The other day began with my frenzied attempt at getting my children ready for school as I prepared myself for work. I still had a naked face (no makeup) while dropping them off, but a phone call from the school office soon had me scrambling to finish my morning routine. I was requested to fill in all day for another paraprofessional. This would mean a little extra bounce in next month’s paycheck, a modest amount to save for a rainy day. And honesty, I felt like getting out of the house for a few extra hours. I hurried back to the house, slapped on makeup, packed a little picnic style lunch, and returned to the school.
I didn’t fully understand what educators really do until I started working at the school. People working in professions where frequent breaks are normal might imagine that education professionals would receive the same types of breaks. This really isn’t the case due to the nature of working with children. It isn’t practical to leave a busy classroom every time one needs a break; children always come first. At the school, our breaks are scheduled at intervals throughout the day to create fluidity of motion where educators are constantly passing in the halls on the way to the next task. After watching classroom teachers patiently guide boisterous children through their lessons, I have tremendous respect for their dedication and leadership abilities. Naturally, I enjoy being part of the positive energy of turning rambunctious youngsters into eager scholars.
I started the workday in my favorite classroom, watching a substitute teacher introduce a lesson in map reading. We learned that Canada has a whole bunch of islands to the north, and Cuba is not part of Florida. Next, a trip to a classroom full of youngsters working on complex mathematics. I had not worked with this grade — or class — before and felt out of my element, but my para training reminded me to follow the teacher’s lead. I found myself entranced by the new style math strategies — a different yet simple system for calculating problems that seems to go against every rule my generation learned. As the teacher explained how to calculate the problem using the technique, my brain both embraced and fought the “new math”, ultimately submitting happily to the foreign concept. Now I can finally help my own children complete their homework assignments!
Shortly thereafter, I was hunted down for a yearbook photo. I had successfully avoided this dubious task for the past two years, but the meticulous secretary tracked me down, even though on this day I was hiding far off my regular beaten path! After clocking out for a hasty lunch (at 10:15 a.m) I had to clock back in as a lunch aide. Back to the same old grind — telling children to line up, stop talking, eat lunch quietly. Before I knew it, I was switching back to my paraprofessional duties for the remainder of the day. I had the distinguished honor of escorting one child to the nurse’s office after she fled from the classroom to vomit — always a pleasure. I nipped a few tantrums in the bud, then had one backfire in a rather ugly manner. It’s hard to predict these tiny tempests sometimes. I spent much of my day imparting disapproving looks upon children acting naughty (something I have become very good at). I also was delighted to dish out many compliments, my favorite thing to do at the school.
I ended up in the gym in the early afternoon, wading through a throng of buzzing students. There was much excitement over getting out of class for a guest speaker: Miss Kansas. I’d been on my feet most of the day (another responsibility for education professionals) and my hips hurt. The food service specialist (a fancy word for what we called the lunch lady when I was a kid) procured chairs for herself and me, and we relaxed our aching joints as Miss Kansas regaled the children with books addressing bullying and the acceptance of those with differences. After finishing the books, MK asked students to help her make up a story featuring super heroes and bullies. Things kind of derailed at that point, and she lost control of the room; after several meltdowns from the more high strung students, MK finally gave up. It isn’t easy to force 400 restless children to sit enthralled for 40 minutes and listen to every thought running through your brain, but then that is why not everyone works with children.
By the time the children had been herded, I mean lovingly guided back to their classrooms, I had one break and one class to attend before the day’s end. I compared notes with another para about how many children had melted down during the assembly. I’d wanted to read an article about King Faisal I of Iraq, but the break room is Conversation Central, and the magazine will be there next time. My last class was quiet and a bit tedious; I was just counting down the minutes until clocking out. When school let out I rounded up all my children, a group of five restless souls: my daughters and the neighbor children I watch after school each day. After returning home, we conducted a very important experiment: is it possible to lick your own elbow?