There are lots of things that other people find frightening that are no big deal to me: speaking in front of a crowd, spending time with teenagers, teaching teenagers, singing in a choir, rescuing my children from spiders – none of these bother me. But today, I am unaccountably nervous about my plans for the hours from noon to 2:30. I will be sitting in my daughter’s second grade class. As the only adult. All by myself with close to 20 of those people. It’s terrifying! I am the exact opposite of all my friends who are elementary school teachers and write at the beginning of every school year at parent orientation time: “I don’t mind standing in front of a classroom of kids all day, but I’m sooooo nervous about talking to grown-ups tonight!” I love talking to grown-ups! I look forward to orientation night so I can meet more of them. All these little people who need to be taught things, but who don’t understand my admittedly long-winded, complicated explanations, however – that gives me hives! Thankfully, my daughter’s teacher is great and will have everything planned and organized for me. It is my sincere hope that my time in the classroom will coincide with PE and movie time, but if not, I’m sure she’ll have plenty of things ready for me that will keep the kids busy. I hope. Please….
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all kids that scare me. It’s that I’ve never been really sure what to do with a large crowd of the little creatures – unless playing outside like lunatics is an option. They do that on their own anyway, and it I take a few minutes to join in, they recognize my lunacy and enjoy it. My own kids then wonder if I’ve been body-snatched and replaced by a look-alike, but fun, alien. But I digress. Again. Here is my problem teaching small children: I like details. This was my major problem in home-schooling. My interest level began about two minutes after my explanation of something went over my target audience’s head. Here’s an example. We participated in a Classical Conversations group last year. My daughter (and I, by association) learned several history sentences as a foundation to understanding US History. When the sentence was about how the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted to talk about how long it took for the latter to follow the former. I mean, hello! How can you ignore that? How can you not mention the horrors of segregation and racism, the rise of both the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan, or the beautiful orations on both violent and non-violent responses to the treatment of blacks in America? How? Easy. We were talking to six- to eight-year-olds. We mentioned that blacks were not treated the same as whites. The kids were horrified. (Hooray that the idea of unequal treatment hurts their hearts!) And they learned the song. That’s a great start. Then we moved on. They’ll have this foundational understanding of what happened, and as they grow and develop, they’ll come to understand when, why and how. Ideologically, I know that’s a great system. But the early developmental stages need to be taught by someone else. Someone who doesn’t react to simplification as though it is wrong, because you have to do that at the beginning. It’s like the frictionless surfaces on which everything happens in a high school physics book. Of course there are no frictionless surfaces in real life, and engineers can’t design things based on first year high school physics. But you have to start somewhere. And we don’t start with calculus. We start with 2+2. I just don’t want to be the one to teach that part. Because those small people scare me. At least when they are in packs. But I’m going in. Tomorrow I’ll let you know how it went…if I’m still alive and able to speak (or write) in complete sentences….
Did I mention how glad I am that there are good elementary school teachers? Please do not interpret my irrational fears, or even my preferences, as a shot at those who are gifted where I am not. It is important to be able to distill complicated processes and ideas into their simplest form so that they can be taught to people in developmentally appropriate ways. And I really can’t do that. I know, because my daughter came home from school last week telling me that she learned “clocks.” I was gritting my teeth and managed to refrain from telling her that she and I spent weeks working on telling time on an analog clock last year when I home-schooled her. And I refrained because she didn’t learn clocks last year – we just spent weeks on it. She learned clocks this year. Maybe it’s partially that she’s older…but make no mistake…it’s mostly that I am an abysmal first or second grade teacher. Which is fine. I’d also make a really dreadful NBA player. I can live with both of those truths.
Now the real question is: Can I survive two and a half hours in a room with second graders and make it through whatever plans the teacher left for me without losing my mind or damaging theirs? Of course. Because she is a great teacher, and she needs someone’s help, and I can do that. I’m just a bit nervous. Do you think I can teach the kids synonyms for nervous? Like trepidatious? Or anxious? Apprehensive? Agitated? Too much? Yeah. I was afraid of that….