ALL THE KIDS I’VE TAUGHT (PART FIVE) MY LAST TEN YEARS- KINDERGARTEN

I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, but when I started teaching you had to have grade eight piano. and grade two music theory to teach kindergarten! While I could play the piano, and certainly was able to teach music, my six months of piano lesson and a talent for playing by ear were not enough to get me that job. By the time that was no longer a requirement, I was part of the School of Special Education and they wouldn’t release me. I can remember how annoyed I was when I was teaching at Joyceville and the new kindergarten teacher said she could not teach music and I had to go to her class and teach music!

In the early 1980’s our school board made self-funded leaves available, and I was one of the first group to take advantage of it. For four years I was paid 80%, and the other 20% was invested, and by the fifth year I took the year off and received that saved 80%+interest as a regular salary. Before I went on leave I asked what would happen when I returned – would I be able to choose from any position available, or did I have to go back to special ed. I was told I could choose any position. I was going to leave it at that. but an older teacher said, “Get it in writing” So I sent the letter and received a written letter from the superintendent.

So for the school year 1985-1986 I had my first ever full year off. Cindy was in grade eight, and at a time when most grade 8 students didn’t want their parents around, Cindy was able to say “My mom will!”whenever a parent was needed, and could call home when she forgot her homework! My sister and her husband went to Scotland, and their three year old son stayed with us. Lloyd and I went on a cruise for a week, then stayed another week in Barbados. We came home for just one week, then took off to Venezuela for a week on a trip we had won.

Spring came and I was getting excited because the “Cattle Call” was about to happen. All the available jobs were listed, and one night all the teachers who were returning from being away, or whose job had been squeezed out by a drop in population, came to the Board office, and got to choose by seniority. Then one day the phone rang and it was the special education supervisor calling. He said that he knew I preferred a classroom, rather than in school resource teacher, so they had placed me in a special class in Bayridge.  They knew I’d be happy. I let him know in no uncertain terms that no, I was NOT happy, that I’d been told I could return to a regular class and I had a letter to prove it! So off I went to Kingston, letter in hand to the Board office, blood in my eye. I was so mad I was close to tears! I handed the letter over, and the situation was corrected. However when the superintendent remarked how lucky I was to have the letter I just glared at him.

So the job I wanted of all those listed was junior and senior kindergarten at Elginburg. Lloyd and I drove to my top three choices (I didn’t know where I was in terms of seniority, so wasn’t sure I would get my first choice.). The other schools were nice, but when we drove into the yard at Elginburg, even though it was seven o’clock at night, I felt like I had arrived home.

I had talked to the principal and told him I was interested, and he sounded agreeable to that. Then  just a day before “the” night I got a call from the principal asking me if I would apply for the grade four job, instead of kindergarten. Apparently there was a teacher looking for a place and wanted the grade four class. She had the reputation of not getting along well with students, staff or parents. She was quite obnoxious and would try to push all her opinions on a whole staff and he really didn’t want her messing up his staff.There was a man returning from leave and he wanted the grade four class. Since I was the only one who had more seniority than she did, and she wouldn’t want kindergarten, the plan was I pick the grade four, and the other man would pick the kindergarten, then we would be switched by the principal. I reluctantly agreed, although I was not happy about the deception, even if done for the right reason. That night, just before things started, the principal came over and said the situation had been fixed, and I could choose the kindergarten class – phew! I was the teacher with the most experience – 26 years, and got first pick!

So it began, finally after 26 years, I got my kindergarten class.This was a time of changes in kindergarten. For the first time junior and seniors were together. While those teachers who had taught them separately were not happy, since I didn’t know any different it was fine! I also was used to full day kindergarten, as both my kids had attended one. This was also the time when the focus was on learning through play , which was my philosophy. As a special education teacher I often worked with children, especially boys born in the last three months of the year, who had not been ready for academic work , so I was opposed to them being required to do academic work too soon.. In my class I taught mostly through games, songs and play. They learned an amazing amount just through little stories and games. I did not believe in children sitting still for long periods of time. It wasn’t until the last term that I worked with the seniors making sure they learned anything they hadn’t picked up. I absolutely loved those ten years. At first I couldn’t get over the fact that they learned the lesson the first time, after so many years when a lesson had to be taught in three different ways to get it across!

As well as my class I was involved with other school activities. We did a school musical every year. The very last one, I was conducting what I knew would be my last musical and fought tears, especially the last song. I also taught some music to classes, and did a group lesson with four grades in the gym using the song games I had learned in Education Through Music. I also helped with other school wide activities and themes.

One thing I did was tell stories. I would have them give me three things they wanted in the story, and I would begin “Once upon a time, there was ………” I might have a real challenge e.g., a mirror, a cow and a puppy: a bus, a horse and a flashlight! It was fun, and grade one teachers often commented what good listeners they were. I also wouldn’t show them the pictures in a story book when I read it. When it was finished we would talk about how things in the story might look, what colour the puppy was, and then I would say “Let’s see what the person who drew the pictures thought they would look.” I felt this made them realize there wasn’t always just one right answer.

I always felt a responsibility to give the children and parents a good introduction to school life. Often a parent might have had no experience with school since they were in school, and that might not have been a good experience. I sort of taught the parents, right along  with the kids!

I also was sometimes the first person who had said “no” to the little ones. Eventually they all became comfortable with the structure, and went along being little sponges absorbing everything along the way.

The classes were either the BUNNIES or the STARS. They came two days one week and three the next. At the end of the year we had a kindergarten graduation. They had their hats, received a certificate from the principal, and sang a song from each month, sort of reviewing the year in song.

Of course, there are stories.

One is the privilege I had to teach two children who came from Romania. They were “crib’ babies, who spent almost all of each day in their crib in an orphanage. The first boy had not been in Canada long, and still had the uneven gait from not walking on solid ground very often. He also did not have a lot of English, but it didn’t take long for him to fit in. By the time his sister started (They were not related by blood) she had no problems with the language or physical activity. Their mother was wonderful with them and with me. She brought a photo album from Romania so I could understand how their life had started. They are now all grown up and still so attractive with their dark eyes and hair. This is one of my favourite memories.

Another incident is probably the funniest of all my 36 years of school stories. One day at noon, a little JK student came running up the hall calling my name. I went out to the hall and S. says, “Mrs. Chase, Mrs. Chase, He said the “B” word.” I said “What?” He repeated, ” He said the “B” word!” So in my mind, I am going through all the possible “B” word. Finally I said “S. What did he say?”  So S. says, “He said “F*** !” With great difficulty I solemnly told him to go tell the boy he shouldn’t say that. Then I went back into the staff room, shut the door, collapsed on the couch and howled! When I could stop laughing, I told the teachers. One of them said, “No wonder we’re having trouble teaching phonics!” To my last day, I will remember looking down into those very blue eyes in a sweet little face topped with blond hair, and him looking at me so seriously as he said, “F***”!

One other scary time did not happen at school. One night a coffee maker in the home of one of my little girls shorted out and there was a fire, and C. made her way across the kitchen floor on her hands and knees to escape. It was so frightening.

I have told you about the funniest time, but the saddest will also always be in my memory. One day the father of one of my JK boys was shoveling snow and had a heart attack at the age of 38 and died. The poor little boy never really understood Daddy wasn’t coming back. His mom wanted to sell the big gravel truck, but he wanted it left there for Daddy when he came home.

I could write page after page about those kids. Two classes of 25 each for ten years made a lot of memories.

At that time our school board was encouraging teachers to move to different school after seven years. The only exception was if you were within three years of retiring. By the time I had been there seven years, I was within three years of retirement. I would have moved to another school as I had never considered retiring so young, but I was so disturbed by the way education was going, especially kindergarten, that Lloyd and I decided I had better plan to retire, or I would be fired because I refused to do what I knew was wrong.  I would not start emphasizing academic work for these young kids, when they were not ready. That was not what kindergarten was meant to be. Yes, they did learn a lot, but not the way that was being promoted, and I refused to do assessments for junior kindergarten. There was plenty of time for that. My job was to prepare them for that, to teach them how to learn, to learn to work in groups, to be thoughtful of others. So I sent in a request to be allowed to stay there for the last three years.

I have been blessed in my life. I have a wonderful marriage- almost 55 years, two children and their spouses who all treat me with love and respect, and four beautiful granddaughters who think I am the greatest! I also am so blessed to have been a teacher from age 17 until 54. I have learned so much from them, and hope they remember me with fondness and an awareness that I never wanted anything but the best for them. It was a long time from the first Tuesday, September, 1960 until the end of June, 1996. I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved with hundreds of MY KIDS

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