Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

Friday, March 29, 2013

ghost writer.

Was it really November 2012 when I posted last? I'm surprised I didn't post in February. Usually each February I try to commemorate my dad, who died February 12, 2001, as well as mourn that entire frickin' month. Nothing good ever happens in February, is my personal motto. Besides my birthday, of course. Which I'm considering switching to March simply because of February's reputation.

Thirty-ish days of this school year are left. I am glad. I am also detached. I really, deeply love my class--they are good, sweet children, for the most part, and appear to love me back. But many of them and their families are exhausting me; this school year has exhausted me. This is not something unique to me; I'm not some martyr over here. I have spoken at length with teachers at other schools, in other districts, in all socioeconomic areas. Exhaustion is the Word of the Day for public school teachers all over America.

Can I be very frank and honest for a moment? Do you have a moment?

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Actually, all year long I've been thinking. I've been considering this, and considering that. I've done a little networking. I've had good days and thought: this is all right. I've had bad days and thought: really, wouldn't Barnes & Noble be awesome to work at, even if they are slowly shutting down all their stores? I've spent a lot of time thinking and considering.

I've thought about and considered going back to teach ESOL, except I don't want to go back to teaching that right now...people (other teachers) think I'm crazy, because it has its stresses but hey: no grading! But it is increasingly becoming something I can't agree to do. I do miss teaching it, but only for the relief of not having to be responsible for raising other people's children, and that's no reason to teach something. More and more, I feel that is exactly what is being asked of me, to raise others' children for them. I simply do not feel up to this task. I have a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education and a Master's of Arts in Early Childhood Education. I know Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Science, and Math. I am not a social worker. I do not possess a psychology or a counselor background. I have taught children for 18 years, and I'm a parent now, and so I try to draw on that experience to help parent other people's children, but because of political correctness often feel my hands are tied to really give them the help they are looking for, on top of the fact I suspect they don't actually want help; they simply want someone else to be responsible. And I am finding I don't want that kind of responsibility. I would just like to teach children how to read, write, and add/subtract. If I could just do that every day, I'd be happy as a pig in mud on a cool Spring day.

I am increasingly frustrated. My house looks like an episode of Hoarders. My husband spends a lot of time worrying (often out loud) about my mental and emotional state. My own child is getting less from me than other people's children, and I will be brutally honest: I am growing resentful.  I have no energy when I get home--I would like to take my child to the gym or the park every day, or read with her or finger paint or teach her sight words or play with play dough or just laugh and have fun. I am too tired--I cook dinner, clean it up, do bath, and then sit on facebook or pinterest because facebook and pinterest are two mindless, numbing things I can do to unwind. I am beginning to suspect classroom teaching is turning into a single, childless person's game.

The easy answer seems to be: just don't do it, Amy. Don't go to school at 7:45 and leave at 5:30/6:00 every day. Do what you can and go home and forget about it. But I don't operate that way. Quality matters to me, and if I don't deal with Project X or Y right now, tomorrow it will eat me alive because I won't have a planning period due to this meeting or that one or I won't get to Project S or T and that will cause even further stress than I already have, and I won't have that, concerned friends. I won't have it.

So I'm slowly and reluctantly starting to wonder if teaching may not be the right career for me. Isn't that crazy sounding? Because it's something I really love. Because I got into teaching because I'm a helper and I wanted to help children. Because people say I'm good at it--I'm never going to win Teacher of the Year, but if you stick your kid in my class? I work my butt off with them. Because I've done it for 18 years. But 10 of those 18 years were in a support teaching role, and support teaching kind of, I don't know, lulls? you into a sort of complacency.

On a positive note, going back into the classroom this year was like having cold ice water thrown on me repeatedly. This was good, because it taught me some important things--about human nature and what poverty and powerlessness--and, yes, maybe a slight touch of psychosis--can make people do to one another. It taught me some things about me, like I genuinely like children in spite of some of their home situations. I mean, God bless them, they've got a lot on their plates and they don't even know it. I am crossing my fingers and sending powerful prayers to all the Universes out there, begging these Universes to pull these children out of their lives, to help them defy their odds and the growing, enormous chasm between the classes I'm watching good people in this country (myself included, because you won't see me at any Occupy Something events) allow to happen.

But it has also taught me this is one goddamn exhausting, thankless job. If I were getting paid 6 figures, I'd probably just deal with it for another decade or two. I mean, there are summers off for the love of all--who wouldn't just go find their happy place when needed, for $100,000 a year and decent health benefits? However, I am not getting paid 6 figures. I am getting paid in the mid 5's. And I am not being respected by the very people I'm attempting to help, and I spend a lot of time confused and frustrated and angry about that. And crying. I cry a LOT when I'm at home, because I'm desperately worried my own child isn't receiving what she needs from me. Realistically, I know she will most likely turn out okay--she is deeply loved and hears that all the time. She has two supportive parents who will gently express concerns to her future teachers, not make angry demands. Melissa doesn't need a teacher to send desperate prayers for her out into the Cosmos. But I'm also painfully aware of what schools are expecting from and doing to children these days (another angry rant for another frustrated day), and I need to help my child meet those expectations, to the best of her ability. I need to serve and protect my own child, as much as I love and want to serve and protect other children. I owe that to Melissa.

I think what I'm saying is: my plate isn't just full, it has become completely overloaded. For some people, this would be A-Okay. For some people, overloaded is a challenge, and dealing with angry people is no biggie and besides they love getting punched in the gut; it builds character. This is not me. I do not do overloaded, angry people, or gut punches. And my plate has been overloaded since August, and I have been talk therapy-ing out the angry people and gut punches as much as possible, all the while continuing to reason that it's just a learning curve and if I just move this roll to this side of the plate and push this pile of potatoes over here and push this angry person under the table for awhile....but the moving and pushing and hiding never seem to end. I mean, it will end: Summer will come, and Melissa and I will read books and visit the library and go to the pool and eat ice cream and paint our horrified HOA neighbors' sidewalks with rainbows and unicorns and giggle ourselves silly as Mr. F glares at us through his window, frantically making notes in his little neighbor spy log.

But eventually August will arrive, and the plate juggling will begin again and I find I am dreading that. Really, really dreading that.

Please know: I am not frustrated about my school--I love my school, and my administrators have been nothing but kind and helpful to me and incredibly supportive with some of the gut punches I've taken this year. I am thankful to and for them. And I am deeply in love with all of my coworkers, and think the Supreme Court ought to pass gay marriage just so we can all marry each other and live in one giant teacher commune together. And I am not frustrated about the students--I love the students, kids are kids and I love helping them work on/work out their ridiculous kid issues, as long as I'm not hormonal or ravenously hungry at the moment. Also, when I shut that door and get on the floor with them and read or write, I am completely in my element. I love that feeling. I love sharing books with them and reading their bad writing and showing them a Youtube video about using periods and then dedicating it to the one boy in class who refuses to acknowledge punctuation but is really good-natured about having a punctuation video dedicated to him because he's the class clown and likes that kind of attention. I love that, and if I could do that all day and have time to make lesson plans and grade and not worry about unhinged parents coming up to the school to sue me or beat me up, I'd practically work for free.

However, this is not Reality for public school teachers anymore, no matter where you are in America. And I am really beginning to wonder if the Universe didn't have A Big Plan for me back in 2011, when I volunteered--sheerly on gut instinct--to leave ESOL teaching and take on a different kind of support teaching which then landed me back in a classroom in the very kind of school I said I'd never (never say "never"!) want to teach in a classroom at. Because sometimes the Universe does stuff like that--takes you over here to get you over there which takes you here so you can land there, which is where you were meant to be at this part of your life all along. I find that's the only consistency the Universe has about it--Its inconsistency.

And it is not lost on me at all that certain emails and events may have been rained down upon me this year in order to jerk my complacent butt out of its chair of comfort and get it moving.

So I will spend this summer getting ready for another school year but also working on changing careers. Having talked to some savvy Corporate America People Who Know (C being their spokesman), it's been suggested to me for every $10,000 you wish to earn per year, it takes 2 months of work and dedication and making contacts and finding leads and etc and so forth to find a job making that. C would like to see me make $75,000 per year, because he thinks I'm worth that (which uh, hello, I think he and I need to talk about--clearly I'm worth $12 million, but at 2 months per $10,000 I just don't have that kind of time. If only Charlie Sheen would read this! I know he'd cut me a check). I'd be pretty happy with far less than $75,000, and at this point I think C would be too--he has said on at least 100 different occasions he'd rather see me happy than continue to witness what he's witnessed this year.

Which all brings me to my point: upon examining my educational background and current set of skills, I think I'm good at a handful of things (besides eating chocolate at night and googling Jason Isaacs and Gerard Butler and Clive Owen). I love children and story telling. I like to write. I like to read. I like to do research. I like coffee houses and singing birds and waking up with the sun, not before it.

So this is where I've decided to start: I'm exploring freelance writing, which can be slightly lucrative (though far less now, with all the blogs permeating the atmosphere and bad journalism being the rule of the day) but take awhile to break into. Ditto getting a novel/short story published. JK Rowling did not happen overnight--JK Rowling had talent and also timing and luck and Jason Isaacs in the wildly successful movies based on her books. I just want to be able to afford to eat out once in awhile, not sit on piles of Potter-like money. So I'm exploring writing articles and children's books and story telling and writing a novel and short stories on the side. It sounds like a lot, but compared to the enormous stresses I've been dealing with this year, that's a cakewalk in the park.

If anyone knows anyone, please point me in their direction. If anyone needs a storytelling researcher willing to freelance write with children while Jason Isaacs, Gerard Butler, and Clive Owen are in the audience, let me know that, too. If anyone wants to write me a check for $75,000, I will write an entire novel about why it's a travesty you are not Emperor of the World (Charlie Sheen, I'm looking in your general direction).

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).

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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shock and awe.

So it's been quite a week of Big New Stuff for me. And for one of my most other favorite co-worker friends. And some (still blissfully unaware) students. 

First some professional background: When I picked elementary education as my college major, I picked it because (a) the psychology department was requiring Calculus as a pre-requisite (which I now know is just so ridiculous: I've paid hundreds of psychologists to listen to me and my problems over the years and not once, not ONCE, have any of them stopped me and said, "Hold on! Hold that thought! I need to convert it to this special Psychological Calculus chart. It's why I took Calculus in college.") and (most of all)  (b) I really, really dig kids. And I really, really wanted to do something helpful and important with my life, specifically with kids, more specifically with little kids. And I wanted that helpful and important thing I was doing with my life, specifically with little kids, to be in an area of the country where little kids most needed help (i.e., the ghetto, the barrio, the wrong side of the tracks, places where people on the skids tend to congregate) (disclosure: though I am white and grew up in an upper middle class family, I remain largely disinterested in teaching these people's kids and having to listen to all their champagne problems) (this is possibly one reason I totally don't have a problem with lots and lots of Commie Socialist the public library and schools for example...taking over our society).

Anywho. I digress/am suddenly and dangerously off topic.

Oh, but wait--while I'm off topic, I also need to note here that I am no fan of big to large-ish kids. Some people who go into education are--they see humans under the age of 8 as frightening alien blobs that are to be avoided, unless one ends up in their home as a result of a pregnancy. Those small alien blobs are okay, because they're only being dealt with in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, and so yes. But in large groups? No way! Some people start itching with hives just thinking about teaching a class of squirmy Kindergartners picking their noses.

This is how I feel about big to large-ish kids. I do not understand big to large-ish kids' brains, and I worry about having to hear the rehashing of a lot of episodes of iCarly and The Suite Life on Deck, two shows I just don't get (because I no longer possess a large-ish kid brain). I have taught for 16 years, and of those 16 years I've taught this many children over the age of seven: 0. Basically what I'm telling you is: I am an armchair child psychology expert in Kindergarten and 1st grade, I'll even go so far as to throw early half of 2nd grade into my bag of tricks. Need to know why your 1st grader is making those strange wailing sounds and yanking his arms around like he's having a seizure? Duh! That's just what all 1st grade boys do every day at 2 PM. But 3rd grade boys? At 2 PM? I have no idea. I feel hives starting.
I do know Melissa will be in the large-ish kid category one day. But again. 1:1 ratio factor. I do not have to face a large group of 25 big Melissas everyday. The only plus to that situation would be that they are all (hopefully) securely potty trained.

Okay. That's out of the way.

So. Finally getting to my whole point. Here's what happened this week: the state's education budget is a big wad of poop right now, and no one's really trying to flush the toilet. It's just sitting there and sitting there, fermenting like a 3rd grade science experiment gone wrong. I suspect 49.5 out 50 state education budgets are this way right now. But thank goodness Congress was able to bail out those guys on Wall Street! Right? Lord only knows what the children of America could have done with that $700 billion. Most of the small kids I know--after spending a good portion of it on Wii games and junk food and trips to Six Flags and Disney World--would have been extremely generous with it. I'm pretty sure that one little guy in my 4th class of the day--after he'd bought himself a whole room of lizards and snakes--would have made sure my house was paid off. I've never known a decent kid who doesn't have a heart. ...I don't get that same vibe from hedge fund guys.

At any rate. What I'm taking a really long time to get to is my announcement that I have had to make a really hard decision and give up my ESOL position teaching Kindergarten and 1st grade. There is not enough money to support the number of ESOL teachers at our school, and the 3rd grade teachers deserve some relief (they currently have an average of 29 people in their classes). We had to pull one ESOL teacher to be a classroom teacher, and one to be a Science/Social Studies teacher. And after I slept on it, and meditated in between cussing out God (don't worry--He's totally used to hearing it from me), and really thought about what was happening and what the horizon looked like up the road, I decided I needed to put on my big girl underpants and make like Nike and Just Do It (too many overdone cliches in one paragraph?).

Please know: this was my dream job. When I was in college learning to be a teacher I was always so frustrated, because I wanted to work with little kids who were poor and couldn't speak English and the college didn't offer any programs or even any classes to train me on how to do that. I think I remember one brief blurb in a Language Arts text book somewhere. I wanted to help English learners learn about America, how to speak English, so they could grow up to be part of this country and make it a better place to live. I really believe in the power of diversity and the goodness of multiculturalism; I like seeing signs in different languages on the road...I love the mosques and temples and churches all hanging out together in harmony, One World style...I feel so happy when I'm at the nail shop and I watch two people communicate via 3 different languages. Our differences are our hardest soft power, our greatest strength as a country. I think if you're afraid of immigrants and the changes they bring to your area, you're already behind the times. I know we can all learn from each other and that no one kind of belief system is better than another. Although some cultures do have tastier foods.

I have deeply, incredibly loved my time as an ESOL teacher--I've learned how to be a better teacher just from all the collaborating with other teachers I've done over the last 9 years. And I've taught some ridiculously cute little kids. Ridiculously cute.

But when the current educational state of the situation was presented to us on Tuesday, along with some other situations I've been hearing about here and there cropping up in my department throughout the school district, I could see the writing on the wall and it was those big huge blocks of graffiti you see all over New York City (and some areas that Atlanta's MARTA trains fly by). I'm not sure what the future of ESOL in the state of Georgia is right now; it does not look good, friendly friends. I'd like to think this is just a money issue that will one day be fixed as soon as all the Wall Street fat cats pony up and become responsible tax paying citizens again...I sincerely hope it's not a reflection of the growing animosity I see towards immigrants in this country, even the legal ones. 

I actually didn't have to volunteer to change positions--there were a couple of other people on my grade level who would have been tagged due to seniority. But my dear friend and most awesome co-worker J was definitely going to have to go, and I just really enjoy working with her. She's never taught in a classroom, is another small-kids-only oriented person, and she's fairly terrified (but I've team taught with her, and she is so frickin' of those naturally gifted at teaching teachers born with an extra chromosome geared for teaching). And I knew that if I didn't do it this year, it would be next year. Or the next. Most definitely by 2014 (when, technically, public education is set to implode if they don't fix that NCLB mess...100% on grade level at that point is like asking toddlers to build a skyscraper to code). And God only knows what might have been waiting for me at that point--most likely a class of 5th grade boys anxious to be the next Li'l Wayne.

So I'll be teaching 3rd grade Science & Social Studies. It's a model at our school--classroom teachers teach Reading/Lang. Arts/Math to half their class while the other half visit me with half of another class for Science and Social Studies. Which are two subjects I generally enjoy. For the love of numbers, NObody wants me teaching their kid how to do long division or complicated multiplication problems, trust me...I'd be sitting there counting on my fingers right along with the 3rd graders, going "I just don't get it?".

I'm grieving. I have cried so much since Wednesday. And people at my school are so kind, so incredibly helpful. Every time someone gives me a hug or asks me how I'm doing, I just want to break down. Isn't that bizarre? It's like my cat just died, or I just got evicted from an apartment. I feel just ridiculous every time I start weeping--because, uh, hello dorky self: you still have a job, you work with great people and are being welcomed onto a new team with open arms, you aren't taking a pay cut (well, actually, I have...since about 2008 when the pay froze), you haven't had to switch schools totally to the Land of the Unknown, and they haven't asked you to teach a class of 5th grade boys who are all anxious to be the next Li'l Wayne. Small blessings, tiny angel helpers.

Still, I'm grieving so many things--a sudden, traumatic job change will do this, I suppose. Like, I'm grieving having to leave my classroom I've been in for 7 years. Which is in a crappy portable that I totally suspect spews out mold spores from the air ducts at intervals. I'm grieving not being able to read all the sweet and cute picture books, or do the fun and colorful holiday projects, and just generally get to be around small people all day who don't judge me (generally). 

I'm also worried I sound ungrateful. The position I'm moving into is coveted. People have, like, pirate sword fights on the playground over these Science/Social Studies jobs. I deeply appreciate how lucky I am to have this position open up and have it offered to me on practically a silver platter.But I'm overwhelmed by how much I have to do and all the new stuff I have to learn and I'm scared I'm never going to understand how to give grades in real and meaningful way (I haven't had to do grades in 9 years...and now it's done all fancy pants on computers and such). 

However, after the initial shock and awe has worn off, I will be okay. I usually resist change at all costs, but once the ball gets rolling, I'm always okay. It'll be nice to start with a clean slate in a new classroom. And I'll be on my toes this year learning new curriculum, which may help me drop about 50 lbs. since I'll have less time to hit the vending machines. And I love to research and write up new lessons--I like the lure of great possibilities. 

Learning curves are just not my favorites, and I tend to really fight the Universe when It throws them at me. For example, since I volunteered on Wednesday, I've been shaking my fist at the Cosmos, Rob Brezny (whose horoscopes have been pointing out this cosmic change in plans for me since about mid-July), both federal and state Congresses, and I've actually considered writing a letter to Goldman Sachs demanding they send me my teacher's cut of their stupid Wall Street bailout money (which I estimate to be exactly $500,000) (I'm not greedy--I just need some new classroom materials and maybe my mortgage paid off so I can continue supplementing at my job).

I don't know. I think I'm just in psychic transition over here, frantically trying to get to a place where everything feels normal again. Everyone swears 3rd graders are little kids in bigger bodies, and it's really the best age. My friend C told me I just made the smartest chess move ever in the history of teaching--in about 5 years, if the trends we're seeing continue, ESOL teaching in Georgia will be the LAST place a teacher wants to find him/herself. She also promises me once I go up, I'll never want to come down (grade levels). And I'm trying to remember being a 3rd grader; I think that's when I got big bug eyed glasses and started walking through the halls with my nose in a book in order to avoid eye contact. I may get a version of my younger self in a class and become the mac to her cheese, help her find a way to redeem herself before middle school rears its big ugly bully face and smacks her in the head. The Universe is so sneaky in setting up connections like that.

I'll be okay. I work with and for really cool people. I hear the horror stories; I know how good I have it where I am. I have stuck around at this school through good times, bad times, and what the heck is going on right now??? times simply because of the people I've gotten to work with over the years. I'd much rather teach an entire class of Li'l Wayne wannabes where I'm at right now than have to pack my stuff up and teach future rap stars at Hell's Kitchen ES, under Principal Gordon Ramsey.

Though I do wish Gordon Ramsey would go kick some education policy gurus in the butt right now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

back to school: the audacity of hope

Man, what a week. The first week of Back to School is always so rough. First there's the daily body shock of getting up at 5:45 am every day after two months of 7:00 am leisurely wake ups, and at least five (unbelievably relaxing) mornings of waking up as late as 9:00 am (thank you to C for watching 2 hours straight of Yo Gabba Gabbas and Bubbleguppies those 5 mornings).

Then there are the meetings--it simply wouldn't be a new school year without the meetings. One day for me was nothing but 2 long back to back meetings (though I must say: the first 3 hour meeting that particular day was a talented, most inspiring guest speaker named Dr. Dan Mulligan who made the business of teaching critical thinking skills exciting, engaging, and just all around laugh out loud fun) (and then a teacher friend who lived close to the speaker venue threw a lunch party that started with chicken salad sandwiches and ended with gooey, fudgy, chocolate-y brownies).

And then there was the moving around of furniture and the organizing of messes (what the poop was I frickin' doing back in May??) (answer: probably recuperating from school year trauma). Don't even get me started on Meet the Teacher night (which was actually not bad...except for that one incoming Kindergartner who actually pooped on one of the cafeteria's stools while daddy was filling out paperwork) (yes, real poop...and I have no idea how he got it out of his pants which remained completely poop free, along with his hands) (????) (and I was all kinds of non-judgmental. Given that I was just in that dad's position less than a month ago) (though I must Linknote here that my child is in the beginning stages of potty training at 2 years old...not registering for Kindergarten at 5) (okay, I promise I'm done).

I know, to the non-teacher crowd, these all sound like champagne problems. Oh, poor baby. She had 10 months of trauma (in Corporate America I have 12 months). Oh poor thing. She only had two months to recuperate (in Corporate America, I only get 2 weeks). Yeah, I hear ya. But there are things I have to deal with that no non-teacher out there in the world could even possibly imagine having to deal with...couldn't even psychologically prepare for. And I have it easy. I don't have a classroom full of kids to contend with day in, day out--I only see mine in small groups of up to 11 for 4o minutes at a time, 6 times a day. I could tell you classroom teacher stories that would set your hair on fire. Make your innards explode. Teaching ain't for the weak, yo.

Anyway. Getting back to the happy: what I love most about this time of the school year is its absolute audacity of hope. Everything is clean and new, and shiny shiny shiny. You've got big plans, starry-eyed dreams, and you can actually leave campus to eat lunch...with other adults. It's just like being real people, working in the real world. Yeah, our bodies are angry at us for making them get up so early, but they eventually kind of just grumble and give in around, say, 8:30 (or whenever we've had our coffee) because, hello, they did just get TWO months to recoup (Month 1: Psychological Detox, Month 2: Psychological Boot Camp for next school year). Or maybe just two weeks if summer school was part of your summer equation.

But whatever. That last group of kids is gone, and we have fresh meat to work with. And we haven't even gotten to know the fresh meat yet, so there's still hope. We have time, and lots (and lots) of hope.

It's really the calm before the storm.

So one of the things that came across my desk (actually across my eyes, in a meeting) was the following video. I was going to write this big ol' commentary/preamble before presenting (ha, not that I haven't just done that), but I don't want to get off on a tangent (ha! again) before subjecting you to the magic of this speaker's message. I'll do my commentary/preamble/tangent tomorrow. For today, I would just like you to watch this (if you have time--it's about 19 minutes long), and really think about what it means to be part of a family, a culture, a country, a species.

The speaker is author Chimamanda Adichie, and she shares a really powerful message about what it means to be human and how we're all in this fight together:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Connecting the black dry erase dots: Jesus in disguise.

I just got back from school supply shopping. School starts back on Monday. I've noticed, as each year progresses but particularly once I crossed what I like to refer to as "the 10 year veteran mark" (and I'm at 15 years now), I'm less willing to spend my own money on frivolous crap. By frivolous crap I mean crap that will be used from exactly mid-August through end of October and then will end up ripped, broken, bruised, or I'll just realize: man, why do I keep buying such frivolous crap? And it ends up in one of my storage cabinets. Or the trash. More often than not, in eventually makes its way to a trash can.

So now I just buy the basics: glue, markers, pencils, crayons, dry erase markers. But I'm having a huge issue of extensive proportions right now with the dry erase marker makers. I would like the makers of dry erase markers to explain why they're so stingy with the black ones. You can get a double set of dry erase markers for $18 at Target, with double everything in colors...except not the black. They give you 3 purples and only 1 black in that set. I think if you're selling a double set of every color package of dry erase markers, it only makes sense in all fairness to include two blacks.

I'm always suspicious of this type of activity on any company's part, and I don't know why. Probably because if I made dry erase markers and knew hard working teachers were spending their own money on them, I'd give them 3 blacks in my double color sets. I'd be generous like that with the little people.

I'm also all about technology now, so I'm less willing to buy anything pocket chart-y or bulletin board set-y. Last year, we were given mimios and I cannot stress how much in love I am with this technology. It's basically this magnetic strip I slap on my white board and plug into an electrical outlet. Then I plug in a flash drive on my laptop, plug my laptop into what I lovingly call my "big black box of technology" (I stole that from a now-retired teacher friend who avoided hers like the plague), turn on the projector, and now my white board is officially a touch screen computer. Or my laptop, but projected onto the whiteboard. You can do whole lessons this way--power points, using the stylus to move pictures and words around on the board, drawing, writing, fill in the blank, whole stinking lessons.

And yet we're STILL behind Finland. I'm positive there's a connection between dry erase marker companies hoarding the black markers and our lagging test scores.

Totally different subject, but staying with the shopping theme:

The other day I was grocery shopping and just as I was leaving the toilet paper aisle, a man stopped me and asked if he could ask a favor of me. He was clean and nicely dressed in tan khakis, a red polo shirt, and a tan baseball cap. He had all his teeth and was well-spoken. You need that information before I launch into what favor he wanted from me.

"Sure," I said, thinking he was about to ask where the spaghetti aisle was.

"I was wondering," said he, "if you could help with my medication. I have a bad heart condition, and the pharmacy has all of my medicines on hold right now because I don't have enough money. All I have is this grocery debit card but they won't take it. So I was wondering if I could buy your groceries for you with this, and then you could give me the cash so I could get my heart medicine."

Let me say here: he did look a bit shaky. He was slightly out of breath and his hands had a strong palsy quality to them. My dad died of congestive heart failure, and I remember that when he needed adjustments to his heart medicine, he would get out of breath like that and shaky. So the heart problem story seemed entirely plausible to someone like me and I probably would have fallen for this hook, line, and sinker. I'm totally gullible when it comes to poor, sick people.

However, I wasn't paying for my groceries in cash that day; I was paying via debit card. And so I told him this, apologized, and wished him the best. He feebly tried to convince me to do it anyway, saying they could give me cash back, and I said no, my account only had so much money in it and we parted company.

Then, exactly 10 seconds after I pushed my cart away, it occurred to me: Waaaaait!! One time, some stranger bought C's mom about $300 worth of medicine at a pharmacy. Totally anonymous--she walked up to pay for her medicine and the pharmacist told her the person who was there just before her had just taken care of all of it and she owed nothing. Why couldn't I do that for this man? I had credit cards on me--I could just put it all on my AmEx and remind C about what happened to his mom that one time. You know, pay it forward and all that.

So I spun around and frantically searched for him. But I couldn't find him. He was GONE. A mere 10 seconds prior, he'd been right in front of me, all sickly and needy, and now he'd just disappeared. Like a cloud of smoke. I felt terrible--what if that man died tonight because he couldn't afford his heart medication? So terrible.

And then another, more disturbing thought: Wait a second! What if that guy was....gasp!! Jesus in disguise?!? Damn it!! Not fair, Jesus! I HATE pop quizzes! That meant I'd just failed. I'd let Jesus down, and now I'd have some 'splaining to do, lots of it. As if I don't have enough on my spiritual plate as it is. Great, juuuust great.

But then, just as I was exiting the cereal aisle, I found Jesus in disguise again. He was hitting up another lady who was also telling Jesus in disguise she couldn't do what he wanted. And then I watched Jesus in disguise harass somebody else. And then, later, as I was headed into the wine aisle (so fitting), I saw a store manager walk up to Jesus in disguise, who was entering the frozen pizza section. After that, Jesus in disguise left the store.

Obviously, this wasn't Jesus. While I do think Jesus, when feeling the need to test someone, does use the homeless aspect to his full advantage, I really don't think he'd throw on a drug/alcohol addict panhandler on top of it all. That just seems a bit much, even for Jesus. And even if Jesus did do that, I refuse to believe he'd let 3 different grocery shoppers and 1 store manager fail the Big Test, eternally jeopardizing their very souls. Right? Jesus was too kind to be that type of teacher. I say.

So phew! Close call at Kroger.

I'm also pretty convinced Jesus would be so frown-y with a certain dry erase marker company if he was aware they were hoarding all the black markers and selling them in separate boxes at an exorbitant price and also tricking people into buying a double set of dry erase markers that have 3 purples and only 1 black, just so they could drive up the prices. Just like the oil companies to do the world, only this affects little kids and their teachers. Not cool, marker makers. Not cool.
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