Showing posts with label 3rd grade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 3rd grade. Show all posts

Thursday, May 24, 2012

2nd grader, at last.

Soooo....Remember way back in September when I was all: But I don't know if I can do this! Third graders seem weird and psychologically puzzling. And then I was all: No, wait. I got this. Third graders are really weird and psychologically puzzling. But all I have to do is give them my nastiest teacher stink eye and make them skittish about what I'll do next.

Yes, well, I'm done with that. I'm headed back into the classroom next year (which is exactly what I was trying to avoid when I gave up my ESOL position in the first place months ago, because I thought ESOL was headed for the big, giant Toilet in the Sky) (note: I no longer think ESOL is headed for the big, giant Toilet in the Sky; I now believe ESOL is simply headed toward a really sketchy Title & Pawn shop on that one corner by the police station all the ladies of the night traipse down at all hours in clothing of questionable taste).

Anyhoo. Due to budget cuts (shaking my fists and casting ginormous stink eyes on YOU, you scurvy, greedy Wall Street tycoons responsible for the world financial mess), we have lost 8 teacher points. Eight whole teachers! That's like one whole grade level, peeps. Which means no more Science/Social Studies model (unless 3rd-5th grade classroom teachers want 30 kids in their homerooms next year...which might put the Science/Social Studies classes up to some crazy number like 35, 40 kids in some groups depending on how they split up their classes when they do ability level) (I know that only makes sense to me and the people who taught the model, so just know: what matters most right now to you are the mind boggling phrases "30 kids in a class"!!!  and "crazy number.")

Long story short: I will be a 2nd grade classroom teacher next year. Frickin' Universe--always playing me like that. Just when I think I've outsmarted It, It throws me a wide, speedy curve ball.

I'm excited and nervous. Excited because I've missed having that ownership of a class of kids--being their mom-away-from-mom. Also, it'll be nice because I'll only have to plan for 24, not 90...there were so many cool things I chose not to do this year simply because the number of students I had made these cool things logistically (and often financially) impossible.

But nervous because I simply do not do well with aggressive, confrontational parents. And, man, I witnessed some aggressive, confrontational parent behavior this year in 3rd grade. Professionally, I can't go into fine details here on a public blog. Just know: for some individuals in the world, I'm wondering if there is just not enough Xanax or mental health professionals. (I actually don't think they're crazy. I think they're just looking out for their a really scream-y, being-part-of-the-problem-not-the-solution kind of a way. And I think they're acting from a place of love. Dysfunctional, confining, knee jerk-reactive love. But we all need to start somewhere, I suppose.)

True confession: difficult parents are why I left the classroom ten years ago. I got some doozies, three years right in a row. And it was really bumming and burning me out...I just needed a parent-on-a-warpath break for awhile. Hello, ESOL teaching for 9.2 years. Which I loved, because I love language. And hello Science/Social Studies teaching for 8 months.Which I loved, because I've decided Neil Degrasse Tyson is really hot, in a nerdy, very professional and astute kind of way.

But I was very different person back then, when I was a classroom teacher. For one thing, I had bad hair. No, seriously. I had this biscuit bang flip thing going on that was a total holdover from the late 80's and I wore tacky holiday sweaters starting the day after Thanksgiving all the way to New Year's Eve. And I thought I was swank, people. Really, really swank. I'm still really upset with people in my life who let me leave the house looking like that from 1992-2002.

Secondly, I wasn't married to C, and C hadn't worked his C magic on me yet. Honestly. If you need help setting yourself straight in some area(s), C knows how to do it. Right now, for example, I'm on something called the "30 Day C Plan," which is supposed to whip my sorry self back into shape professionally, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I think I'm at Day 15. I've done two out of ten directives. It is not going well, not going well at all. (fyi: I did the same thing with the Atkins Diet.)

Thirdly, I hadn't met/worked with some of the most awesomest teachers on Planet Teacherdom. All decent teachers will tell you they didn't become proficient because of Dr. So and So's class at Teacher University. No, no. They'll tell you they lucked out and got put on a team with Ms. Amazing Teacher, Ms. Creative Teacher, Ms. Gutsy Teacher, and Mr. Reality-Based Teacher...who all taught them everything they know today. (Guess how many college textbooks and lesson plans I still use/own today? Zero. Big, fat zero. But I have exactly 3.5 billion files, lessons, and other artifacts I do still pull from that were given to me by coworkers along the way over the last 15+ years.)***

And last, I wasn't a mother. You don't have to be a mom to be a proficient teacher. But because I've become a mother, I can see my child in other people's children. (I mean, 3rd graders this year responded to the exact same Pavlovian techniques that work brilliantly on 3 1/2 year old Melissa.) And I'm hoping that makes me far more compassionate than I was ten years a parent, I will go to my death fighting for what's right for my child and my hope is that, should I get some boxing champ-wannabes in students' parents next year, that will translate over in parent-teacher conferences and we'll reach magnanimous understandings of great and helpful proportions.

Oh, and! I did NOT have the droll, smarmy humor about life I possess today. A sense of humor about the pure awesomeness of bizarre, dysfunctionality that exists all around us possibly could have extended my classroom teacher shelf life at least another 5 years.

So yes. I'll be a classroom teacher again next year. I'm pinning away furiously on pinterest right now, stealing ideas from teaching blogs left and right, blatantly and without regard. My 2nd grade colleagues will be bandit-ized as well, come August.

But my favorite, FAVORITE part of this whole, crazy school year was this past Wednesday.

Remember my Promethean board, the one I lovingly nicknamed %%$#@&$#@!%&$? I was lucky enough not to have to pack up my million boxes of stuff and move elsewhere, and the trailer I'm currently in (despite the fact I must continue to share it with %%$#@&$#@!%&$) is really a very nice trailer as far as classroom trailers go--a tad bit longer or wider, I can't decide which, than other classroom trailers--and it's in a prime location (practically on top of school, and some restrooms). So that is all good, and I am glad. But %%$#@&$#@!%&$ continues to take up way too much space on my white board, rendering it practically useless for classroom teaching.

And then, then! I discovered THIS while watching DIY network late one insomniac night: dry erase wall paint! You prime your wall! You paint it with 3 coats of dry erase paint! You now have a new dry erase wall, any shape, size you want! This, friendly friends, is when the craziness of 21st century living finally pays off.

So, Wednesday, last day of school for children, I primed each end wall on either side of my real dry erase board. I did not ask if I could do this because (a) I knew a teacher who'd taught in this trailer before me had painted the whole thing a few years ago...sadly, just regular paint not dry erase--which would have been so ridiculously awesome had Lowe's carried dry erase paint back then and she'd turned the whole place into one big dry erase room--I'm practically salivating right now just thinking of it, and (b) one of my life affirming, important mottoes is: Asking forgiveness is always better than asking permission. Another nugget of wisdom from a good teacher/coworker along my path years ago.

So 3rd graders were playing board games, and I was priming while insisting to several overly helpful girls that, seriously, I only had ONE paint brush roller. There would be NO fun wall painting the last day--I let them know I also knew they would probably get into some type of primer paint fight and that was NOT going to sit well with me that day. Go play Uno for the love of god.

And also I had to keep fending off K, who kept watching me prime my end walls suspiciously while asking in an accusing tone, "But did you ask first? I bet you're supposed to ask first." I taught her my important motto about forgiveness vs. permission, but I could tell: she's a total third grader version of 2002 Amy--if I'd had a couple more weeks with her, I bet I'd have had to put her on the 30 Day C Plan.

Anyway. Who should show up? My old principal. (Did you know? The principal we started this school year with, who's been our principal for the last 4 years and is quite frankly one of the kindest, best, most wonderful principals I've ever worked for, was tapped to be one of our district's new, big shot area superintendents.) (Of course you didn't know, if you don't work with me--I've neglected this blog for months.)

So she stopped by our school for a visit, saw me in the doorway, and stepped inside my room to say hello to me and all the kids. And when she saw my walls, she said, "Amy, are you painting?" And I said, all guilty refusing to look at K who I was positive was certainly gloating, "Uhh, yes? Kind of?" And she just shrugged and said, "Oh. Okay."

Man! That was a beautiful moment. I shot suspicious, accusing K a triumphant look so fast! A glorious finish to a long year: the fricking area superintendent says it's cool, K! No need to even ask for forgiveness at this point, playa! Watch and learn, grasshopper, watch and learn.

The other glorious, beautiful finish to a long, long school year? Every year as the buses pull out for the last time to take all the kids home, all the teachers line the sidewalks and wave good-bye and the buses honk and honk and pull away. So soul-satisfying. This year, the bus at the head of the line, the one that was supposed to honk and honk start the Grande Finale pull away broke down immediately when it tried to leave. All the other buses had to back up and pull out...starting with Bus 20 waaaay in the back. Took forever. So all the buses, except for Bus 1, have long gone and all these kids on Bus 1 are stuck and don't get the teacher wave...I mean, we DO wave. But only as we're leaving to head to our cars. Gotta go, Flo. Have a great summer, kids. Stay cool!

And then? Then, I saw my two worst offenders of the whole year were on that stuck bus. And that's when I knew: the Universe really loves to throw me curve balls, but occasionally it throws me a big bone, too, just to let me know it still has my back. Awesome.

*** Side note: if Michelle Rhee and her Waiting for Superman friends are really serious about fixing public education, they should lose their lame, unhelpful anti-teacher attitudes and start with our teacher education programs...but that's another rant, for another day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

winter whisperer.

   I'm having sort of a rough spot at school right now with classroom behavior (the Pencil Situation is the tip of the iceberg). Do not be alarmed (I'm not; just tired). It's not anything above and beyond normal for this point in the school year--the months of February and March are just rough, yo. They were rough when I was a classroom teacher, rough when I taught 1st grade ESOL, and they're rough now. If I were teaching straight A students in Tahiti they'd be rough. I think there's just a natural, circadian pattern to every school year, and February and March just so happen to be its darkest hours.

For one thing, it's cold. And outside is simply not attractive--trees are naked, grass all grungy brown. This winter for us has been unseasonably warm then cold with lots of rainy and low barometric clouds. And for someone like me, that is just a recipe for depression.

And then two, you're heading into the home stretch. The kids who have learning issues and have really struggled all year right now are starting to give up, and you can see it. And you're getting exasperated at the fact you can see them starting to give up and you know you need to throw them some kind of lifeline but dude, seriously. It's February/March, the two longest months of a school year and you're all so frickin' tired. Do you think Lowe's sells lifelines? I hope so, because my creative, hope-y juices are at a yearly low.

And then Spring hits. In all its fevered glory. Or, you know, if you're like us in the South where global warming is alive and well, you've been enjoying Spring Fever since about mid-January as the temperatures have only been truly wintery for a total 3 days.

Have you ever experienced Spring Fever at an elementary school level? It is not for the weak, let me tell you. I remain convinced Spring Fever is the entire reason teachers continue to be given 2 month summer vacations. If Wall Street experienced Spring Fever and/or its cousin Warm Spring-like Winter Spring Fever, they too would be taking long summer breaks (....actually, knowing Wall Street, they'd be taking 6 month summer breaks and charging us all for 24 months' of work).

So yes. I've been having some behavior issues at school. And I don't even have these kids all day--I deal with the issues an hour at a time. Their classroom teachers? Wow. Somebody needs to give those people a $50,000 a year raise. Or at least a 5 star all-inclusive vacation to Bora Bora. Something. Do SOMEthing, educrats. (Because your pay-for-performance ideas are less than stellar.) (As if we're trained seals, willing to do higher back flips for more fish. Fish that's not even fresh. Please.)

But I digress.

So I'm having a month. And every day when I pick up Melissa, I'm starting to get notes on her daily report that say things like:

"Melissa had a hard day today. She didn't listen to her teachers and ran in the classroom."

"Melissa did not have a good day today. She yelled at her friends."

I do not know what to do with these notes.

As a teacher, my instinct is to light into her and support my fellow educators. First of all, I think there should be ZERO light of day between your parents and your teachers. You should know this, and it should be feared. Second of all, I know how it feels to have to deal, all day long, with people who don't want to listen to you, who run in the classroom, and who spend a lot of time yelling at their friends.

So we've had a lot of sad, teary discussions on rides home that go like this:

ME: Why did you yell at your friends?
HER: I didn't!
ME: Your teachers say you did. Teachers don't make things up. Why are you yelling at your friends?
HER: I didn't!

Over and over. Is she lying? Yes. She yells at me, so I totally believe her teachers when they say she yells at her friends. She also doesn't listen to me, so I totally believe her teachers when they say she doesn't listen to them.

But she's 3. Isn't this what 3 year olds do? Yell at people, run around, and not listen? If she were, say, 7 years old and doing that in her 1st grade classroom, we'd have a big problem. But I get these reports, read them, and go: Yeah. That's what 3 year olds do. Are they supposed to be different nowadays because it's 2012 and when they start school in about two years they'll have to pass a high stakes test? Probably. (Curses on you, George W. Bush and your NCLB drafters.)

Last night  I watched the documentary BUCK. It's a movie about Buck Brannaman, the horse whisperer. The most important thing I took away from it was the part where Buck says something like, "People hire me to help them with horse problems, but usually what I end up doing is helping horses with people problems." After a tense, just-what-the-holy-hell-is-happening-here-exactly?? kind of week, I could almost audibly feel something click inside of me, internally.

I need to start thinking like a horse whisperer.

Which is why I've decided to handle the Melissa notes like this: let her know what her teachers have said about her, tell her it's not okay behavior but that I also recognize she's just being 3, and then I give her a hug and a kiss and say, "I love you. No matter what. Forever and ever. I love you."

And so I'm thinking this is the approach I should start taking with my 3rd graders as well: tell them it's not okay behavior but I recognize they're 8, 9, and we're all heading into that home stretch of school year. Then pat them on their heads and say, "I'm writing on your behavior card because what you did was so SO inappropriate--I mean, seriously? This is school. You can't do that in school. But I do still love you. This doesn't mean I don't love you and please know I know you're just being a kid. But still. Stop doing that at school. Stop it now. Seriously." Because I do. I do love them. Very, very much. (Oh, wait. Except for that one, that one kid makes it so hard to find my love. So hard!) (No, seriously. The horse whisperer's bag of tricks would be depleted in 10 seconds flat.)

Plus it could also just be "that" time of year. February/March simply aren't my favorites--if poopy crap is going to happen, it usually happens in one of these two months. And outside looks so drab and grungy. And it's been a rainy winter. And I hate those.

Now. Having typed all that, let me off-track myself a bit and also admit that I'm chuckling my little teacher/mommy butt off right now, thinking of an article I just read the other day about bigwig education reformers,wanting teachers to compete for a paltry $20,000 extra a year for good test scores. Those guys need to see BUCK, too. Because if they really understood how teachers work, they'd approach us much more gently, with pure love. They'd put daily chocolate in teacher lounges, every Friday we'd have $100 gift cards to the grocery store and on Mondays there'd be a $50 restaurant gift card. Once a month there'd be free massages and pedicures, and every summer there'd be a paid vacation to anywhere in the world we'd like to go. On top of all that, every five years we'd get a year long paid sabbatical. WITH benefits.

Or, you know, at the very least, reduce our class sizes by 10 kids. If we can't have gift cards, massages, free flowing chocolate, all-inclusive vacations, and sabbatical packages, we'll take 12 kids per class per year, please and thanks. Teacher satisfaction and stress relief would be so huge our test scores would shoot up in ways that made the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians all nervous enough they'd start holding secret "what the heck do we do NOW??" meetings. I feel certain Mr. Buck Brannaman would agree with my gentle version of education reform.

Except that won't happen because nobody in government thinks like a horse whisperer. And plus it's February/March. Poop.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

tales of some 3rd grade pencil nabsters

At this point, I am neck deep in 3rd grade,  well on my way to becoming fairly well-versed in 3rd grader psychology. For example, let's talk about The Pencil Situation. I understand it's an issue in 2nd and 4th grade as well and it can just get completely outrageous in 5th. Every year, there seems to be numerous Pencil Swipers amongst the school hipster set...when not chewing on, ripping off erasers, and sharpening them down to mere nubs, 2nd-5th graders spend a great part of their day plotting many different ways to swipe pencils not belonging to them. Kindergartners and First graders apparently fall under Pencil-Destroyers-in-Training.

At the end of October all the way through December, I attempted the Rent-a-Pencil solution: You need to borrow a pencil from me? You'll need to rent one. With what money, you ask? No money. Just one of your shoes. (cue squeals of delighted laughter) Which shoe? I don't care. Pick one and put it by the door. If you want your shoe back, give me back my pencil on your way out. What if you want to keep my pencil and it's very very cold and/or raining that day? I guess one of your feet is going to be extremely wet and/or cold that day. Or, better yet: Try to bring your own pencil on cold/rainy days. What if your mom gets upset when you come home with just one shoe? Tell your mom to call me so I can explain how upset I get when I have to keep buying pencils because they keep going home with people they don't belong to. What if you forget to wear socks on a day you need to rent a pencil? One of your feet will be stupendously cold, sorry, hate that for you. What if your feet are stinky that day? Make sure you bathe and powder them every single morning. Just in case since you never know. What if you need a pencil AND an eraser? I'll require one shoe for each. Yes, that does mean you will be working in your bare feet. Just like old timey country folk.

Sadly, my Rent-a-Pencil plan did not thwart them. In fact, they began purposefully NOT bringing pencils and erasers with them just for a chance to work barefoot. And I can't blame them; quite frankly, shoes simply aren't as comfortable as working in bare feet. Shoes get overly hot and by the end of the day, your feet can feel way too pinched. Don't even get me started on stilettos. Whoever invented that nuttiness surely was a sado-masochist. However, my pencils (along with erasers, too, now) began disappearing more rapidly than at the start. I was Mohammed trying to bring the mountain, and the mountain refused to come. The mountain, in fact, decided to stick its tongue out at me and flip the bird.

So I started taping my pencils. With pretty, pretty purple tape that would be totally hard to miss if someone attempted to walk out the door with it. And please know: I absolutely was under the assumption this Pencil Situation was all a giant misunderstanding. I was certain the walk-offs were just accidents--people in a hurry to leave, innocently forgetting to return a borrowed object. And so I thought: a-HA! Purple tape! Surely, seeing my purple tape would remind them: Oh yes, must put this back.

That's when I discovered the deep seriousness of The Pencil Situation: these people weren't just accidentally walking off with my pencils. No. These people were nefariously taking them. My poor, innocent pencils were, gasp!, being pencil napped. And yes--you read right. I DID just use the words "nefarious" and "pencil napped." Right out from under my nose! Nefarious! Pencil napping! In broad daylight. Just like C does with magazines from doctor/dentist offices ("What? What?" he says, "They put those in there because they want you to take them. They're just a bunch of old magazines sitting around. They put them there so people will take them home so they'll stop cluttering up the waiting area.").

Anyway. I started finding purple tape on my floor, stuck under my tables, placed strategically low on my walls, behind my &^%$#%^& smart board that still never works right and gives me issues. We had to have a long talk about the differences between accidentally forgetting to return something one borrows vs. actually concocting devious ways with which to keep it.

I was pretty ticked. Yeah, they're just pencils. But if you add up how many bags of Starbursts, Skittles, bottles of glue, AND boxes (yes, BOXES) of pencils I've bought since taking over this position in September (not to mention a handful of bulletin board sets, a couple of teaching idea books, some Science materials, holiday treat bags(times 100), three packs of black construction paper because I ran out of that color, and ten extra scissors ( as some of those have disappeared, too), we have now reached a grand total of exactly one house mortgage payment, half of which has left my classroom in the form of pencils.

Still. I had to be so careful. SO careful! As I discussed The Pencil Situation with my sweet friends. I don't know who these pencil nappers are, exactly, or if it's even a plural issue. Out of my 100 kids, it could just be one lone diabolical pencil napper. Plus, I don't know if you've noticed or not lately, but teachers in America seem to be landing on the 5 o'clock news in less than proud ways (personally, I think the 5 o'clock news just needs more to do--it's clearly got far too much time on its hands).

The heart warming aspect of this is that I must say: They were all so wonderful about it. Really. Every single one of them. Every single kid sincerely expressed deep, honest concern over my bank account situation, my rising blood pressure levels whenever I looked at my dwindling pencil supply and/or found more evidence of purposeful tape removal. Every single kid was indignant. Indignant! In fact, if you were to stop anyone of those boys and girls and poll them on how they feel about The Pencil Situation in Ms. S's room, I promise--they are as hot about it as I am.

In addition, many people clearly on their way to successful careers in law enforcement, law, and/or political and educational reform jobs offered up several very creative ways I might use in my attempts to thwart the Pencil Swipers. James Bond-like security cameras were suggested, and offers of full-time security guard work were given. One sweet girl noted once watching a movie about bank robbers having to deal with explosive ink on money--maybe I could rig up some type of explosive ink to my pencils that would explode as soon as a pencil nabber attempted to exit the room? Wonderful, impractical ideas only the innocent can think up. And, while not one person ever came forward and confessed the day we had The Pencil Talk, I did find one of my purple taped pencils quietly returned the next day...all chewed up and nubby, eraser completely gone. I was deeply touched by that person, whoever s/he was. If I'd seen them return it, I'd have hugged him/her and given him/her a couple of Skittles for being so honest (finally).

Fortunately, I've come up with a solution to The Pencil Situation in 3rd grade. I call it Duct Tape Solves Everything. I think I even saw on Pinterest once you can clean an entire two story house with a single piece of duct tape. (Ha, I'm just messing with you. Duct tape will not clean your entire house. But it will function pretty handily as a cat hair scraper upper.) So I sifted through my big, scary drawer o' junk, found a little hot pink number, and promptly wrapped up about 6 pencils. Besides fixing leaky pipes and electrical wiring (when not moonlighting as a prom dress or a purse), do you know how hard it is to get duct tape off stuff? No kid in 3rd grade knew. I have completely confounded them, and have retained every single one of my Rent-a-Pencils.

....for now. I'm sure my Pencil Swipers are putting their heads together at recess every day figuring out creative ways to quietly remove it. My classroom has become their pencil swipage dojo, and I their pencil swipage sensei. Onwards, grasshoppers of pencil grifting. Next, I'll be wrapping fake flowers to all my pencils and chuckling mirthlessly as 3rd grade boys get all huffy about having to use girly stuff in class (I don't actually think I need to go as far as strapping fake flowers onto my pencils to keep them where they belong; I just get highly entertained watching 3rd grade boys get all huffy about having to use girly themed stuff).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Best & Worst

Around this time of year, I like to take stock. I like to take stock of how my year went, I shaking my fists at it and stomping around, cussing like a crusty old sailor? Or just giving it the middle finger raised defiantly up high, in a really indignant manner? I'm certainly never hugging it. I don't think I've hugged an old year going out and a new year coming in since 1982. There's usually something in the past year that has really made me put my hands on my hips in a very annoyed manner and say out loud to no one in particular, "Really, Insert name of year here? Really?? What the freaking heck."(Full disclosure: I might--or might not--use much swarthier words than freaking and heck. It would just depend on the issue, and the year.)

Another thing I do is come up with Un-Resolutions. This is a very Alice in Wonderland thing to do, and I prefer it because I know I'll be 100% successful at these. For example, in 2012, I unresolve to spend less time on And, in 2012, I unresolve to spend half of each Saturday lying around staring at the ceiling feeling guilty about all the things I really should be accomplishing. Also, in 2012, I unresolve to clean my toilets more (though I did find a really earth-friendly, economical, most awesome solution of part vinegar/part water/Dawn dishwashing liquid you can make at home that can supposedly scrub blood stains off the inside of a person's body).

But I also like to review my personal year's Best & Worst. Just like they do in People magazine and on E! News, except without the paparazzi pictures:

Best Kid Moment: Potty training accomplished! No more poopy diapers, no more diaper bills, no more worrying about contributing to the land fill diaper problem in America but being too 21st century lazy and harried to actually switch to cloth diapers and do something about plus that would involve more laundry and I'm really anti-more laundry....woohoo! No more diapers!

Worst Kid Moment: Realizing potty training isn't (1) fool proof or (2) consistent. Most embarrassing example of this: the infamous McDonald's Poop Explosion of 2011.

Worst Job Moment: Volunteering to leave the dream teaching job I adored to venture forth into unknown waters. Teaching (the Education field in general, actually) seems to be in a bit of a scary and massive upheaval these days, and so who knows where I'll be at this time next year? Upheavals can be both bad and good, but I am never a fan of change. Even and especially when I instigate it.

Best Job Moment: Finding out teaching 3rd graders is surprisingly a breeze. Jolly Ranchers and lead pencils and the ability to place a "I Actually Don't Find You Funny At All" look on my face in a mere 1.5 seconds really helped that. And the change in focus turned out to be fairly good for me...after teaching 1st grade ESOL for about 10 years, I could pretty much do that with my eyes closed. It's stressful to have to locate, plan, and coordinate new lessons, and I wish I didn't end up staying until 5:00 pm most days. But it keeps me on my toes. And that's a good thing, because I'm the kind of person who really needs to be kept on her toes. Otherwise, I spend way too much time staring at a ceiling for half a day feeling guilty about all the stuff I could be accomplishing.

Best Health Moment: C got a new knee. It's a lot of work right now, and his body is still adjusting. But in about 6-8 weeks, I predict he'll be walking around like Melissa does when she gets a new bouncy ball: "Mommy! Look at meeeee! Look at me and my new bouncy ball! Look at how good I am with my bouncy ball! I can bounce my bouncy ball really, really high! No! You can't have my bouncy ball! It's MINE!" (C, of course, will not be bouncing as high as he can, but I do suspect he won't share his new knee with anyone.)

Worst Health Moment: Well, I got skin cancer. That was the worst. But it was a fortunately/unfortunately kind of thing: Unfortunately, I got skin cancer. Fortunately, it turned out to be the unscary kind, harmless little Basal Cell that can sit on your skin for years and years and never make a peep (except you should get Basal Cell off of there ASAP if you do find him sitting there, because occasionally he can turn into his big older brother, Malignant, Scary Carcinoma. Scary  Carcinoma is a really crappy bastard, and even his own mother ignores him on his birthday). Fortunately, it was an easy procedure to remove. Unfortunately, I'll be at a dermatologist's office annually for the rest of my life. Fortunately, this will quickly help us meet our insurance's out of pocket maximum so C can get another new knee next year and we don't have to pay a thing. See? Fortunately/Unfortunately.

Worst Celebrity News: The Kardashians are really getting on my nerves. I don't understand them, and I don't understand the nation's love/hate relationship and fascination with them. I'm just glad they're in cahoots with Sears. If I had to see them and their sweat shop clothing line every time I bought contact lens cleaner at Target or Wal-Mart, I really think I'd lose my mind.

...Except I have to say, I do begrudgingly like Khloe. Khloe seems like someone I could have over for dinner and laugh with. Oh, okay...and Kourtney, too. Her little boy is too, too cute. As long as she left the icky boyfriend/father at home, I think we could hang out and talk.

Fine, fine, fine. It's really just Kim I'm having an issue with. But I think everyone in America is too, and so. Good.

Best Celebrity News: Apparently, Atlanta is quickly becoming the new Hollywood. This increases my chances of bumping into Gerard Butler at Target or Wal-Mart or Kroger or Publix  by 1,000%. Obviously, in 2012, I'm going to have to never leave the house without full make up and hair, and I'll clearly have to hire a personal stylist. Oh, and the gym. I guess I'll have to bump up my gym schedule from 0 times a week to at least 1 or 2. Man. That's going to be a lot of work. I may need to set my standards a little lower and hope to bump into one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta's ex-boyfriends.

This is not what my chicken avocado parmigiana looked like.
Worst Cooking Moment: The avocado/parmigiana chicken dish I got off It seemed like a good idea in theory. I mean, who the heck doesn't love chicken parmigiana? And avocados are just healthy for you--full of good vitamins and the type of fat your body doesn't use to make you look 6 months pregnant. But in actual practice? It did not execute well, and I apologize to all who came into contact with it (namely, C and Melissa) (C took 3 bites and Melissa declared hers "icky," dumped it in the trash can, and proceeded to demand chicken nuggets instead).

Best Cooking Moment: The fact that I cooked most nights of the week. The week right before Winter Break and the week of Knee Replacement surgery were pretty rough and full of McDonald's happy meals. But other than that, I've been a cooking fool throughout 2011. Please note: I do not enjoy cooking. Slow cookers make it a tad easier. Unless you have someone who doesn't enjoy slow cooker food, like I do, who (after 3 slow cooker meals) asks you to lighten up on the slow cooker meals. That can really throw off your whole game plan, if you have that. I also don't enjoy the following: menu planning, grocery shopping, food prep, cooking clean up, dishwasher put away, and pantry organization. But the point is, I have learned to overcome all of that, in a very Chariots of Fire kind of way. And I like looking up recipes and conducting recipe experiments. I'm a Chariots of Fire Kitchen Scientist is what I am. And C and Melissa are my lab rats.

Worst Gift of 2011: There were none. Every gift is awesome. If you give me a gift of any kind, you are permanently on my Favorite People list forever. Unless your gift is the flu or a cold. And then you're on my People to Avoid at All Costs list.

Best Gift of 2011: The Keurig. Do you know about them? Next to the Internets, these are one of humanity's most helpful and evil-at-the-same-time inventions ever. You put some water in the holder. You stick your coffee cup under the thingy. You stick a Keurig coffee cup thingy ($9 per box, more expensive at Bed Bath & Beyond) in the thingy. You press a button. Sixty seconds later? You have a coffee (in a variety of flavors, including but not limited to hazelnut, french vanilla, and fair trade decaf) or tea or hot chocolate or espresso or cappucino. It's technology magic. The evil part comes into play because the coffee maker is always right there. On your counter. And if there is water in the water compartment, in a mere 60 seconds you can have your 1,000th cup of coffee (or tea or espresso or hot chocolate or cappucino) of the day. For example, as I type this, it is 10:00 am and I'm enjoying my 6th cup of coffee (an Italian Donut Shop bold that is clearing out my sinuses in a most effective way...I predict the caffeine in this thing will keep me up well past 1:00 am).

Starbucks is also pissed at the Keurig guys. My yearly $25,000 donation to them is probably going to be reduced by about $24,990.

Worst Book of 2011: Did Kim Kardashian write a tell-all book about her 72 hour marriage yet? If not, get ready to put that on your "Worst Book" list for whatever year she writes it.

Best Book of 2011: Tina Fey's book Bossypants. I would like to be Tina Fey's friend and confidante. I would like to start a religious cult that worships all that Tina Fey says, writes, and does. (That sounds a bit stalkerish, I know. But honestly, the fastest way to become a billionaire is (a) invent the computer or facebook, or (b) start a religion and get Tom Cruise on board). I have many, many new worldviews because of Tina Fey, and many, many new awesome quotes to throw at people haphazardly when they least expect. Here's one:

But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—BeyoncĂ© brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.

See? Ladies, wouldn't you like to be friends with Tina, too? Let's get together every Friday and pray to her. (Please bring $25 as a Fey Love "donation.")

And last (but not least):

Worst Overall Moment of 2011: The angry, judgmental Target employee and my emotional breakdown about her (including tears) in front of a store manager while standing in front of Target Cafe's pretzel machine. I've finally managed to successfully shop (tear-free) in this Target again. I've gone back to placing Melissa (in a really defiant way I must add) in the back of the cart (minus the seat belt AND allowing her to stand up). I've also managed to once run into that same angry, judgmental Target employee while Melissa is standing up in the back of the cart (mihnus cart seat belt) and look at that chick with pointy, dangerous daggers shooting out of my eyes in her general direction in a really passive aggressive way. I'm sure she senses when I've entered the store and becomes very nervous. Obviously, I've clearly won.

...Really, this experience has kind of turned into a it was the best of times/it was the worst of times sort of thing. But I'm still shell shocked about the initial experience, and so I'm making it my Worst Moment of 2011 (there could have been a worse worst moment of 2011, but my memory only goes back to about July of each year, and nothing worse happened to me from July-December than that).

Best Overall Moment of 2011:  We are all still alive. C and I both have satisfying jobs, a roof over our heads, nice clothes (Old Navy recently had a 70% off sale that I hit just right), good food in our bellies (as long as it doesn't involve chicken, parmigiana, and avocados), a sweet girl who only goes to time out 3 times a day, and we are cancer-free (knock on wood), surrounded by family we are on talking terms with who we actually find amusing and fun to be around. Is there any kind of a moment that would be better than that? I don't think so, and I'm positive Tina Fey (blessed be her name) will agree.

Happy 2012, everyone!

Monday, October 10, 2011

third grade: the talking year (or: be glad you are not a pencil).

I have survived. I did know that I would; I just like to be melodramatic in times of drastic change and upheaval. Please make a mental note to yourself right now about this: if 2012 does turn out to be the end of the world as we know it (r.i.p., REM), do not (I repeat: do NOT) ask me to be one of your Post-Apocalypse team mates...unless you're okay being eaten alive by apocalyptic humanoid cannibal zombies in mere minutes.

So I've been a 3rd grade Science/Social Studies teacher for 2 weeks now. So far, I've taught 2 weeks of Paul Revere, briefly wondering to myself (often out loud) while concocting lessons (and I also did this while developing lessons to teach 1st grade English language learners about odd historical figures like Annie Oakley and Davy Crockett--gun toting sharp shooters, precisely the two people I instantly think of when making American heroes connections to 6 year olds--Abraham Lincoln?? George Washington?? Psh. These are 21st century kids, homies!)...I kept thinking: why THAT guy? There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people throughout the annals of American history to pick from but we go with the shotgun girl, the raccoon hat dude (or was that Lewis and Clarke? No matter, 1st graders learn them as well), and the guy who didn't actually make it all the way to Concord, MA because some British soldiers took his horse? I don't see the connections behind the why's. I think I get the how's and what for's. I'm just still working out the why's. In my head. Sometimes out loud. But never in front of children. Blatantly.

But then. I'm not in charge of Curriculum & Instruction, Common Core Standards, etc., now am I? A good thing, because I promise if it were up to me, there would be whole sections on end of year high stakes tests with subject headings like: Compare/Contrast the Mental Health Benefits of Chocolate Kisses vs. Chocolate Ice Cream, Math Problems Using Calculators, and Awesomely Astute Harry Potter Quotes. For extra credit (and fifty teacher pet points), students would be able to write a persuasive essay to Gerard Butler (of 300 fame, a movie several of my new friends have indicated to me they are totally obsessed with--as well as Bride of Chucky, a horror movie involving axes and hockey goalie masks, and some movie about drug lord warfare) to implore Mr. Butler to be our Mystery Reader for One Whole Week at our school. In my classroom. All day long. Followed by power dinners out. (What? What? If J Lo happened to be in Atlanta and happened to need to access Medicaid insurance information and happened to need to access Medicaid insurance information in our area of town, I'd totally understand if C called me up to let me know he wouldn't be home for dinner.) (I bet outrageous rambling what-if scenarios like these are exactly why famous people feel pressured to hire armed bodyguards.)

Okay, moving on. Here's what I've learned so far about 3rd grader psychology:

1. They're basically just 1st graders, in larger packages. They still like to give hugs and get stickers, and they respond in very Pavlovian ways to these types of candies: Starbursts, Skittles, and Jolly Ranchers (Jolly Ranchers having the most peculiar effect: 3rd graders all over the world will give erratic screams of delight upon finding them in a candy jar). Which is so totally awesome, because of all the candy in the world, the three I'm not drawn to are Starbursts, Skittles, and Jolly Ranchers. If they insisted on mini Snickers or 3 Musketeer bars, I'd have to seek other employment.

2a. But they're savvier in that I can see their little 3rd grade mind gears constantly turning, always trying to trip me up, back me into some corner they've painted, hoping I didn't notice it was there. Like, I let them know I only have one rule in my class and that rule is: You can do anything (ANYthing?? they said with incredulous tones. Yes, ANYthing, I said) in my classroom.....melodramatic pause for giant long as it doesn't bother anyone else (including and especially me, The Teacher) or mess up anyone else's learning (and/or my ability to teach). Can you hear the disappointed "Oh."s? There were about 100 of these when I exposed the last half of my One Rule, and they came out in a very a Row Row Row Your Boat type of choral round.

Later that week (okay, fine, the very next day), every class had at least 15 kids who did something annoying, who then immediately attempted to invoke the: "But you SAID we could do ANYTHING we wanted..." defense. Behavior clips were pulled, thunderous "oh man!"s echoed throughout the trailer classroom (which, I would like to note for further effect: noises in a portable classroom are exactly 10 million to the 10th power times louder than in an indoor, regular classroom. This noise level alone causes at least 6 clips to be pulled in my most talkative groups, on a daily, thunderous basis.)

2b.But I have to give it to them: so far, out of the almost 100 people I see all day, two have very narrowly and successfully mentally maneuvered me into a corner they've painted that I didn't see was there. And good for them! Those little problem solvers! Good for them. Because when I see decent problem solving, I don't care what the circumstances are; those people always get a big high five and a jolly rancher from me on their way out the door. Even if I have to pull a clip while high fiving them.

3. Third graders like to talk. Third graders like to talk and they don't care what it's about or who they're talking to, as long as they get to talk. If a third grader was sitting by him or herself in a white padded cell with no windows or doors, that third grader would talk to the white pads on the wall, just so she or he could make sure his or her vocal chords remained in good talking condition. Also, they might hum. And if there was something to tap nearby that would make a satisfying and highly annoying to everyone else tapping sound, they would tap it. For hours.

4. Third graders have a visceral need to be entertained, at all costs. This can be exhausting.  But then again, this is also partly just teaching in general--my first graders always demanded entertainment, too (and don't we all?...for example, I just finished the latest PEOPLE magazine plus one OK! U.S. edition C brought back from an airplane trip and comes thisclose to getting bookmarked on my computer every other day).

This is what teaching is to me: is a little bit of disseminating information, a good portion of cutting and pasting and running off copies, and great deal of acting as a way of keeping pinging neurons focused. There are days I get into my car and I'm all, "When are these non-teachers going to stop complaining about all the things they don't know anything about, and just frickin' broadcast the first annual Teacher Oscars?" Or, at the very least, give me one more pay raise before retirement. Is all I'm asking for.  Oh, and maybe less testing, too. A teaching Oscar, a modest pay raise, and less testing. Teachers really don't ask for much. ....okay, well. I was actually pretty serious about Gerard Butler being a Mystery Reader at my school for a week. In my classroom. Including power dinners at swank restaurants after.

5. Third graders are to pencils as zombies are to the living. In first grade ESOL, every beginning of the school year, I'd buy 4 boxes of pencils. Sometimes just 2. And I'd always have at least one whole box of 24 pencils left over at the end of the year. Because I guess 1st graders simply don't write as much? For sure they don't eat pencils. Which is so odd to discover, because when I think "pencil eaters," I don't think of people finishing up their first decade of life. I think of people who've just recently left toddlerhood.

Clearly, something is happening between the time children leave 1st grade and arrive in 3rd. Some type of physical and/or psychological shift which causes a child to take out all of his or her passive aggressions on the poor pencils of the world. Two weeks ago, I began my career in 3rd grade with exactly 50 pencils. Fifty shining, perfectly formed, happy new pencils. Two weeks later, I have lost 30 of these pencils and the 20 who've somehow survived the battle are sitting, unsharpened and mangled, in my classroom as I type this. They are chipped, they are stained. They are missing limbs (erasers), they have been chewed on, they have been shredded. They have been stripped of any dignity they had left, and some of them are now nothing more than the nubs of pencils they once were. To be a pencil in the hands of a 3rd grader is to know the true cost of a bloody battle to the death, to be at the mercy of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades to come.

And last and most important:

6. The coolest thing I've discovered about 3rd graders is this: they can do stuff. When I say "stuff" I actually mean: mostly follow directions. Like, in 1st grade, I would say something like, "Okay, friends. Everyone put your paper under your chair and look at me." And then I would say that last sentence in various other forms again. For 5 more minutes or 200 times, whichever came first. In 3rd grade, I only have to say that sentence about 3 or 4 times and it gets done. I mean, it's not perfect; nothing in Life ever is. You have your stragglers. You have your boundary pushers. You have your tired, your poor, your hard of hearing, and your what-did-you-just-say?-because-I've-been-tapping-this-chewed up-pencil-and-talking-for-the-last-twenty-minutes-so-I'm-not-really-sure-what-I'm-supposed-to-be-doing-right-now-much-less-where-I-am...where-am-I-again? people. But generally speaking, you say it once, and about 60% of the class does it. By the second time, 80% is with you. On the 3rd try, you're really only looking at about 3 people with your best and hardest Teacher Stare. It's's's like this. And friends who know kids well will understand when I state: that is all good.

So basically, I'm okay. There have been some sketchy moments; I'm still clueless about grades...not necessarily what to grade as much as when and how. And I'm up late a lot, looking for cool stuff to show them or do with them with whatever new thing we'll be learning about next. .....Okay, fine. I'm up late a lot just trying to educate myself on whatever new thing we'll be learning about next. Like, when we were doing Paul Revere, I kept getting the lanterns mixed up--how many if by land vs. sea? Which totally could have ruined the whole Revolution thing for us if Paul's friend in the Old North Church tower had been, say, me.

But I'm really starting to love this. Because you can still do incredibly fun and exciting and cool stuff with 3rd graders while imparting the vast amount of informative knowledge testing gurus insist is necessary for young children to be able to spew. I am fine with this, as long as I can find ways to (a) make it fun so it actually does stick in their heads (even if sporadically and not for very long) and (b) make it fun so I don't stab myself in the eye with a pencil nub suffering from PTSD. Third graders have to do a lot of note taking, and 3rd grade is where school gets serious. But I long for the days school wasn't just testing and information pushing--I miss the fun projects. This is the 21st century; surely projects are the old new wave of the future, right? Please say yes, testing gurus. My pencil nubs are nervous.

I am also spending some money--this is nothing new for me, to pull out cash (or, in my case, AmEx) for my job and not ever be reimbursed. And I know I don't have to do this because very kind people at school have given me a plethora of lesson plans/ideas. But that's just me. I'm sure it's a weird version of retail therapy...some people shop for shoes. I shop for teaching supplies.

I'm also on a lot of teacher blogs. Who knew?! Did you know? Not me! Holy pencil chips: there is a veritable plethora of minions of teachers out there in the blogging world who (a) are not using the blogging platform simply as a way to publicly expose their melodramatic accounts of stuff Life flings their way while occasionally overanalyzing the psyches of 8 year olds as well as their almost-3-year old child (who is becoming more and more neurotic about the dark and things that go bump in the night...I suspect one too many Ghosthunters episodes while she was gestating are to blame), and (b) are using blogs as platforms to share and connect with other education professionals....and, you know. Maybe also give themselves the pay raise all 50 state congresses are clearly reluctant to give. Between teacher bloggers and, I just know I'm going to be broke by December (hi, honey! if you're reading this...please send all complaints to Governor Nathan Deal c/o Sonny Perdue and maybe some fat cats on Wall St.).

But don't worry! I could be rich by the end of this summer! Because--and I don't know if you guys know this about me or not--one of my most favorite things to do, second only to procrastinating which is third only to napping, is to create educational powerpoints. And once I get this Promethean board in my room (which I lovingly refer to as my %$#$@!*&^ board, since it takes exactly 10 minutes or 500 unpluggings and repluggings of the usb cord, whichever comes first, to try to convince the laptop to talk to the board--did they have some kind of a fight before I moved in? Who knows why technology does anything it does) ...once I get my %$#@^%!^ board figured out, I'm positive I'll add creating active board flip charts to my hobbies as well. This could be quite lucrative, if a little time consuming.

If the teachers paying teachers thing works out, I'm definitely spending at least one summer in the near future world traveling, on a Gerard Butler hunt.

Gerard Butler would look totally natural in this environment.

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