Stick it or Quit it?
Yesterday, well into the second hour of the weekly Writers' Workshop I have with eighteen kids aged between nine and eleven years old, I walked out.
Six weeks ago, I felt slightly overwhelmed when the principal - without discussing it with me first - announced to the twenty (I wanted no more than ten) kids sitting on the mat in the library that they'd be writing a novel in five weeks.
Five weeks of course was impossible and before I could clear it with the principal, she was laid low for that entire time with pneumonia. Naturally, my piddly little concerns about a weekly writing group would be the last thing that her replacement principal would want to hear about, so I kept on running it and decided to extend it to the rest of the term. I let the vice principal know by email and she merely forwarded me an email from the State Library of Victoria in response, advertising a book reading event in June and a fwd-fwd-fwd on top with someone I'd never ever met saying, 'Maybe Kathy who is working with the writing kids can do this'. Er, thanks, 'Lisa' whoever you are......
Still, Maureen was gravely ill; I liked the kids and dared to think that my volunteering was doing something positive for the school and would ease the guilt of not doing anything there last year.*
Three weeks ago, the week after Sapphire said she hated me, the kids all begged, "Can we do this at lunch time too, Kath? Please?" Again, the principal was still home very ill, so I said yes and again let the vice principal know.
Last week's double session was wonderful. I loved seeing the kids and interacting with them and seeing their confidence grow. Reading their work during the week was also great fun and emailing gave me the opportunity to give each child more individual attention; something that wasn't possible when there's eighteen of them, all crowding around saying:
"Kath, can you read this?"
"Kath, can you please come over here my laptop's not working."
"Kath I don't understand what you mean here."
"Kath I've lost my USB and don't know where my notebook is."
"Kath, S keeps scribbling all over my notes!"
"Kath, is it okay to put swear words in the story?"
Yesterday was awful. Even non-teachers know that after-lunch sessions, especially later in the week are hard work. The kids are tired, a little bit ratty and want to goof off. I knew that and had so far, with a bit of hustle, humour and occasional 'Now Wait A Minute' lectures been fairly successful at keeping eighteen very smart, active, chatty and enthusiastic little beings on task.
Not yesterday. They were out of their seats, leaving the room without telling me where they were going, refusing to write any more detail in spots I'd highlighted earlier in the week (and emailed them and printed out in colour to bring as a hard copy to the session), were rocking back in their chairs, swearing, running around and making a hell of a din.
Several times I stopped and - no, not yelled - but told them sternly that time was running short and that this was their opportunity to get some more writing done. They'd dim the chaos to level seven for about thirty seconds before ramping up to level eleven again.
Three particular blowflies were very disruptive and I 'isolated' (yes, I know my teaching terminology) them away from their playmates and asked them (quietly, so that none of the other kids could hear and heighten their shame) to start working.
An hour and a half into the two hours, I was red-faced, sweaty and fed up. Now was time to yell. "HEY! I've given up my time to run this workshop with you and DON'T NEED to be here. I'm going to take a walk outside for two minutes to decide if I want to continue with it or not."
I grabbed my water bottle and left, crossing the leaf-infested quadrangle and heading towards the principal's office. She'd returned a week ago and I was in the mood to dob.
Or sob, as it turned out. Her assistant bundled me into the staff room, where I took a few deep breaths and the principal strode over to the library.
A bloke with a bushy beard walked in. "Hello, you're Sapphire's Mum, aren't you? I'm Barry Z, her Science teacher."
I smiled weakly. "Hi Barry. Sapphire loves your classes."
He nodded, "That's good to hear, good to hear. Now, why are you here and not out by the gate with your dog?"
I told him. No crying this time, just tiredly and quietly. He listened and said, "Are you a registered teacher?"
"Um, no. I did my Grad Dip Ed seventeen years ago and have a child clearance thingy from the Victorian Police but no, I'm here as a parent."
He raised a peppery grey eyebrow. "I'm not going to wade in here, but remember, you're not a teacher and you don't have to do anything here at school that you don't want to do."
The door squeaked open and young G's red head peered around. "Um, Kath? Mrs M wants to know if you're ready to come back now...?"
I nodded and let her leave so that I could walk back over there on my own and in my own good time. The library was quiet with eighteen kids bent over their keyboards and notebooks. Maureen beamed. "The kids' writing is fantastic!" All I could manage was a shrug.
She stood up. "Now kids, you all know what you have to do." To my utter horror and embarassment, the kids lined up in front of me and each child offered an apology. I nodded to each one, hoping that I wouldn't cry or blush too profusely.
The bell rang and each kid said, "See ya Kath - and thanks," as they left. My smile came more naturally. I know that they didn't mean it personally but why was I the dumb bunny giving up my time when all of them had parents who earned more in a month than I earned in a year?
Maureen hugged me and said, "Take next week off - I'll run the class. And stop editing their work during the week."
"Yes but you announced that they'd need to write a novel and some of them need help with that, not just the few seconds I can offer then during these sessions."
She didn't appear to hear me, but gave me another jolly, standing-side-by-side hugs that had my left arm sandwiched awkwardly against her rump due to still carrying a laptop case. The Kumon tutors had arrived and she was already in conversation with the English coordinator.
I dawdled to the school gate, dreading Sapphire's response. It was a grey day, but I put my sunnies on to hide the still-watery and red-rimmed eyes.
Sapphire walked up to me, reaching for my hand, and held it all the way home.
"I don't blame you for walking out, Mum," she said. "They deserved it."
I started crying again then.
* After four years (reception to year three) of fund raising, stall running, jewellery making, Quiz night hosting, Fete Day organising, hearing kids read every week, working bee gardening, class room painting, excursion attending, note taking and stage-backdrop designing I decided that I needed a year off doing such things when Sapphire first started year four at Flemington Primary School last year. And yes, I felt incredibly guilty doing so!