My cooperating teacher and I did not begin well and it wasn’t his fault. It was mine.
This is the story of our first breakthrough.
I was still on edge after getting fired and well, I mean, just Toronto in general. It was the adventure I craved but holy shit, my kidneys were dead from going full throttle for 8 or 9 months. So when I came back I was just bug-eyed. My body was exhausted but my emotions were still trying to self-preserve in some way. Kind of like The Taming of the Shrew or that movie about the horse who was in a car accident or something with Scarlett Johansen and Robert Redford. Even though the jaded horse wasn’t the protagonist, I identified with it the most.
Everything I was writing had a different tone. It was angrier, edgier and had more bite. Usually a writer would be happy that their writing was getting sharper. However, the stuff that was coming out wasn’t very loving and it certainly didn’t fit with the overall tone of the blog I had established this far. I have about 9 different starts and stops sitting around collecting dust because I just couldn’t publish it the way it was. So I decided to end the blog, even though the story wasn’t through.
In addition to the bowl of misery that was my life, I was very pensive about going back into education. Sure, it looks all well and good when you make a social media post about your inspirational goals and decisions but it’s another thing entirely when you have to follow through on it. I remembered the trouble I had with profs and how messy my pre-internship was. I love education and the arts. I love reconciliation and the Indigenous community but I hate the pettiness that comes along with the things I love so very, very much.
Anyway, the point is — at the beginning –I was very prickly towards my cooperating teacher, Kartoffel, whose only sin was the fact that he was fucking jolly 100% of the time. And I pleaded with my seminar instructor over lunch in the Riddell Centre to get me out. We’re clashing. He’s so happy all the time, super talkative and really, really friendly. This is every introvert’s form of hell. Please get me out.
She said no and I think you should really think about giving it a try. It might be a very rewarding experience. I said please. She said let’s talk to the dude who’s in charge of the placements. He said in a very warm tone, no. I was like, damn. My seminar instructor said, let’s check in at the end of the day. By the end of the day, I said, you’re right. I called Kartoffel to apologize for being a dick. He said, it’s okay and see you on Monday.
The first week of prep was introductions. Here’s the staff. Here’s the facility. This is what we do during a lockdown. This is what we did before. This is what we’re going to try this year. This school had a large turn over. Almost half of the staff were new or came from another school. Some were experienced teachers, others were in their first year. The principal who sounded tired before the year even began prefaced the conversation on why attendance and family involvement matters by saying, think about this critically. I know you have a lot to worry about already. And before I forget, someone remind me that we need to talk about extra-curricular sign-ups. Who’s doing what?
For the rest of the week, the teachers prepped for the year. I hadn’t done any prep over the summer because I wasn’t sure God would make a way for me and mildly hoped He wouldn’t. I only received confirmation for funding from student loans a week before the seminar so I just said fuck it. I’ll figure it out later. My prep week was frantic with idea maps and lesson planning. I’d pick random outcomes and indicators off the Saskatchewan Curriculum website in the attempt of throwing some kind of backwards design teaching plan together. I wasn’t sure any of those plans would even work because I didn’t know where the kids were at or what they knew already. Even though I protested at first, I realized it was a blessing in disguise when Kartoffel said he’d be teaching for the first two weeks. It bought me some more time and offered a mini-assessment to get a feel for where they were at.
While I was busting my tits trying to get my lesson plans together, Kartoffel and Hollywood Cowboy built a bromance through their love of video games and by making random sound effects at each other (“Skkkkkrrrrraaaaaatt!” and “Pop pop pop pop pop!”). I don’t know why this is a thing that men bond over but I’ve watched a German and a Chilean in Toronto do the exact same thing with robot sounds. It’s my educated guess, therefore, that when men — no matter where they are from or what they do for a living — have run out of things to talk about will build their own language. Nothing about it will make any amount of sense whatsoever but they will persist at communicating for the sheer purpose of keeping one another entertained. During their cacophony, I quietly longed for a pair of those sound-cancelling headphones so I could get my work done in peace.
My first week of teaching was equal parts challenging and clumsy as it was satisfying and rewarding. I decided to start with PLC 2 which is a grade 3/4/5 split into four different classes. We started with songwriting. I sang them a version of Adele’s “Hello” only I re-wrote the lyrics so that it became an icebreaker (“Hello, it’s Miss Angley. I am here to teach you music, art, dance, drama, maybe. When I was younger and silly, I’d pretend I was a pirate and sometimes a mummy”). The kids played along and gave it their best try. I realized very quickly that literacy levels were low so I had to adapt, re-evaluate and start over. I asked one of Bella’s kids if I could use one of his stuffed animals as inspiration. He said sure. I made up a songwriting package and the hedgehog was my muse. The only problem was I didn’t have a name for the little guy. Whatever. I’ll figure it out later. The day I reintroduced the assignment, the guy I was seeing at the time had pissed me off when he took another shot at my faith over social media (which is all that we fought about). So I named the hedgehog after him and the kids wrote a song about Grizzly the Hedgehog to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Not gonna lie, it was deeply satisfying.
My classroom management was inconsistent. I didn’t know when to be firm and when to grant grace. Should I raise my voice? Or should I let the kid who is tired sleep? He’s been struggling lately. I was getting into power struggles with the kids because I was trying to establish some order and expectations while I was teaching.
No you can’t all sit on the couch. What do you mean, ‘because why’? He’s there because he asked and now he’s sleeping… which… whatever. He’s quiet and not bugging anyone. No you can’t sleep too. I don’t want you sitting there because everyone starts fighting over it. So? So you can’t fight while I’m teaching. Mr. P doesn’t let you sit on it while he’s teaching. Why would you sit there while I’m teaching? Do you see me sitting on the couch?… STAHP ARGUING WITH ME. HE’S THERE BECAUSE HE’S TIRED. GO SIT DOWN… Now who needs help with their songwriting packages? If you need help, come to this table. If you don’t need help or you’re finished this page, you can move onto the next. See this? This is a Sound Wheel that I got from Mr. Kartoffel. I’m going to put the magnet on ‘mf.’ Mezzoforte. You’re allowed to talk but I want you at a mezzoforte. It’s what we call “medium loud” in music. Keep it here. Not a “forte,” which means “loud.” Mezzo forte. Medium loud. Got it? Good… Okay. Show me where you’re having trouble. Yes. Ok. Let’s see… Sorry. One sec… Class, this is a forte. Get back down to mezzo please… Where were we? Okay so instead of — sorry. Once more… EXCUSE ME. GO SIT OVER THERE. Because you’re being loud and disruptive and that kid needs to work. Move over th–Yes you may go to the bathroom. No you can’t all go at once. Wait till he gets back then you can go–Okay. This is your last warning. I’ve asked you multiple times to stop talking and distracting the other kids during class. I’ve also told you you can’t sit on the couch but you keep doing it anyway. So you’re going to switch spots. Please go sit over there. I’m going to count to three. One… two… Look. If you don’t listen, you’ll have to go to the office. Please go sit down in the spot I asked you to… Three.
The kid stomped out of the room. I assumed he was going for a walk to cool off or maybe that he was going to walk himself to the office. I thought the best thing to do was give him space. Plus, I had a whole other class to keep track of. A teacher on her prep called my cooperating teacher out of the class for a second. She waves her hand as if to say, don’t worry. Keep teaching.
THUMP, CRASH, BOOM.
The kid who I was clashing with was having a full blown temper tantrum. He was flipping tables in the open concept classroom which had been evacuated while he was pulling jackets and backpacks out of the lockers beside it. They must have heard him and followed protocol to get everyone to a safe spot. There were a number of teachers guarding the edges of the room he was in. One of them came in, locked my door, “Just in case,” she says and returns to her post. Watching and waiting till he was done.
All the kids in my class were watching. Some of the grade three’s were plugging their ears and I was trying to find a way to keep their minds off of it.
“Everybody to the couch.”
“We can sit on the couch now?”
“Yes you can sit on the couch now. I’m going to read a book. Go sit down.”
I don’t remember what the book was about. I was just putting one word after the other. It was monotonous but I didn’t know what else to do. One kid points to the book and remarks on whatever the character is doing. What they think is going to happen next. I think, that’s nice, and keep reading.
By this point the kid had stopped throwing tables, made a dash for the door and was now running around the school. Over the intercom (which can be heard outside), the secretary was telling him to come back inside because we are legally responsible for him until his parents come to get him. A couple of the kids in my class rolled the blinds down but there’s one open spot because it’s a glass door. We tried to cover it with a stand that holds those huge pads of paper but the kid was tall enough he could see over top and kept slamming his hand over and over again. I was trying to keep the kids focused on the book but it’s difficult when they see their classmate giving me the finger. One of the other students reciprocated with the noble response of giving the finger back. Before I could get to the kid who was flipping the bird from the inside, the principal had come in and told him to go sit down.
The sub who was filling in for the classroom teacher came in, blew hair out of her face and said, “I’ll take it from here.” I nodded. Told the kids to go sit down at their desks. The sub turned the lights down to settle them down while I gathered all the songwriting booklets, put them in my folder and grabbed my Sound Wheel off the wall.
The caretaker and principal were trying to put the classroom back together again. Put the tables right side up. Collect papers off the floor. Slide all the book boxes the boy had pulled out of their shelves back. Kartoffel and I helped. None of the books were in the right box but at least it would be tidy. The class will likely have to sort through it later.
Every significant thing that’s ever happened to me in my career has happened on a Friday, says the principal and he puts a box into it’s shelf.
Yeah? I say.
Kartoffel and I walked back to the Cultural Arts room where we usually post-conferenced. I forget what we talked about on the way there. Maybe he was telling me what happened outside of the classroom while this was going on. I don’t really remember. Selfishly, I wanted to know what I had done wrong. Kartoffel, in his very gentle and kind demeanor, kept saying, “Don’t worry. We’re going to talk about it. We just need to find a spot to sit down.” The other class who had evacuated earlier was occupying the Cultural Arts room so we went to the gym and plopped ourselves onto the floor.
Are you okay, he asked.
I don’t know. Are you okay?
He said he was okay. This kid has things going on at home. It’s been ongoing. The staff is trying to get him support. It’s a process. If this happens again, we’ll call the office and ask the principal or the vice-principal to come. Are you sure you’re okay?
I nod my head. I just feel responsible.
Kartoffel kept trying to find words to assure me that this happens to everybody. All teachers experience this at some point. I was watching his mouth move when my chest kind of released and my eyes started leaking down the side of my face.
I’m sorry, I say. It just hit me.
He smiled gently and said it’s okay.
Has it hit you yet?
It will on the way home. I’ll probably cry then.
Okay. I think we have to go pick up the kindergartens now.
Yes. We’ll bring them back here. Play some games. Let them run around.
We bring the kindergartens to the gym. Play a game called Disaster where we call out natural disasters and they have an action that follows. But they were getting bored and decided to add their own twist. When Kartoffel called, “FLOOD,” all the kids were supposed to find a bench to stand on, but instead, they decided to die and resurrect as zombies. Soon we had an entire class of zombies who were moaning and trying to infect one another. Kartoffel and I were too tired to stop it. At least nobody was getting hurt.
At the end of the class, we all sat on the black circle while Kartoffel tried to cool them down. One of the kids was still in character and gnawed on Kartoffel’s elbow. Without losing his composure, he responded with the gentlest no thank you. Please stop chewing on me. Kartoffel looked up, and we both lost it. Laughing in the giddy way a person does when they are tired. The kind of laughter where you can’t stop and your eyes are watering. The kid who was chewing on K’s elbow, didn’t get what was so funny but took it as a compliment and started laughing, too. I must be really funny, he thought.
We grabbed a drink at the water fountain on the way back to class and their parents came to pick them up. Kartoffel and I walked back and gave each other a high five.