Saturday, March 7, 2009

Inner city romper room

I see Marquese, I see Rubylize, I see Jesus, I see Jovanie

I got the call on Wednesday from one of my schools for a two day assignment for Friday and Monday. Before the secretary hung up she said, "oh, it is kindergarten." "That is okay," I said. I needed the work, and I like the little ones anyways. At least they are usually not disrespectful. I new it would be a grueling day as you have to be constantly doing something with them to keep their attention and they are just little bundles of energy, so you have to be continually breaking up little altercations and getting the students back into their seats.

I got to school and was immediately hit with really bad news. The secretary informed me there would be no preps today. Preps are when the kids are taken to either library, art, computer, or gym for forty minutes giving the teacher a prep time to make assignments. For subs they are an oasis of calm for forty minutes and a much needed break. This would mean forty minutes more of dealing with out of control little kids.

I got to class early and tried to figure out the lesson plan that the teacher had for them. One good thing about kindergarten is you do not need to be a genius to find something for them to do. If all else fails give them a sheet and tell them to draw and color. In kindergarten, their biggest pleasure is free time. The only problem with lesson planning is to give them enough things to keep them occupied, so as to limit free time. Once free time is initiated it is hard to go back to get them to work. They try to derail lesson plans by finishing early in hopes of lobbying for more free time. The smart kids will finish their lessons and then ask for free time. I made the mistake in other classes of allowing this, then the ones that were still working saw the smart ones playing and that was the end of all work being done in the class. You have to be ready for the smart ones and keep them occupied. Either give them another piece of work or make them color or something. The key is to not allow any student free time until you are ready for free time and free time must be the half hour before lunch or before the end of the day because as I stated earlier once you reach the realm of free time you cannot go back.

The first thing I did with the students is bring them over to the carpet and read to them a story about a snowman. This was kind of ironic since the day was 60 degrees and it was absolutely boiling inside. Schools always have a difficult time adjusting to that first warm day of the year, so I was reading a story about snowmen while all the kids were sweltering. They were all asking for water breaks, but I said no. Fortunately, there was a bathroom attached to the class, so the children could use the restroom.

One student named Jesus was not looking too happy and said he was not feeling well. I asked if he wanted to go to the nurse's office and he shook his head no, but he was crying. I was not sure what to do here. In one class I had earlier in the year I let one student go to the nurse's office and then six others said they were going to throw up. Finally the nurse sent an administrator into the classroom to yell at the kids to stop faking sickness. After that experience, I was leery to let students go to the nurse's office unless they really looked bad. I decided to keep reading and ignore the problem for now. I finished the article and then sent the students back to their tables and told them to draw a snowman.

During the snowman exercise Jesus threw up all over the table. Oops, should have let him go to the nurse. I called the office and the janitor came to clean it up. Fortunately, it was contained to on top of the table and he did not throw up on his clothes, any other students, or any other papers etc. . , so no collateral damage and it was an easy clean for the janitor. The other students at the tables were assigned to other tables.

Sometimes when a problem occurs the next time it happens you make a knee jerk reaction to the exact opposite solution and then you fail a second time for the opposite reason. Then when it happens a third and fourth time you then are really seasoned and take a more moderate approach. If this happens again, I will know to have the student sent to the nurse's office. If others after that ask to go their I will know they are malingerers and deny them. With experience comes wisdom.

Kindergarten kids are so into their routines and if you do something to break it then all hell can break lose. Several times during the day I did something different than Ms. Valentine's routine and I had ten raised hands informing me how Ms. Valentine does things. This can be very informative, but sometimes it can be down right annoying. Especially when the difference that you employ is relatively minor to the routine. When the students came in in the morning I pointed to a table and told the table to put their things away. Stephanie ran up to me and said the tables are called by color. I then noticed that every table had a different color except that there were two yellow tables. I told the yellow table to put their things away. Stephanie jumped up and said "that is yellow table number 1."

At 10:30 it was time to hand out snacks. Somehow a couple of students were able to get two snacks. How did I know this? I knew this because in kindergarten everyone is a snitch. The brotherhood of arms that exists in high school of never tell on your friend is not in place in kindergarten. In fact, it is the completel opposite. Every student wants the honor of helping the teacher bust their classmate. "Marquese and Anthony have two snacks," shouted more than one student. I told them I only see one. "It is in their pockets," the little snitches cried. Since I was not going to shake down Marquese and Anthony or call security and have them do it over a stolen package of animal crackers I tried to ignore them.

My prep was supposed to be scheduled for 11am right before lunch. Another kindergarten teacher said that since prep was canceled that I could give them free time during that time. As 11am approached the kids started asking about prep since their little routine clock told them it was near that time. I told them that prep was canceled today, but they would get free time. A look of pure exctasy befell twenty students when I uttered the words "free time." They smiled the biggest smiles you could imagine and several students threw their hands in the air like they just won and olympic medal. A couple of tables actually started a chant of "free time, free time, free time" while pounding their desks at the same time in unison.

After this reaction a light bulb flashed in my brain. One problem with being a sub, especially over older students, is you have no power over students because you do not grade them and you have little access to their parents. No sub is going to call a student's parent over misbehavior unless it is really really bad. The students know that and they do not act really really bad, just really bad. The idea that formed in my brain is here I actually held a lot of power. I held the power over 20 kindergartner's free time. I was going to use this power to its utmost advantage. I was going to be the free time police, the free time czar, the free time NAZI, the free time Politburo, the head of the committee over room 403's free time, the CEO of free time, the GM of free time, whatever power group you can think of I was going to be and use this advantage to make it through the day with my sanity intact.

I immediately went to work over my newly self-deputized position or positions. I explained the next lesson to the students. Of course the students were not listening and not in their seats. I told the students that every time I had to repeat myself or students acted bad that they were cutting into their free time. I told them that they controlled their own free time. This was complete horse crap of course because I had that power.

I dismissed everyone table by table to get their practice books out of their cubbies and had them return to their tables. This simple task took surprisingly long as some students found it necessary to visit other tables on the way to get their books. I told them this behavior was fine with me, but it was cutting into their free time.

When this was completed I had flash cards of individual letters. As I flashed them I had them tell me what letter it was, make the sound the letter produces, and then write the letter in their practice books. Some students continued to misbehave despite numerous warnings of restrictions on free time privileges. It was time for a manifesto from the free time czar. I told the students that every time a student got out of his desk without raising his hand or punched his neighbor it would be a violation that would be met with the most severest of consequences. I told them that each offense would take two minutes off of their free time. I continued with the lesson, but then Jovanie got up and went over to another table. I told them that this first offense would be only a one minute infraction as the free time prime minister was in a charitable mood. I sat down and told the students to be quiet and we watched the clock as the minute expired. I continued with the lesson when Marquese for some inexplicable reason ventured from his yellow table #1 over to the red table. I told the class the two minute penalty was now in affect.

11:30 am was when I promised free time, but due to numerous interruptions and penalties I had barely begun the practice book exercise at this time. I told the students that free time should have started now, but due to the penalties we had to finish the lesson. I painted a picture of fun and playing and told them that is what you would be doing, but since some students violated terms of the free time manifesto that they were forced to finish the lesson.

At 11:35 I let the students have their beloved free time. They scattered around the room and the room was soon a floury of little bodies having a great time. Legos were taken out, puzzles were constructed, a train was soon cruising around the room, and they were in their element. Unfortunately, the good times were soon marred as students could not share all the toys in the room, and I realized that my duties also consisted of monitor of free time. I could not even relax when they were playing.

I soon took the students to lunch and had a twenty minute break, which seemed to end in a blink of an eye. I got the students and returned them back to class. I had them get a work book and assigned four pages out of the work book. The students took their time settling down and getting to work. One student finished right away so I told him to color the picture of the cat on one of the pages. Since the free time power worked relatively well in the morning I used the same strategy in the afternoon. I told them that they would get free time at the end of the day if they could finish their assignments and act like good little students.

The blue table was living up to it's name and making me very blue. There was one student especially who was a whirlwind of misbehavior. He went into the closet area without permission. I went in there to see what he was doing and he was putting his pencil in his backpack. After assessing a two minute free time infraction on him I made him go back to his table. Ten minutes later when visiting the blue table I saw that he had done absolutely no work. I asked why the other students were done with at least one page yet he had done nothing. "I don't have a pencil," he said. I told him he did yet he put it away without permission. He told me "I am not going to do it," in a mocking tone. I hate to call security on a kindergartner, but I figure this type of disrespect and misbehavior had to be dealt with someone other than the President of free time. I called the office and soon the dean of students came in and dealt with the little rude whippersnapper. The student was even more sullen and disrespectful to the dean. He refused to leave his desk to talk to the dean. The dean threatened that he either come to the hallway and talk to him or he would call his parents. He finally begrudingly left the blue table and went out into the hallway.

At 1:30pm I took the students out for another bathroom break. The students were just a whirl of activity in the hallway chasing each other around and yelling. The other kindergarten teacher said "just one more hour." I was getting pretty exhausted at this time. All of a sudden a group of older students came around the corner and my kindergartners yelled "book buddies." The teacher leading these students said that her kids come into the class and read to the kindergartners. Yes, free time for me, I thought to myself. This was a much needed break. As the group of fourth graders entered the class and individually took each kindergarten student to each corner and read to them I looked at them like saviors.

They left at 2:00, which meant I had only fifteen more minutes until free time assuming no more free time infractions. I got out a math counting sheet and passed it around to each student. The sheet consisted of squares that counted from 1 to 100. I went to the front of the class and asked for a volunteer to come up and lead the counting. Fifteen excited hands shot up in the air as everyone wanted to help the teacher count. When I picked a student the less fortunate all let out a groan of disappointment. I counted down from 5 and then had every one count with me all the way to 100 while my volunteer used a pointer to go along with the squares. After that was done I then had another volunteer come up and we counted certain segments of the chart like from 15 to 22. Each time I counted down to five. The students liked the count down part better than the exercise. Soon I had the whole class excitedly yelling 5-4-3-2-1-0 before we counted the numbers I had chosen.

On the back of the sheet there was a chart like the one on the other side except with no numbers. I told the students to fill in the chart and write from 1 to 100. As soon as they were done they could have free time. The finished chart I informed them would be their ticket to free time. Unfortunately for them, I kind of overestimated their intelligence here and this was a lot harder for them than I thought. The best student finished with only 10 minutes of free time available. No one else finished. At 2:35 the students started to lose interest and wanted free time and began to give up. I told them there was no time for free time. They were not happy with this and they all wanted to play a few minutes before departure. Since school ended at 2:45 I knew if they started to play they would never get out before 2:45, and I had to work in the city at 4:00, so I needed to leave on time. I tried to reason that if they got their things together and left they would have free time all night at home. Some bought this idea others did not and started taking puzzles out. I had to take the puzzles away and tell them to get to their tables. "Blue table get their things," I yelled, but the class was chaos.

Fortunately, some parents started to show up at the door and started to take their kids. I soon had the students getting ready for home. Wow, what a day, and I was completely drained of all energy.

I see Stephanie, I see Pedro, I see Jovanie punching Julian, I see Trianny, I see Jesus throwing up, I see Marquese, I see Antonio out of his seat, I see Marceleidis going in the closet with out permission, "hey get out of there," I see Aaron, I see Carlos throwing a pencil at Anneilise, I see Diego getting puzzle without permission, "hey stop that it is not free time yet AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!"

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