Grade school is not what it was like when my children went through it about eight years ago. Presently, when I’m called in to substitute for kindergarten through fourth grade, I get dizzy in the compartmentalized classrooms. Gone are the chalkboards. Gone are the desks in a line facing that chalkboard. Gone is a place to write things on any board. The present teachers use the whiteboards as huge refrigerator fronts, covered top to bottom with magnetized notes, appointments, and artwork. Yes, there’s a fancy little scalloped section for “homework” and a small space used to show images from the overhead when needed.
But aside from that, there’s barely enough room for the little girls to write my name on the board. It’s always a little girl who asks to write my name on the board. And it’s usually a girl who is the “elementary class informant.” This is the student who doesn’t need a college degree to know everything the teacher does. Now this student, girl or boy, can be a huge help to the substitute who has but minimal notes from the teacher as to what tasks to perform in elementary school. But sometimes, the informant can go too far.
Case in point. Don’t follow me around. Wait for me to ask how Mrs. Jones does calendar, or where the bundle of popsicle sticks goes as we count the days and weeks we are in school or where the analog clocks are. What’s an analog clock? In my day it used to be called face clock. I learned this term from the first grade students, but back to the informant. The informant’s favorite words are, and I quote, “That’s not how Mrs. Jones does it,” regardless of what “it” is, math, spelling, maps. My response? I stare at her. “Right,” I say. “That’s because I am not Mrs. Jones.”
Just recently, I was attempting to get a first grade math lesson started, and a student asked to sharpen his pencil. I looked around but couldn’t find any sharpener; of course, I’m old school, so I looked on the wall, mostly by the doorway. The student knew where the sharpener was, by the windows; great place for a first grader to sharpen a new pencil to a nub while gazing outside. Then the informant, whom I had just gotten seated for the fiftieth time that morning, jumped up and told me that Mrs. Jones always sharpens the pencils for the students. Ahh, I thought, Mrs. Jones must be a tree hugger like me, for she is attempting to save trees. Fine, I’ll sharpen the pencil. Then three more students came up to me to have their pencils sharpened, then ten students. I was surrounded. All of a sudden, I decided that math was better understood with dull pencils, no matter what the informant had to say about it.