This week we had Prince and Princess Day at the library for some of our young patrons, complete with a tea party. I’m not much of a princess myself. I’m more of a “walking disaster” since I keep bumping into things at work. Just as a smattering of bruises on my leg cleared up, I fell into the corner of a credenza. I had to trade out a chair in my office because it had pointy arms that I kept running into, and two weeks ago, I burned myself on a pop-tart. Seriously. But, the staff was invited to dress up for Princess Day, and to show my solidarity with the children’s department, who do a really great job, I hauled out a long, pink skirt, some preppy heels and a shiny necklace my grandfather won in a Bingo game. Hardly ermine and pearls, but it would do. I topped the whole look off with a construction paper crown that one of my co-workers made for me with a die-cut machine.
The kids ranged in age from about 3-7 and were insanely cute. The girls went all out dressing in lots of satin and taffeta, with plastic crowns and patent leather shoes, while the boys took a more liberal interpretation of their title. I saw a knight and at least one Batman. But the whole thing was too adorable to quibble over such technicalities. I stuck my head into the meeting room where everyone was coloring and eating snacks to get a better look at the motley crowd, but after a few minutes, I ducked back out. I have a lot of respect for people who work with very young children because it isn’t easy.
After college, I spent a few months substitute teaching, and I did fine with high school kids. I’ve worked with that age group a lot over the years, and I enjoy working with teenagers. They can be fun and interesting and creative, and I can joke around with them. I spent one day subbing in kindergarten, and those sweet faced angels ran all over me.
I was completely clueless about the kind of structure that kindergarteners need because older students are familiar with the rhythm of a school day. It didn’t occur to me that these students were still learning how to follow a routine. The regular classroom teacher planned the day out in 15 minute increments, but when I couldn’t think of 15 minutes worth of things to say about the day of the week (Tuesday) or the weather (cold with a light dusting of snow), we just blew through those parts and moved on to the next thing. I’d lost control by 8:45, although I wouldn’t realize it for a few hours. As I tried to teach them about the letter “L,” one girl needed to sharpen her pencil. I told her to go ahead, which set off a chain reaction of pencil sharpening. Someone else wanted a drink from the water fountain in the corner of the classroom. Fine. Another kid needed to use the bathroom, and since the class had a restroom as well, and I was dubious about the bladder control of a 5 year old, I agreed to that, too. Then next thing I knew, 27 kids had scattered in 34 directions, and it was game over. I’d lost control before lunch. I was fuzzy on the discipline system, which involved color-coded bears, someone pulled the fire alarm at lunch, and I was basically taking evacuation cues from the cafeteria ladies. That afternoon, they brought in a “special needs child,” but no one told me what his “special needs” were. I was just told that I should keep one hand on him at all times. Unsure how literally I should take that, I erred on the side of caution and followed the kid around with a light grip on his t-shirt for the rest of the day. I finished around 3:30, and reported in with the office before leaving.
“How did it go?” one of the secretaries asked. I think she was being kind because I’m pretty sure one good look at me told the story as well as I could.
“These people should be millionaires,” I said before politely telling them not to call me again. I did a day in third grade a few weeks later that went considerably better. I think with some practice, I could jet the hang of third grade, but there was enough work in high school to keep me busy. I stuck to what I know. I know how to talk to teenagers, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I have no idea how to use a story about Larry the Lion to teach someone about the letter “L.” I find that kind of teaching really incredible, and I am more than happy to wear a skirt and a construction paper crown as a sign of solidarity.
I’ll try to dig up some pictures to post. If nothing else, I’ll invest in some new batteries for my camera before Superhero Day, which is coming up soon.
UPDATE: All right, Ben, here’s your picture. I was practicing my curtsey (curseying?), but I’m not sure I’ve got the hang of it yet.