Next was a lesson in what I would call phonics but apparently now is called phonemic awareness and blending. As the teacher put two letters into slots on a special display board to form part of a three-letter word, the children raised their hands wildly to be selected to choose a letter to complete the word. The teacher would only pick a child who was sitting down completely on the floor. Then the class all sounded out the word and read it together.
"M-M-M-A-A-A-P-P-P spells 'map,'" they chanted again and again, going through a series of short words.
Then the teacher called us over and introduced us.
"Boys and girls, we have some very special visitors today," she said in a slow, animated voice. "These are my parents! You know that my name is Miss Ciardelli. Well, this is my mother, Mrs. Ciardelli. And this is my father, Mr. Ciardelli."
"You all have the same name!" several voices exclaimed, collapsing into giggles.
Jim and I were visiting our daughter Zoe in her kindergarten classroom at Reed Elementary School in San Jose. We brought a picture of Zoe (aka Miss Ciardelli) taken on her first morning of kindergarten at Alamo Elementary School. She and her older brother Pepe were peeking out the front door. These kindergartners liked her dress and thought it was funny that she was wearing her fuzzy duck slippers. My question is: How did our Zoe go from being a kindergartner to teaching kindergarten?
Next the children went to their tables to complete a reading and writing assignment. I think Zoe must have eyes in the back of her head, too. She went from one to the other helping them and answering questions and knew just when to turn to another child. Jim and I also lent a hand. Some of the kids worked steadily and independently, cutting out the figures and gluing them into the squares next to the rhyming words very neatly and without asking any questions. Then they traced over the letters for "the" and then wrote a sentence of their own. Very impressive.
Others dillied and dallied and said they needed help. They wanted to tell me about their families or their pets or their favorite color. One little girl rushed across the room to show me her nail polish - bright pink and very chipped but perfectly matching her pink T-shirt. I admired that Zoe worked with children at so many different levels, in both academic and social skills.
Kindergarten has sure changed since my day. I remember coloring and making things with clay. And taking a break where we each had a little carton of chocolate milk - except for Jimmy L. who had white milk because his father was an orthodontist. We didn't begin to sound out words and receive our first Dick and Jane readers until the first grade. But Zoe said she was reviewing capitalization and punctuation to prepare the children for the district writing test, which entails composing two complete sentences.
Jim and I left after an hour or so, pausing to admire their sunflowers starting to sprout in their little handmade flower pots outside the door. I was exhausted. If Zoe gets more than 20 kids next year, I ain't going back! That is, if she has a class next year. Like many teachers throughout the state without seniority, she received her pink slip in March and is waiting to see if the school district will have an opening for her next year.
Regardless of where and when she works next - hopefully still at Reed Elementary - she's become a teacher and quite a good one at that. Kids love to talk about their favorites - their favorite color and favorite food. I have a new favorite: Miss Ciardelli is my favorite teacher.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.