Last week at school, our prospective new kindergarteners came to visit. They spent a hour in the kindergarten class while their mommies and daddies drank tepid coffee and listened to the school principal drone on and on about … stuff. This lovely morning occurs every year in every school in my school district (and probably my province and entire country).
While the newbies are checking out their new September digs for that hour, a place needs to be found for the kids who are already in kindergarten. Sometimes they go hang out with their buddy classes. Sometimes they are shared in various other classrooms around the school, in groups of two or three. This year, some were sent to the library, and some were sent to the music room. Even this requires a lot of delicate organization and juggling of timetables, because normally, the kindergarten kids are not in either of those places for a whole hour.
And to complicate matters this year, one of our three kindergarten teachers has just gone on maternity leave (no baby to date; I think she’s a week or so overdue at this point). It didn’t seem to make sense for her substitute teacher to spend any time with the new crop of kids because she will not be at our school in September, and heaven forbid that they start to bond with someone that they will never see again.
The decision was made that she would simply carry on with her usual morning and not be at all involved with the newcomers. That left one of the remaining teachers to take what amounted to two entire classes of five-year-olds for an hour, in one classroom – all 49 kids who had registered for French Immersion kindergarten. The kids who were registered for English were split up between the two English kindergarten teachers for the hour.
I don’t care HOW good a teacher you are: NOBODY can handle 49 wiggly, noisy, active five-year-olds for an hour. I was drafted to come in and help the teacher.
Things started out pretty well. There was only one crier, and a few other kids who refused to come into the classroom without a parent. All the parents but one (the crier’s dad) were able to sneak out after about five minutes.
The teacher welcomed everyone and explained the “work” that she wanted them to do. They were given a paper with a big star on it and a drawing of a group of kids. They were asked to print their name inside the star, then to colour the drawing of the kids. Then, the very best part: stickers! There were a large variety of different coloured foam stickers with which to decorate their papers: dinosaurs, flowers, animals, and basic shapes. The kids were so excited!
They weren’t too bad at listening to directions, either. I’m sure most of them have spent a year or two at pre-school, so they knew the drill. There were, however, two little girls who were sitting near me at the back of the group who seemed to really hit it off. They carried on an extremely animated conversation the whole time the kindergarten teacher was explaining what she wanted them to do. Every now and then, one of them would pipe up with some chirpy little comment about what the teacher was saying, but they just wouldn’t be shushed. I kept leaning over and reminding them to listen, and both kept ignoring me totally. I couldn’t quite see either girl’s nametag from my angle, so I couldn’t get their attention by calling their names. I began to think that these two just might trouble!
Anyway, we arranged all the kids at the tables and all over the floor, as there were too many kids to all fit at the tables. They giggled and yelled and wandered around. They printed their names laboriously, illegibly, backwards – and even quite nicely, some of them. They coloured and scribbled and stuck their stickers. We moved around the class, stopping to admire and encourage and chat and respond to questions.
I spotted our two little social butterflies, still engrossed in conversation, but at least they had both printed their names and were now “decorating” their papers. Quite suddenly, the one little girl with the perky blond ponytail turned her head and saw me.
“Hey,” she announced. “Can you do this? I can’t stick it.” She held out a purple foam dinosaur sticker. She hadn’t removed the paper backing, probably because she’d been talking instead of listening when the teacher had told the group how to peel the backing to uncover the sticky part.
I was just about to say something along the lines of, “Did you not listen when Madame told you how to take the paper off the sticker? Maybe you should have..”
And you know the tone of voice I would have used, too. Just a little scolding, just a little disappointment, but friendly and matter-of-fact. I perfected that voice decades ago. I can pull it out at the drop of a pin!
“Oh,” I said cheerfully. “I guess you DO need some help, don’t you?”
I removed the backing and handed her the now-sticky purple foam dinosaur. She said, “Thank you!”, turned her back to me and stuck it to her paper.
And then she resumed her running commentary of what she was doing.
And I was reminded, yet again, that with little kids especially, to always take that split second before responding, because things are not always exactly what they seem.