The Coloring Major

Danae Leali

August 1, 2005

The teachers had said that you could only speak to the person sitting next to you on the bus, and then only if you both whisper. Nobody else needs to hear what you’re saying, the teachers had told the children. It shouldn’t have surprised me that as soon as my foot reached the rubber—covered metal step up to the bus that screaming and shouting greeted my ears. Walking towards my seat, I could imagine that the thirty—minute bus ride was going to be more than loud and punctuated with singing repetitive songs. I wasn’t that old that I couldn’t remember the song that never ended or the giggling when the bus driver pulled up to the railroad tracks.

In my mind, I was cursing both myself and my mother—my mother for being lucky enough to travel to Sweden with my father and me for volunteering to take her place as the chaperone for the third grade field trip to the McKinley Museum. Not only was I chaperoning the museum, but I, by myself, would be leading thirty students up the 100 stairs to the final resting place of President McKinley and his wife, Ida. I had offered to take on this risky mission when the teacher of my younger brother’s class had said that she couldn’t climb stairs due to a heart condition. I had wanted to help, but, sitting there, I was wondering if I could control a group of rambunctious children.

"Miss Leali! He’s writing on me!"

"No I wasn’t!"

I turned to look back at the commotion.

"See! Look, he has a marker!"

"You guys need to put away the markers, okay? If you don’t, I’ll come back there and take them, all right?"

Silent nods greeted my warning and I turned back around to face the front of the mutilated leather seat. I closed my eyes, trying to block out the singing and laughing in my mind. I hadn’t had much sleep the night before. I had told my bosses at work that I needed the night off. Being a night—shift waitress and then needing to be up early to help the elementary school would not be an easy thing. Yet, instead of being asleep at 2:00am, resting for the long day I had known was coming, I was catering to the bar crowd that often stopped by for hamburgers and fries before going home to sleep off a hangover. I had known that the bus wouldn’t be a good place for a nap, but I figured just resting my eyes would help.

"You’re sleeping!"

I jumped in my seat, startled at the noise. Two inches from my face was a boy, staring at me.

"You were sleeping, Miss Leali."

Apparently he’d been watching me for some time.

"Yes, I know. But you need to turn around and sit down before Mrs. Mansfield says anything."


I waited until he turned around and then looked out the window, just in time to see our bus pull into the parking lot. It was time.

After arriving at the museum and after I fell asleep in the planetarium, we were ready to discover what it was like in the time of the McKinley family. Around this time, I became a shepherd, herding hoards of children in and out of exhibits, trying to silence their incessant bleating and constantly telling them not to touch the collected artifacts. The "no—touch" policy is extremely hard for children to understand. Fortunately, we were able to make it through the "boring" part without any major problems. But my heart began to race—it was my time. It was time for the monument.

They stood in front of me, each holding the hand of a partner, in a straight line while I tried to explain the rules.

"You guys CANNOT run up these stairs. They’ll be slick and if you fall, you could break your arm."

I had been hoping that would deter anyone from wanting to go running past me up to the monument.

"So? I’ve broken my arm before."

All right—new approach.

"Mrs. Mansfield has said that if I think any of you are misbehaving while going up the stairs or in the monument, you will not be allowed to go on the next field trip to the candy factory."

"So? I can’t go anyway."

"All right, fine. Just please don’t run—and remember, this is somebody’s grave, so we need to be respectful and quiet."

With that, all the children separated from their partners and began running up the stairs, shouting numbers as they went. I followed them, trying not to slip on the marble stairs, yelling things like, "Don’t run!" and "Wait for everyone at the top!" And it worked all right; everyone made it up the stairs and everyone waited for me to go inside. Inside went pretty well also: no one destroyed any of the decorative wreathes, the talking was kept to a loud whisper, and they didn’t stray too far from me. Of course, on the way down, the stairs were still a problem.

A little girl was skipping down them as I walked beside her.

"You shouldn’t run. You could get hurt."

"What about skipping?"

As soon as the words left her mouth, her foot slipped on the step. I could feel my blood pressure sky rocket as I tried to reach out to her. She caught her balance and turned towards me with a sheepish grin on her face.

"How about you just walk down the stairs now, okay?"

Standing at the bottom of the monument, waiting for my heart to stop racing, Mrs. Mansfield came over to me and told me that I’d done a good job. I thanked her as she walked away. I watched her as the children began to jump around her and tell her how much fun they’d had and how great the monument was. She smiled at them as I tried to regain a normal heart rate.

I remembered my friends back at Ashland. Many of my friends are education majors and we used to tease each other back and forth. They poked fun at my creative writing major, saying that I was paying $26,000 a year to learn how to say, "Would you like fries with that?" I would taunt them, saying that they were babysitters and coloring majors, studying the art and craft of naptime and crayons.

The other chaperones and teachers on the field trip asked me if I was an education major. When I said that I wasn’t, they told me I would make a wonderful teacher. I just smiled and said that it wasn’t for me. Where the patience of a teacher was necessary, I had struggled to keep my temper. Where the understanding of a child was necessary, I had failed to grasp the fact that children are not small adults—they have their own ways. Standing by those stairs, surrounded by children pulling at my arms and trying to gain my attention for themselves, I gained a respect for my early childhood education friends—teaching certainly isn’t just a coloring major.

Danae Leali is a sophomore from Canal Fulton, Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing.