: create a hippopotamus puppet. This little work of art will be used later in the week for what Laura calls ‘center work’, projects the children do in the middle of the day. This assignment is a little more difficult than you might realize. I have always had something of an aversion to cut-and-paste busy work, even when I was a kindergartner myself. I much preferred coming up with elaborate family sagas for my extensive collection of Barbie dolls. Nevertheless, I plunge in by painstakingly cutting a rotund little hippo out of paper (nearly amputating his tail). Then get out my crayons. As I color him in shades of bright blue and red I ponder that question of the ages…do hippos really have bellybuttons?
The morning work goes on for about half an hour, with Laura intermittently chastising students for inattention and praising others for good work. At a set time she tells the children to put away their papers, then gets out a clipboard and begins the roll call. Everyone is present, a rare occurrence.
One of the first things I learn about being a kindergarten teacher is that you must have a good singing voice. Abruptly, Laura begins singing a little ditty to the tune of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’. “Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug! Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug! Put your bottom on the rug, and give yourself a hug! Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug!” Some of the children join in with a little chorus of “on the rug!”s as they hurry to their colorful destination. Now they must go through a very elaborate process, complete with a literal song and dance, to find out what day of the week it is. What was yesterday? Monday! What is today? Tuesday! What will tomorrow be? Wednesday! They then sing the days of the week to the Addams family theme. Scary. They also spell out the months of the year in song, to a sound-off-type cadence call. Are they training the younger generation for the third World War?
The kids get rather worked up with excitement as they go through every exercise. One little boy is rather grave and businesslike, however. His name is Franklin, and apparently it is his day to run the class through their paces. Franklin uses the long teacher’s pointer to select students to answer questions, solemnly deliberating before each choice. He seems very sweet and I adore that serious, scholastic turn of his mouth. Geesh, I am not even a teacher and I am already picking out my favorite student!
I am rather absorbed in gluing my hippo to a brown lunch bag, savoring the old childhood sensation of rubbing dried Elmer’s glue off of my palm, and don’t pay much attention to what the students are doing. After a few minutes most of them get up to go to another class for half an hour. The only one left sits down a the computer station and works on a fun, education game.
Nothing much happens before the children return and begin work again. Strangely enough, the next time I look up I see another teacher in the room (she’s also wearing a green sweater, this is weird). Laura explains to me that this woman is a federally-employed teacher and she’s helping out because of the high level of poverty and over-crowding in the Siloam schools. The children start to learn all about the letter ‘H’ from this other teacher while Laura takes a few select students aside, one at a time, to drill them on their numbers. One little girl can’t seem to remember what an eight looks like, and a boy gets twelve and twenty-one confused with each other. Laura’s patience is remarkable. I really don’t know if I could sit there and gently guide these fragile souls into the higher realms of learning. I can just see myself screaming, “it is an eight! Haven’t you ever seen an eight before? We’ve gone through this a thousand times!” But, unfazed by these premonitions, my mind begins whirring, planning techniques and systems to make learning numbers easier. Perhaps a correlation of words, like ‘eight’ and ‘ate’. An eight resembles two doughnuts stacked on top of each other, maybe something like “I ate the doughnuts”. On second thought, maybe high school is the best place for me after all.
Now the kids are learning about ovals. Back in the nineteenth century, geometry might have been a somewhat dry and boring subject for a roomful of vigorous five year olds. Not so nowadays! All eighteen children are dancing around on the rug, singing at the top of their lungs about this person named Olive Oval. If nothing else, education has definitely become more entertaining over the past few centuries.
Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment!