David Lees doesn't teach a class of 30.
He teaches one child whose dog was run over and who came to class irritable and unhappy. He teaches one who reads at fourth-grade/sixth-month level and one more who reads at the kindergarten/eighth-month level. He teaches one who is so smart he is bored. He teaches one whose parents are divorced and whose mother works to keep the family going. (In reality, one in four of his students lives in a single-parent home.) He teaches one who came to class without breakfast. He teaches one who has been physically abused. He teaches one who is a behavior problem. He teaches one whose energy level keeps her bouncing out of her seat all day.He teaches one and one and one - 30 times over.
He looks at the challenge and the realities of time and says, "It isn't a matter of minutes in a day. It's a matter of their needs. With so many children, there is no way I can meet those needs."
On a Monday morning, Lees was at Farnsworth Elementary School early to put finishing touches on preparations for another week's classwork. Before he could get to those tasks, a mother was in his classroom to discuss her daughter's homework.
He welcomes such parents, whenever they arrive. Each day, he makes several personal calls to parents often to praise a child's progress, sometimes to discuss a problem. Those calls are part of his after-class commitment.
"We don't get all the support from parents that I'd like. But I understand their problems. Some of them have pretty hard circumstances."
By the time the mother is gone, several children are in the classroom, tugging at Lees' arm and seeking attention. He applies three Band-Aids, that universal cure-all. One child's injury is a cigarette burn on the arm _ a red flag to watch for further injuries that could suggest purposely inflicted wounds.
"Under the law, we have to report suspected child abuse. I keep a log," he said.
A missing tooth must be noted, and a child with a crumpled check is instructed to hold it until lunch money is collected _ a housekeeping chore that takes precious minutes out of the morning.
"New shoes! How fun!" Lees tells a beaming, dark-eyed girl who wobbles on one leg and holds up the other foot. It sports a still-unspotted red, white and black sport shoe. "Go outside and line up with the kids so we can start the day," he tells her.
Lees is part of a minority among elementary school teachers _ a male who prefers the primary grades.
"He's a good teacher," said Principal Karen Sterling. "Parents who have had children in his room ask to have younger children in his class."
With a disharmonious but heartfelt Pledge of Allegiance out of the way and lunch money collected, the second-graders are ready to attack a list of 12 items listed on the board _ the day's agenda.
"There's too much required curriculum for these children," Lees said. "It will take me until Thanksgiving just to give them basic addition facts." He would prefer to concentrate on building a solid reading and writing foundation before adding other curriculum items.
Instructions for the day, written on the board earlier, serve a dual purpose as a check on punctuation skills. The information that "Today is Monday" rates only a period, but news that "At the end of the day we will have art!" calls for an "excited mark!"
Writing practice concentrates on the letter J, and Js begin to queue on lined papers _ with a finger space between, please, and careful to keep the cap for the capital J right on the line and the bowl of the small j below. "Down and curve. Down and curve. Down and curve." And the lines fill.
When the exercise is over, one paper has only five J's. "It's not how far we get, but how beautiful the J's are," Lees encourages the paper's owner.
Differences in children's abilities are a constant challenge, Lees said. The bright ones are through an assignment in a hurry, leaving them time to distract others. The slow ones rarely complete assignments in the time available. At the end of the day, a line of youngsters picks up homework envelopes to catch them up with the class. Some of the envelopes won't come back the next day, the teacher knows from past experience.
Social studies is a quick review of materials already covered _ definitions of "map," "globe" and "atlas." Lees' finger finds the midpoint of a globe and there is a chorus of "Equator!" followed by a chant of "Hot, hot, hot. Warm, warm, warm. Cold, cold, COLD," as his finger moves away from the midpoint in either direction.
Overhead, a string across the center of the room is identified as "equator," a constant reminder to reinforce the geographical concept. The whole room is a pleasant place with children in mind. Class rules _ developed with the children's input _ are written on paper footballs. "Mirrors," a self-discovery art project, reflect each child's own perception of himself or herself. There is a special spot to honor birthday children, but on this particular Monday there's no birthday child to be honored.
A visit to the library offers a break in the morning, followed by recess. Teachers supervise recess activities at Farnsworth, and for Lees, it's a brief opportunity to prepare for the next item on his schedule _ math.
Carrots in bunches and carrots alone become an exercise in counting by 10s. With his students instructed and concentrating on workbook pages, Lees has one of the two opportunities this day to work with students individually. One at a time, those who haven't yet received a star for counting to 100 by 10s have the chance to try again.
It is also a time for compliments and comments. "Did you practice with Mom this weekend? Practice one more night. Practice really hard." "Did you do something special this weekend?" "What a pretty dress!" (a definite "excited mark" comment). No child leaves Lees' desk without a verbal pat.
Fewer than half the group have had a math moment with the teacher, however, when the noise level in the room indicates that the majority at their desks have finished their worksheets and are ready to move on.
"I spend a lot of time just managing the class and retaining control," Lees said. His approach to discipline is soft-voiced but firm. Each table of four to six children has a plastic cup of flags. They disappear one by one as rules are broken, being transferred to Lees' own plastic cup. By the end of the math session, he has a nice bouquet and one table has lost its afternoon recess privilege.
Some children who need special encouragement to behave also get a quota of poker chips, forfeiting them as they step outside the bounds the teacher has set. By midafternoon, one little fellow cashes in his last chip and heads for the principal's office.
At lunch time, after herding his little covey past the "You're the Apple of My Eye" poster in the hallway and into the lunch room, Lees gets his only time of the day entirely free of teaching responsibilities. At the beginning of the year, he eats with the youngsters in the cafeteria until they know the ropes. Then he prefers to brown-bag it and visit with other teachers in the faculty room while aides shepherd the student lunch-bunch.
On this Monday, representatives of the Granite Education Association are on hand at Farnsworth to discuss progress in contract negotiations.
Lees has a question. Married teachers get a couple of days to stay home with sick children. Why, he asks GEA president Allen Rasmussen, don't single teachers, such as himself, get equal consideration?
Lees had options when he came out of high school. He could have joined his father in business. He preferred to follow in the steps of his grandfather, Lowell Lees, a noted former University of Utah actor and drama instructor. The Lees Mainstage in the U.'s Pioneer Memorial Theater is a legacy for Lees family members like David who value teaching as a worthwhile profession.
After lunch and a story time, reading is a major activity. Three groups, divided according to ability, take turns in the classroom's reading corner. Those not involved are given desk work.
Even so, the reading is interrupted frequently by a run on requests for restroom privileges, claims for flags from tables that have given up desk work and taken up socializing and individual requests for help.
Each group reads two pages or less in unison. Each child reads one to two sentences _ all that the time allows.
As the afternoon waned, it was time for the (excited mark!!!) art project. Lees and two other second-grade teachers had combined resources (from their own pockets) to provide watermelons for their groups. Dripping half-slices became grinning models for crayon-and-watercolor pictures as the children examined their treats to see how dark green rind blended into a lighter green, then to yellow and white, topped with seed-pocked bright red.
While the paint dried, the youngsters trooped, watermelon in hand, to the school yard where the still-life art slices became an end-of-the-day treat.
The school day was over. At no time had Lees spent more than one to two minutes with an individual student. Before going to his second job in the evening _ a necessity, he said, to make financial ends meet _ he had a hefty stack of papers to grade, phone calls to make, new lists of activities and messages to put on the board in preparation for the next day, when he would again meet with his 30 "ones."
Next: Teacher salaries are the second most frequent complaint within the profession. Are they too low or comparable? The third in a series of articles examines the issue.