Some get it right, others get it wrong. The children are then called upon to use their letters to create words that mimic the ones on the screen. Laura has patience with them, but lets them know when they are wrong and will not tolerate any horsing-around. When she finds their mistakes she doesn’t give them the answers. Instead she lets them figure things out on their own, asking them what the problem is and expecting them to fix it. Many of them try to get away with slip-shod work. She won’t let them. They are expected to perform to their highest ability, and most of them do.
Suddenly I have the wild urge to march up their and match ‘tam’ with ‘Tim’. It seems like such an honor, a badge of brilliance. This worries me. If I stay here much longer I may start acting like a kindergartner myself!
The children move on to mathematics next and I sit silently at my desk as they go over their hundreds chart and learn to count by threes. More songs are sung and dances danced, Laura joining in and encouraging total group participation. The children then go over the basics of the American system of currency, and math class is at an end.
Now comes a brief moment of social sciences. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed just a few days before, and Laura takes this opportunity to educate the class on what a great man he was. She gives the wide-eyed children a brief sketch of what life was like for Blacks in the racist South of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It is probably an entirely new concept to them that other children like themselves could have been hated simply for the color of their skin. Laura insists that the color of your skin has nothing to do with how smart or nice you are. All of that comes from inside a person. She tells them that King convinced Americans that what they were doing was wrong, and that that is why we celebrate him today. It is a rather inspiring speech, after which we move on to the calendar.
Laura has informed me that the children are terribly behind on their knowledge of the calendar. She tested them and found that some didn’t even know that one box meant a day, a strip of boxes meant a week, and several strips meant a month. So now she drills them over and over with days of the week, titles of months, numbers, and holidays. Several children get quite and excited when their birthday months is brought up for practice. Clara, who is sitting nearby, chatters to me about how her birthday is July, and how wonderful that is. I smile and murmur something. I hate to distract her from her lesson, but she is such a charming little thing.
Now to address the not-so-charming members of Ms. Taldo’s class. There are a few children in particular who seem to have phobia of sitting still in their chairs. They will stand, squirm, sit on their legs, get up on their knees, they seem to prefer anything to planting their behinds squarely in their seat and quietly doing their work. All day there have been interruptions and castigations, with the frequent order from Laura to “pull your colors”. This method of punishment involves several colored squares of paper on a chart hanging on the classroom door. As far as I can make out, every time a child misbehaves they must change the paper in their little part of the chart to a different color. Certain colors tell others that this child has been a good girl or boy or a very bad girl or boy. One girl has been told to pull her colors about seven times, but it seems to have little effect.
As the disobedience continues, and Winston’s glasses remain firmly away from his face, I can see that the children are tap-dancing on Laura’s last nerve. Her face is more solemn than ever, and when she sees a pig-tailed girl talking instead of writing and doing gymnastics in her chair, it’s the last straw. She takes four or five of the worst offenders out into the hallway. The door is ajar, and the entire class can hear her. The eyes in the classroom are wide, mouths silent. Their beloved Ms. Taldo sounds like she’s on the verge of tears. “I try and I try to find ways to teach you. I try when I’m here, when I’m home, all the time I am trying to help you! And some days when I drive home I’m crying because you just won’t learn!”
This little scene is soon over, however. The chastened students file back into the room and studies resume. Almost all of the pupils are finished with their work, except for a couple of little ones at the far side of the room. I can see that Laura is busy, so I summon my most teacher-ly attitude and go over to them, offering my help. Neither of them has any idea what to do, so I go through a few questions with them, correcting their mistakes and instructing them as to the next step. I might be helping them a bit too much, but Laura seems to approve. Or at least, she does not disapprove. It is hard to tell what goes on behind her mask of a face.
Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment (I could go on like this forever),