[10:27 a.m.] I fumble to lock the front door (my freshly cut key still sticks), dump my backpack in the backseat of my car, and turn on my engine. I’m off!
[1o:41 a.m.] I make a quick stop to pick up one of my coworkers. I play chauffeur and gain a traveling companion, she treats me to happy hour a couple times a month.
[10:52 a.m.] We arrive at school and park in the lower lot. On our trek up to the main building we call out bonjours to any staff members we happen to pass.
[10:54 a.m.] I clock in, punching in my personal employee code and scanning my right index finger. The machine beeps and the screen flashes back at me: “Transaction recorded. Thank you, Cara Lynne.” I walk through a doorway into the kitchen, scoop up the plastic pitcher with my name scrawled along the bottom, and make a beeline for the fridge. I deposit my lunch and pull out several partly-full gallon jugs of milk.
[10:56 a.m.] I set my milk pitcher on top of the lockers in the aides’ office, fiddle with my master lock, and swap my backpack for Holes by Louis Sachar. I set the book with the pitcher and settle onto the couch to peruse the master whiteboard—the repository of indispensable knowledge: meetings, substitutions, schedule changes.
[11:00 a.m.] The office fills up with my fellow aides (and more milk pitchers). The energy and noise levels rise as we greet each other and start talking about that new viral YouTube video (which we obviously then have to watch on someone’s iPhone).
[11:15 a.m.] I wrap my scarf tightly around my neck, zip up my coat, don my hat and gloves, and head out to the playground for kindergarten recess. I huddle under the pavilion—the covered blacktop where we confine the children when the rain is particularly drenching—until the first kindergarteners emerge.
[11:19 a.m.] I do a couple laps of the playground to loosen up my limbs and warm up my body and am stopped in my tracks by the same group of three girls that can never agree on what make believe game to play. I give them my usual suggestion: combine their ideas. Why can’t a mermaid, fairy princess and magical kitten all play together?
[11:30 a.m.] I meander to the monkey bars where several gymnasts in training take turns showing off their acrobatics.
[11:38 a.m.] I glance at my watch. Two more minutes. I do another slow lap. As I cross the field one of the soccer stars asks me to tie his muddy shoe laces.
[11:42 a.m.] I pop back in to the office to collect Holes and my pitcher and cut across campus to my 3rd-grade lunch room.
[11:45 a.m.] I arrive and they’re finishing up a math lesson. I set my props on a cabinet, strip off my outer layers, and wash my hands.
[11:49 a.m.] The kids retrieve their lunch boxes and unpack their meals at their desks. I circulate pouring milk into empty plastic cups while a rowdy line forms at the back of the room, waiting for the microwave.
[11:55 a.m.] Most of the microwaving done, it’s time to get their attention. “Clap once if you can hear my voice,” I say softly. I repeat, increasing the number until all eyes are on me. I open Holes to where we left off yesterday.
[12:01 p.m.] A character in the book reveals that his nickname (X-Ray) is his name (Rex) in Pig Latin. I pause our reading in favor of a brief Pig Latin lesson. After finally calming the kids back down (which involves banning the further use of Pig Latin in the classroom), it’s back to the book.
[12:10 p.m.] I stop reading. “OK, guys, time to finish up eating and clean up your lunch things.”
[12:15 p.m.] I stand by the door waiting for the sixteen squirming bodies to settle back into their chairs and turn off their voices. Little faces look anxiously toward me, waiting for my next move. “Ten…” they’re up out of their chairs “…nine…eight…seven…six…” scrambling to put on coats and form an organized line, two by two “…five…four…three…two…one.”
[12:17 p.m.] Then it’s back to the playground.
[12:20 p.m.] I circulate, telling kids not to climb up the slides or twist up the swings, asking others to finish any food under the pavilion, checking in with a couple of my coworkers.
[12:29 p.m.] I cross the playground and campus, heading back inside to my 6th-grade lunch. No book this time: Eleven-year-olds don’t want to be read to while they eat. And no milk: I brought a bit the first couple of months, but never had any takers.
[12:35 p.m.] I used to stand awkwardly at the front of the room, watching them. Now I wander among them, pausing here and there to catch the latest gossip, confiscate a poorly-concealed cell phone, or holler at the group to please use inside voices.
[12:40 p.m.] “Cara, can I go?” I glance at the clock and then the desk the student was sitting at and the floor around it. “Pick up that pasta and then you can go when the clock says 12:45.” The stray noodle is quickly disposed of and the student stands poised at the door waiting to be released.
[12:58 p.m.] I nudge the 6th-grade stragglers out of the lunch room and head back to the playground where I tuck myself into a corner—a feeble attempt to avoid the soccer, basket and footballs that reach great heights and have a habit of careening toward my head.
[1:03 p.m.] Another aide rings the bell and the middle schoolers stampede off to their next classes.
[1:07 p.m.] Beep. “Thank you, Cara Lynne.” I clock out for lunch. And join the line of adults waiting for the microwave. While waiting, I rinse out my milk pitcher and put it in the dishwasher. My lunch companions and I somehow get onto the topic the Russian Olympic Committee’s new initiative by which Moscow subway riders can opt to do 30 squats instead of paying for a ticket.
[1:36 p.m.] Beep. “Thank you, Cara Lynne.” Back on the clock.
[1:38 p.m.] Back in the office, I stuff my empty tupperware into my locker and apply a fresh coat of Chapstick and a dime of hand lotion.
[1:39 p.m.] Because of how my lunch is scheduled, the 1st graders are already out by the time I hit the playground.
[1:45 p.m.] The number of children doubles as the 2nd graders arrive for a shared 15 minutes. A group of girls sets up an imaginary hair salon whose calm is frequently disrupted by a wild game of tag.
[2:00 p.m.] The bell rings and I herd the 1st and 2nd graders under the pavilion to line up. “Don’t forget your coats!”
[2:05 p.m.] The last teacher finally comes to collect the remaining 2nd-grade class. Break time. I huddle in the warmth of the office and check my work email from my iPhone.
[2:15 p.m.] I layer back up and return to the playground for the joint preschool, prekindergarten and kindergarten recess. My old favorites from this morning are back, but this time they’re the big kids on the playground.
[2:24 p.m.] “Hi Mr. Longchin!” I’m spotted by one of my PreK regulars who’s gifted me this special nickname. Today we’re witches who chase down the bad guys on broomsticks and flying horses, launching fire balls all the while.
[2:45 p.m.] The bell rings. I track down abandoned coats and stray three-year-olds, towing them under the pavilion and attempting to get them into organized lines.
[2:48 p.m.] I wash my hands and settle back into the office for my afternoon snack: a Cliff bar—today’s is white chocolate macadamia nut!
[3:02 p.m.] I migrate to the kitchen to collect the reusable tote bag containing the 2nd and 3rd graders’ after-school snack, and then exit to the pickup area where the other aides and I huddle up and play with the walkie talkies.
[3:13 p.m.] I make my first pass of the 1st-grade classrooms, collecting those few children whose parents give them the responsibility of being escorted to the pick-up area (rather than coming to meet them at the classroom).
[3:21 p.m.] After depositing the pick-up kids, I make my second pass, this time in search of the 1st graders enrolled in the day’s PM classes. I wait patiently for them to collect lunch boxes, don coats and sling on backpacks. I corral them into a globular line and herd them to the MPR.
[3:29 p.m.] I walk back through the pick-up area, grabbing up my snack tote and head to the 2nd- and 3rd-grade after-school room. My coworker signs in all the kids, who make their way one by one to the sink to wash hands before crowding around me for a serving of the day’s snack: cheddar bunnies and dried cranberries.
[3:50 p.m.] We signal the kids to clean up and line up. Instead of going out to the playground like we did earlier in the year when the weather was nicer, we head to the now-vacant MPR where we play a few wild rounds of zombie tag.
[4:25 p.m.] We round the kids up, do a head count (a few have since been picked up), and head back to the classroom where we dive in to our main activity for the day: building towers out of toothpicks and marshmallows.
[4:45 p.m.] I take a quick bathroom break. When I get back, several more kids have been signed out, but a few others have trickled in from their PM classes.
[4:55 p.m.] We transition from marshmallows (and their sticky residue that now coats the desks) to homework time. Homework time is quiet time. The options: Do your homework or read a book quietly to yourself.
[5:00 p.m.] My partner gathers up her belongings and the empty snack bag and takes her leave.
[5:03 p.m.] I circulate. Shushing whispers that have become louder than whispers. Administering a practice dictée. Signing off on completed math homework. Helping with poem memorizations.
[5:25 p.m.] “OK everyone, homework time is over. You may of course continue to work on homework, or you may move on to an activity of your choice.” I start to stack chairs, join in board games and games of hangman, and get paper airplane tutorials.
[5:55 p.m.] The last kid (the one who’s almost always the last kid) is signed out.
[5:57 p.m.] I drop the attendance sheet in the office and collect my belongings.
[6:01 p.m.] I push the “OUT” button, key in my code, and scan my index finger one last time. “Transaction recorded. Thank you, Cara Lynne.”