Part of my retiree volunteering is in a first- and second-grade classroom. I listen to individual students read aloud, then ask them questions about their books to ascertain what their comprehension is regarding what they read.
I also check over student work in math and spelling and in their journals.
One day I was checking some papers when the class came back from lunch to get ready for recess. One of the first-grade boys who I had as a student in kindergarten before I retired asked me the following.
Student: “Mr. Koch, where do you work now?”
Me: “I don’t.”
Student: “You don’t? Was work too hard for you?”
I was speechless at his final question because I had to suppress my amusement at his assessment.
That same day I stuck my head into a third- and fourth-grade room to say hello to the teacher, a former colleague. The students who I had had for several years before I concluded my teaching career last June began to greet me. One of them asked, “Why are you retired?”
Feeling in a quirky mood, I answered, “Because I am old!”
Many times over the years I was teaching I wrote down comical and even downright hilarious questions students asked and comments they made in music classes. The Kindergarten teacher and I would have to hold our lips tight to keep from loudly guffawing in reaction to the things her students would come up with in all seriousness. And we weren’t always successful. Squelching a laugh was certainly a challenge.
I suppose I could have written a book called “Kids Say the Darndest Things!” but, unfortunately, Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby already used that title for their TV shows. Perhaps I could have amended it to “Kids Say the Darndest Things ... In School!”.
Getting ready for a school Christmas program, the Kindergarten was learning a song about the three men from the East who searched for the baby Jesus after his birth. I asked the students who these men were, expecting to receive the answers “the three kings” or “the three wise men.”
Instead, one student answered confidently, “They were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!” — (in the Bible book of Daniel, the names of the three men thrown into a blazing furnace by the king of Babylon for refusing to bow down to an idol).
Another one breathlessly exclaimed in music class, “I found out my grandmother went to school with the composer Johann Sebastian Bach!” (Hmmm. Bach lived from 1685-1750.)
In one music class I had just completed what I thought was a masterful presentation, and decided to ask a question to ascertain the depth of the students‘ understanding of the topic I had taught. A girl’s hand went up quickly and I was excited to hear her answer to my question. Instead she said, “Guess what? I have a dog!” So much for my wonderful teaching.
We teachers learn a lot about the families of our students by their commentaries. Perhaps more than we want to or should know.
We have learned about fathers who snore. Then there was the girl who related, “My dad doesn’t wear pajamas. He sleeps with nothing on!” Students also share things parents have said about us teachers, sometimes complimentary, sometimes not.
One third-grade girl told me that her mother said when they got more money they were going to move up on the hill “where all the rich people live.” The place she was referring to is the street where we live. However, we certainly did not fit her mother’s opinion of the monetary attainments of the people in our neighborhood.
A young boy stated that his mom and dad had just celebrated their 99th anniversary. Another boy who wasn’t singing during my music class explained that his sister had hit him in the “apple box” so hard he couldn’t sing.
It took me a while to realize he was referring to his voice box, or “Adam’s apple.”
One student reported that his grandfather was ill and had a fever of 128 degrees!
Ah. The joys of life as children interpret it. I do miss those delightfully unexpected pearls of wisdom from the lips of my budding musical scholars. But as I do my volunteering at school, I will endeavor to be ready to listen for more of their unique commentaries on their world — the way they see it.
Through the eyes of a child.
In my senior years, I must not forget to savor life as children do.
With humor and zest.
Terry Koch is stepping into the life of a retiree after 46 years of teaching music at the grade school, high school and college levels. He can be reached at 509-529-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.