While Laura is teaching numbers I sneak a peek at the other lady, who is again drilling the children on the letter ‘H’. She looks even more solemn than Laura (so much for the chipper, pink-dressed kindergarten teacher stereotype). However, whereas I can easily imagine that Laura’s features are naturally sober, this other woman just looks like she would rather be anywhere else. She is constantly correcting the students, censuring their every movement. They seem to react differently to her than they do to their beloved ‘Ms. Taldo’. Laura is focused, but her attitude is one of genuine interest in her pupils. This other woman looks like she is doing her job, and no more. Which kind would I be, I wonder. I’d like to think that I would always be sweet and patience with my class, but he stress and hecticness would probably wear all that away in about half an hour.
It is getting to be time for lunch, and I’m certainly ready for it! Nothing will give you an appetite like a roomful of, literally, snotty-nosed kindergartners. Laura sings another little ditty, this time about lining up nice and straight, keeping hands to one’s side and chin in the air, and the little academicians file silently out into the passageway. Quite a few of them have packed their lunch (more Spider-man paraphernalia), but the others are willing victims. Personally, I’m rather jittery. I have heard so much about dreaded cafeteria food, I’m not sure what to expect!
The hallway outside the cafeteria is crammed with several elementary classes--and they’re all talking at once. The noise is deafening, but who can really blame them? It must be horribly claustrophobic to be closeted up in a school for seven hours every weekday.
Finally we work our way into the cafeteria and I realize that I have left my lunch money in the classroom. What a way to begin one’s first lunch at school! Laura and the lunch lady are forgiving, however, and I’m allowed to go through, promising that I’ll pay later. I’m able to choose between milk fortified with vitamin D, milk fortified with vitamins D and A, and chocolate milk. Yikes, I don’t even like milk! I bite the bullet, however, and put my fortified beverage in a little hollow of my Styrofoam tray, helpfully labeled ‘milk’. A lady in a shower cap serves me a little Styrofoam bowl of turkey and noodles, and I have the choice of peaches or iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. I go with the peaches. Then I get a dinner roll and a little package of butter (or buttery spread, probably the latter) and I’m on my way.
As I am shadowing Laura and not her students, I get to sit with her in the teacher’s workroom. You might think that we would eat in the teacher’s lounge, where the refrigerator, soda machine, microwave, and giant popcorn maker are located. But thank goodness we aren’t; it’s a tiny, cold room and half of the fluorescent bulbs are dark. The workroom is much brighter, and the table in the center is filled with well-dressed, laughing women. There are tall ones, short ones, dark ones, fair ones, plump ones, thin ones, teachers of every sort. I see that I am the only one to have taken advantage of the cafeteria fare, everyone else has brought their own. Laura is eating soup, others have brought salads, tacos, and pasta dishes.
The conversation mainly revolves around the work at hand: how the children are behaving, how they aren’t doing very well academically, how everyone at the Toulouse City school got a raise, even the janitor. They also discuss an upcoming conference in Oklahoma, and how an expected ice storm may maroon them on the interstate. Apparently someone told them to bring “blankets and bottled water”. Laura is definitely alarmed and says that she will be speaking to the person in charge. Can this conference be worth the risk?
My cafeteria food isn’t half bad. The turkey and noodles is a little soggy, but warm. The peaches are better than I expected, but the sticky sweet white bread roll is a far cry from my Mom’s homemade whole wheat ones. All in all it’s better than I was led to expect, and I choke down my milk with a smile.
Tune in Monday for another exciting installment!