Thursday, March 24, 2011

"What do you wear under your skirt?"

"Go down that hall and turn right.  It will be the first door on your right."

I did just that and found the correct door or at least I thought I had.  Printed on the door was the words, "Restroom.  Teachers Only."   I opened the door into a dark room and walked in only to be hit on the face by damp pantyhose.  Groping I found the light switch, switch it on and was totally confounded by pantyhose and nylons hanging to dry in this tiny restroom.  Someone had tied string from one side of the room to the other several times and apparently had washed a month's use of pantyhose and nylons and then some.  There wasn't an inch of space to move about in that room without entangling oneself is a damp leg or panty in the face.  

You see, I was out in the county at a small country school built a long time ago and remodeled many times since.  In the many remodelings that had taken place over the years, no one thought to put in a decent sized restroom for the teachers.  "They should be in front of the classroom anyway!"  But then again, I don't think nylons and pantyhose had been invented when the first rebuilding of the school had taken place.  Who knows?

I was at the school to do a storytelling session for the upper grades; fourth and fifth grade.  There was a kindergarten and one grade each of first through fifth.  All women teachers from young to old and a part time woman principal.  It was a long time beloved elementary school for a small community out in the country.

Some of you will remember that I started doing story telling way back when I was a playground supervisor in Rye, New York.  On hot muggy summer days when it was too hot to play ball or run around the playground, the kids and I would sit under the big, big maple tree near the school and I would tell them "Indian Why Stories".  Why are there so many snakes in the world or why do the male ducks have bright colors and the female ducks look so drab?  Whether they were authentic or not, a good story could last the afternoon--besides the kids loved them.

But today among all the nylons I was at this school to do a storytelling session dealing with Scottish folk tales and culture.  I need to point out that I TOLD stories, I didn't read them from books.   Normally, I would come into a classroom dressed in my kilt, knee high woven socks, my skean dhu (black knife in my right sock), my sporran (pouch for car keys, etc.) and a jacket with silver diamond shaped buttons and my pipes, large and small.  

Generally, my attire generally dazzled the kids and they were all on top alert for what might happen.  My usual schedule was to tell them I was a storyteller and I was invited by their teacher to tell Scottish stories.  "Does anyone know where Scotland is?"  Being that my county borders Canada and the Vancouver area I could count on some of the children knowing more about Scotland then I did.

However, I could normally keep things in control by starting to blow up the bagpipes and playing a short tune.  Then I would start by telling the story of "Wee Gillis" by Munro Leaf (he also wrote "Make Way for Ducklings" and "Ferdinand") about a small boy who learns to play the largest bagpipe.  Another good and funny story was Gerry and George Armstrong's "The Magic Bagpipe" about another small boy who couldn't play the pipes worth a damn.  Somewhere in my presentation I would explain what I was wearing, what the black knife was for (eating plus fingers), and why the sporran since there were no pockets in the kilt.

When I did this presentation for second graders I generally could count on one little girl standing up and saying she was wearing a skirt and there were no pockets either.  A shinning smiling face would indicate I had made a friend.

Today at my nylon and pantyhose school I was to do a presentation for the fourth and fifth grades but I got sandbagged when they said I was going to have the second and third grade children as well.  All four grades in the gym.

I normally don't wear the kilt while driving to a school.  Thoughts of a flat tire always danced through my head so I would carry my "outfit" and pipe cases in with me to the front office.  After pleasantries with the school secretary I'd ask where there was a rest room I could use to change into my "kilt and gear?"  Most schools had a men's rest room as well as women's rest room.  But not today.

There I was amid the forest of damp nylon legs.  So I took off my slacks, folded them on the floor, change out of my shoes to put on the woven socks, shoes back on, then the kilt wrapped around me and secured with the tabs.  Finally the sporran and the knife.  Had to have the knife.  When most boys saw me in the kilt, some were just not sure but when they saw the knife, "yeah, man.  He's okay."   

Once dressed I left the nylon room and went back to the office to get my pipes and then down to the gym.   I'd stand there near the center of the room with Mrs. McDonald, who had invited me and would make a brief introduction.  Sometimes I'd ask to leave the introduction off--I would do it myself.  But I knew Jean and she knew the children.  When all four classes had entered the gym and found seats on the bleachers it was "showtime."  

Let me interject some thoughts at this point.  When you can keep four grades of noise makers, wiggle worms, skeptics, hyper-excited, "my mother has that skirt", kids quiet and entertained you KNOW you are a teacher.  When all the kids can hear you without a mic, you KNOW you are a teacher.  When you can ask questions about the story and get good answers based on happenings in the story, you KNOW you are a teacher.  You've got say, eighty kids paying attention, raising their hands, applauding and asking good questions, you KNOW you are a good teacher.  Damn those teacher evaluation tests, I KNOW.

My session with these kids went about an hour and forty minutes--a bit long for the two primary grades but the little ones did well.  I had planned my storytelling for the older kids but made adjustments with some of the stories.  The older kids and I had a question and answer session as the little ones went back to their classrooms.  It was good.  One tall boy raised his hand and I called on him.  He was very unsure of his question, started, stopped, then blurted, "Do you wear a slip?"  I thought the teachers would come unglued with laughter.  It appeared that he was the macho boy of the school.

I normally would prompt a teacher to ask me "What is worn under the kilt?"  The women loved to ask this question and I always answered, "To the best of my knowledge everything is in perfect working order."  I could count on a blush or two from the ladies but the kids never understood.

Then back to the land of nylons, change back into slacks and sport coat, hang kilt and gear in my traveling bag and head to the office.  Sometimes a cup of the most terrible coffee (why do teacher rooms have the worst coffee?) but sometimes after leaving a school I'd find a cafe and grab a cup there and think about what had just happened.  Good review time.  Which story hadn't gone smoothly? What parts had the kids especially liked?  Where could I have improved?  Satisfied time.

Some say that college of education professors have never been in a classroom.  totally untrue.  I knew several of my colleagues who were out in the schools teaching science or poetry or reading. My favorite colleague did math workshops. I did storytelling.  Although hard work and it took discipline (memorizing stories is hard for me) I found it fun and satisfying.  I like kids.

No, I never found out what was going on with all those nylons and pantyhose.  So I can't tell you.  None of those teachers at this little country school ever mentioned it to me either.  Strange.

For those who want to learn how to be a storyteller, try to find a old copy of "Storyteller" by Ramon Ross.  It is quite complete.  But old.  Another possibility is Roger Sale's "Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White."  It's a Harvard book so I'm sure you can find it.  Both are excellent.

Do women teachers wear nylons in class today?  I don't think so.

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