Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Get Paid to Do This?

[Update: I just found out from Dorr that one of the other friends who joined us last night is also a fellow blogger, which I didn't know, so just want to include a link to The Reading Nook.]

Yesterday, I went up to Manhattan (it still sounds weird to say “up to Manhattan” instead of “into Manhattan”) to visit a school. One of the most fun “duties” of my job is visiting schools. I don’t really go visiting as often as I should. So many other things seem to be burning on front burners all the time, while schools just sort of simmer nicely on back burners, needing a stir, oh, every six months or so.

Thus, I haven’t visited a school in ages, but while I was out at conferences last month, I realized I needed to get back into some classrooms, especially those where certain math curricula are being used, so I can see what they’re like in practice. I was invited to visit this particular school over a year ago, and I decided I’d better R.S.V.P. before they forgot all about me. Besides, an excuse to go to Manhattan in May? Well, who really needs one of those? (I had, two, though, because after my school visit, I was meeting up with fellow bloggers Becky, Dorr, and Zoe’s Mom, as well as other friends, to celebrate Becky’s new job at Big Name Publisher.)

We’ll ignore the fact that Manhattan was more like Bangladesh in January than itself in May yesterday. I was in Manhattan. The weather didn’t deter me. It was great to be back. Prior to arriving, I’d had a blissful three hours on trains and in train stations all to myself. I stepped off the train at Penn Station and bought a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Then I arrived at the school. What a fun school! Schools have certainly changed since the days in which I was forced to sit quietly at a desk in the middle of a row listening to my teacher and working on worksheets. I walked in the door and was greeted with the loud sound of happy and engaged kids working and exploring the world around them.

When I visit schools, my favorite classrooms are the kindergarten through second grade classrooms. These kids, for the most part, have absolutely no qualms about talking to this stranger who’s appeared on the scene (I hope I’m not striking fear in the hearts of those of you with children this age. Never fear. When I do this, I’m typically accompanied by someone like the assistant principal, as I was yesterday). I can wander around the classroom, squat down to their level, and ask them what they’re doing. They will explain to me in great detail exactly what they’re doing and why. The fifth-graders are much more cautious. They either eye me warily, or look at me as though I’m the village idiot when I ask questions. I mean, it should be perfectly obvious exactly what they’re doing.

The child psychology is fascinating. At what age do children quit viewing questioning adults as people to help and inform and instead start seeing them as people who are suspect? Maybe around age ten or so, just prior to adolescence, when adults become plain stupid and embarrassing?

One of my favorite classroom questions came from an eighth-grader in a room full of kids who were completely guarded around me from the moment I walked in the door. Finally, one of them turned to the author who was my “tour guide” that day and asked, “How can you write a whole book about math?” The follow-up question, left unvoiced, but definitely written in the girl’s thought bubble was, “And why would you want to?”

After my tour of the school and observing some lessons, I sat with the math coach and the assistant principal who are two extremely warm and fun people. We had a great time looking at samples of student work, talking about the integration of the revised math curriculum they’ve been using this year, and brainstorming ideas for books to write and publish. While I was doing so, I wondered why neither of them is extremely obese, because two kids had birthday parties at the school, and I gather the custom is to come down and offer goodies to those in the office (yesterday, it was cupcakes from one child and chocolate chip cookies from another). With 750 students in the school, that’s an awful lot of birthdays, and an awful lot of goodies. To tell you the truth, I was surprised. You wouldn’t believe all the horror stories I’ve heard from principals and teachers about kids with food allergies and having to enforce bans on such parties altogether, or at least bans on such food at parties (always extremely disappointing to me when I hear it, because these parties with such sweets were the highlights of my elementary school career).

Sounds like a fun day, doesn’t it? I’m not complaining that I get paid to do such fun work (and believe me, there are times when my job is not fun). I am very, very glad I get paid to do it. When I was sixteen, I made the decision that no one was ever going to support me, that I was going to make my own way in this world. I wasn’t going to be dependent on my parents for money, nor would I be dependent on a husband. However, I always imagined the work I did would be a real chore, nothing more than a means to an end. I had no idea it could be so much fun. Does it not seem somewhat unfair that some people have to put in hideously long days in coal mines to earn much less than I do visiting cool schools with cute kids? I recently took that quiz about being privileged. I’d say considering this question makes me feel far more privileged than most of the questions on that quiz did.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: the day ended perfectly. I met up with the others at The Algonquin (where else would a group of people, almost all of whom work in publishing, meet up for drinks? Dorr was our one sane voice, being the lone non-publisher in the group. I’m still hoping we didn’t bore her to tears with all our “shop talk”). I’d say we probably had a far better time than the original members of the Algonquin Round Table. Afterwards, it was macaroni and cheese (a very buttery and delicious macaroni and cheese, I might add) at Juniors and then back to PA, fully satiated with NYC, good work, good friends, good drinks, and good food. And believe it or not: I was actually happy to be back in PA. Philly’s 30th Street Station is becoming as familiar as Penn Station (and I like it better. Of course, I will never like any train station better than Grand Central).


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful day and that student's question cracked me up.

Rebecca H. said...

I wasn't bored by your shop talk in the least -- it's nice to hear talk about some shop other than mine! How fun to get to spend time with those kids!

litlove said...

This sounds like a wonderful day! And I agree that children start mistrusting adult's questions around the age of 10-12. My son, at 13, now blithely ignores any he doesn't want to answer :)

Eva said...

I'm glad you had such a wonderful time! I love talking to younger kids too. :) Our neighbourhood has a lot of them, so sometimes when I'm out with my niece they'll come and have a conversation: it's always so funny and insightful!

Emily Barton said...

Stef, I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking her, "Isn't your textbook a whole book about math?"

Dorr, glad to hear you weren't bored. Actually, being a voyeur, if I'd been in your shoes, I wouldn't have been bored, either. Next time, can we get together with a bunch of academics? :-)!

Litlove, oh yes, at 13, he's right at the "adults are embarrassing and bothersome and ought to be ignored" stage.

Eva, what fun to have a neighborhood full of young kids.