Herding Cats

Yesterday a group of 3rd graders came to the Guidance Office proclaiming there were kids in the classroom standing on desks and misbehaving. I asked them where their teacher was and they said she left. They said she had put their assignment up on the board and told them she had to leave, and would not be back.

I left the office, with a throng of 3rd graders cheering me in my wake, and walked in to what is so typical of Jamaican classrooms – chaos. Kids were yelling, running, hitting each other and only a handful were doing their work. I approached the front of the classroom and with a loud voice (for me) told them to “Listen Up!” Surprisingly, the chatter was reduced to a low hum and I asked who could tell me what the teacher had instructed them to do. A girl sitting in the front of the room shot up her hand and repeated what the others had told me earlier. I then asked how many had started the assignment and almost everyone raised their hand. [I doubted the truthfulness of this.] I went on to tell them they needed to do their work and I would be available to help them if they needed help. I went back to my office as I am not a “Substitute Teacher, rather I work in the Guidance Office.

A few minutes later 7-8 kids came down to my office and said they had finished their work and asked if they could sit in the Guidance Office because their classroom was still noisy. I told them they could. Before I knew it, I had 15 kids buzzing around the Guidance Office [which is the size of a very small bedroom.] Many of them asked permission to read some of the pamphlets that were on the table. I told them they could. I should have known that pamphlets called, “My Body and Me” were going to garner a lot of discussion! For the most part, when they asked questions, I just told them that, “It was part of human nature and they’d learn more about it when they got older!”

This beehive-like activity continued until it was clear I had lost all control of the office. I found myself making imaginary lines they were not to cross and putting a capacity limit on the office. I told them only 6 kids at a time could be in the office. After saying that, it was like a game of “Musical Chairs” had broken out as all of the kids clamored for a seat in the office! There were kids [boys] going under the desk, behind the file cabinet, and under the day bed. This activity kept up until I hollered, “Who in here is a leader?” Several hands shot up so I pointed to one girl and said, “Okay, you’re a leader so you need to set an example for the others and leave the office.” To this she replied, “Miss, I’m not a leader, I’m a follower!”

All the while this was going on I kept checking my watch because I knew, at some point, they had to go back to their class to be dismissed for the day.

I expanded my office capacity limit to 8 because I couldn’t get the boys out from under the day bed. Children were standing outside the Guidance Office while I stood planted in the doorway. When they asked why they couldn’t come in, I told them the office was for kids with problems or for kids who are injured. I know, I set myself up for this one. “Miss, I have problems!” said one little girl. Then, before you knew it, I had kids limping up to my door or falling to the ground writhing in “pain” stating they were injured!

Finally, by the grace of God, the bell rang and they headed back to their classroom. I stood quietly in the office wondering, what the hell just happened?

It was 11:30 a.m. and I was scheduled to work until 5:00 p.m. I knew at this point I could never be a “real teacher” in a Jamaican classroom!

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