Once back in the schoolroom Laura announces that we have a few minutes before the kids come back. Normally they would be a recess during this time, but the temperature outside is hovering around the freezing point and they have to play inside. Until then, though, she assists another teacher with her PowerPoint projector. As harmless as it sounds, it is fraught with rules and regulations. Apparently the cords are a problem. According to policy, if you have long cords lying in the floor you have to constantly remind the children to step over them. This could get rather boring after a while. I’m beginning to realize just how much the rules affect day to day school life.
In the time we have left I ask her a few questions I had prepared before coming to school. First, is there any opportunity to express one’s religious views during class? I am a passionate Christian and one reason I am interested in teaching is to reduce the amount of bad-press children hear about Christianity in school. She responds by saying that it’s all right for a teacher to talk about their personal beliefs and value systems, but only when a student initiates the conversation. Even then, you must only state your views as just that, your views, and never as fact. Fair enough. There’s actually a Bible class nearby that sits on land not owned by the school, and at enrollment parents are given the option for their children to attend the class. This was where Ms. Taldo’s pupils had gone earlier in the morning for half an hour.
I also want to know what has made Laura want to become an elementary school teacher. She is more than willing to tell me. Apparently she had thought of being a teacher since she was twelve years old, but it was while taking classes at Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri that she realized her calling. The college gave her the chance to teach a group of academically-challenged children. Working with them cemented it. She declared her major as a Bachelor of Science in Education and eventually graduated from John Brown University. And so here she is today, preparing to plunge back into her job as a kindergarten teacher.
When the kids get back to their class they play for half an hour. An elaborate toy kitchen is set up on the rug, complete with enough plastic edibles for a banquet. A few girls play with a giant box of wooden blocks, and others fiddle with miniature dinosaurs. Laura takes aside one tearful little boy and asks him what the matter is. Apparently some girl took his toy, and he started blubbering. Ms. Taldo informs him that he had a right to that toy as the first possessor, so he should go to the girl, tell her how he feels, and request it back. This is a frightening proposition to the still-crying child, but it is a good lesson for him to learn.
The children go back to learning now, and each one sits at their desk with studious heads bowed over their center work. I am now given the task of sorting out books the children were assigned to read. They are all piled haphazardly in a box and it is my job to organize them. While I’m working on putting every I Can Read Too book in a pile by themselves, a little girl named Sophie sidles up next to me. I give her what I hope is a warm, kindred-spirit smile, but she doesn’t say much for a minute. Then she tells me that she has read one of the books, and that she likes reading. We chat about literature for a few moments, then she begins to help me sort the books. She says that she likes to help and I assure her that she’s very good at it. Before she leaves to go back to her desk, she gives me a big hug around the waist. What a darling! The idea of teaching sullen, bratty high-schoolers is receding farther and farther into the back of my mind. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days with such endearing little angels?
Spelling is what’s next, and the children are told to sit Indian-style on the rug. Or ‘criss-cross applesauce’ as Laura puts it. She projects a picture from her computer onto a large white board hung over the rug, on which is displayed six or seven letters. Every child should have a set of their own letters during this exercise, but some children are missing ‘a’s, some have two ‘c’s, and so on. It takes a very long time for them to get them all sorted out, and poor Laura is getting rather impatient. She is constantly having to get them back on topic. Winston, something of a problem child to begin with, has recently gotten reading glasses. He apparently detests them and takes them off his face at every opportunity. Laura tells him to them back on for the fifteenth time.
The smart-board is a magnificent invention. Laura uses it as a touch-screen and is able to manipulate the little letters with her fingers. She takes the little ‘a’ from the bottom of the board and drags it all the way to the top, saying “aaaaaaaaah”, then brings it back down again saying “aaaaaaaaaay”. The children mimic her actions. She does the same to the other letters, imprinting their long and short sounds on the children’s minds and tongues.
Next she gives them three words, ‘cot’, ‘hay’, and ‘Tim’. Underneath these are myriad other three-letter words that must be put into these categories, separated by their first letter. Where would the word ‘hip’ go? A forest of raised hands. She selects Clara, a darling girl with wispy brown hair. The girl jumps up, goes over to the board and drags the word up towards the word ‘hay’. Her little arm won’t reach nearly as high as it needs to, so Laura helps her out on the last bit. “Is Clara right?” the teacher asks. The class shouts out their approval. Other little boys and girls take their turns, sorting out ‘tap’, ‘cat’, and ‘him’. When a child has an answer, his or her entire face lights up with the knowledge; it is as if they had just invented the incandescent light bulb. One can almost see their minds expanding by the second.
Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment!