My job performance is evaluated by my bosses, the parents of the 40 or so students at Woodland Park. They're the ones who know best how I'm doing, since they're in the classroom with me, working as my assistant teachers, right there at my side for my successes as well as the times I flail and flop, which I do a lot given that I approach the job, each day, as an experiment.
Last week, for instance, I wrote about a particularly messy misadventure into making a back drop for our Pre-K play. We've done this before, painting large pieces of butcher paper to hang at the back of our stage, but we've always used tempera or markers or oil pastels or something else. My idea this time, to try water colors, turned into a paper-saturating, paint-spattering, inadvertent-paint-cup-kicking-over extravaganza that not only resulted in our paintings coming off the floor in soggy pieces, but given that we were making 9 of these things simultaneously, a classroom floor that wet with paint from end to end.
What I didn't write about was that in the aftermath of this project, I called the kids over to our blue rug where we read Sylvester And the Magic Pebble, while Isak's mom Leslie, Orlando's mom Valerie, and Charlie B.'s grandma Janet quietly, without instruction, and without complaining, broke out the mop bucket and sponges and gave the classroom a top to bottom scrub. I once had a parent complain in an evaluation that I sometimes treat the parent-teachers like servants and that comment resonated, as it often does, as I read about a donkey who had wished himself into being a rock, while they worked to fix my mess. Fortunately, I've been working with these women, no one's servants, in the classroom for the past 3 years (even longer in Leslie's case) and I hope they know how grateful I am, even if I don't always say it.
If you only know about cooperative preschools from reading here, I'm afraid you probably won't get the sense of how important those parent-teachers are in making our school function on a day-to-day basis. So many of our experiments are only successful because a parent has rolled up her sleeves and made my stupid, messy, poorly conceived idea work. I focus so much on the children both at school and here on the blog that I'm afraid I do sometimes take these incredible mothers and fathers for granted, these people who arrive at school in their grubbies, hair up, taking the morning away from their jobs in some cases, and ask, "What have you got for me today Teacher Tom? I'm ready for anything." They go home with paint in their hair, sand in their bras, and a major dent in their free time.
They make the conventional extraordinary, like last week when we painted bubble wrap to make prints. It's a straight forward, time-tested art project, one I complicate by requesting that we wash the bubble wrap off at the end of the day and save it for next year, instead of just throwing it out. I'm sure it's not real fun washing bubble wrap, especially since our "art parent" in the Pre-3 class is also responsible for running a small group activity on the heels of clean-up. I'm sure Charlotte's mom Amanda recognized this dilemma well before I did, and thinking on the fly, combined the two things, taking the kids outside to help her wash the bubble wrap in the rain.
It was pouring out there, but there was Amanda, on her knees amongst the kids who hadn't even yet had their snacks, scrubbing the diddly-o-dandy out of those pieces of bubble wrap, foregoing the bucket, to employ rain puddles for the purpose.
They then spread the clean-ish sheets of plastic on every flat surface to let the rain finish the work. Nice.
We had fun growing a few things in our garden last year, but Jody's mom Jennifer, expert gardening hobbyist, and proprietor of her namesake blog Jen Widrig, came up with a 3-year plan for augmenting soil, crop planning, and otherwise preparing the place to produce copious quantities of food based upon my stated aspiration to one day have our garden produce enough food that we're harvesting snack foods from there all year round. Not only that, but she's purchased the supplies we'd need and provided laminated month-by-month instructions that now live in the garden so her fellow parent-teachers (and Teacher Tom) know what needs to be done and when.
It's risky, I know, to pick out examples like this, because every single parent makes these kinds of contributions every day, responding to my often half-baked ideas by turning up the heat and putting a nice crust around the slop I would be serving up if left to my own devices. They let me dream big for their children, and words will never express my gratitude.
As Leslie, Valerie, and Janet tried to pick the Pre-K backdrop paintings off the floor, piece by piece in many cases, salvaging what they could, but sending some of it straight to the recycling bin, I apologized for the mess I'd left them, then made some comment along the lines of having to try again next week with a different technique.
Leslie answered, "You never know, Tom, they might turn out." And as I find over and over again when it comes to our parent-teachers, she knew better than me. I think these "bad guy mummies and bad aliens," tears and all, will look as fierce and "bad" as the kids envisioned, standing along the back of our stage as a back drop.
I'm a lucky man to be surrounded by people who even when I'm terribly wrong, make me right. It's why I'll never teach anywhere else.