I love recess. I feel guilty about loving recess. I'm a teacher. Well, I'm maybe less than a teacher. I'm a guest teacher. That's a fancy name for substitute teacher. Guest teacher sounds better than sub. It takes too many words to say "Guest Teacher". So people ask, "Are you subbing today"? I'm priggish and say, "I'm guest teaching".
So, I love recess. Even though I fear recess. I can let the kids work it out on the playground. It's beautiful how young men under ten can bring so much energy and even skill to pick-up basketball games. Young women too, but the boys are not always welcoming. I saw one young woman get her eye poked for trying to play football with the boys. I don't let the football game be played too far away from my view ever since. That's why I fear recess. Kids struggle with fellow kids and I have to make sure this struggle doesn't become physical. I really have to reach back into my memory of playground strife to see it coming.
I like the language immersion classes for Latino children. Even when a Latino boy is being mischievous, I still feel the touch of the father and the grandfather in the manner of the boy, the caballero touch. Late afternoon, second week of school, time had arrived for the afternoon recess. In truth, it was five minutes early, but I wanted to redirect all that excess steam that had arrived after lunch.
The language immersion classrooms were given doors that open right to the park next door, a beautiful green stamp where stand these old oaks the lumber era must have overlooked. A playscape built under the oak boughs hasn't fallen into disrepair. Most have in the parks of this poor, urban town that has money to mow the lawns and almost enough money to maintain the playground equipment. I let the kids run to the equipment. That's a no no. Kids are to be lined up and walked to the lunch room, to the library and the playground in a line. We never had to march in a line when I was a pupil at my rural elementary.
So the children were frolicking on the slides and raised walkways by the time I wandered up. And the sand under the oaks inspired all of them, all twenty-two of them, to take off their shoes. I thought, "Well, yeah, socks on sand must feel great. But that's going to require five extra minutes to get all the shoes on and shoe tying". And then I watched the kids play. They frolicked like kids from the Sixties. The Sixties of the last century. No strife expected, so I relaxed. Fifteen minutes of pretty much Arcadian bliss went by easily. Kids on a warm day of late summer played under the boughs of oaks dropping acorns.
The shoes went on more quickly than I thought. Wrangling all those cats proved less than easy. I had to stand right by the classroom door if I wanted them to go right to the classroom door. So I needed a gathering point. Too many oaks meant an oak wouldn't work. I spotted a little free library, like a bird house on a short post, near the sidewalk and school. That would work. I shouted out, "Go to the house on the post at the edge of the park". And they all did, drawn by curiosity.
And out of curiosity, the children opened the door and began taking out books. And fighting over books. I wondered how long the children's books had waited to be discovered by the children in the school close to the little free library. I wasn't trained to work with young kids. I could recognize a teacher good with kids. A good teacher always had kids taking turns. Taking turns at the water fountain. Taking turns sharpening pencils. Taking turns going out a classroom door. A good teacher never had more than two or three students bunched up together. I sprinted and I got to the little library before any books were torn apart.
"Yes, the books are free". I did a quick count. "Yes, I think there's a book for everyone". I knew that meant going to Gracie's Book Store in Lakeside to restock the library after school let out. I was having fun now, enjoying teaching an unexpected lesson that had fallen from the sky. "We don't know who, but some neighbor built the small library, put it up and filled it with books. The books have waited and waited for you. How fun is that"? Amazingly, each kid found a book to love. I brokered a few swaps and led them easily back to the classroom. The kids wanted to sit down and read their new treasure. The math lesson could wait.
Children reading quietly, I wrote their regular teacher about the adventure. "During recess, we found the little free library near the school and the playscape. We all picked out a book. It might make a social study lesson to learn that little free libraries are found all over the world. Maybe it will be a good citizen lesson to find away to fill it up soon for the rest of the elementary".
The bell about to ring, children slipped their new book into their backpacks to take home and show to family. They lined up at the door and marched to the buses in a perfect line, just like old school.
Pictured is the Little Free Library stationed in the Port Sherman neighborhood of Muskegon, built by a man nicknamed Pook.