In Which Ella Surprisingly Ends Up Helping to Teach A Kindergarden Class

Note: I had planned for today’s post to be a continuation of the story I was telling yesterday from the time I went to the Maureen Johnson book launch, but then I realized that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and it would be much better to have a pre-written post for then.

Also, I have fun news to share!

Today, instead of writing doggedly at home, taking breaks, of course, to slam my forehead repeatedly into the table and drink way too much orange juice, I went into my mom’s school to help out. Now, I had been planning to do this for some time now, but it had taken quite a while for the proposal to work its way through the administration. But it entirely was worth it–spending the day in an inner city school is both incredibly fun and exciting. (Or at least that’s the way it felt for me, an eighteen-year-old who has a great deal of energy and almost boundless enthusiasm when it comes to kids.)

I started out just observing my mom’s class, which she teaches with another lovely woman, but after lunch I got to help out with their social studies lesson. They were supposed to watch a video made by the organization that runs Plimouth (how they spell it, for some reason–I always thought it was with an y.), have a discussion, and fill out a outline of the facts they learned before they wrote a letter to a child who lived through the first year of settlement. (We used the real names of the Plimouth children for this activity. Believe it or not, some of the kids had names like “Wrestling,” “Helpless,” “Dust,” “Delivery,” and “Ashes.”)

However, in the way that most things tend to go when it comes to kids or lesson plans, it did not go exactly as planned. The computer malfunctioned, turning the video into a series of brightly flashing pixels and a disembodied voice that sounded half like Sarah Palin and half like a robot, sending the class into peals of giggles. But my mom picked things back up again by just explaining the gist of the movie and drawing pictures with the LCD projector (It’s crazy how much technology has changed in the past eleven years. All we ever had in second grade was an overhead projector and three, bright blue Macs.).

I also got to use the pointer tool to point out the countries in Europe, explain religious persecution, and debunk a few common Thanksgiving misconceptions. (My mother had told me the night before that I was under no circumstances to tell them that European settlers started genocides, destroyed entire cultures, and were generally brutal to the native peoples. I was to keep it at “unfairly killed and hurt” for the day.)

But then the acting principal knocked on the door, called me “sweetheart” in an incredibly saccharine way (something I had sincerely hoped would have ended since I’m now an adult), and asked me to go help out in the kindergarden classroom. More than a little shocked, I followed orders and walked into the kindergarden classroom where the kids were having their Thanksgiving Day party. I’ve recently been babysitting several kids who are in kindergarden, so I felt right at home. They’re still at that wonderful age where they are (mostly) angelic and will try desperately to do the right thing to get your attention and affirmation.

I mostly spent the duration of their party checking homework and pulling together worksheets, while watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special (which, by the way, is  somewhat racist, paints the Pilgrims as huge heros, and portrays all parties involved as complete caricatures of themselves–and people wonder why I’ve never liked Charlie Brown or Disney movies) out of the corner of my eye. But then, school technically ended and “homework club” began. I read them two stories and then spent the next two hours, either squatting on the floor or perched in a very low chair, helping the kids with their math.

I must admit that I loved it. The kids were so sweet and were all trying very, very hard. One girl was having a lot of trouble forming her numbers properly and was printing them upside down and/or backwards, and while it was challenging, I really enjoyed working with her to write them correctly. One of the little boys kindly brought her a chart showing the letters and the way to form them in big print, and she very slowly managed to get it. Of course, this is not to say that the problem is entirely fixed, because an issue like that takes a lot of practice to correct, but it was a lot of fun helping her work through her frustration and succeed, and I’m looking forward to continuing working with her on it in the future. I have every confidence that she’ll get over this mistake. Pippa, after all, used to write her name like it was a mirror image of itself (every letter was backwards and in reverse order), and she’s turned out just wonderfully.

Also, giving little kids high-fives and pound-it’s is a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m coming up with all sorts of new ways to say “good job,” so I don’t sound like a broken record each time they figure something out. My current favorite is “rock on!” which the kids seem to find particularly funny.

But perhaps the best part about working with those kids is that I feel like I get to fix the mistakes that I thought my elementary school teachers made with me. I really want to give kids tons of praise, convince them that it is good to make mistakes and take risks, and tell them that they are smart and capable at every turn. If I had been given more of that, those unhappy years could have been greatly improved.

By the end of the day, I could throughly understand why my mother comes home so exhausted each night. (There aren’t many jobs where you are at work from seven a.m. to six p.m.-ish and spending many hours doing massive amounts of work at home.) But for right now, I’m totally in love with the whole experience and rearing to go back.

Thankfully, I’m babysitting some of the world’s sweetest children on Sunday evening, and I get to see my young cousins tomorrow, so I won’t be totally without young children in my life for too long.

On another note, Cecelia came home today, and I got to spend several hours with her this evening. We ended up driving around, looking at the skyline, with all of the buildings lit up and the light pollution turning the sky over the city an odd shade of purple-red and the low-laying clouds, grey tinged with orange, watching Obama’s speech at the 2011 White House Press Correspondents Dinner (this was my eighth viewing), and a plethora of time-lapse videos. It was loads and loads of fun and exactly the sort of low-key activity I needed before being surrounded by massive amounts of family for close to 48 hours. Also, I have missed her terribly since I last saw her in October (check out In Which Ella Gets Caught in the Rain, Tells Stories from Middle School, and Visits Cecelia at Yale, if you’d like to hear about that adventure.).

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

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