Real Cooking

“How was school?” The question was not coming as usual from me to my kids, but from my kids to me.

Now that I had taken a job as a special education para-educator at the elementary school, they were eager to find out just what I did all day.

“Well, I had a busy day,” I responded. “I played Chutes & Ladders, colored, played with some bean bags, had an ice cream float, got kissed and, best of all, I learned that I have magical powers.”

My kids stared at me with their mouths hanging open in obvious astonishment.

“You played games and colored and ate ice cream-and you call that work?”

“It was rough, but someone had to do it.”

“Who was kissing you?” my son said as he sniggered.

“A little kid I know came by and pecked me on the cheek,” I replied. “It’s just one of those things that small children do. We talked about it later. Sometimes little kids make mistakes about what is proper to do at school because they haven’t learned the rules as yet.”

“Well, it sounds like all you did today was play-and it’s not fair,” they called over their shoulders as they retreated to do the homework their middle school teachers had assigned.

“Watch it,” I warned. “Didn’t you hear me tell you that I have magical powers?”

“What magical powers do you have?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow.”

Evidently they had had enough of hearing about my day because they quickly grabbed a snack and headed for their lair in the basement family room.

And, as they retreated, I headed off to my lair in the kitchen. I thought about the school day I had just completed. I had told my kids the truth when I said I had played Chutes & Ladders and a bean bag game.

What I didn’t tell the kids is that these games are tools we use to build number- and letter-recognition skills. I had colored, but it had been while working on a project involving color identification.

And I had read and been read to and I had gone to help at the computer lab with a group of eager first graders. I had pointed to countless numbers and letters (upper and lower case) and had asked countless questions about numbers and letters (upper and lower case) and the sounds they make.

“Some things might seem repetitive,” said Kathy Koop, my supervising teacher. “But that’s how little kids learn-by repetition.”

“This concept I understand,” I had responded. “Do you know how many times I had to read Goodnight, Moon? I can still remember the words and my kids are 12.”

“It’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom at our house,” Kathy said with a grin.

Yeah, it had been a good day. I had even had the courage to go into the workroom alone and face down the new copying machine. On an earlier visit, I had left after encountering a group of women muttering harsh words under their breaths as they tried to sort out a paper jam.

I couldn’t blame them. The copier is a complicated piece of machinery that will be a real time and energy saver-once everyone is familiar with all of its bells and whistles.

I had to laugh at myself when I thought about the copier. The previous week, Kathy had called me to schedule when I might be able to come in before school started to get some training on visual phonics and some computer programs we use with the kids. In the course of our conversation, she had used-as most professionals do-the terminology of her calling.

So, after she had talked to me about cognitive skills, Earobics and visual phonics, she also suggested that I come in for a session “on copier.” She said it was new and that everyone was being asked to come in for instruction.

Well, sure, I didn’t want to be left out. This must be a very important new educational approach, I thought, if the entire staff was being asked to come in for training. In my mind, I was quickly trying to assess just what it might be for: A new reading program? A new math technique? The Copier Method. I wondered what it could be.

“The training sessions will run on the hour,” Kathy added. “I guess this is some new photocopier.”

Duh. Photocopier. Was I trying too hard or what?

Oh, this job had already brought some memorable moments. Just that afternoon a little one had looked at me and said, “Mrs. Jost, you have magical powers.”

“I do?”

“Yes,” came the reply and without hesitation, we picked right up with what we were doing. No one has ever told me anything so enchanting.

At the end of our school day, everyone had been invited to come to the teacher’s break room for a celebratory ice cream float.

Taking this job was a good decision, I told myself. I was actually looking forward to going back and seeing what tomorrow would bring. Would this student be able to identify the same letters as today? Would that student retain what was gained earlier this morning? I couldn’t wait to find out.

I was still mulling over the events of the day when Keith walked into the kitchen.

“How did it go?” he asked.

I felt a sly smile forming.

“I got kissed,” I answered truthfully. “And I have magical powers.”

* * *

I want to thank all of you who have stopped me to inquire as to how the new job is going. This column is in part a response to all who have asked, “Just what are you doing?” and “Are you enjoying working at the school?”

In the future, I probably won’t write too much about what goes on in the classroom. The kids I will be working with need their privacy and I don’t want my coworkers to always think everything they say or do will find it’s way into the pages of the Free Press.

So, in short, I’m finding the work rewarding, the children charming and my coworkers a blessing.

Thanks for asking.

* * *

This salty, sweet snack would be good for after school or any time.

Sweet Pretzel Nuggets

1 package (15 oz.) pretzel nuggets, sourdough if possible

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 to 2 tsp. cinnamon

Place pretzels in microwave-safe bowl. In a small bowl, combine other ingredients and pour over pretzels; toss to coat. Microwave, uncovered, on high for two minutes. Stir. Microwave three or four minutes longer. Cool

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