Margaret Plaganis


The kindergarten class climbs three flights of stairs to reach the art room. They scale the steep stairs, guided by their patient teacher. They grip the banisters like Sherpas, hoisting one leg over another and pause to catch breath before they step triumphantly on third floor landing.
Flush-faced and eager, they line up where I stand in the open art room door. We walk into the wide, high-ceilinged room, sit together in a circle on the floor.
“Good morning, everyone.” I smile, look around their faces. “Welcome to the art room. I’m happy you’re here. Will you help me learn your names? I’m having trouble remembering mine. Can you help me?”
 I turn to the girl sitting cross-legged on my right. “Good morning, my name is Mrs. Peanut Butter. Please tell me your name.” Giggling, she shakes her head. “My name is Andrea.” Leaning toward me, she whispers, “You’re not peanut butter!”
“Oh, excuse me, Andrea. You’re right! My real name is Mrs. Grapefruit!” 
The students squeal and sputter. Andrea laughs, “No. Grapefruit’s not your real name either!”
“Uh-oh, one more time.” I pause. “I just forgot again; can you help me?”
“Mrs. Pla-gan-is!” The children raise their voices. “Your name is Mrs. Pla-gan-is! Not Mrs. Grape-fruit!”
“Whew. Thank you. Let’s say good morning, tell our real names.” We go round the circle, introduce ourselves. When I pretend to forget my name, use a silly one instead, they’re delighted to correct me. 
The name game helps me learn new student names. Two hundred and fifty kindergarten, first and second graders. We meet for art class once a week. Forty minutes, start to finish. Twenty-five to thirty students per class. I must engage them quickly, work fast to learn their names and faces. 
One morning a kindergarten teacher planted herself between me and two silent rows of wiggling five-year-olds. Leaning confidentially close, she said, “Ms. Plaganis, you’ve got to stop your silly talk with these children. Our team struggles to teach them respectful speech. We must overcome their broken backgrounds and disrespectful habits. Teach them what’s right.”
I glance over her shoulder. Student smiles catch my eye. 
 “Good morning is all you have to say. Otherwise, they will waste instructional time making up names for you when they come to art.”
I think she’s joking at first, but her face doesn’t match my smile. After she turns away I usher the children into the room and gather in a circle. “Good morning, students, I’m happy you’re here. Let’s sing a song about mixing up colors on purpose!”
Later, I walked by the kindergarten waiting outside the music room. The children stood quietly watching their teacher write inside a notebook. Several yards past the line I heard, “Psst, psst!”
I glanced behind me. A smiling boy, the last in line, waved and whispered, “Hey, Mrs. Grapefruit!”

Margaret Plaganis is a visual artist, writer and educator; recent poetry is published in Pure Slush Lifespan anthologies. Digital views of her hand-built, collage/poetry books are in the Brooklyn Art Library collection: