Monday, December 13, 2010

Quinn Will Save the Baby Polar Bear

Quinn is a 3 year old girl at the new school that I just started working in. This job came up unexpectedly as a colleague at school approached me timidly after class asking if I was interested in a temporary teaching position. For the first time in two years, despite long bouts of unemployment-related anxiety, I was very tempted to decline. It was the last week of the semester at grad school, and the pressure was on to perform in presentations, case studies, and a dreaded four hour teacher certification exam. I reluctantly told my friend I would be happy to speak with the school, and the next day after a thorough interview, I met the new set of students. Though the youngest group I had ever worked with at 3 and 4 years old, there was a certain toughness about these tykes that was a little unsettling. Quinn's face in particular remained in my mind hours after I left their classroom. She had a very intent look on her caramel-toned face, with set, slightly knit eyebrows. Her expression seemed to say, 'I'm very angry, and I'm not getting over it.' My first day of working with the children, I noted her combative approach to the slightest resistance or barrier. When skinny little Lizette blocked Quinn's view of the story I was reading, Quinn shoved Lizette with such a force, that the child flipped over some books backwards, and got up with a perplexed expression on her face. I was very relieved that no blood was shed. Quinn showed me the same defiance whenever I challenged her point of view. I started noticing a pattern in fact, that many of the children were not really taking me or my gentle attempts at classroom management very seriously. Ms. Ramos, the assistant teacher, announced that the children were playing with me, and that I needed to control them. This did not bode well with me one bit. But I knew that she was right. How do children know how to do this so adeptly? It was as if they had conferenced during lunchtime, and concluded that they would simultaneously disregard anything I asked them to do, and further, if I was occupied with calming one disruptive child, then another one would instantly engage in his own disruptive behavior. I think this is the moment in the classroom where many adults make the definitive decision that classroom teaching will never be their cup of tea. As much as I dislike being disrespected, I respect that children have reasons for their behavior, and I was determined to overcome this obstacle to get through to the fun part of this job. So the next day, while the same group of preschool hooligans were making a fool of me, I asked Ms. Ramos for some advise. She raised her eyebrows and had a look on her face that said, 'I doubt you will ever learn this trick', and said, "You're the teacher." Undeterred, I asked her how she dealt with this behavior. She smiled and said, 'They don't do that with me.' Then she walked over to them and with a very stern voice picked out the ringleader of bad behavior and said, 'Lizette, do you want me to call your mother?! You listen to Ms. Tamar!' And then I got it. Threaten with calls home. I thanked Ms. Ramos, and felt my teacherliness kick into that higher gear as I persisted with the firm/persistent yet caring role that I had lacked the day before. The rest of the day, the kids were mine. It doesn't matter how interesting or creative your lesson plans are, if you can't control the kids, you can't teach them. I had those kids quivering in their boots (well, not quite- but they were sitting on their spots for once during story time, and all 17 were paying attention). And as I started reading to them Claudia Rueda's 'My Little Polar Bear', and asking them questions like, 'Who is going to take care of the little Polar bear cub if his parent disappears?' tough little Quinn calls out, 'Me!' And so goes another day working with the little cubs in the big city.