The personal scriptorium of Joshua Corlew.
The first student I would ever teach of what could possibly be a long-time profession (or a decidedly 10-weeks only stint) was a minuscule, curly haired Kindergartener named Coen. She didn’t want to talk to me and buried her face in her grandmother’s thigh when I introduced myself to her. I got to spend fifteen minutes with just Coen and her grandmother before everyone else started to arrive, which was great. In that time I got to actually see and talk to a Kindergartner for some time before the rest of the horde arrived.
My first class went extremely well. Kindergartners sum up all that we romanticize about children. They are adorable, at turns shy and silly, always wanting to please, ever curious and too shell-shocked by the still fairly new world they inhabit to begin terrorizing it just yet. Teaching them was the perfect way to start the week off.
First Class – Kindergartners
I begin teaching to a mostly cold audience. The parents are the only ones listening, each one of them silently begging me with their eyes to save their children from a lifetime of illiteracy. In the short time I got to spend with the parents before beginning the class I learned enough to conclude that nearly every one of them was deathly afraid that their kid was so far behind in reading that they might as well go make good use of those newly budding college-savings now. Seriously, the way these parents worry about their Kindergartner’s reading ability, you’d think that not being able to read Tolstoy by age 6 qualified their kid for a spot in the Hunger Games.
The kids? They are immensely curious about everything except for the guy standing in the front of the room talking. They look at their mom, they look at their hands, up at the ceiling or better, at the completely bare, white cement walls, as if it was some artistic masterpiece. At some point I take a short breath and think: well, at least I’m getting paid nicely for this. But it all changes when we do the read aloud. Everything changes.
It is in that moment, halfway through the read-aloud of the book Caps for Sale that I realize something very profound: kindergartners are absolute suckers for an adult making a total fool out of himself in an effort to act out a group of crazy monkeys. Up to that point I only heard tense silence. Then, when I first acted out the antic of some monkeys, I got a few chuckles as if by necessity. Ha-ha. Thanks for trying. We appreciate the effort. But then, as the craziness escalates to the point where I am jumping up and down yelling “Tsz! Tsz! Tsz!” (because some ignorant author believed that this was the sound crazy monkeys make), I hear something that is quite wonderful indeed. I hear seventeen Kindergartners bust out in raucous laughter. The girls giggle but the boys have that really awesome mix between a belly laugh and their still-high voices. It’s like a rolling “heh heh heh heh”.
At this moment, I realize that this job will be more than a way to earn some money. I realize that this is slightly awesome. If you have any desire to be the center of attention and you are not afraid to make a fool of yourself then let me assure you there is a very welcoming audience to be had in a group of Kindergartners. By the end of the class they all left happily, hopping up and down, high-fiving me, and hugging my calves (because that’s as tall as their bodies are).
I end the class and everyone leaves the room. I take a sip of my iced coffee, stretch my back, say a much-owed prayer of thanks to God and smile smugly. This job will be awesome.
My next class is a group of 4-5th graders. They are not quite as adorable as Kindergartners but they have a completely different charm of their own. They are beyond the stages of utter evilness and are mostly mature. Mostly. By mostly, I mean the girls are mature and a few of the boys. The rest of the 4th and 5th grade males obviously have some catching up to do.
They are not menaces, for sure. And they really can’t help themselves, I realize. For instance, one of my favorite students is a little guy named Jalen. Great kid. Paid attention, participated, didn’t cause problems. That is, until halfway through class when he raised his hand.
“Yeah, Jalen, what’s up?”
“Uhm, well, Mr. J,” he says, “I think…” he reaches his hand into his mouth to check again. “Uhm…I think my tooth is coming out. There’s blood everywhere.”
I quickly run through a list in my mind. Nope. Nowhere in my three weeks of training did I get prepped for this.
“Really? That’s awesome Jalen! Here, let me give you some tissues. If you think it can stay in there a little bit longer, just try not to mess with it, ok?”
Ha. Only a little later did I realize that a reading teacher is no match for the fascination presented by a precariously loose tooth that gushes out blood. For the rest of the class Jalen was lost to me. He must have stopped me five more times to give a status report.
“Mr. J! I can turn the tooth around mostly!”
“That’s great, Jalen, but I need you to stop touching your tooth and to look at your workbook.”
“Mr J! I’m burping up blood! Can I just hit my mouth on the doorknob and knock it out?”
“No Jalen. You may go to the restroom if you need to, but wait for your dad to get here to pull your tooth out, ok?”
And on and on it went.
All the other boys are easily enticed to joke around and talk with each other if prodded by some more alpha male, which every class has. The girls just sit there, looking up at me, constantly adjusting their glasses and oblivious to all else but the desire to learn to read better. I find great irony in the fact that there was once debate in ages past over whether to educate girls. It’s a dumb question. Girl were obviously meant for the classroom. Boys? I don’t know.
I teach one class of adults. The class consists of three high-school seniors, two college students, one middle aged guy and one elderly woman. I like it. There’s nothing really exciting about it and there’s a tad bit more pressure; especially when the elderly woman looks at you with a bit of bewilderment upon walking in.
“Are you teaching this class?”
“And have you ever taught before? Have you ever taught adults?”
“Nope. This will be my first time. But I have already done some teaching before and I look forward to the challenge.” (Note: my “previous teaching” experience consisted of the three class I’ve taught since starting two days ago).
“Well,” she says with a sigh as she takes a seat. “I’ll let you know how you do.”
I laugh politely. I’m sure you will.
At the end of the class she came up to me and told me she loved the class and was excited for the rest of the program. She then makes for the exit.
“Oh, by the way” she says, catching herself before she leaves the room. “You did a wonderful job.”