Our guest writer today is Dana Baker. Dana graduated from Calvin in 2008 and has since been teaching at a small school (www.mustardseedschool.org) a handful of miles outside Manhattan, where children learn to ride the subway before they learn to ride bikes. In her spare time she actually does bake, occasionally runs and/or enthusiastically hobbles around town, and makes unabashed meals out of chips and salsa.
I teach kindergarten. (This portrait of me, drawn by a former student in Crayola marker, is almost entirely accurate.) I wake up pre-sun, don soft clothing, and spend my days sitting on the floor. “Oh, that makes sense, you look like a kindergarten teacher,” conclude most people I meet. Thank you? Perhaps my bounty of cardigans gives me away.
At the beginning of each school year, my name is somewhat a source of controversy amongst the young minds.
“So, if your name’s Ms. Baker…that means we’re gonna bake bread pretty soon?” deduces the eager five-year-old on his first day of school. “We didn’t bake any cookies!” he later sobs to his mother.
Once they’ve recovered from this crushing disappointment (I am not the magical, mystical creature of baking proportions they had previously imagined), everyday is a chorus of high-pitched “Ms. Baker!” exclamations. Each time I hear this cry, I’ve learned that three types of communication follow:
1) a minor need (“I can’t find one of the sparkles from my new sparkly skirt”),
2) utter emergent chaos (“He told me to pee on the floor and I did”),
3) a surprising statement of truth (see below).
In order to maintain a glimpse of sanity in the midst of these “Ms. Baker” pleas, I began recording gems from the third category in a cheap version of a hipster Moleskin notebook, which I roughly titled, “Reasons I Continue to Teach Today Even Though a Child Peed on the Floor Yesterday.” It’s proved quite the learning experience.
For instance, kindergarteners express their emotions rather than burying them via wine and binge-watching Netflix.
“Aw man, Ms. Baker, everyday I’m shufflin’,” says the exasperated five-year-old after I asked him to shuffle his cards before playing the next round.
“I just want the outside to be warm; that’s why I’m grumpy and shy,” explains the six-year-old, also bitter that winter has clung on far past its invitation.
“Ms. Baker, I think I need a tissue because my eyes have a little bit of sad in them,” one whispers after being denied a second cupcake.
“Now I can run faster than a cat!” appropriately declares a child, with his forehead touched to mine, after the momentous occasion of learning to tie his shoe.
They’re inexplicably savvy.
“This is just what I do when I want something that I don’t have. I use my blinky eyes and then my mom gives it to me,” she answers as to why she is looking oh-so-very-sad.
“Ms. Baker! Tomorrow’s my dad’s birthday and I’m going to give him a flower from my flower collection and some of my joy that I collected when I was three,” proclaims the child who has discovered the gift that can never be trumped.
“You know what, Ms. Baker? I love graveyards, and I’m not afraid to hold a gun,” says the child inevitably on my team pending any zombie-related phenomenon.
They understand subtleties of relationships I have yet to grasp.
“Ms. Baker, If you get married, you’ll never, ever, ever have a life again,” advises the five-year-old full of optimism for the future.
“Ms. Baker, at home, sometimes I just want to stand up and tell my mom and dad to stop having a discussion because my mom is right and my dad is just being rude,” describes another who has this down to a science.
“It’s okay if you call me sexy,” encourages one to her peer. “I don’t really want to. Ms. Baker says it’s not okay to use words if you don’t know what they mean,” replies the other, determined not to repeat past mistakes.
“I know I’m going to love kindergarten because my teacher’s pretty,” confesses a child to her parents after the first day of school.
“Wow, Ms. Baker, those are some real nice moves you got there,” comments another on my puzzle-related skills.
“Ms. Baker, how did you get so many wrinkles?” encourages the boy who thankfully didn’t notice my blossoming gray hair.
They grapple with theology in a more convincing manner than John Calvin or Tim Keller or Tina Fey.
“Then God made all the animals and a man and a woman. And then, God looked at everything he had made, and he let them play with him,” one child retells and reclaims as the creation narrative.
“Ms. Baker, in some princess movies, someone kisses you and you come alive again so maybe that’s how it happened,” hypothesizes the five-year-old as she ponders the resurrection of Jesus.
“We should pray for the sad things. Like when you find a grape at the park and then it’s really a rock instead,” suggests the boy with likely a sore tooth.
In truth, kindergarteners are braver than I.
I write these down because otherwise I’ll forget, as I’ve grown somewhat old and have abandoned my Lumosity app in exchange for tea and slipper socks. I write these down because teaching is terribly hard and sometimes I need reminders to keep going, to press on, to get over the expectations I’ve hastily constructed for myself in my mind. I write these down because, in truth, the five-turning-six-year-old understands how the world works and seems to be coping with it far better than (you or) I.
They delight, they mourn, they love, while mostly I just east chips and salsa and count it as a healthy and completely legitimate dinner. They voice how they feel, what they know, what they wonder. They are brave beyond measure. They pray for the sad things.
They also pee on the floor from time to time, and because of that (and other also important educational reasons), I’m invited into the world of these bravest, where I can listen and supply tissues and occasionally show them how to use a mop.