First day at the public school for my son, who is taking only fifth grade P.E. this year. We arrive early to get situated and possibly do paperwork. I make an effort to get acquainted with protocol—where should Joshua go when the bell rings, and could I work on my laptop in the library or somewhere else during class? Secretary goes back into an adjoining room and checks with the principal, the one who, when I was here to see her before for a tour, shuffled by without a word and communicated only with said secretary until she was good and ready to make an Appearance.
Principal gives permission, unseen and through the secretary, for me to stay around and work on my laptop—not in the library, but in the hallway by the front door, where there’s a bench conveniently located. Joshua is to line up with Ms. K—-‘s class outside, where they are now on recess, and walk into the gym with the P.E. teacher.
There are still fifteen minutes, so we walk up to the library so Joshua can check out the limit of two books. But the librarian isn’t there, expecting no classes at the time, so I tell Joshua he could choose one and leave it with a note requesting checkout, and come back after class. It’s lovely having the whole place to ourselves. Joshua checks for an item on the computer, but has no account set up yet. Here comes the secretary, huffing in after apparently running (no doubt at the principal’s command) to fetch us. “The librarian isn’t here,” she explains. “Yes, I suppose she’s not expecting anyone,” I reply, mindful of class scheduling. I explain about choosing a book, leaving a note. “I need to get back to my desk, and the library is unsupervised,” Okay, so no one knows me here yet, and the Visitor Pass apparently means only past the front door. Secretary seems apologetic, but trying to obey a set of rules imposed on her, and I don’t want to get her in trouble. “Can I sign up as a volunteer so I can be trusted?” I’m unable to keep a slight note of sarcasm out of my voice. She smiles slightly, and escorts us downstairs. On the way I summarize for my son the explanation. We wait dutifully outside to await the bell.
Have you ever met someone who, before they ever mention it, you know must work with young children every day? It’s the pronunciation–slow, deliberate, emphasis on consonants, and the use of simple words, with an attempt at that combination of kindness and authority that comes across instead as artificial. As if children can’t handle the individual and personality and style of the teacher. It’s always refreshing to meet one who has not imposed such restraints on his or her true self.
Ms. K— has heard we are here, and has come to introduce herself and welcome my boy to come any time to her class. She is warm, welcoming, herself. I explain that Joshua is homeschooling and only taking P.E., but by that time Joshua is expressing second thoughts and says he might want to join her class full-time. I tell him we’ll talk, feeling both pleased that there’s such a teacher, and regretful that he might want to be at school all day instead of homeschooling with me.
We go outside so my son can check out the play structures. By the fence is a woman with a school vest and loudspeaker. Is she the P.E. teacher, I ask? No, that would be the woman across the lot (not to say “field”, as it’s covered in asphalt). The bell rings (an alarming sound for those not accustomed), and I see she’s part of the control structure; the children are starting to move to the field from the play structures, but she directs them to FREEZE, and then WALK (someone might get hurt) down and line up with their classes.
Up I go to my bench with my laptop. I write impressions, commentary about the school experience, the staff, what I see and hear so far. Right under the nose of the administrative office. Feels empowering. Shall I have to make my blog private after this, to preserve my future job prospects in the system? But no one has the right to look over my shoulder, with a “Hmm—Gillian, would is there anything you would like to share with the class?” Indeed, I have the right to look over theirs.
Near the end of the P.E. period, I ask where would be the best rendezvous with my son, and whether I may to go down and meet him by the stairs. She is so appreciative that I have asked, and graciously permits me to go down, this time without asking the principal.
I am the only parent watching the class. The P.E. teacher manner is different from that of the homeroom teacher—a commanding voice that carries, assertive carriage, she moves masses and groups from one activity to another, watching for safety issues and off-task behavior. Yet this manner is also optional–the P.E. teacher my children had two years ago managed to be engaging, organized, quietspoken and kind, even when balls had to fly, races be run, skills be practiced.
On the way home my son says he has decided not to go to school full time after all. And although I turned the idea over in my mind as possibly a good thing for me—time to complete money-saving home projects, update my teacher training and credentials, work as a substitute teacher, by the time Joshua has come to the homeschooling conclusion, so have I. One wonderful teacher does not a great school experience make.
Coming next: Week Two