Thursday, June 10, 2010


I will be the first to say I HATE being a recess "teacher" or "lady" or "duty" or whatever they call it at any given school. It's the same basic watch over kids like a shepherd over sheep, standing in some agreeable spot where you can oversee the playground or roaming around as the case may be, depending on the school. Being a SUBSTITUTE recess teacher is even worse. For one thing, the kids know they can pull one over on you (oh Mrs. M ALWAYS lets us go to the nurse when we fall down and there is no visible evidence of any injury). Sometimes kids want to cling to you, whether because you are new and therefore much nicer than the regular recess teacher, or because they crave attention, and they will stick to you like a Starburst on the floor of your minivan, not giving you a minute's peace. Other kids will keep their distance and eye you warily from the other side of the playground (is she looking? Can we get away with this? What does she know?). Twice in the past month I've had a kid take a swing at me. Now, I understand kids have "issues" (which these days is practically a requirement to get into school -ADHD? You're in. ADD? You're in. Sensory Integration Disorder? You're in. You name it. Kids have it.). But a six year old clocking me in the skull constitutes hazard pay, which I do NOT get. What is wrong with these kids? This particular school had "conflict managers" present on the playground - six sixth grade girls who giggled and traveled in a posse the entire time, wearing identical flourescent vests with the school's name emblazoned on the back, completely ignoring all the "conflict" around them.

As I did my rounds, a boy of about eight or nine smiled up at me and said "remember all this from when you were in school?" First, I felt really old. Second, I smiled, because that was a really cute thing to say, and at least he had some perpsective. But then I looked around and what I started to remember was what complete hell recess could be. As I watched a girl stomp off in tears after her friend wouldn't play with her, I remembered my own days on the playground and what a mixed bag of tricks recess really is. Recess is a talent show - if you don't have amazing tetherball skills or can do a perfect dead man's fall off the monkey bars, you're not that interesting. If you don't play basketball or soccer or flag football, you might run around with a group of friends - if you have friends. I saw so many kids wandering alone. One little boy was tucked into a corner at the side of the building reading a book. Now, maybe he just likes reading, but I'm guessing he's not "popular" and is probably lacking in the friend department, thus he spends his recess with a good book. There were the "quirky" kids, the overweight kids, the kids with unpopular clothes......all alone or with similar kids. Like minded people travel in packs and this was certainly true on the playground. The gaggles of girls in designer clothes, all trim and fit with cute hairstyles. The athletic boys playing soccer on the fields with a tough looking girl or two thrown in the mix. The Hispanic kids, hanging with their "own" giggling and teasing a boy who seemed to be enjoying it more than it was "annoying" as he kept shouting in protest.

Life is kind of like recess. People still travel in packs of like minded individuals. Popularity still reigns. We like to tell our kids that those things don't matter. But they do, and continue to matter, long after we've left the confines of the chain-link fence housing monkey bars and swings. Some of it wanes, as we grow up and into our own. But people still judge and snub and continue to show each other up with bigger and better things - from the popular jelly bracelets on the playground to a nicer house or car or boat or vacation. Life hands us experiences, both good and bad, that help us put those things into an order - a priority list of sorts. And, hopefully, as we grow up, we realize that people should be valued for what's inside, not what they wear or say or do or look like. And "things" are just things. Still, it breaks my heart a little to see the outcast kid on the playground and wonder how his life will be affected by this seemingly innocent thing called "recess".

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