This summer, I spent hours pouring over kindergarten blogs, Pinning wildly onto my Kindergarten boards, and adding book after book to my stack of PD materials. I made interactive Powerpoint slides featuring our sight words, fine-tuned my Walk to Read lesson materials, and started delving into ways to use my tablet set more effectively in class.
The funny thing is, teaching kindergarten is like child birth. The outcome is so wonderful and fulfilling it makes us forget the horror that is in store for us during the first month of school. All of my wishful planning during the summer was FOR NAUGHT because I had forgotten the reality of early childhood ed. The “honeymoon phase” that I hear about…well, it is quite non-existent in kindergarten.
I made it through my first morning with minimal tears from the students and only had to tear away one hysterical child from her mother, which is a record for me. We did some breakfast eating, some name writing, and some singing and dancing at the carpet. We counted to 10 in funny voices and even made it through the first rendition of Pete the Cat.
Then recess happened. I headed outside 5 minutes before the bell rang to gather familiar faces into some semblance of a line. The bell rang and kids started screaming and running. Not to me, of course, never to me. Just away. I had, of course, told the children to find me when the bell rang in a specific location, but five-year-olds don’t always remember things how adults do. I proceeded to round children up, running at them with my arms out wide like an offensive lineman. The kids I previously had rounded up are still in the same area, but are floating away like dandelion seeds. After 10 solid minutes, we have our class in a line(ish) and we are late to lunch, so we are rushing into the classroom to pass out name tags and find lunch boxes.
When you ask a first-time kindergartner if they brought a lunch, it’s not uncommon for them to just look at you. Like a deer.
But we’re late! So I shepard anyone I can into the hot lunch line, and start shouting names at them in hopes they’ll raise their hands.
When we finally march into the lunch line, I have two children in hysterical tears because they’re hungry. “We’re getting lunch right now,” I say distractedly, trying to watch the two boys in the back of the line who are trying to karate chop each other. “Just be brave.” I am physically guiding every child along the line, with the help of our other four K teachers, our principal and assistant principal, and the lunch ladies. Some of them drop their trays because they have never held anything so heavy for so long in their lives. Several kids put all the carrots they can onto their tray before I notice, because they don’t realize more food is coming later in the line. By the time we are all back in the classroom, the 30 minute lunch period has long passed and we have to make our way down to the “dump” station at the other end of our corridor. We drop our trays on the way down, chocolate milk seeping into the carpet like an open wound in battle.
By 1 o’clock, my 28 students are either in tears or ready for a nap. Most of them have to pee. Some boys are laying on their backs at the carpet while I tell them I’m looking for “friends who are sitting criss-cross applesauce.” A lone child stands up, his face screwed up in agony as he bawls at me me, asking when he will get to go home. “Soon, after recess,” I say, and then I notice–it’s too late–he’s lurching forward in the classic tell-tale signs of being sick, and vomits spectacularly all over the carpet. The non-crying students scream and laugh in delight.
It’s time for specialist. I pull a smile on my face and ask my “brave students” to put a hug on their body and bubble in their mouth and line up at the door. (They kind of just crowd there, but I’m trying to get Oscar to the nurse, so, big picture!)
At three o’clock, my feet are hot. My make up has lost the crispness I so desired in traditional First Day Photos. There is a tiny bit of vomit on my shoes, and traces of someone’s snot on the hem of my tee-shirt. I need to pee SO BAD, because my voice has been on its highest volume all day, and I’ve been chugging water to survive. My last hurdle is before me. The Bus Line.
The kids care ZERO that I am talking. I call off names from a clipboard while attempting to match sweaters and lunch boxes to the correct kid. By the time I call the last child in line, the front of my line has gotten out of order. “YOU NEED TO STAY IN YOUR SPOT!” I yell at them. I do my “quiet” signal, but they have only learned it today, and they are done with me. When I fix the front of my line, a few kids from the end have wandered to the middle to talk to their new friends. What’s worse, my line leader has silent tears streaming down his face. “What’s wrong?” I ask, a bite of impatience in my voice. “I had an accident!” he sobs, and points down to the puddle of pee beneath him. I close my eyes for a split second before smiling at him. “Let’s go take care of it,” I say, wondering if we will miss the buses on the first day. I pray my line of kids stays alive for the few moments I have to be in the bathroom with my crying student, helping him change into dry pants. “Hold on to the backpack in front of you!” I shout finally, with a feeble attempt at joyful sing-song voice. I open the door, welcoming the fresh fall air, and hope for the best.
I’m writing this blog because I promise you, I am a professional. I love this job and I will do this job until my legs can’t carry me any more. I have only taught kindergarten, and this is not my first rodeo. But at the end of the day– HELL, at the end of the WEEK– I did not feel like any kind of quality teacher. My voice was gone, my throat already sore from all the sneezes to the face I had caught, and my body was tired. I am writing this blog because whether you teach little people or bigger ones, we all have episodes in our profession that seem impossible to overcome, times that seem to engulf you and overtake you, chapters that drag on and on with no end in sight.
This is #WhyITeach. Because I start the year literally herding tiny crying, vomiting, peeing humans into lines and groups, and we end the year reading, doing addition, and writing multiple sentences. Cherish the haphazard moments where you question all your life choices that led you into the classroom. Remember the first few months when nothing makes sense and your students– your kids— are who they are before they met you. Just smile and accept the crazy, because before you know it, you’re starting all over again.
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy