Today I was able to volunteer in Eloise's classroom for the first time and I was just thrilled about the opportunity. Her teacher was okay with me bringing Iris along so it's going to work out nicely for us to be there once a week for a few hours. It's a big chunk out of our schooling time at home, but I think Iris will gain some valuable experience helping out the kindergartners, so I am okay with the change in her schedule.
The biggest thing that struck me today was how many activities the kids are moving through every day! I do realize that these are five year olds with a more limited attention span, but we were on the move all afternoon. When Iris and I arrived in the class half way through their day the kids were finishing up what was their recess time by playing in the classroom. It was a pretty rainy afternoon, which doesn't mean skipping all outside recess time, but it does limit it a bit.
After free time we went to Chinese class. Oh, my. This Chinese teacher (who is here from China) is what I have in my mind as a stereotypical Chinese teacher-- very firm. She wants kids to sit still and in a line and no talking. She even told the kids that if they were talking or moving about they would have to come and stand up by her for five minutes, which was very shameful. Eeek! Interestingly, despite kids not really listening that well (they are all five, after all!), she never shamed anyone by having them stand by her. She did "good job" many kids and put stickers on their sticker chart kind of randomly. Luckily this isn't how the kindy teacher operates.
There is one little boy in the class who needs a lot of support, so I stuck close by him for class. After Chinese the kindy teacher asked me if he had fallen asleep in class, which he is prone to doing (!). He hadn't, but I spent a lot of my time keeping him focused. When we were leaving the Chinese teacher thanked me for helping and I assured her I would be back every Monday to help, which she was thrilled about. I still can't figure out how the teachers maneuver so many kids through their day and actually get anything done.
After Chinese we went in the class for carpet time/teacher reading aloud. After read aloud was math games. After math games was outside recess and snack. After recess was library time. After library time was free choice, then another circle before heading home.
Iris and I really enjoyed the times when we could directly interact with kids and help out. We both disliked the times when Iris had to be quiet (turns out it is just as hard for her as it for the five year olds) and I had to help the kids stay quiet. Iris also reported that she didn't like the Chinese class, but I didn't really blame her. It wasn't very fun.
I kept thinking about the post I read that Teacher Tom wrote about the importance of volunteering in your child's class and that parental involvement was the number one predictor of a child's success in school. Today, surrounded by 20-some kids, I couldn't help but think that one of the biggest reasons this was true was simply because more help in the classroom means more kids are learning and not just being "handled" by their teacher. Go here, sit there, be quiet, stay in line. There is a clear reason why teachers need to organize their students so well, it would be chaos otherwise, but more adult hands mean less managing by the teacher. Less time managing means more time teaching and learning.
In closing, I have to say, I just don't know how teachers do it. It is so very difficult teaching such large classrooms of such small children. It takes a very special soul to be able to do it with so much love and joy.