A 99.9 percent true parody


A month into the school year, students in the prekindergarten class where I’m helping are behind.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever get them ready for kindergarten,” Mrs. Moss* confided. “I have just eight more months. Only five of my students can multiply fractions. Just two know a trapezoid from a rhombus. Several never even went to pre-pre-K.”

I tried to cheer her up.

“Maybe they’re stronger in reading and writing,” I said.

“Are you kidding?” she asked rhetorically. “Just this morning, two of them split an infinitive and one dangled a participle.”

“I’m a writer,” I said. “Maybe I can help.”

She gave me a stack of essays to look over. I was impressed by how many students could write in Chinese until Mrs. Moss pointed out that it’s English.

“I probably sound old-fashioned,” I said, “but at this age, shouldn’t they be learning how to get along with their peers?”

“Of course they should,” she said. “Unfortunately, the district doesn’t allow sex education until fourth grade.”

A girl interrupted to tell us a classmate had peed on the bathroom floor.

Mrs. Moss told her students to stay away from the bathroom for a few minutes until the janitor cleaned it. One student said she couldn’t wait. Within seconds, urinary urgency swept through the room like the plague. Mrs. Moss had me walk the stricken five to and from the bathroom across the hall to make sure none got lost.

When we returned, Mrs. Moss started a geography lesson.

“What state do we live in?” she asked.

“Florida,” the students said in chorus.

Well, I thought, they might get into Harvard after all. Then she asked what country they live in.

“Florida,” they piped up.

They voiced the same enthusiasm for Florida when asked their home city.

Around this time, Mrs. Moss realized the one student who would have known Florida is not a country had been in the bathroom several minutes. It wasn’t the first time. She quietly lifted the sheet of paper covering a window in the door and motioned me over. There I could see the class genius playing with a sink full of suds.

The next week, I subbed in second grade. That’s when I realized how right Mrs. Moss had been; children who don’t start school until pre-K are doomed. In second grade, they still write in Chinese. Their gifted classmates’ handwriting borders on legible. Late starters fare better in math, as long as the numbers are low enough to count on their fingers and toes.

Toward the end of the day, a student told me someone had peed on the bathroom floor. No way, I thought. Not in second grade. Someone must have been sloppy washing his hands. So I took a look. I sniffed. Someone had peed on the floor.

After school, I vented on the janitor. She’d seen it lots of times before, even in second grade. Kids that age are smart enough to know it’s a great way to tick off the teacher without getting caught.

I suppose they learned something in pre-K after all.

*Not her real name.