I am a recovering high school English teacher. I was once the den mother of an evil horde of adolescents-whom I loved. They called me “Mama Ro” and to this day I count that as one of the bests in my professional and personal life.
Fast forward 15 years, I am still between opportunities and have reentered the classroom as a substitute teacher in the elementary school.
Smelling like a mix between cookie dough, moldy lunch boxes and paste, it’s far more colorful than any classroom of mine. It also is louder…think speeding locomotive and baseball game.
At first I deluded myself into thinking it would be easy. How hard can 2nd grade math be? Kindergarten is a breeze if I follow the directions. Oh, poor soul, how wrong I was.
I was working it. I mean really working it with a lesson on the tens place. I had them using hand signals, chanting answers and smiling…until I checked for understanding. They had none. Zip, zero, nada, as all my ‘brilliant’ teaching added up to nothing.
“Mrs. R? That’s a nice wist you wote on da board,” the angelic, italian kindergartener said.
“Thank you!” (pat self on back for listing the afternoon activities).
“But we can’t wead yet,” he smiles and goes back to eating his chocolate Twinkie snack.
I’m still working on it. Along the way I have learned a few lessons in these hallowed, seasonally decorated halls.
Nicknames are serious business.
I like nicknames, especially the super emotional, secret joke, just-between-you-and-me kind. I’ve been: Ber, Kymber, KimRo, Ro, Mama Ro and Mama Robertson. In elementary I’m Mrs. R. Simple sometimes is better. P looked at my name on the board with a creased brow, took a breath then poked me in the sternum. “I’m gonna call you R,” then she sauntered away. Yes, P, you get to call me R because moxie!
Sometimes you just gotta climb the truck…
…and not think about how to get down. I came to sub and it was ‘Merica Day (a PTO event celebrating the military and ‘Merica). I trooped 20+ kindergarteners to the gauntlet of ‘stations’ and saw this 6 ton beauty.
Ginormous truck + unattended ladder + Mrs. R = a good time!
It didn’t occur to me until we stood atop the truck, overlooking the rest of the elementary school, that we would have to get down-all 20+ of us…including me. Thankfully a longsuffering Sgt. was there to assist as children slid/jumped/shook/shrieked/giggled their way down the ladder. Aside from the twin humiliations of me climbing down butt first and being covered in grease, IT WAS THE BEST EVER! Sometimes you just gotta climb!
Safety is Serious Business
We learned all about fire safety then had a word hunt in the classroom. On a whim I told the children it was a secret mission to find the words and they had to sneak up on them, just like firefighters sneak up on fires to put them out. Picture a room full of tiptoeing, silent little humans. While the business of safety was serious, we had fun learning about it. Fun + Serious is an equation I need to experience more.
And finally, snacks do taste (and smell) better in the bag…
…and with a friend. I got to work with J on writing the numbers 1 and 2. We double high-fived when he did something right. Later, I got to sit with him during snack. For families who can’t afford it, the school provides milk and a snack. J is in one of those families. The Aide shared a bag of Cheez-Its out of her lunch box, asking him, “J, how does it smell?” J likes to smell everything. During math he smelled his pencil box three times.
As we sat together, J munching happily and telling me he was going to share his library book with Grandma, I noticed the other Aide looking sad. J doesn’t get to see his Grandma very much. The look on her face told me J didn’t have it easy outside of school.
J started to carefully pick up the crackers and place them back in the bag, then smelled them again. “They taste bettor in da bag,” he told me, blue eyes sparkling behind his wire rimmed glasses. J asked for a hug before he left…I gave him two.