On Sunday, my sisters and I took a cooking class in Franklin. All three of us are relatively good cooks but we decided on a basic knife skills class to improve our cutting proficiency (My older sister’s ten-year old son was disappointed that “knife skills” didn’t mean that we’d enrolled in a self-defense class. He was hoping we’d return as ninja killing machines.).
There were just six students in the class. The other three were middle-aged—a couple and another woman. My sisters and I were surprised to see that these certified, AARP card-carrying adults had almost no idea how to cut peppers and onions. We’re assuming that they recently had to let their personal chefs go forcing them to finally learn to cook. To protect their identities, I will call them Betty and Bob (the couple) and Sylvia.
Before we officially started the class, we sat down at a table and ate a little Danish for a snack. Bob took one bite and pronounced it “too sweet.” I finished mine in three bites. Later in the class, we were told to salt the salsa we were making. All three of our classmates declared their aversion to salt in unison. “You’ve got to watch that high blood pressure,” they all said. No sweets and low salt? I can’t wait to turn sixty!
Our instructor (Let’s call her Theresa—not so much to protect her identity but because I can’t remember her name. She was the only one not wearing a nametag) was full of not-so-helpful sayings: “A clean apron equals a good cook” and “Sharing means caring.” Her favorite thing to say was “Follow through, Betty.” Poor Betty was the least capable student in our class. She seemed woefully unsure of herself in the kitchen. She kept her purse on her shoulder during most of the lesson. I think it was so that she could get to her tissues during the teary, onion-chopping part. Theresa was by her side most of the class critiquing her techniques and reminding her how to place the vegetable on the board correctly.
Theresa didn’t make it over to our side of the counter very often. When she did and I felt her watchful gaze over my shoulder, I found myself chopping more precisely. Nevertheless, she would pass by me and my older sister Becky and then on to our younger sister—the left-handed artist. Theresa couldn’t spout out enough praise for Carrie. “Perfect,” she would say with barely contained admiration. Sure, Carrie can do some great chopping but where was my “perfect”? My one consolation was that Becky didn’t get much love either.
It was amazing that a class of six adults wasn’t much different than an elementary class of twenty-five. You have your lower-achievers who require the majority of the teacher’s attention, higher- achievers who are inwardly motivated to perfection, and average students who do what’s needed to get by but who wouldn’t mind a little praise or at least a Skittle from the candy jar.
I’ve been substitute teaching at my kids’ school a couple of times a week lately (You could dig ditches for eight hours and not work as hard to earn $75.). They attend an ethnically diverse public school with a wide variety of social demographics. We love it. On paper, going to your zoned public school doesn’t always make sense. You look at TCAP scores and percentages of students who receive free lunch and you wonder what you’re exposing your precious children to but looking at these kids in person is a more accurate approach (By the way, I am in no way against leaving your school zone. I am a product of private education. I just want all schools to be successful.). When I walk into a classroom to explain to a class that their teacher is absent and I am Mrs. Rosser, I brace myself for the reaction. Will they throw their morning work up in the air and proclaim that today is a holiday? Will they feel lost and despondent like the time they couldn’t find their mom in the grocery store? Will they cling to me all day asking to hold my hand while we walk down the hall and offer to carry my chair out to recess? The answer is yes. All of those things happen because every child in that class is different and different levels of ability and adaptability is perfectly normal. It is more difficult for a child living in poverty to do well in school but not because he doesn’t have the potential. It’s easier for a child living in a high-income bracket to do well in school but not because money makes us smarter. There is so much more involved in student success. At the end of the day, I will often have bus duty in the gym. Our school has over 1,000 kids enrolled this year and hundreds of them ride the bus home in the afternoon. I pace up and down the long aisles of kids sitting with their fellow bus-mates reminding them to be quiet and to listen for their bus numbers to be called. It almost brings me to tears every time. I’m amazed that so many kids aged 5-12 can be corralled in such an organized way. Older siblings sit with younger siblings. Some older kids read. The kindergarteners rub their eyes—they’ve had a long day. The authority of the teachers and staff in the gym isn’t questioned by the kids. For the most part, they just sit and wait to go home. They’re good kids. Some of them are natural students who won’t struggle with school and some will hit roadblock after roadblock both now and as adults. Instead of resigning these kids to a life of failure, we should look at elementary school as a time of promise and possibility. All of us can use some improvement in some part of our lives. Just look at Betty. With the personalized help she received on Sunday she’s probably been chopping like a pro all week.