Child Mania

Friday, December 08, 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


They’re shrieking. They’re wet with sweat. While most of the girls are huddled around the art supplies or rearranging plastic food in the kitchen, the boys are crashing towers, smacking trains with dinosaurs, and playing catch with baby dolls.

“Look, Miss Work,” says one boy. He’s arranged plastic people in a beautiful, star-like formation. “I killed them.”

“It’s America,” his friend tells him. “YOU’RE THE KING!”

And then it happens. A little guy wearing a spacesuit and a sheriff’s vest takes two L-shaped bricks from his pocket: “Pow! Pow!”

I know what I’m supposed to do.

“What’s the rule about guns here? We don’t play with guns in school!”

My voice is hard and hollow.

He blinks at me.

He’s not sorry.

But I am.

I have this terrible mantra I whisper to myself every time I utter a rule I don’t feel 100% about, rules like “don’t run in the hall,” “don’t touch each other,” and “don’t play guns.”

The mantra is: I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.

I may just be too permissive a person to make it in the classroom. These rules are great for crowd control, but for me, they go against nature.

Roughhousing is a natural, even affectionate thing for five year old boys to do. Guns are a modern manifestation of violence, which is eternal and primeval and is something boys must work through if they’re going to learn to channel it into something safe. And how can we expect children who go six hours a day without recess not to give in to the urge to sprint to the water fountain?

I’m all for discipline, respect, and self-control, but I also know that these kids need outlets for their impulses.

How can you give boys, who are so intensely physical and impulsive, safe outlets? I would love to visit the classroom of one of those oh-so-rare male kindergarten teachers to see if they have any secrets to share.

The more attention I pay to boys and girls, the more I read about gender differences and brain chemistry, the more fascinated I become. I yearn to try experiments, like splitting up the sexes for occasional small group activities, or making temporary rules like: “No boys in the block area today. No girls allowed in housekeeping.” I want to see what would happen.

I would kill to be invisible, to discover what wrestly messes the boys get into when I’m not looking, to hear what venomous words the girls use on each other when I’m not listening.

But my job is to intervene.

My job is classroom management and crowd control.

I feel like a cop.

How can I be a teacher

when they have so much more to teach me?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Welcome to child mania.

I was gonna be an anthropologist.

I was gonna be a psychologist.

I was gonna be a writer, an artist, a dancer.


My blood stagnated sitting in those lecture halls.

My eyes hurt from all that reading.

I flunked ballet. Break-dancing gnawed my cartilage away.

One thing was sure: I loved my dinky pocket money jobs working with kids.


Pull those pursuits together.

Teach kindergarten.

Sing, paint, spin stories, look for bugs under rocks, and run around in a room full of color and rhyme, studying fresh, vibrant mini humans with maxi spirits and way more attitude than some dude who’d pay to lay on my office couch.



Here I am, a naïve pre-service dreamer in what one of my mentors calls THE SURVIVAL stage of teaching, that is, when one’s main goal is to….. merely stay on two feet until the bell rings.

Mazes of paper. Bureaucracy. Accountability. Goals, standards, No Child Left Behind. Alphabet worship. HYGIENE POLICE! The Pledge of Allegiance. Positive role modeling and good citizenship! Schedules. Benchmarks. Progress Reports. Measurable Behavioral Objectives!

It seems to me that society has a lot of stake in how children are raised, and we greet them with an arsenal of goals, regulations, manners and social mores, some of which help them thrive and others which slowly drain their spirits.

But drop your expectations for half a minute and watch children surpass expectations you never even knew you had. Watch them murmur to themselves and wonder what silent secrets they carry.

I hate to cut short those rare few years that a piece of yarn can be a snake, a boy, a tourniquet, a finger-blinger, a sun, a rock song, or a dance… the years when dogs talk… shadows brood… clouds are mad and a trip to the convenience mart is a sweaty marathon of discovery and danger. I hate to rush them into the complacency of adulthood.

Can I let them sculpt their unruly genius and still satisfy the higher-ups?

Can a maniac like me hold down a respectable job?

Welcome to child mania.

Middle English, from Late Latin, from Greek, from mainesthai to be mad; akin to Greek menos, spirit.

-Miss Work