Second-grade woes

Since I last wrote, Maribeth and I have waved a forlorn farewell to the Lion Loot-strewn utopia of first grade and marched into the foreign territory of second grade, only to have our hearts alternately soar and ache — sometimes in the same day.

Initially Maribeth wasn’t enthusiastic about returning to school, but I managed to make the last few weeks of summer so insipid that she was actually anticipating her school’s Sneak-a-Peek night. That is, until I discovered that all of her friends had been placed in other classrooms AND she had a new teacher. (My girl doesn’t much cotton to strangers.) So it was with trepidation that we ventured into the new classroom, and Maribeth, near tears, could barely introduce herself. I explained that she was nervous and her teacher confessed that she was too, earning points with both of us. Once we explored the rainbow-bedecked room (a heaven-sent décor choice, as Maribeth had been excited to debut her rainbow-emblazoned shirt, leggings and backpack that evening), she was in love with Mrs. A and thrilled to be in her class — so much so that she repeatedly bemoaned the two-day wait until school started.

The honeymoon ended after the first half-day, when Maribeth asked to be homeschooled because “everything is weird.” (Trust me, little girl, “weird” would be a euphemism for what would happen if this home became your school.) For one thing, her days of rolling in Lion Loot are OVER. Second grade only has ROAR slips, which students receive when teachers notice them being Responsible and On-task, exhibiting an awesome Attitude and being Respectful. Maribeth rakes in ROARs and redeems them for prizes such as reading aloud to the class, helping another teacher for 15 minutes, and celebrating her own personal stinky-feet day (in which she gets to go shoeless, a “treat” that always makes me think, “Why, God, WHY?” because 1. I won’t walk around barefoot in my own house and 2. Her feet are gross enough from going barefoot at home and now she’s shod with the filth of 400 other kids).

But the loss of Loot is inconsequential compared with second-grade discipline. To hear Maribeth tell it, she has essentially been drafted into Full Metal Jacket-style basic training, where the sins of a few bring down punishment on everyone. “Sometimes I think we are the WORST CLASS EVER!” she has wailed, a point that was hard to argue with when the little yahoos repeatedly earned a score of zero (out of a possible 5) for behavior in “specials” (P.E., music, library, computers and art). Now that first quarter is almost over, they seemed to have pulled it together somewhat in specials, thanks in part to incentives offered to especially challenging classmates, who can earn privileges such as extra iPad time if they don’t act like maniacs (a deal that Maribeth noticed kind of stinks, sparking multiple conversations on the topic: “Some Kids Have a Harder Time Behaving Properly and Your Reward Is That You Are a Good Student Who Earns Lots of ROARs”). But there are still days when all students — “even the good kids!” — have to put their heads down on their desks or “practice” being quiet, which Maribeth finds terribly unjust.

And then there’s lunch. Teachers have been losing their minds over lunchroom noise ever since I was in elementary school, and this is one problem today’s highly evolved education techniques can’t seem to fix. In my day, the lunchroom had a construction-paper “stoplight” (no, it wasn’t crafted to look like an actual stoplight, as it would be in any modern school; it consisted of three sheets of paper taped together and laminated) with a white circle that the teacher in charge of the lunchroom, who just seemed to go through life mad, inevitably moved up to red by the time everyone entered the lunchroom. Red meant NO TALKING WHATSOEVER; violators were marched to the Talkers’ Table at the front of the lunchroom, where they had to eat standing up and afterward spend their recess standing against the trailer at one end of the playground. Although in retrospect I wonder why I cared that we weren’t allowed to speak (the only lunchroom conversation I remember was the time I told one of my peers that my mother bore me at age 19 and some boys started chanting, “Nineteen and had a big un!” so I should have been relieved that the imbeciles were muzzled), I still blame Mrs. W and her half-assed stoplight for my current antisocial eating preferences (quickly and in silence — I’m a fun dinner date).

According to Maribeth, pretty much every day the lunchroom staff at her school proclaims: “Second graders, voices are OFF!” and last week they even went so far as to institute a boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangement. I was curious how that would work because 1. The boys vastly outnumber the girls, 2. From what I’ve seen, boys and girls talk to each other and 3. Wouldn’t they just talk louder if their friends were farther away? Of course, what do I know — I’m foolish enough to think that when you corral 70 kids in a room, it IS going to be noisy and maybe the adults could adjust their expectations instead of ruining everyone’s lunch.

But lunchroom persecution is small potatoes compared with the angst caused by Maribeth’s nemesis. This is the first time Maribeth has had a nemesis other than her sister Kate, and although in this case I don’t have to witness the evildoings firsthand, I do hear about them constantly. Soon after school started, Maribeth began complaining about a classmate I will call Damien, who was generally disruptive and prevented Maribeth’s table from earning tally marks for good behavior. (At the end of each week, students at the table with the most tally marks get to choose a prize; Damien was constantly dragging down Maribeth’s table with his naughtiness — “Sometimes I think we’re the WORST TABLE EVER!” — until he was finally moved to sit by the teacher.) For a while I wrote off Damien’s misdeeds as general unruliness, whereas Maribeth proudly considered herself a victim of bullying, necessitating conversations on topics such as: “It’s Not Bullying If the Kid Is Obnoxious to EVERYONE” and “There Is a Thing Called Picking Your Battles.” But then one day while standing in line Damien remarked that he would like to kick Maribeth (a thought that might on occasion have been silently entertained by members of our household but NOBODY GETS TO SAY IT OUT LOUD). Needless to say, Damien got tattled on — for that and for other behaviors that made Maribeth feel “unsafe,” such as waving his pencil in a way that could put somebody’s eye out and pointing a whiteboard eraser at Maribeth from across the gym. (Again: “There Is a Thing Called Picking Your Battles.” Plus also: “Sometimes People Just Want to Annoy Us But If We Ignore Them They Get Tired of It and Stop.” And finally: “At Home You Get to Choose What You Think About So Let’s Not Think About Him or Talk About Him.”)

I wish I could say our discussions instantly granted Maribeth the wisdom to recognize that Damien has his own problems and that she needn’t be jealous of his special privileges or let his misbehavior vex her, but her only satisfaction came when he landed in the principal’s office after telling her: “I’m going to erase you to God and you will die.” The next afternoon she climbed into the van with a cheerful: “Damien was actually nice to me today!”

Of course, that was short-lived; today she reported that Damien had reverted to making scissor motions with his fingers to (she assumes) silently convey, “I’ll cut you.” Instead of feeling “unsafe” or outraged, however, she shrugged off the incident and changed the subject to: “Our Class Pillow Party Wasn’t As Much Fun As I Thought It Would Be” followed by “We Got a Zero in Art Today.”

Thankfully, a trip to Walmart for some gum is enough to soothe even second-grade woes.

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