Friday, January 27, 2012

Lunch. Monitor.

(Wow. Have I really not been here since New Year's?  Hang on to your hats ... doing a bit of catch up)

There is nothing, not even snow days, that Jackson has looked forward to at school, more than being a lunch monitor. 

It is a grade 5 job at his school. There are many cool jobs in grade 5 but Jackson wanted nothing to do with the leadership team or office monitors. He wanted to be a lunch monitor. 

He was slightly devastated when he was not chosen in the first term.  But after Christmas he came home with the excellent news that he was to be the referee, overseer, proctor and juice box opener for a grade 2/3 split. 

There are 2 basic jobs for monitors:

1.  Keep the class under control and in their seats.
2. Open yogurt tubes, cookies packages, juice boxes etc. as required.

To be perfectly frank, I wasn't sure how Jackson would do at this job.  He is not very good at opening packaging. And he is not that assertive with anyone he doesn't share a household with (where he freely, loudly and repeatedly shares his opinions.)

Now, it must be known that Jackson has a checkered history when it comes to being monitored.  When he was in grade 1, his class was not behaving very well, to put it mildly, and disrespecting the two class monitors. They were read the riot act by their teacher. The next day, the teacher had high expectations in light of her having laid down the law. One of the monitors had something to say to Jackson. Jackson committed the unpardonable sin and responded to the monitor with the heinous and unforgivable response: "whatever".

This was treated as the first class felony it obviously was. He was spoken to by his teacher. He was given the option of giving an in-person apology or writing a note to the monitor over the weekend. There was a note written in his planner advising his parents of his infraction, in addition to a phone call home. On a Friday night.  I half expected police officers to knock on the door to administer a lecture. And for him to receive two demerit points on his driver's license.

When Jackson returned to school on Monday with his rather grudgingly-written apology note, he took consolation that he would have not to do what he was most mortified to do: apologize in person.  That was all the leverage I had: write the note or apologize in person.  When he returned to school he had to hand deliver his note WITH a personal apology as well.  Suffice it to say, that Jackson from then on was a model citizen for his monitors.

So the first day on the other side of the monitoring equation Jackson had a difficult beginning. He met monitoring nemesis, I'll call him "Walker" for his propensity to walk. And not sit.  Jackson and his monitor-mate, H arrived at the class. They were still letting kids in the door from outside when Walker walked out of the classroom and roamed the halls. Now, it must be known that Walker is a handful even according to his seasoned teacher. So, not surprisingly, he tested the boundaries with the new meat.

What was perhaps more surprising was that the entire class ran after Walker (according to Jackson -- admittedly it may have seemed like this, but I doubt it was the entire class).  The way Jackson described it, it was like trying to herd scattering mice back into the classroom. H and Jackson and the adult paid lunch supervisors and a couple teachers were all chasing after various grade 2's and 3's until the ducklings were all back in their nest.

That first night, we discussed the challenges of monitoring and maintaining control.  In an ironic twist, I gave him some of my best parenting advice, gleaned from the years of trying to parent HIM.  You can use an increasingly firm voice without yelling or getting angry. We talked about the need for control of the class, but that he did not need to get to the bottom of every squabble (or else the tattle-taling will increase exponentially). He won't solve every conflict and that he needs to remember his ultimate goal is to keep the kids in their seats with a tolerable volume.  We talked about the need to be right on top of Walker. I told him to keep an eye on him right when he walks into the class and nip any wandering in the bud, as it is easier with some kids to catch things earlier, rather than later.

Following that, daily I asked Jackson for a 'monitor update' and he would regale me with stories of how Walker refused to sit at his desk for longer than 20 seconds. Jackson also said that his monitor-mate H was some sort of Kreskin when it came to opening up lunch packaging, so their duties had become divided with Jackson taking on the classroom control and H. touring the class in releasing lunch items from their packaging.

Some days Jackson would report "The class behaved really well today. Even Walker."  More often the report was "The class behaved really well. Except Walker." But Jackson and Walker had this little dance worked out where Walker would wander. Jackson would ask him to return to his seat. He would. Then re-wander. Jackson would re-request. etc. etc. until lunch was over.

Jackson had several days when Walker was not in school and those days were pretty easy. There was a dreaded 'inside lunch' day where their monitoring duties were 60 minutes instead of 20 minutes and Jackson learned from the other side of the table, the virtue of letting kids burn off a bit of energy.  The class energy was high and the noise level constantly rising, but the class seemed to quieten down with reminders (and seemed to just get louder anytime a lunch supervisor or teacher walked by).

But I think the most telling interchange between Jackson and Walker came about a week into the deployment.  Walker, it must be known, is very, very tall. And he is in grade 2. Jackson is ... not tall.  Walker is not only taller than Jackson but outweighs him by a significant margin.  They were doing their usual dance and Jackson asked Walker to return to his seat. 

Walker said a taunting tone meant to incite a reaction,"Why should I Grader one-er?"

"Walker, would you please return to your seat."

"Are you in kindergarten or grade 1?"

"Walker, please return to your seat?"

"How do you get to be a monitor in grade 1?"

"Walker, you need to return to your seat."

"Shut up, kindergartner!!"

With that final salvo, Walker returned to his seat.

(I pause to note that the "shut up" infraction yielded nothing, compared to the school resources that were thrown at the "whatever" remark some four years earlier.  The student vs. monitor infractions, it seems, are enforced a little unevenly.)

And the most amazing part, according to Jackson's account, is that Jackson remained calm. And he achieved his goal of getting Walker to return to his seat.

The student had clearly surpassed the teacher.  I very much doubt I would have had that kind of self-control.

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