I was thinking about a month ago, “What am I going to write for my last blog article of the year?” So I asked my wife, Debbie, who happens to be one of our ACS kindergarten teachers. She said, “Why don’t you spend a day in my world and write about it?” So I did.
Last Tuesday, I taught kindergarten. Just the morning. I didn’t think I could survive a whole day. (Oh, and Julius Siebenga, Executive Director, came along and was an Educational Assistant for a student with special education needs for part of the morning too. But that’s a whole other blog story.)
It began early. At 5:30 am, I was on my front porch with my guitar trying to remember how to play the songs I was going to sing with the students in class. Two hours later, Debbie was showing me around the classroom and explaining to me what to expect.
“Do they know I’m coming?” I asked. “No way,” she replied, “some of my students would burst into tears if they knew I wasn’t going to be here.”
Sure enough, the fourth student to arrive that morning looked at me, looked around, didn’t see Mrs. Goertzen, and burst into tears. And the day had just begun!
Here is some of what I learned:
1. Same Mission, Different School
There is no doubt that ACS Elementary has the identical mission to ACS Secondary. Everywhere I looked that day, staff were engaging minds, nurturing hearts, and shaping God’s world. It just looked a lot different from the way we do the same things in high school. One superb moment was when an EA came in and asked if everything was OK and I said, “Hmm…that young fella won’t stop crying because Mrs. Goertzen isn’t here…” and she said, “Oh, I’ll take care of that,” and went over to comfort him. He was in the circle singing and smiling in no time at all.
Tears happen in high school too, they just look different and it takes a different approach to nurture their hearts.
2. All Kids Need Boundaries
I was into singing our third song with my guitar and we were having a great time when the student next to me realized I was reading the lyrics and chords off the piece of paper on the floor. Slowly, he moved his shoe over top of the paper and watched as I started fumbling through the song. I quickly whispered, “Hey, I can’t read it if you do that, can you please move your foot!” Immediately he moved both feet onto the paper so I couldn’t see anything at all! Interesting.
We stopped and I asked the class, “What does Mrs. Goertzen do if a student doesn’t do what she’s asked them to do?” And a girl said, “Oh, she makes the student sit at the table and put their head down.” So I sent this little fella over to the table and told him to put his head down. He gave me a frown but immediately obeyed me (which was a good thing because I didn’t know what I was going to do if he decided to ignore me). After the next song a little girl looked up at me and whispered to me, “Mr. Goertzen, she doesn’t leave him over there ALL day… just for a few minutes.” So I invited the student back into the circle and he was great for the rest of the morning.
Everyone needs to know the boundaries.
3. Kindergarten has NO Down Time
I put my cell phone down on the desk at 7:45 am and I didn’t pick it up again until I was walking out the door to get the students on the bus at 12:05 pm. That’s probably the longest stretch of not looking at my cell phone, in the last five years. No calendar, no email, no texts, no emergencies…just 100% focus on 19 little people who needed me every second of the morning. Sheesh, there’s no down time in kindergarten. I’ll never complain again about my wife not getting back to me about an email I sent her during the day. It is impossible!
4. ACS Staff Have Different Cultures
At devotions, I looked around the room and counted 28 female staff members to six males. I would guess that the secondary staff is the opposite. I don’t know all the differences between secondary and elementary staff, but I do know that at break time I went to the staff room and found all the elementary staff quietly lined up into the hallway in twos, waiting their turn to get a special snack provided by the PAC. I came up at the back of the line and asked, “What’s the hold up? Aren’t we allowed in the staff room?”
They looked at me with bewilderment…. “We line up in elementary.”
“Oh,” I said, “In secondary, it looks more like a feeding frenzy on a coral reef. Everyone just huddles around the island until all the food is gone and then they go sit down.”
5. Elementary School Teaching is Exhausting
I have a lot of responsibility in my work as a Principal at the secondary campus but I rarely go home as tired as I did after a half-day of teaching kindergarten. Everything moves so quickly. Each little mini-lesson is only about 10-15 minutes long and then on to the next thing. So many questions to answer, stories to listen to, decisions to make, feelings to mend, tears to wipe away, and hearts to nurture. What an amazing day, but wow, is it ever draining!
So, would I want to teach kindergarten?
Um…no! I think my day was extremely easy compared to what the days must be like in September before all the students are trained to sit quietly, to take turns listening and speaking, to learn how to work and play cooperatively and to take care of themselves and their own belongings. I can’t even imagine what September must be like for our kindergarten teachers. All I recall is Debbie being pretty bagged after teaching the first month of kindergarten every fall—and no wonder!
Hats off to you kindergarten teachers who lay the foundation for our young learners as they enter our doors at the elementary campus. It takes a special person to teach this grade and we have four amazing ladies who love teaching it and working together. I have often heard that it is difficult in any school system to get Teachers-on-Call to teach kindergarten—and now I understand completely!
Above our gym doors it says, Many Parts, One Body: Many Players, One Team. I’m very happy to use my gifts and abilities at our secondary campus. I’m even happier that we have such gifted teachers at our elementary.
But I think I’ll stay in high school for now.