photo (34)Earlier this month I got my lunch packed up, my shoes tied tight, I hoped I didn’t get in a fight and went back to school.  Specifically, I went to T2’s school as part of their WatchD.O.G.S. program.

The D.O.G.S. part of WatchD.O.G.S. stands for Dads of Great Students.  Every day the father of one of the students goes in and spends all day at the school.  You help out where needed, roam the halls and basically act as a familiar presence on campus.  For reasons that escape me, I didn’t sign up last year.  I wasn’t going to make that mistake again so I got on the website and volunteered for one of the first available days.

I got up earlier than normal, got my WatchD.O.G.S t-shirt on and drove to school, leaving T2 to take the bus.  I met the woman who would be in charge of me for the day, Mrs. F, and was given my schedule. It was pretty full.  I also met the principal, Mr. D who T2 has previously described as “completely awesome.”  You can always tell when a manager has the respect of the people that work for them.  I’ve had enough people work for me who didn’t like me that I can pick up on fake slavishness a mile away.   Unless they are amazing actors, everyone I encountered at the school seems to think Mr. D can do little or no wrong.  What’s more, he legitimately seems to really care about the school and the kids.  Really, everyone I encountered the whole day did.  The teachers and staff were uniform in their devotion to their jobs.  It was impressive.

Mr. D and I were standing there talking when a staff member came up and informed him that one of the maintenance guys was off sick and since the other one wasn’t going to be there either they were sans maintenance professionals until the afternoon.

“Well,” he said, “if anyone throws up or a toilet gets clogged, just come find me and I’ll take care of it.”

I was so impressed that, without thinking, I volunteered my own services for similar tasks.

“Or me,” I said, “I live with T2, I’ve gotten great at unclogging toilets.”

Luckily, neither the principal nor I was called upon to mop up puke.  Still, I really liked that he immediately offered to take on the nasty tasks.   T2’s assessment of him was pretty accurate.

My initial job was to help car riders actually get out of their cars, sort of like a doorman for the elementary school set.  For most kids this meant just opening the car doors for them, but some of the 1st graders and kindergartners were so small that they actually needed assistance getting from their vehicles to the curb.

After that I went to T2s class where I was met by his teacher and Mrs. F, who throughout the day was seemingly everywhere.  We did the morning announcements live from T2’s classroom, I was introduced to the school and then all the kids crowded around the microphone and we said the Pledge of Allegiance.  It occurred to me that the pledge was something I said every day from 1st grade through high school but had hardly said since.

After announcements T2 and I got our picture taken.  It went up on the wall where throughout the year pictures of all the WatchD.O.G.S and their kids go.  He went back to his room and I was assigned to the office.

The ladies in the front office were all super nice.  I spent some time basically running errands for them, delivering late lunches and whatnot to classrooms.  They asked who I belonged to and I explained my relationship to T2.

“He refers to me as his fake dad,” I said.

They all made sympathetic noises.

“Oh no,” I said, “it’s perfectly fine!  We used to say faux dad, but he’s in speech therapy so we thought maybe we should stick to English.  I think it is hilarious.”

Thus given permission, they thought it was too.  One of them suggested we get a marker and put an “f” between the h and the D on the back of my t-shirt.

“WatchF.D.O.G.S!” they exclaimed.

I was supposed to help out at the library, but the librarian didn’t have anything for me  to do, so Mrs. F asked if I could take care of some projects for her.  One was a gigantic stack of papers that needed to be cut to size, folded and then separated by classes with one for every student.  There are 1,056 kids at T2’s school.

I learned two things.  Paper cutters are harder to use than you might think. Also, I’m not very good at operating them.  Some of the pieces of paper ended up with less than laser precision cut edges.  Some of them looked like our dog had grabbed them in her mouth and given them a solid shake.  Mrs. F forgave my less than professional paper cutting skills, mostly because I think she just was glad to have someone foolish enough to offer to fold 1,056 pieces of paper.

I spent some time sorting textbooks to be returned to the county office, which I found meditative and then went to help out in the cafeteria.

Like I said, there are 1,056 students at the school.  They manage to move them all in and out with remarkable efficiency.  It was a constant stream of kids coming in, sitting and eating and then heading out again.  My job was to act a bit like a waiter.  Kids would raise their hands, I would go over and ask them what they needed and they would request a fork, a spoon, a napkin or that a ketchup packet be opened for them.  Mostly it was the latter.  T2’s age group loves ketchup.  T2 puts it on everything. So do his classmates.  I spent around two hours opening ketchup packets which is funny, because I hate ketchup.

I can’t stand it.  I don’t like the taste and the smell of it actually makes me nauseous.  I managed to keep the lunch I had eaten with T2 earlier (chicken and a rather good salad) down despite having to open several hundred ketchup packets but only because I knew that if I vomited either the principal or myself would have to clean it up.

After lunch T2’s teacher, Mrs. T asked if I could take the class out for recess while she did some classwork.  I agreed, she handed me a walkie talkie, and out we all went.

“Watch out for (student name),” T2 told me on the sly as we headed to the playground.

“Why?” I asked.

“He thinks he is a movie star,” T2 said, as if that explained things.

This was weird, because one of T2’s more endearing qualities is that he never has anything bad to say about anyone other than his brother.  I can’t think of a single person I’ve ever heard him say he dislikes.  For him to say someone thinks they are “a movie star” and to clearly mean it in a negative fashion was surprising.

Then I met the kid and saw what he meant.  The kid was a brat.  On one hand I know it’s not nice to say that about an eight or nine year old kid.  On the other hand…I mean….he really was.  He was mean to his classmates, dismissive of the rules as not applying to him and was generally just an entitled little snot.  It took about fifteen seconds of interacting with him to figure all of that out.

In his defense, it could just be he stuck out like a sore thumb because the kids at the school were, across the board, nicer, more polite and better behaved than would seem normal in happy, non-brainwashed children.  Everyone at lunch said please and thank you.  They walked down the hall quietly in lines.  The kids were kids, but all seemed to get along well.  All except (student name), who seemed primarily interested in tormenting the girls and writing “poop” and “pee” on the walls in chalk.  This vandalism was funny in its whole third-grade-act-of-rebellioness of it all but still wasn’t something I thought he should be up to.  To his credit, he admitted what he had done when I called him on it, so maybe there is hope yet for (student name).

Or maybe not.  After school I asked T2 about the kid.

“Are you and (student name), friends?” I asked.

“Well,” said T2, “he always yells in my face.  Mostly he tells everyone he is better than they are.  And one time he told me he wished I didn’t go to our school.”

“Oh hell no,” I erupted “This will not stand.  Nobody is going to go out of their way to try and make you feel bad like that!  We will go to his house, I will drag his parents out onto their front lawn by their hair and I will beat them about the face and neck until they promise to do a better job raising their little Omen-spawn!”

Then out loud, where people and T2 could hear me, I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.  Did it hurt your feelings?”

“Not really,” he shrugged. “Some people are just mean.  And when he yells at me my friends in class tell on him, so it’s okay.”

T2 was way more philosophical about these things than me.

The rest of the day was spent helping out in T2s class and back at the office, where they had more errands for me.  I stood in the front hallway saying goodbye to all the students as they headed out to the buses and then T2 and I drove home.

It was a really good experience.  I had a high opinion of the place before, but after spending a whole day there I came away even more impressed.  I’m sure there are periods of discontent and that it isn’t wonderful 24/7, but the teachers and staff put off such an amazingly positive vibe that being there makes you want to become a 1st grade teacher.  I have to think that the students pick up on this feeling as well.  It can only help make going to school and learning easier across the board.

T2 asked me if I was going to do it again.  I definitely will.



2 thoughts on “Primary

  1. While I was working on my masters, I used to sub one day a week for extra cash. It was a really great and somewhat frightening experience. Most of the kids were super sweet. I was just a bit frightened that I was somehow responsible for all of these small people.

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