Friday, February 02, 2007

An Old-School Nerd From Way Back

PBS stations have developed unique educational outreach services to accompany the children’s programs we air. Most revolve around some form of workshop for parents and educators that use a PBS Kids program – like Clifford the Big Red Dog – as a way to teach reading and other lessons from the episode. Helping pre-school children become “Ready to Learn” when they enter school is the whole focus behind these initiatives.

I received some amazing teacher guides today, which accompany the awesome PBS program Between the Lions, full of lesson plans and activities for teachers to use in their classrooms, providing step-by-step instructions on taking children through the lessons then giving dozens of additional related activities to drive the learning points home.

Just flipping through the pages I see teacher guide instructions like,

“Talk about how Queen Oona wanted to touch the moon more than anything in the world. Ask, What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Prompt children to answer in a full sentence. Write their sentences on a sheet of…..etc. etc. etc.”

Reading these point by point instructions instantly takes me back three decades to the first grade, to Mrs. Bompart’s class. Mrs. Bompart was a total hard ass. She scared all of us first-graders straight, you know? She’d probably been teaching for 45 years and she wasn’t about to take any guff from any 7 year old.

We had 2 first grade teachers at C.R. Anderson Elementary in Helena, Montana and the other teacher was the spitting image of Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show. All sweet, and soft and loving and warm. But Mrs. Bompart was all about structure and order and rules and consequences. She was a real “teacher’s guide” teacher. There was NO deviation in her classroom from whatever it said to do in the guide. When I think about Mrs. Bompart I imagine that she considered creativity to be the enemy and a huge waste of time.

Now, even before the first grade I had fallen in love with school. I believe this was primarily due to my utter devotion to Sesame Street, my Dick and Jane reader I found in the alley behind our house that I used to teach myself to read, and my good experience in kindergarten. I was the original annoying over achiever in elementary school and it started in grade one.

Even more than GOING to school, I loved TEACHING school. I had the usual set up at home with a little chalk board and some pens and paper and a chair that could be turned down into a table that my grandfather made for me. Matt, my younger brother, was the poor little guy who had to suffer through being my student. I was 7. He was 4. I made him sit with me four hours so that I could play teacher and make him do spelling and reading and math and art. We used one of those ‘70’s chic hard shelled suitcases as his desk, so that he could open it up and put his stuff in it, but write on the top.

I’d tell him to try again or to keep his eyes forward or ask him to read aloud or make him come up to the board to write his letters or figure his addition problems. I’d give him gold stars or big ugly red check marks depending on the caliber of his work. I seldom gave him a recess and occasionally even assigned homework. And for the most part, Matt was my prized pupil, primarily for putting up with me. I can only imagine how annoying I must have been!

One day, out of the blue, Mrs. Bompart told me to stay after class. She wasn’t a nice teacher, so the actions that followed were shocking – she told me she thought I might like having some of her old teacher editions of a few different text books. She handed over two books – the teacher’s guide to first grade math and the guide to first grade reading. It was as if I had been handed the holy grail and would now be privy to all her secrets. I held in my hands, THE TEACHER’S GUIDE.

I had struck pay dirt.

These teacher guides were among my most prized possessions. Because not only could I now teach Matt and my class of imaginary students, but I could teach them EXACTLY as instructed in THE BOOKS. Mrs. Bompart had found her kindred spirit in me.

I played school for years and Matt played along with me for much of that time. My classrooms and lessons became more and more elaborate and I tended to take on the teaching traits and styles of whatever teacher I had that year. I wish I would have kept a few examples of Matt’s work because it was awesome!

At some point we stopped because real school got harder so playing school wasn’t as much fun. But I credit rough old drill sergeant Mrs. Bompart with giving me something as exotic and as mysterious as the teachers guides that fueled my imagination for years.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home