This post is longer the most. However, I wanted to share a story that I wrote for one my graduate courses. Over the past four years, I’ve taught in very difficult classrooms. As the school year progressed, the difficulties increased, but the stress became routine. The following is about how most of my mornings went during those difficult times, where I prepared my classroom for another day – the calm before the storm.
MORNING BEFORE THE STORM
My keys jingle as I unlock my classroom door. The room is dark. Outside, faint sunlight breaks through the thick morning fog. Grey skies are the perpetual palette of the sky this time of year.
I have a long, black shelf counter where I have the sign-in sheet, pens and pencils, and stacks of folders. Within the folders are papers with miles of my handwriting on observations, DRDP’s, behavior logs, accident reports, IEP, teachers notes, and student work. Scattered throughout the pile are pink post-it notes, hidden like Easter eggs.
I put my bag and coffee on the counter. I take a swig from my brown, double-walled Starbucks travel mug. The coffee coats my throat like a slow-seeping waterfall of warm honey. I lift my bag into the cabinet above the counter. I check my phone. No notifications of missed calls or messages. The phone background is my wife. I have a quick warm thought and then slip my phone into my pocket.
There are six large windows in my classroom. They extend from the ceiling down to the floor. Each window is 3 feet wide and 10 feet high. They are my favorite feature in the classroom. I like the natural sunlight, even if it’s blocked by the San Francisco fog. Opening the windows are the first thing I do every morning, a necessity for my day.
I get brown paper towels and wipe down two large tables with bleach, then soap and water. I bring out 16 tiny chairs. Each chair has the name and picture of one my students. I mull over the seating arrangement, recalling past events and episodes which will determine if a child sits next to friend or foe. I place a couple of chairs at my table, then a couple at my assistant teacher’s table. I stand back and predict future events.
There could be a bite there because of the dramatic play situation. And over here there was that doll incident. There may be a spit. And over here, well, why would I want to start a classroom war?
I rearrange a couple of chairs and assess again.
WWIII is gone and so is the doll incident. But now I have foot-kicking. That’s okay. Better than the bite potential. This is the best arrangement I can think of.
The room is still dark as I scan my small classroom. I follow the Creative Curriculum and my classroom looks like most Creative Curriculum classrooms. There’s a circle time area that doubles as a block and music area. A dramatic play area filled with Lakeshore kitchen material and clothing. The computer has the required preschool software, but the children mostly listen to the songs then walk away. There’s a library, sand and water table, manipulatives, art, writing, and a couple of magnifying glasses that serve as our entire science area.
I check my phone. No messages or missed calls. Back into my pocket the phone goes.
With such a little space, I have to be creative with how the room is arranged to fit everything in. For example, for displaying children’s artwork, I use all of the walls and the exposed back of shelves. Although some displays feature student work from a couple of days ago, they already have small rips and tears. I grab the scotch tape. I kneel behind a shelf and mend the children’s artwork.
I used 4 strips in the art area, 3 strips in the blocks, and 8 strips in the library. That’s 10 less than yesterday and 25 less than the day before. I’ll need to order more tape though.
As I continue to heal the children’s work, the M line roles by. Although the public transit light rail is a hundred yards away, I can feel the ground rumble beneath your feet. The train rolls down the road and disappears into the fog. I hold my glance for a little, then tell myself I need a swig of coffee.
I put the tape back into the cabinet, gulp down heaven’s nectar. I sit at my table and meditate. I slow my breathing… in and out… in and out. Still, the muscles in my neck tense.
Today will be a good day.
I will myself to believe my words but doubt remains. Yet, I continue my brainwashing.
I will refer to my training and knowledge. They’re just small children. That’s all they are. And I have a great assistant. Thank God I have a great assistant!
I block out yesterday’s memories, memories from the day before, and from the past month.
I will lead with my best. They’re children and I’m their teacher. Teach, teach, teach.
Like a scuba diver rushing to the surface, I race back to my senses as my assistant walks in the room. Ashley’s knock off Gucci bag hangs from her forearm as she places her keys and phone on the counter.
“Good morning,” she says. “How are you?”
“Tired,” I say.
“Anyone call in sick?” she asks.
I check my phone again. “Nope. Full house.”
“Why is it that the harder the child, the better attendance?” Ashley says.
If I was there parent, I could think of a couple of reasons, but I keep the thought to myself.
“The more we can work with them, the better,” I say. “If they weren’t here, I can’t imagine them being at home until Kindergarten. The adjustment would be hard.”
“True,” Ashley says. She slips on a green apron and puts her bag next to mine in the cabinet. “Still, they could miss a couple of days.” I secretly agree.
I can hear children’s voices in the hallway. I glance at the clock. 8:30, like every morning, came too fast. Ashley grabs the health binder and opens the door. I assume my position at the tables which have the children’s morning writing papers. I take a final breath and glance around the room.
How many more days will I have to mend these art projects because tantrums go out of control? How many more accident reports will I write? How many times have I yearned for a message or phone call about four or five children calling out sick? When was the last time my muscles were relaxed? How many times will I go home burnt from the day and sit like zombie on the couch while my wife tries to talk to me?
I look out the window just in time to see the M line go by. When the blinds are closed, I feel enclosed, blocked from the outside world. It’s 8:30. The muni will be by again in 20 minutes. I’d like to know what’s behind the fog.
Many early childhood educators – and teachers at all levels – have mornings like this. However, we keep going. Our threshold for stress and difficulty rise with the occasion, rise with the situation. We either leave or finish the job. However, it’s not easy. I hope that this story speaks to others out there. You’re not alone in your struggle and your efforts are appreciated.