The Things I Learned, The Things I Taught

 

I worked in a Catholic daycare, over a decade ago, in one of the places I have lived.

It was a summer enriched daycare for older children who were usually in elementary school; they were cooped together in classrooms meant for much younger children from eight in the morning until six– or after six, when we locked up the building and were paid overtime to wait with tired children for wayward late parents.

As far as skills and as far as disposition I am the worst person on earth to be an elementary school teacher. I’ve got a bad temper and I’m horribly disorganized. But I’d worked in my mother’s children’s theater as a teenager for years, so I had a resume of sorts, and I needed the job, and I got it.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I had forgotten that “butt” is a swear word when you’re in the second grade, so I let the children say “butt.” I had no idea that teachers are supposed to correct children when they say negative things like “I can’t,” so I didn’t stop them from saying “I can’t.” I was personally offended at the idea that the children were trapped inside a school for so many hours during blessed Summer Break, so I found excuses to play outside; when we were inside, I let them have pillow fights with stuffed animals and draw tattoos on themselves in washable marker until my supervisor told me it wasn’t allowed.

I had a schedule I was required to fulfill every day, but no curriculum, so I improvised– and I quickly caught on that they would stop bickering for a few moments if I taught things that challenged them, instead of trying to make them have a good time. I was required to teach “Computer” from ten to ten-thirty and “art” from ten-thirty to eleven, so from ten to ten-thirty I had them google pictures of their patron saints; we painted  icons based on the pictures with their cheap Crayola watercolors on scraps of plywood until lunch. One little boy painted David slaying Goliath, complete with the word “POW” coming out of Goliath’s forehead. If that’s not standard on icons of King David, it ought to be. During the half hour allotted for “reading” I read “Jabberwocky” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Proufrock” and had them draw pictures of what they thought was happening. Later, we made Jubjub birds and Jabberwocks out of pipe cleaners and pompoms. I showed them modern art paintings from my big Sister Wendy coffee table book when we ran out of plywood for iconography.  They liked “The Twittering Machine,” but thought “Bride of the Wind” was scary.

I taught them Latin chants. I forget what time slot of the day I used as an excuse. I had them sing one word at a time after me; then phrases and eventually prayers and songs. I made them pray a decade of the Rosary in Latin, and they rattled it off. “Sancta Maria. Mater dei. Ora pro nobis pecatoribus.” They were proud that theirs was the only class that prayed the Rosary daily instead of every Friday with the whole school. When the room got too noisy I shut off the light and sang “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” They all repeated; then one little show-off at the front of the room would try to sing the whole first verse.

The supervisor was so charmed at the idea of Gregorian chant that she had my class perform Ubi Caritas instead of the usual opening prayer at the school recital at the end of the term.

As is the way with teachers, I learned far more than I taught, and some of the things I learned were terrible.

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