I just taught 3 children’s classes in a row and wow…wow, wow, wow. Acting, dancing, and toddlers is the large realm I covered in 3 hours. I jumped in for a teacher as a last minute sub; I needed the money, they called on the phone, I couldn’t find a great reason to say no. Really, the only reason I would say no is for my mental health. It takes a ton of stamina to maintain a room filled with 20 children. Incidentally, I think classes with over 9 children is too much. The quality is compromised, the children don’t get individual attention, and this means the addition of a million parents. I’m not quite sure why (but maybe it’s a money thing) a school chooses to allow 20 kids in one dance class.
20 kids means a lot of group games. A lot of place spots, dancing around randomly to music, a lot of strain on my vocal chords. It was also the first day of class for many of these families, which is a huge shame that they have to start out with a sub. Details are lost; do I really care or have the capacity to learn every child’s name? Hell no. Parents linger with anxious children, their eyes watering while their child bitterly cries, a sense of overwhelming panic courses through the first five minutes. I do my best. Kids are late which is an enormous disservice to a child entering a new classroom. A woman from a nearby college shows up with her infant and claims to have permission to watch the class for a research paper. Kids are wide eyed and expectant. Some are barely 3 others are leaders at 4.
We finish our opening circle with the Abc’s. One mother won’t leave. Her child is being kind of a butt head. I don’t understand why parents insist on pushing it with their child. If your kid hates the class why make them stay? At one point the mother barks, “You need more spots.” I realize she is passive aggressively telling me her child isn’t being included–despite her kid lying prostrate in her lap refusing to participate. “Here, have mine, ” I say shortly, throwing them a green spot. (Don’t boss around the teacher, people, c’mon). The class is too large to gauge. I can’t tell if they’re having a good time, which child is crying, and who smells. The parents are all crowded around the viewing window, which I really, really hate. I hate the viewing window. It’s almost as bad as having parents sit in the class. They lurk behind the glass, a shadowy, willowy, worried presence. The parents are scrutinizing me, I know it. I’m subbing for the head of the dance education department, there is a waiting list for this class (hence the 20 students), people wait years for this class to open up. I am inadequate in their eyes, I am sure.
We march around the room. I wistfully remember a mere hour earlier when I was teaching Storybook Acting to five really nice little girls upstairs. We were away from the prying eyes, acting out “Caps for Sale,” pretending to be monkeys in trees. Now I am bombarded by twenty pairs of stomping feet. Several kids are pulling the old I-want-attention-so-I’m-going-to-opt-out act that I don’t tolerate. I ignore them. Let them sit on their butts while the rest of us go marching by. “Why are you sitting down?” “Because I’m tiiii-red.” I move on, I don’t care, whatever, I just need to survive.
Parents are itching to get in to the classroom. The teacher I am subbing for goes all out for her classes, inviting the parents into the room 10 minutes prior to the end of class, performing elaborate story ballets for them and really getting the kids involved. I do this because I know it is expected. I suffice with the every reliable Animal Game. I’m not a big fan of parents crashing the party at the end of class–it’s something I never do in my own curriculum. The kids are barely hanging on, having exhausted themselves with bounces and marches; an hour is too long for 3-4 year olds in my opinion.
The toddlers are next, descending on the classroom like a herd of gerbils, they bounce and sway on fat toddler legs to the plethora of rubber balls I’ve set free. Their parents come slowly after, casing the joint out, eying each other, checking for kids that just might be cuter then their own. I turn on festive music and let the toddlers play while I take roll. I introduce myself to each and every parent and child. I explain that I am the sub, but I teach this class on Mondays. I explain that we will go back and forth from structured to unstructured play. I inform parents that their job is to model behavior. Parents smile politely and nod, one eye trained on their kid and one eye on me. I am exhausted, having reached my 3rd class in a row. One tiny girl has a ridiculous pink feather clip secured to her barely there hair. It makes her look like some sort of disturbing baby chicken, or a mini-hipster with one pink forelock, or a bad attempt at baby fashion. “How cute,” I say, my fingers brushing the clip to feel its fluffy softness. The mother glares at me as her daughter immediately pulls the clip out. “We never mention the feather clip,” she retorts, rescuing it from the floor, distracting her daughter and then sneaking the clip back on to her mostly bald head. I quickly move on.
We start marching in a big circle, the toddlers, grown-ups, and I. This is when I catch myself saying ridiculous things (were they not in context), “Ok, everyone grab your ball! Great job! Swing your ball back and forth…great! Oh, look Sophie has a blue ball, can you grab your blue ball?” The kids are absolutely terrified of the parachute. Most of them won’t sit on it despite it being so goddam fun. The bright colors waft and flow as we shake the ends of the parachute to create ripples of color across the floor. I forgot that this is a particularly young class with many barely 2’s who are not ready for the vast joy the parachute can provide. We turn the parachute into a slide–this warms a few kids up. We waft the parachute up and down while the kids run around underneath. One little girl howls with despair–’she really loved the slide,’ her mother explains. We pull the ends underneath and create a tent. We shop for different colors until the tent becomes a suffocating vortex of crying and short attention span. Open Play is next and I dump hundreds of scarves all over the floor. I do nothing and say nothing for five full minutes. My mind and body are reeling. I can’t do three classes in a row.
The last class of the day for me is never as good as the first one. My stamina is low, my patience is shorter, I find myself saying ‘fuck’ to myself over dumb things like the scarf bag falling over. We clean up the Open Play props, it takes while, one mother has the nerve to suggest we ’sing a little song next time and the kids will clean up better.’ I almost say, “Shut the hell up, I KNOW the power of song, I barely have a voice left and the idea of singing another damn song makes me want to barf right now…YOU sing a little song.” This is very harsh, and I know it. I’m turning into a jerk with each passing second. And yet, I find myself during closing circle croaking out “Row, Row, Your Boat” and “Abc’s” (again). Then we’re done! Have a nice weekend! I am a shell of a teacher as the parents pass and fade away. I can barely smile my way through the waves and polite questions, realizing that I am starving and have no almonds. As I leave the studio I pass the beach where a dozen little bodies are playing in the sand. “Bye teacher!” One of my students calls, decked out in a polka dotted bathing suit and sun hat. “BYE!”