I've been tutoring at my neighborhood elementary school for a few years.
I used to read with first- and second-graders. Now I have weekly half-hour, one-on-one sessions with two children in fourth grade — a girl and a boy I've previously tutored.
It's fun to see how they've grown. It's nice to have the longer-term connections.
The children read to me — pre-selected books appropriate to their abilities. I try to help them figure out unfamiliar words and try to make sure they understand the story. I am often surprised when they read a word I don't expect them to know. They've delighted me more than once by getting my feeble word jokes.
School is in session from 7:35 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. The days are packed — for the kids and for the teachers.
I've written previously about how much I respect teachers and what they do.
I'll say it again: I think teaching is the hardest — and maybe the most important job in the world.
I'm with the children in the school's conference room or a little side office. I don't go into the classrooms, so I don't have a chance to witness the teachers in action — dealing with as many as a couple of dozen TOTALLY DIFFERENT little people. They have different abilities, interest levels, attention spans —; personalities.
So much to deal with. So much to get across. And it matters so much.
My afternoon time slot runs smack into dismissal. By the time I get out of the building and into my car, seven or eight school buses have started to arrive and park in the driveway, blocking my exit.
I don't mind.
I have a front-row seat for the amazing process of shepherding nearly 400 children to the correct bus or car and safely on their way home.
Dismissal is conducted in the manner I imagine a military operation might be executed.
The buses park in assigned order. A teacher takes a position on the sidewalk in front of the school — walkie-talkie in hand. She is in contact with the assistant principal who's inside — walkie-talkie in hand. Bus numbers are announced, teachers escort students out of the building, staff members stand by as children board the buses. When all kids are loaded, bus doors swing shut, the OK signal is given and the buses roll out.
Then cars that have been waiting in line are called forward, their assigned numbers clearly visible on their dashboards. I counted 37 one week. The numbers are announced to children waiting inside next to corresponding numbers on the wall. The kids exit, get into the vehicles and go home.
The efficiency is impressive.
But I've observed a lot more.
A teacher puts his hand on a youngster's shoulder, looks in his eyes and says "Good job today."
A teacher pulls a child's warm hat over her ears and straightens her heavy backpack.
Three kids huddle with a teacher under her umbrella.
Teachers teach, but they also care.
No child left behind — indeed.
Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.