written December 4, 2012
A grey pall was cast over the bi-state this morning. The drizzle urged me to leave a little early. My eyes followed the dark road and while buzzing St. Louis traffic flew around me, my ear followed NPR, dwelling this morning on Syrian violence and the “nonstarters” of both Democrats and Republicans have opened with in the opening fiscal negotiations. I really need to find a zanier morning show.
Today I am a “floating” sub for Webster Elementary, in and out of several rooms while annual student review meetings are held. I presented myself to the office at 7:18, and was rewarded for my earliness by getting to choose the rooms I wanted. “Special ed,” I said.
Just before 8:15 I knocked on Ms. Downs room. Being so used to hulking high schoolers, the second graders looked like toddlers. Quickly summarizing my duties for the hour, Mrs. Downs flew out the door, “Goodbye, friends!”
I was to work with a sad-faced boy with tangerine hair named Brock. The assistant would hold down the rest of the room. “Hi, how are you today?” I waved as he sat down. The first task was to read a simple story about going to the beach; I read a page, and then he attempted to sound out those same words. Slowly, patiently, we worked through the six pages. “Great job!” I congratulated him with a high five. Moving to some workbook pages he could not differentiate between a written statement or question, zeroing in on a random word instead of recognizing the structure or punctuation. A packet of fruit snax reinvigorated him a bit. He struggled some at finding misspelled words in a sentence (the key words being the week’s spelling words: up, us, run, cut, nut, etc). Brock was much better at solving number and shape patterns.
Half of the class then joined us at our tiny, half-moon table. Asking them to write each of their spelling words five times, each took vastly different paths in accomplishing this. Mackenzie and Tyler scribbled each word’s first letter five times, then the second letter, and so on. Izzy filled her page slowly, silently with more than ten versions of each. James wanted me to check each column he completed. Tyler needed a pill or something.
Popcorn time! Yum.
Finished with the assignments Ms. Downs left us, the aide allowed them to have free time. Maybe they would like to hear a story, I thought. So a small, ansty audience that liked to hug was regaled with the epic of Gregory the Goat. I was in the middle of trying to win a puzzle race with a second-grader when Ms. Downs reappeared before ten. I let her know of Brock’s performance and how I enjoyed the well-behaved class. She took me to my next stop, Ms. Schomberg (a behavioral class, she warned on the way).
It was reading time. In less than a moment I found myself in front of three more second-graders, reciting spelling words and reading a gripping story, “I Can Be” off a Promethean. They loved the idea of being a fast cheetah or loud lion. Then we sat down together with our own copies, me reading a page, and a student rereading the same page. They were again very interested in me “How old are you? Could you beat a cheetah?” Things like that. Cheetahs were all the rage in room 117. Through the worksheets (trace the words “at,” “be,” “maybe”) and a second story that found their focus waning, I worked to keep them on task and interested. Before we were done, however, they were told to line up for Santa’s Cottage. Time to buy pencils and stickers for their families.
My job it turned out, while in library’s make shift store, was to watch the kids who hadn’t shopped yet while they colored. It honestly had shades of being relegated to the kid’s table. The kids were excited about the $2 or $3 gifts they had claimed, but one boy named Cortez didn’t look thrilled to be there. “He doesn’t have any money,” a boy foolishly announced, as others talked about what they had gotten their moms and dads. It was then I noticed Cortez got up from the table, and slowly went from table to table, gazing at all the items being offered for Christmas.
An hour break. Went to the lounge. The teachers therespoke so long about Edwardville’s best eateries, from the rustic quality of Cleveland-Heath to the mouthwatering pies at Dewey’s, that they eventually looked down at their microwavable meals with regret. A provision to expand the school year by 300 hours was raised and debated. Unpopular but needed. They would swallow that pill. “We need more time,” one sighed, “if we’re to teach all of the new standards.” Said another, “It’s unfair to cram so much in the days we have now, a stressed teacher will just pass that on to all the students.”