. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: February 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

He's Minty-Fresh Too!

(Before you read this, you should know that I'm not planning on blogging about my cats on a regular basis. I'm not THAT kind of teacher. This was simply the most interesting thing that's happened in a few days...)

I spit on my cat this morning.

I don't mean just a sprinkling of spittle either. I mean, I SPIT on my cat.

My morning started off typical enough. I rose early and all three of us headed to the bathroom to get ready for work.

All three of you?

Yes, all three of us. Evidently, my cats struggle with some attachment issues. I haven't been alone in a room in ten years. If I neglect to include them in any of my innocuous indoor adventures, they rattle the doorknob, stick their paws under and frantically pat around for my feet crying, "We know you're in there!"

Frankly, I feel they would benefit from the expertise of a professional. (They disagree with my assessment of their mental well-being.) If they have no problem laying on their backs and yammering away on my couch , why couldn't they do it in a shrink's office and possibly gain some independence from me in the bargain. Maybe then I could pee in peace.

As I was saying, I rose early and the three of us headed to the bathroom. Initially, everything was going normally. As I brushed my teeth, my cat Leo decided to take advantage of the facilities. He plopped on the toilet to perform his morning constitutions and do a little light reading. Ok, maybe he wasn't reading. He's only ten months old so I haven't taught him to read yet. (I'm a good teacher, but not that good.)

And here's where it gets gross. Like any good environmentalist, I don't leave the water running while I brush my teeth. As I turned on the faucet to spit, I of course leaned down toward the sink. I can only imagine Leo took my sudden movement toward the drain as an indication that I was about to make a break for it through the plumbing, because in an instant, he scrambled into the sink just as the mouthful of toothpaste fell from my mouth in a gooey blob...

...and now he's minty-fresh.

A toothpaste and spit stew dripped from his nose and whiskers and his displeasure became evident. He looked almost as upset as the time he jumped into an open toilet full of pee mere milliseconds after I had vacated it. (I have since perfected the "Simultaneous Stand and Flush" technique I had heard parents of toddlers must employ.

His sticky unhappiness was only compounded when I turned the sink on full-blast and held him under the faucet until his coat was free of my toothpastey discharge...

...but he still smelled minty-fresh!

Maybe this wasn't such a bad thing after all. He has not followed me into the bathroom since AND his coat freshens every room he's in!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Going Around, So Don't Step in It

My class has a cold. The entire lot of them, as if contaminated by some giant Agent Orange-like germ sprayer, have contracted colds. I am the sole survivor...The Omega Man of room 26. There is little chance I can avoid this plague forever, and I doubt I have much time left. By the time you read this, I might already be infected. Tell my mother I loved her.

Of course, teaching sick children presents its own set of difficulties. Many of the kids are present under duress, or because their parents simply can't afford to miss a day of work to stay home with them. They look like zombies with glazed over eyes and mucus dripping from every orifice. The lucky ones have reached the end stages of their illnesses and are rounding the corner to good health. Unfortunately, they must hack and cough the remaining germs out of their little bodies and that can be a bit distracting during a lesson.

The following is a transcript from yesterday. For clarity, my dialogue will be written in black and my class will be in red:

Me: Good Morni(cough)g! We have a busy (cough)ay ahead of us!(coughcough) Today we ar(cough) learning ab(cough)ut prefix(cough)s and suf(cough)xes. When reading a w(cough)rd, it's im(cough)tant to know the m(cough)ning of both the base w(cough)ds AND the prefixes and (coughcough)xes. It's VERY important that you remember (coughcoughcoughcoughcoughcough), so keep that in mind.

Let's ge(cough) started with some pr(cough)tice words. RENEWED has a (cough)fix. Can anyone tell (coughcoughcoughcough) is? Yes, Jimmy?

Jimmy: (coughcoughcoughcoughcough)
Me: It's ok...try to slow down your breathing.
Me: Ok...one more try.
Jimmy: (cough) Re-?
Me: Actually that is not correct. I asked for the (cough)fix. Does anyone know that answer? Yes, Susan?
Susan: (coughcoughcoughcoughcoughcoughcoughCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGH) bbrrip
My class: EEEeewwww...Susan Faaaarted! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Me: That's enough. Sometimes we can cough so hard that we pass gas. It's perfectly natural. We're moving on. Eyes on me, please.
My class: hehehehehe
Me: Yes, Larry? I see your hand up. Do y(cough) have a ques(cough)on?
Larry: Susan's crying.
Me: I'm sure she's upse(cough). She and I will talk in a (cough)inute.
Larry: Susan's cryin(cough) and she smells reeeeally bad (cough). She smells like p(cough)p.
Me: Ooohhhhhh. I'm going t(cough) talk to (cough)san now. Please take out your (cough) and (cough) until I'm (cough)ed.

Yes, dear readers, my little Susan had coughed the sh*t out of herself. I told you teaching sick children presents its own set of difficulties.

That is one fourth grade memory Susan will keep forever.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Do You Mean, "Billy Fell Off a Cliff..."?

So I am on the annual science field trip to a local hiking area. I'm not alone. Three other teachers and at least 10 parents came along too. Oh...and two busloads of excited hikers under four and a half feet tall.

It started off wuuuunderfully! Why? I wasn't riding on either of the school buses! This counts as the single greatest day of my life. Have you ever been on a school bus loaded with students on their way to a field trip? If you haven't, gather about 50 kids around you and have them ear-piercingly scream nonsensical gibberish at you for about 45 minutes. Then, right at the end, have one of them throw up on your shoes.

That is a field trip bus ride; and THAT is what I avoided by volunteering to drive my own car so we would have a vehicle in case of an emergency. Smart, I know. While my peers bounced around in those giant, yellow, scream-machines; I drove in silence and comfort, sipping a latte and waving at the sad, little smudged faces pressed against the tinted rear windows of the buses. Those were the faces of the teachers. The kids were too busy pointing out every McDonalds and Taco Bell they saw and doing everything short of grabbing the wheel to get the drivers to stop at one. (So I heard. I wouldn't know firsthand, would I? I wasn't there!!!)

I arrive at the hiking site, relaxed and ready for the long day ahead. My already-weary coworkers tumble off the buses atop an amorphous blob of students. I wonder if by riding on top of that wave of youngsters they felt they appeared in charge or didn't have the energy to care? Surprisingly, they did have enough energy to enumerate the many ways in which I now "owe them" for not partaking in the bus ride.

Let the hiking begin! We each took our assigned groups and followed along behind our Naturalists. My job was to remain at the back our line and border collie-like herd the students together and run down any strays. The phrase, "It's like herding cats" has never rung more true.

Everything tramped along smoothly until little Sarah's shoe came untied. Evidently, even in fourth grade, there are those who still struggle with the whole shoelace thing so I bent down to help her. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a young man approaching, hopping on one foot down our sloping trail.

Me: You ok?
Hopping Boy: Yup!

Hopping Boy begins to gain speed.

Me: How about we not hop down the hill. Two feet on the ground, please.
Hopping Boy: Ok

Hopping Boy continues to hop only now it's uncontrolled hopping and he's rapidly gaining momentum down the hill.

I figure I'll be done with this shoe in a jiffy, and then I'm gonna grab Hopping Boy by his sticky little hand and tether him to me for the remainder of this trip when I hear:

Shrill girl's distant voice: Billy fell off a cliff!!!!
Me: Who's Billy?
My Entire Group (in chorus): That boy hopping on one foot!
Me: What do you mean, "Fell off a cliff?"
My Entire Group: says nothing and silently point straight ahead where our slope ends and sky begins.
Me: Oh, shhhhhiii...oooooot

Let the panicking begin! As I race down the hill, I envision my face on the five o'clock news plastered up there with other teaching failures like the lady who put duct tape over her students' mouths, and that sub who tied kids to their chairs. My career is finished! What does a washed-up teacher do when she can't get hired to teach? Maybe I could become a principal?

What I didn't stop to consider was a nine year old's willingness to exaggerate the reality of any situation. How many times have out-of-breath students raced to me at the end of lunch to announce that Soandso had been hit by an errant tetherball and was now clinging to life and gushing blood all over the map of the United States painted on the blacktop, only to find Soandso with not so much as a scratch on his face? THAT is an everyday occurance. Why didn't I consider that as I raced down the hill?

With my heart in my throat, I arrive at the edge of the precipice and peer down, down, down...

...about a foot and a half and find Billy in a heap on the ground. He was fine.

More importantly, I was fine! I still had a job...

...and the Billy's sticky hand locked in my vice-like grip for the rest of the trip.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Giving the Gifts I Lug...to Goodwill

In my long and illustrious career as a teacher, I have gotten my share of crappy gifts. As I've said before, I don't wish to sound ungrateful but I guess the reality of it is, I am. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't need the thrice-yearly trips to Goodwill where I must surreptitiously unload my booty under the cover of darkness.

Of course, there are the numerous coffee mugs. I am drinking out of one now. It says, "My Teacher is My Best Friend" and is adorned with two ladybugs wearing Converse hightops, holding hands.

I have news for the student who gave me this mug. You can't be my best friend unless you are able belly up to a bar on weekends with me. Pretty much anyone who can belly up to a bar on weekends is currently in the running to be my best friend. But thanks for the mug all the same.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Lanyard
We teachers must wear district identification cards so as to avoid being mistaken as a stranger on campus. Evidently, the throngs of students furiously waving, jumping, and enthusiastically screaming, "Hiiiii Ms. LEEEEEEE" lack the proper ring of authenticity, therefore I must wear an official ID badge.

The picture on the badge depicts a youthful version of my former self from 1997. "Youthful" does not mean "attractive" in this case. My dark blonde hair appears a shade of green similar to the patina that develops on old copper fixtures. Although I have very curly hair, I managed to have pin straight bangs for this photo. Bangs? (What was I thinking?) My face, for lack of a better term, is"full," and I appear to be wearing a man's sweater vest over some sort of gingham shirt. I don't even recall, nor will I admit to, owning clothes like that.

Since the ID so flatters me, it would only be proper to hang it from an attractive lanyard such as this. Not only is my picture prominently displayed for all to see, I get to accidently poke kids in the eye with it every time I lean over their desks, get it caught between tables in my classroom, slam it in my car door while it is still attached to my neck, have a place to hang the many keychains, apple zipper pulls, and pendants I have been given increasing the weight to a poundage most professional rappers would struggle to bear, and catch the small hairs at the base of my skull in it causing my eyes to water with regularity. Thanks for the lanyard, kid.

The Tote Bag
I am a professional. I went to college and everything. I refuse to carry around my professional belongings in a brown and pink tote bag with some pithy saying embroidered on the front. It degrades me and my profession.

Would you give a veterinarian a tote bag that says, "I'm Into Animals"?

Would you give a proctologist a tote bag that says, "Don't Make Me Get All Up In Your Ass"?

Also, it digs into my shoulder...

The Lapel Pin
Ambiguous, isn't it?

"Whatever it Takes" to do what?

Make it through the day without grabbing ADHD Andy by the throat and shaking him until he finally sits still...forever?

Get in and out of the windowless women's restroom before the stench overtakes you and you're found face down in a puddle of your own urine that you had been holding since 7:30 that morning?

Smile and feign amusement as you listen to a student's endless "One time..." stories?

"One time, at the park, my baby brother ate dog poop..."

"One time, when I was little, I peed in the corner of my room because I was scared to go to the bathroom alone..."

"One time, last week, I saw you at Goodwill..."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

There's a Special Place in Hell Reserved for Homework

I was chatting today with my dear friend Caroline.* Like me, she is a teacher. Unlike me, she is a mother, which earns my unfailing respect because doing the teacher-thing AND the mother-thing is one spoonful of Kiddios too many for my taste.

Her mood was apparent from the first moment of our conversation. Her quiet, rapid fire "hello" when she answered the phone shot at me like a bullet and I actually winced when it hit me. With two small girls, a full-time job, a schedule chockfull of child-centered activities, a busy husband, a 1/2 remodeled house, and absolutely no time for herself, I couldn't fathom what she had to be upset about. I mean really! She should walk a mile in my shoes. I work full-time and I...well, I...

I blog. I blog AND I have pets to care for! Like she has a pot to piss in now!

The reason for her foul mood is as old as time itself, or at least as old as the Ed-Codes that mandate the cause of her mood. Like millions of other parents across this vast planet, she had just fought her nightly joust with her oldest child...

...over homework.

Picture this: Caroline stands at one end of the kitchen with a pencil in one hand, bearing a pot lid in the other for protection while her second grade daughter squares off at the other end of the room sporting a crayon and a trash can lid. Between them, a stack of poorly explained and excessively tedious homework assignments.

Their goal: To kill on contact or at least beat the other into submission.

They eye each other warily, all too familiar with the other's abilities as a warrior. And with a start, they race toward each other like knights in King Arthur's court, neither willing to break their cold, solid stare of determination. In a crash, they collide together somewhere around the kitchen table. Battered and bruised, they land in a heap on the floor atop the stack of homework and surrounded by their weaponry. Sometimes they call a truce and walk away from their clashes dazed and exhausted but otherwise unharmed. More often, one stomps off to her room in a crying fit (usually Caroline) while the other licks her wounds in silent relief that the battle has ceased for the night.

And for what? Some homework assignments that the teacher is, if she's anything like almost every teacher I know, going to file away in her special "oval filing cabinet"? What makes this filing cabinet so special? Well, the contents hold such esteem that the custodian comes daily to remove them and secure them in a metal vault located in the parking lot. There is even a special green truck that comes weekly to take the contents of this vault to a secret hiding place. If that doesn't demonstrate the value of homework to a teacher, I don't know what will.

Since Caroline is also a teacher, she is privy to this information. (What do you think she does with her students' homework?) Having this insider insight makes her nightly battles with her daughter all the more difficult because she knows she's fighting a battle over something that is ultimatly going to be garbage by the end of the week.

The real issue at hand is this, if getting a child to complete a homework assignment is more work than actually birthing the child in the first place, is it really worth it? Hell, at least you get drugs to help you get through child birth!

It begs the question: What is the real value of homework? I'll leave that for you to decide, Dear Reader.

Feel free to post your comments below.

*Caroline was a pseudonym used to protect my friend's privacy. (You're welcome, Carolyn. I know how much you love to be called Caroline!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Into a Bar...

...and that is where I stopped the enthusiastic joke-teller dead in his tracks. Young James expressed surprise that I would not let his ten-year-old mouth continue on its path of certain destruction, but something about that opening line gave me pause. When I warned him that I thought the joke might end in a punchline that teetered on the edge of appropriateness for a kid, he assured me it would be alright. The joke was told to him by a reliable source: an uncle they call "Sharps" (because he likes to collect knives) at James' tenth birthday party...at Hooters.

I never did hear the end of that joke.

Here are some more examples of why parents should remove that unused v-chip from the televisions and install it in their children:

I'm late for school because my six-year-old brother bit my mom on the nipple
Of course, the first thought that comes to mind is why her nipple would be in biting range of a six-year-old? He's not still breastfeeding, is he? The second thought that comes to mind is, "I hope he just nipped like a playful pup and didn't clamp down like a crocodile on a water buffalo." Finally, reality forced me to realize that "Holy Craaap, that must have hurt! Did she smack is ass for that one?" I ask none of these questions though, because frankly I'm a little afraid of the answers. I already know too much.

I express sympathy for her mother's discomfort and wish her a speedy recovery. Little Natalie assures me that her mother will be fine. She put a Bratz bandaide across her wound (please note the irony of that one) and she's not wearing her bra in an effort prevent chaffing. The mental image alone was hard enough to recover from, but then I realized that little chomper had broken the skin! More importantly, this very rotund mother of four would be walking around all day with her "girls" swinging around like a pair of ski jumps fashioned from old waterbeds. I just prayed that Natalie's older brother would be picking her up from school that day because I could offer no guarantees that I could keep my eyes on her mother's face.

And this is a picture of my parents wrestling
I think we all know they were not wrestling. Don't tell Michael that though. That's their story and their stickin' to it! He had caught them the night before, (I don't know how and I don't want to know) and recorded the events in his daily journal the next morning.

After hearing their explanation for their activities, he reminded them of the hard and fast rule they had imposed on he and his cousins: No Wrestling in the House! If they want to do that, they need to take it outside (now there's a mental image.) He even questioned me on the fairness of the rule. "Don't you think they should follow the house rules too, Ms. Lee? It's only fair." Here is where I stare at him...for a long time...looking calm and nodding my head...but inside I'M FREAKING OUT! What do I do with this one? I finally settled on the old, "They're the parents, so they get to make the rules" standby answer. I also reminded him of the importance of knocking before entering someone else's room.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Setting the Bar a Bit High

I got a new teacher coffee mug today. I don't want to sound ungrateful here, (I fear that might be inevitable) but I don't need anymore teacher coffee mugs. Actually, I apologize. That statement was too narrow. No teacher anywhere in the world needs or even desires a new teacher coffee mug. Yes, many of us drink coffee. We even drink it right there in the classroom, so I understand the thoughtfulness of the gesture, but I'm averaging about 10 new ones a year. I think I might be getting some of the same ones over and over again. By that, I don't mean they simply look alike: I mean I am getting the exact same mugs that I have gotten in the past.

Note to self: Start donating teacher coffee mugs to a Goodwill in another county.

I'll hand it to the kid who gave me this mug, though. He has single-handedly overwhelmed me with the sentiment inscribed on the front. Now, I have told my students a fair amount of grand untruths all in the name of fun; but based on this mug, I fear I may have built myself up a bit too much.

Yes, it's true that I do convince my classes each year that I am 176 years old. When they question me about where my wrinkles are, I explain that I've safely secured my extra skin behind my head like a bun. They spend the next few days dropping things behind my back as an excuse to steal a glimpse of my "skin bun." A few don't fall for the joke right away though. One kid actually said, "You're not 176 years old. You're only like 50!" For the record, I am NOT 50.

Well, sure, I've told them that the helicopter that coincidently flies over our school at dismissal every day is my ride home. The pilot just can't land with all these kids scattered about the playground. He'll come back when the crowd thins a bit.

I may have suggested that the innocuous heater closet in our room is where I store people who lack manners. I offered up the fact that our sharp-tongued vice-principal hasn't been seen in several weeks as proof of my abilities. For the record, she is on family leave and my students have never been more polite.

I know, I know...how awful this lady is for filling these poor innocents' heads with lies, lies, lies. Get over it. I need some fun if I'm gonna stick this job out for another 30 years.

Back to the mug. As I mentioned, I've built myself up quite a bit over the years. I've convinced them I can defy time and imprison my superiors. I fly to work in a chopper, for goodness sake! But seriously, could I possibly be

The Greatest Teacher of the World?

Note to self: Find the grammar teacher of the idiot who designed this mug.

Why Does This Feel So Icky?

Isn't positive reinforcement great? We teachers use it all the time with great success. Some examples:

"I love how you are all walking in a quiet line" - When said to a wriggling, snake-like, mob of screaming children, it will often charm them into a semi-quiet but shushing (they all feel compelled to SSSHHHHHHH until they collapse from lack of oxygen), but still wriggling row of kids.

"I like how Mabel is waiting with her hands folded, sitting like a student" - If we were honest with ourselves, "sitting like a student" would mean half in/half out of your seat, feet dancing like a marionette, hands simultaneosly tapping a pencil/digging in a backpack/drawing a picture of a warrior (boys) or hearts (girls)/tearing an eraser into unusable bits that will be saved in your desk for months/and picking your nose with one hand while hiding behind the other. Thank God the kids still think that "students" sit squarely in their seats, feet rested quietly on the floor (or as near to the floor as they can get them), and hands folded on the desk. Phew!

"I like how Bobby raises his hand to answer a question" - Timing is of the essence with this one. The first time you ask for volunteers to answer a question, 99% of your class will scream out the answer. If you use this line right away, that number falls to a stunning 97% the next time you ask for volunteers. Amazing, I know! With time though, a majority of students will learn to raise their hands (while stage whispering the answer to anyone within earshot.)

"I really enjoyed how Sally read that paragraph with expression" - Anyone who has listened to elementary students read knows that it sounds a lot like hearing one of those sythesized voice machines used by people like Stephen Hawking. On the rare occasion you come across a student who reads with expression, you want that to be the model for the rest of your readers. The result though, often resembles something akin to bad acting. "The BIIIIG dog rraannn QUICKLY across the LAAAAWN!" The reading is often accompanied by some grand, fist-shaking, Shakespearean hand movement. Bless their little hearts for trying...

Here's where positive reinforcement gets icky: when it's used on me. Recently, my principal had to ask the teachers to make some dramatic changes in our classrooms and our lessons because inspectors are coming to ensure we are implementing NCLB regulations to their fullest. I won't go into boring detail, but let's suffice it to say that everything (including the colors we write things in) had to meet the inspectors approval. These changes were not my principal's bright idea but the brainchild of the federal government so I don't fault him. He's no dummy and anticipated that we would become riotous with the news, so he reached deep into his "I'm still a teacher at heart" pockets and slathered us with positive reinforcement.

"I am proud of what the teachers are doing at this school" - And despite the fact that your test scores increase each year, you still pale in comparison with Japan.

"Every day I see endless examples of good teaching" - Which is why the federal government wants to come in and change it.

"Your room environments are warm, inviting, child-friendly, and educational" - So go ahead and rip it all down before March 27th, when the inspectors arrive.

After that meeting, I felt like I had just been touched where my bathing suit covers. Did he really think that peppering this announcement with warm-fuzzies would make us more accepting? How could something meant to be positive turn out to feel so dirty? And how is it that my students fall for it every time? Instead of teaching them reading and writing, maybe we'd be wise to teach them how to recognize a snake-oil salesman when they see one.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Here Comes That Damn Peter Cottontail

It's almost Easter. Along with the colored eggs, funny hats, and plastic grass which we will be vacuuming up until next Christmas, I will have another mess to clean up: the truth about the Easter Bunny. I happen to teach in a school district that does not allow for the celebration of religious holidays. It's their form of political correctness. Never mind that we feed those kids all kinds of starchy untruths about the California Missionaries and the American government's role in the treatment of Native Americans. Those are lies they can live with. But making a cotton rabbit to celebrate a holiday that has barely any connection to a religion thanks to Hallmark is a lie they will just not be a party to.

Despite our best efforts to deny the existence of holidays, those wiley little kids somehow still find out when they're approaching and they can't temper their enthusiasm. It's all they want to talk about. Don't they know we have Language Arts and Math Standards to get through before the next benchmark test?!?!

For me, their excitement is not the problem. Their vastly different maturity levels is the problem. I teach nine and ten year olds. As a rule, those that have an older sibling understand by this age that their parents have been acting as stand-ins for such famous figures as Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. The jig is up, and man are they anxious to spread the truth. They are the Oral Roberts of revealing the truth about fictional holiday figures. On an occasion when a nonbeliever gets to convert a believer, the revealer of truth gets a look of singular satisfaction on his or her little face. It's as if the kids now have insight into one more of our adult mind-control tricks. "Oh sure, you got me stay in bed because you had me believing in that Boogy Man character, but NO MORE! Easter Bunny? Yeah, riiight! We're on to you and our numbers are growing!"

And then there is that poor set of believers. Even at the age of ten, they still believe a rabbit hides that candy-filled basket and all those pretty eggs. They raise their hands during lessons, but only to share how excited they are that Peter Cottontail is coming in thirty-six and a half days, or what they got last year, or how their little brother always gets jelly beans stuck in his nose. They have that kid-joy we all remember having and only comes from believing. Until Billy, last of seven siblings, announces information he, due to his birth order, has been aware of since he was a zygote. There is no Easter Bunny.

Here is where I come in. A crestfallen believer looks to me with a "say it ain't so" expression and I lie to him. "I don't care what Billy thinks, I still believe in the Easter Bunny and I'm an adult," I declare with confidence. "He comes to my house too!" The believer's sadness turns into relief. My work is done here. I have saved another believer's feelings while simultaneously keeping the adult mind-control machine in motion. Billy sits back and shakes his head with pity for the poor woman who still believes in the Easter Bunny, even at her age.

Friday, February 15, 2008

TLA's for PEE's

As in most professions, we Professional Elementary Educators have our own techincal terminologies. Many of them can be reduced down to TLA's as in other industries. For those of you not in the know, TLA stands for Three Letter Acronyms. Yes, there is a Three Letter Acronym for the phrase Three Letter Acronym. TLA's are indeed conversation timesavers. Through the use of them, we teachers can condense our meetings and professional conversations down to just under the amount of time it takes to stalk, kill, skin, and cook a wildebeast. In an odd coincidence, they are just about as enjoyable as that too. Here is a sampling of just a few:

  • ELD - English Language Development. This the time of day our plan books say we instruct our second lanugage learners but more often we use it to get caught up on the many activities students have fallen behind in during the week, read a novel with the class, sneak in science or social studies lessons, or do the occasional PE activity. Don't tell anyone, but we might even do art at that time. Ssshhhhh

  • SST - Student Study Team. This is a team of teachers, psychologists, and other education professionals who brainstorm ways you've already tried to help struggling students. Their advice generally begins and ends with some form of a behavior contract that will temporarily bribe the student into compliance. If we're going to pay them for behavior with stickers, then free time, then extra computer privledges, then lunch with the principal at a local hamburger joint, then A NEEEEW CAR (well, maybe not that one), why don't we jump to the inevitable and just start giving them cash? That might actually be an area we could see immediate positive results from school spending.

  • FRL - Free or Reduced Lunch. Students whose parents can believably falsify information on a district lunch application qualify for this program.

  • CST - Before I define this one, I should stress the importance of it. According to the federal government, nothing, nada, nil is more important than this in our state. Don't let them fool you. The work they have teachers do is not performed for the enrichment of the students, but for the enrichment of the scores said students can produce on the California Standards Test. If the kids get any long-term benefit from their experiences in school outside of their test scores, well that's just gravy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Staff Infection

What do you do with a unceasingly sunny personality? I am not asking for myself. Apparently, I was innoculated for that along with measles, mumps, and rubella as an infant. What I am wondering is how does one deal with such a person when you must interact with them daily at work. To me, perpetual rosiness seems more of a curse than a personality trait. What an albatross to bear day in and day out. Happiness is exhausting.

As a teacher, we have surprisingly few such people in our profession and I am relieved. The general public has an image of teachers as either yardstick-whacking, "put that gum on the end of your nose", drill and kill, child-wranglers or as matronly, warm, child-hugging, hand-holding softies who wear "eau de fresh baked cookies." In reality, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. The outlawing of yardstick-whacking forced us to adopt this centrist point of view. Still, a few on the far ends of the spectrum have survived and are still teaching in classrooms across America. For now, let's focus on the softies.

I would imagine any workplace with more than ten employees has at least one Suzie Sunshine. If you are a teacher, I could even describe her to you. I am the Amazing Kreskin of educators. Suzie Sunhine is the most easy-going person on your staff. Even after busting her hump in the educational trenches for 45 years, she expresses no desire to retire anytime soon. "It's the kids that keep me young,"she sighs. The kids are taking years off me too, except I fear that is only leading me to an early grave.

Her classroom is decked out in post-modern Suzie's Zoo characters and she actually has living plants in the corners. Her collection of "World's Greatest Teacher" magnets litter the whiteboard. Her collection of "World's Greatest Teacher" coffee mugs have been employed as pencil cups around the room. Of course she won't be using them for coffee because she doesn't drink it. "All I need are the smiles on those little faces to get me going in the morning," she glows. As for me, without my coffee, no one smiles and nothing glows. On the one occassion I did forgot my coffee, my students frantically searched through their lunches for a coke in an effort to spare their own lives.

Suzie takes copious notes during meetings; all the while smiling and nodding along in agreement with every word spoken. Occasionally, she will throw out an, "Ohh! That's a good idea," that is just one degree down from an "Amen, Sister," which mercifully gives the principal the illusion we are all listening. Meanwhile, people like me surruptitiously pass notes written in secret code in case we get caught.

Finally, a bit about Suzie's style. Her fashion sense directly reflects her laidback personality. Each morning she arrives in a brightly patterned buttondown shirt worn jacket-like to reveal a cotton tee decorated with a basket of flowers she needlepointed on herself, paired with elastic waistband pants sprinkled with cat hair from one of her three rescued cats, and dark shoes of indeterminant shape and lacking in any heel to speak of. The ensemble is topped off with "teacher bling," a necklace made of wood and adorned with any variety of giant apples, rulers, school buses, or A+ signs. The rest of us are wearing dark jeans we are trying to pass off as slacks and any shirt that conceals coffee stains. If a coffee stain is visible, we cleverly cover it with one of our "World's Greatest Teacher" pins.

And there she is, smiling that sunny smile and gabbing about her "kiddos" like they piss rainbows. Nothing stresses her, no one gets her down, and happiness virtually shoots from her eyeballs. Where is that getting her, though? Despite all her "World's Best Teacher" paraphernalia, it is I that holds that title. I have a t-shirt that says so.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There is One Child I Could Leave Behind

Ever wonder how an educational policy is born? What one-eyed, seven-fingered leviathan fathered this bastard of a plan named No Child Left Behind and then ran off leaving us surrogate parents (aka Teachers) to raise him? I, for one, have reached my limit with this troll-child we call Nickelbee (NCLB). He runs rampant all day, smearing his sticky fingers on my plan book and chewing up all my hard work. His graffeti of requirements and expectations is such that I can no longer recognize what was once written there. A demanding child, he commandeers most of my time both during the school day and after. He has no respect for my authority. My expertise as a highly-qualified educator with many years of experience, positive professional reviews, qualifications as a Master Teacher, and a Graduate Degree mean very little to him. In his opinion, nothing I suggest is as valuable as his ideas, or dare I say, as his demands. My suggestions are summarily dismissed and then he stomps his way across our curriculum. Worse yet, that little imp has absconded with my almost all of our other subjects! Goodness knows where he's hidden such favorites as art, science, social studies, and PE.

He is single-minded, to say the least. Now I have known my share of kids who obsessivly focus on one thing, and that rarely has any benefits. His obsession is reading. I KNOW! At this point you're saying, "Could this lady really be suggesting that focusing on reading is a drawback?" Yes! I am! Does the phrase, "Too much of a good thing" sound familiar? For example, I love apples, but if I only ate those and neglected the other food groups, I would be one sick puppy in a relatively short amount of time. Nickelbee has lived with me for about 6 years now, forcing my students to subsist on a diet of language arts and math. The educational-malnutrition is starting to wear them down.

Please don't get me wrong. Like troublesome Nickelbee, I too love reading. We love it for different reasons though. I love it for all the same reasons most teachers do. It's a joy to see students learn to break that code of letters and sounds. Stories take them out of their lives, carrying them anywhere they want to go. A good novel can bond a class unlike any team-building exercise I've tried. Not to get too sappy here, but reading is truly magic. I've worked hard to ensure that all of my students get the support they require to develop a life-long love of, and ability to, read. To that point, I worked many years to develop a schedule that allowed me to facilitate 6 small groups a day to meet my students' needs. That was until Nickelbee moved in with me.

He loves reading for selfish reasons. While it's important to him that children succeed, it's more important that he look like the reason for their success. He utilizes the imperfect yardstick called Standardized Testing to measure his success. This is much like measuring your yard for tax purposes using a piece of cooked spaghetti. His demands for a rigorous, standards-based curriculum is not unusual, but his petty preoccupation with minutia and micromanagement leave me perplexed. His obsession with testing is beginning to test my patience. I have witnessed as students slipped from "loving to learn" into the abyss of "learning for the test." My challenge, according to Nickelbee, is to keep the fire alive in my students while he simutaneously douses them with tepid waters of qualitative assessments.

Like many children, his expectations are high because he's a dreamer. We like that as teachers but we also recognize the value of setting sound and reasonable goals. He's demanding that 100% of students read on grade level by third grade. His "I want it all" attitude is noble. Politically speaking, he probably thought it unwise to suggest a percentage lower than that. Whose children should be the ones volunteered to fall into the "not reading at grade level" category? Realistically though, his goal is unattainable. Despite our best efforts, reading maturity develops at different ages for different children, dooming his lofty expectations. He is bound to be disappointed, and I fear the tantrum he will throw then!

It's time we get Nickelbee under control. He's been running wild for too long. If we can't get rid of him altogether, can't we at least get him some counseling?