Monday, June 16, 2014

Teaching Kindergarten: It's Not All Pretty Pictures

Kindergarten is a magical place and it truly takes special people to teach little ones. People who don't mind cleaning noses (or having snotty noses rubbed on their shirts), sneak attack hugs (after lunch on burger days, I sometimes look like an Andy Warhol painting done in ketchup and mustard), dealing with the drama kinders are famous for (tattling, not sharing, mean looks, etc.) and the sweet but sometimes brutal honesty that comes with not having yet developed a filter.

The perks of kindergarten are that you will never be loved more. I am not known for my clean desk but at the end of the day, on top of my junk, is a stack of pictures made just for me by my kinders. Because I am a particularly sentimental person, I usually keep these all year and then in May throw away (sadly) the bulk of them. Some however, I keep forever just because they are so unique and make me smile.
In addition to the pretty pictures, I get told quite often how beautiful I am. Every year I have a kiddo or two I lovingly call Eddie Haskell. For those of you too young to know who this is--Google it! Anyway, Eddie or Edie, if it's a girl, will say "You look lovely today, Mrs. Liddiard!" Well no kinder likes to be outdone and so then I am showered with two dozen more such compliments, each louder than the last. In their bid to outdo each other, some of my kinder's compliments can be quite descriptive. "You have beautiful big ears!" My reply? Oh course, "Why thank you my dear. The better to hear you with!" 

As wonderful as it is, any teacher considering the jump to kindergarten should know it isn't all pretty pictures and flowery words. Kinders have not reached that age of restraint. They tell it like they see it. To a kinder, truth is good, even if it may hurt someone's feelings. Because of this, kindergarten teachers have to have what my mother calls thick skin. 

For instance, one day during my Phonics lesson, I was reviewing my letter/picture flash cards. I got to the letter T and with a sing song voice and a big smile I said, "T is for turtle! T-t-t-turtle! A little boy in the front row, I will call Lawrence, loudly and incredulously announced, "Your teeth are yellow!" That wiped the smile right off my face and at my look of shock in his direction, Lawrence must have thought  he was in major trouble because his big brown eyes got bigger, he nodded his head furiously at me and everyone around him and said, "They are! They aren't white! I saw them!" What could I say? I love coffee and he was right they weren't white. I mean I don't have bubba teeth and I brush and floss regularly but well, I guess they could be whiter. I'm over it. As for Lawrence, he worried for several weeks after that he had offended me. Each day without fail he told me how beautiful I was and he said it with such sincerity, I think I must have been a little.

Even when they are being insulting you can't be truly mad at young children. Most often it isn't malicious. Just a statement about something they have observed. For example, the other day my six year old son, Seth, who loves to draw and create, rediscovered his magnetic doodle board under a pile of junk in his closet. He immediately set about drawing tree houses (his latest obsession) and after having exhausted that artistic avenue announced, "Mom! I'm going to draw a picture of you!" He gave me a critical once over and then began drawing. Every so often he would look over the top of his board at me and then down again. He was taking this portrait thing quite seriously and I could tell he was comparing the accuracy of his drawing to me. Seth is a good artist. We have always marveled at his ability to draw things in such detail.

I must confess, I was quite interested in seeing myself through his eyes. That is until he said, "I didn't forget those things around your mouth." At my blank look, he described them in detail. I realized at that point I had probably never said the W word in front of Seth: Wrinkles. Ugh. No one is more aware of my wrinkles than I, especially since Seth has entered school. Being the "older" mom of a kinder, I've always stuck out like a sore thumb at class parties and gatherings outside of school. Most of the parents of Seth's classmates are half my age. It's okay. What I lack in collagen, I more than make up for in a winning personality and happy outlook on life. Some days I miss collagen. Okay let's move on.

Luckily, Seth became less obsessed in drawing my face and moved onto other details of my appearance. When he was satisfied he had captured every detail of my face and figure, he proudly turned the drawing board around. I must have a poker face because his happy expectant smile never faltered.

Within a few seconds several thoughts ran through my head. "Does he really think I look like that? Do I look like that? Wait a minute! Haven't I seen that person on that show Seth likes to watch-The one with the rude characters? What is his name? The green one with the muscles, pug nose, big teeth and man boobs? Is that a coincidence?" Then I wondered if Seth was being funny. Our Seth has a wicked sense of humor and sarcasm is a Liddiard family art. Nope. He still had that expectant grin. "I LOVE IT! It's so...creative and detailed!" Correct response. His effort was rewarded and he was ready to slide the erase button and move on to his next masterpiece. Suffice it to say, magnetic doodle boards are not kind to us over fifty gals. 

My years as a kindergarten teacher prepared me well for that moment. I have heard every comment imaginable on my appearance. Every few years I get a pat on the belly by some new or soon to be big brother or sister and asked, "Miss Liddiard? You gonna have a little baby?" Though it slightly offended me my first year of teaching, it now gives me a big laugh. It's innocent and so sincere. That's the fun part about teaching kinders. I get to see the world and sometimes myself, through their little unjaded eyes.  To them I may have yellowing teeth, wrinkles and a big gut but they love me in spite of it and I like to think that says something about me as well.