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Sometimes the working world doesn't add up

My students galloped from P.E. gaily chirping about "constellation prizes." Thinking it fodder for a future column, I wrote the words, along with the children's definition, a reward for losers, on the whiteboard and promptly transitioned into instructional mode.

A third of the way through the math lesson, at least five, shrill, 8 year-old's voices sounded the alert, "Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Adams, someone is at the door! Can I let him in? Can I, can I, pleeeease?"

There, looking through the glass, stood, (dummm-dum-dum-dum-dummmmm), the Head of School, my boss's boss. Momentarily, I hesitated. But, seeing his impatient look, and the eager features of my charges, I motioned for the Helper of the Day to greet our visitor.

"Don't mind me," he announced, "I've only come to observe."

What started off as a normal day in the land of second grade education, evolved into a nightmare. I found myself flattened onto a glass slide and squeezed under the oppressive barrel of a microscope, through which the concentrated eye of another examined my imperfections.

Observe, I thought. Observe me cascading into the conundrum of analyzing every word I say while I'm saying it. Observe me trying to gingerly release my tongue from a square knot. Observe me silently chastising myself for imperceptible errors.

My rational alter-ego jumped to the rescue. Just do what you normally do. You're a good teacher.

Trying to remain calm and continue on as if the interloper sat amongst us wearing a bulbous, red clown nose and Mr. Potato Head's green glasses, I launched into an explanation of the day's exercise: Calculating the most direct route between two places on a map.

Steering the learners through workbook page 222, I solicited answers to several questions. Hands shot up. Correct responses poured from mouths like nectar from dew licked flowers.

Keep it going kids. Shine, shine, shine.

Yet, I still had to ford the difficult portion of the tutorial; guiding pupils in estimating the total kilometers of each possible route from Corncob Junction to Blueville, to find the shortest distance.

Finally, my students agreed upon two possibilities. The next step: To add a series of double-digit numbers to determine the absolute shortest course. With their guidance, I performed the addition operations on the board.

After correcting the computation of the child who walked me through the second problem, I declared, "And, so, as you can see, we should choose route A from Corncob Junction to Blueville." She nodded at me with a confused downturn of her mouth.

A hand shot up. A blond girl with pigtails excitedly bounced in her seat.

"Yes, Kelly?"

"That's not the answer I got. I got 165 km for the first route and 163 km for route B."

"Well, let's add again," I said, confidently.

In a teacher tone, I paced through the mathematical steps again. Thank goodness I faced the whiteboard when my gut hit the floor like a stone. "Ooh! It seems Mrs. Adams made a mistake," I exclaimed, in cheap falsetto.

When at last our visitor exited, and I wriggled free from the coverslip pinning me under the magnification lens, my heart slowed and the voice of reason again spoke. Everybody blunders. Children need to witness adults admitting errors. You demonstrated good character.

As I breathed a deep sigh of relief, I glanced at the note on the whiteboard that I wrote to myself earlier that day. EEK!

I felt certain my boss's boss would soon award me a constellation prize of my own.

And this time my inner voice didn't even bother to talk me out of it.

Web posted on Thursday, March 22, 2007

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