Teaching experience. Survive the first year and when you really need to know how to control a crowd of kids--you can. You can still pull out the hairy eyeball, dredge up unfeigned interest in the 2000th variation of an assignment you've were on the giving end of over after over . . .
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What happened today was that it was Thursday, the second week of December, and that meant that the day on which I had volunteered to run the class Holiday "party" by leading the class in making "gingerbread houses" (read: graham cracker houses held together with icing and loaded up with candy) had arrived.
I'd been dreading it. I'd been dreading it because my son's fifth grade teacher, who I genuinely like very much, is still a first year teacher. The classroom management needs work. Some of the kids test my patience. And this activity--it's loud. It involves buckets and buckets of sugar--the kids get a contact high just spreading the icing on the aluminim-foil-covered cardboard base. It involves buckets and buckets of candy. It sometimes involves tears when an overloaded house collapses too close to the end of the hour to do repairs. And in this case, I depended too much on the teacher to manage assigning the ingredients to the kids. It almost didn't happen. Yet, he didn't want to move the party. I was working myself up into a bonafide snit--the only thing keeping me from doing so really was that I had promised Max I would make this happen.
So, having turned in an assignment last night and being pretty much free to ignore work for a day, I got up this morning, took Max to school, came home and vented my frustrations on our yard.
Our yard was still a mess and when the rest of the neighborhood did their very last leaf rake--I was madly trying to meet my November deadlines to get us off to Indiana for thanksgiving. When we got back it was cold . . . then it kind of snowed . . . now it's freakishly warm again. So I finally got out there and raked.
But, the county program where they pick up your leaves--it ended a month ago. So get this--this is so typically Central PA--I called them and said please--and they said they'd come on over and get my leaves anyway. That CRACKS me up (and makes me glad I live here. I really appreciate compassion and mercy in a city works department).
Okay, so it was noon and I'd gotten most of the leaves into the front yard (not all, but the leaves on the other side of the swingset don't count as much) where the city works people can come get them, so I showered, whipped up 8 pounds of royal icing, covered it all with plastic wrap and wet towels, and drove over to the school.
Max's teacher was absent. He was home sick. The class was being managed by the aide and a substitute. I think the substitute has a regular job doing something else entirely in the school--like maybe she runs the extended-day program or something? (Our charter school technically runs 8:35 am to 5:30 pm, but you can pick up your kid at 3:25 if you're attached to them having a childhood or something. The longer I'm involved with the school, the more I soften towards the whole extended-day program thing. I'm getting the idea that it is both useful and fun, just as it intended to be, which is a pretty big deal. So far I haven't let Max stay because I want him to have unstructured time after school, but you know what? He doesn't. He ends up with sports or homework because of having sports later or piano lessons or something. He hardly ever gets to go find friends and play. We lost that when we lost homeschooling.)
Anyway, so the regular teacher wasn't there and somehow, that made it easier for me. The sub and the aide were pretty much waiting for me--the room was clean, a side table set up with supplies, all the desks had been covered in newspapers. I grabbed two kids from the back and they helped me bring everything in.
And then--I put on my big sunny yellow apron and stepped back in time to a million years ago before I had kids and I ran the activity just like I always had. Only with one-third the number of kids I usually had and with a better icing recipe. My old icing recipe wasn't as sticky. The kids were glad I was there, they laughed at all the places they were supposed to laugh (this lesson includes a part where they solomnly swear not to eat the icing -- or their house -- until they get home--this is important. If I let the kids eat the icing and the candy, some of them will build the house in three minutes, eat crap for five minutes--and proceed to make us all miserable for the next 52 minutes. By forbidding any actual consumption, they put a lot of effort into making a really rocking house, loading it with all the candy they want to eat later, filling the interior of the house with more candy to eat later, etc. The delayed gratification element leads to very nice houses, good photo opportunities, and no leftovers for me to deal with.
The biggest difference between then and now was that a) I got to leave as soon as it was over, b) one of those kids was mine and he gave me a big hug right there in front of his friends because the "lesson" went so well, and c) the improved icing meant no houses fell apart and noone cried. That's a bonus.
Okay, so then I went home and knit on BigFoot Junior's sock. I took Max to piano later and did all but the kitchener stitch, ran home and made every burrito's for dinner and did the toe grafting, tried it on the child and . . . perfect. Now I have to knit the second sock for him and then Milo's sock and then Chris's sock and then a sock for Gaye--all before the 25th. Is that possible? Tomorrow is the 15th. I don't know. I have to finish two more big lessons and two more small lessons between now and then, too.
Luckily, no more big kid activities. In addition to getting the Holiday party behind us, this was the last week of piano lessons before Christmas break. Next week will seem easy by comparison.