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Fifteen young faces look at Allison Van Buren expectantly.
She hands the students a math worksheet. The students need to count by twos, by threes, by fours, filling numbered squares with different color crayons.
Van Buren has not finished distributing the pages before the questions and comments start.
“I don’t have crayons; I just have markers.”
“I made a mistake; now what do I do?”
“My elbow’s bleeding.”
Such is the life of a third-grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Riverside.
Four months ago, Van Buren was a student at the University of Iowa wondering what she would do with her life after graduation.
Now she knows.
The first-year teacher addresses each of the comments as they arise. She is upbeat and seems unflappable.
She gets a box of crayons for the one student.
“Try it your best, and if you make a mistake, that’s OK,” she tells another.
For the bleeding student she heads to the supply cabinet.
“Sometimes a Band-Aid makes you feel better.”
A student shows her his worksheet.
“You are seeing patterns,” Van Buren tells him.
As the noise level rises, Van Buren does a countdown to get the students under control.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” she counts down as the noise level drops and students return to their seats.
By the end of the first hour, Van Buren is doing a countdown from 10. Even then not all of the students get back to their desk and are quiet before the countdown ends. Those who do get small blue tickets Van Buren pulls from a pocket and discreetly hands to the behaving students.
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