. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: May 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hi Ho Hi Ho, It’s off to Work I Go

My break is over…dammit.

It's back to work for me tomorrow. The one saving grace about that is I'll have more material to write about! I've been a little short on topics as of late. Joe C. ought to help me out there!

I've also been distracted by my newly adopted husky named Mya. She is WAY more fun than bitching about my job.

I'm entering my final five weeks of school. The final push before summer! I can hear The Doors singing now:

This is the end

Beautiful friend…

The end

Somehow, I don't think Jim Morrison was singing about the end of the school year for one burned out fourth grade teacher, but I'm willing to pretend he was. (Wouldn't that be a kick a$$ song if he was?!)

Testing is over, and frankly (I never thought I'd say this) but I am jealous of you Texas teachers out there. Many of you have written that your students have already gotten their test results.

No Fair!

We slow pokes in California will not know how our kids did until they are someone else's kids. We get our results back in July or August, looong after they will have any impact on the students who took "The Test." We talk up "The Test" with the kids, encourage them, set goals for language arts and math scores, discuss how they previously did, impart wisdom about what "band" they fall into and how far they are from moving up to the next one, etc, etc, etc…

But by the time the kids get to see their results, they've long forgotten the contents of "The Test." We wouldn't give them a spelling test, tell them how they did 4 months later, and then expect them to use that outdated information to do better the next time they take a spelling test in eight months. And isn't state testing supposed to be so much more important than a spelling test?

Oh well. What do I know? I just work here.

Another unintended consequence of testing being finished is that students begin asking me why we're learning things. All year long we tell them that these skills we're doing will be on "The Test," and now that "The Test" is over, they do not see why we are continuing to learn new things. I lie and tell them the skills will be on "The Test" next year.

I miss the days … blah blah blah

As I approach the end of the year, Open House looms large. Time to start dusting off all that stuff I've been saving all year and hanging it up. I have no idea how I am going to do that because the after school daycare program is scheduled to be in my classroom all month after school. This should be interesting. Hey! Maybe I can hang it on them and make it more of a "Living Exhibit."

We also have the annual softball game, sixth graders versus the staff. With how sassy our sixth graders have been, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few well-placed line drives headed towards some of them. Many more teachers have been working out at the batting cages this year…huuummmmm.

There's also the talent show. I've still got nothing for that one…

And then the end of the year! I'm always a bit nostalgic by the last day. I think back on all the good times I've had with the kids and feel I'm gonna really miss them…

And then I get over it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

That’s Craptastic

I've got a little story for you.

It's not my story. It belongs to another teacher at school, but she is more than happy to have me share it with you.

It's also not a recent story. It's from a few years ago, but I never tire of hearing it.

What makes it so wonderful is that, like many tales we tell kids, it has a moral.

In fact, let me start with the moral.

If you accidently crap your pants at school, don't panic!

Chapter One

Once upon a time, in a sunny land far, far away, there lived a boy name Roscoe. Roscoe was a nice child who always helped out his teachers and parents. He attended sixth grade at his local school and had many friends.

Roscoe prided himself on always following the rules. He listened carefully when the teacher instructed the class and reliably completed every assignment. He was a shining star in his class and a role model to others.

But Roscoe did have one flaw.

Despite his bright and happy exterior, Roscoe harbored a dangerous secret and it was only a matter of time before it bubbled over.

Roscoe had




Why were they so full? Why didn't he just empty them?

He did not empty them because Roscoe did not want to poop at school.

Every day ended with a hurried goodbye and a mad dash to his bathroom at home. One time, in a moment of extreme urgency, he even convinced his grandfather to pick him up at lunch so that he could go at home and return before the bell rang to signal the end of lunch recess.

Roscoe had managed to keep his bathroom issues a secret for his entire elementary school career until there came a day when he could not wait until he got home.

Chapter Two

It was a normal day at school. After taking his seat right after lunch, Roscoe began to feel a strange sensation in his stomach. As his stomach churned and gurgled, he began to feel an unmistakable pressure building up. He hesitated to ask to be dismissed because they had just returned from lunch. After a few moments though, he felt he had no choice.

No one knows for sure what happened next. We only can look back and wonder why something so awful could happen to such a nice boy.

Whoops…meant to say boy's restroom.

Chapter Three

When Roscoe did not return to class, his teacher sent another student to the restroom to check on him. That student returned, but without Roscoe. The student reportedly stood in the doorway of the restroom and called Roscoe's name, but to no avail. He did see what appeared to be vomit on the floor at the entranceway though.

The mystery concerned his teacher so she called the office to report the child M.I.A.

Hello, this is the office.

Ms. Whatever:
Hi, this is Ms. Whatever. I sent Roscoe to the restroom, but now I can't find him. Have you seen him?

Oooohhh yaaaahhh. We've seen him… He's standing outside in front of the nurse's office waiting for his grandfather.

Ms. Whatever:
Nurse's office? Grandfather? Wait, why is he standing outside?

Because he's covered in crap and reeks too badly to be inside.

Ms. Whatever:
Covered in CRAP?

Yup. Seems he had a little accident. You should see the boy's restroom.

A little accident?

A LITTLE accident?

As I said, no one knows for sure what happened when Roscoe had his "little accident," but that accident sure as hell did not qualify as LITTLE.

From what we could tell, it appeared that Roscoe had to go reeeaallly badly and did not quite make it to the toilet. But we are not quite sure how crap ended up on the floor in multiple stalls, on the walls, in the sink, on the mirrors, and on the doors.

Oh, and all over Roscoe as well.

We think he may have panicked when his uncontrollable crapping began and tried to clean it up while still crapping. This is only a theory, though. One fact we do know for sure is the custodian had to don a rubber suit and mask to hose out the restroom with a power sprayer and then sanitize it.

The teacher called Roscoe's parents after school to check on him and apologize for not recognizing sooner that he needed to go so badly. They said it was all Roscoe's fault. His stubbornness about the restroom put him in this situation.

And so boys and girls, if you take any lesson away from this little tale, let it be:

If you accidently crap your pants at school, don't panic!

(Note: Lesson # 2 (hehehehe) is to always keep an open mind about crapping at school on a regular (hehehehe) basis in the first place.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teachers Gone Wild

Sssoooooo… last night was awkward.

Don't take that as a bad thing. I live in a perpetual state of awkwardness so I was right at home.

I attended the TOTY dinner for my friend at the local Marriot hotel. It was a lovely affair. The ballroom was decorated to the nines with beautiful centerpieces, and the 28 awards (they get the apple statuettes too) were laid out on a tiered table at the front of the room near the stage.

It is not often teachers get to blow off steam with others from their district. It's even less often they get to do it with so many bartenders available to float them down a river of Chardonnay and apple martinis. The room was abuzz with excitement...

and booze.

Before the ceremony, tables were chanting the names of their school's award winner. Finely-dressed revelers paraded around in party hats, feather boas, and donned masks made from photographs of particular award winners. Cow bells were ringing, whistles blowing, and noisemakers grinding away in support of the winners. It was a joyful noise of praise made by over 800 school employees to honor teachers who have made exceptional changes in students' lives…

or just a bunch of drunken people cutting loose like kids on a field trip.

Either way, You Go Teachers!

Probably many were simply making the most of their evening off from their usual routine of caring for their own children and grading stacks of papers until finally falling asleep in a Lazy Boy while Dancing with the Stars drones on in the background.

We teachers make the worst audience. In typical teacher fashion, the attendees talked through the entire ceremony. Of course, we make our students sit through the most inane assemblies without uttering a peep, but put educators in a room together and you'd be hard-pressed to find a listener there who could tell you one thing the speaker said.

My friend Caroline's status as an award winner kept her quite busy all evening with well-wishers dropping by the table and such, so I spent the evening chatting with her husband, Mr. Glass. We've all been friends since high school so we got caught up on his many adventures as a local firefighter, online war hero, and his Tony Hawke-like skateboarding prowess.

Actually, that's not all we did. The majority of the time, we gawked…

at unbelievable amounts of cleavage.

I'm talking MOUNTAINS of breasts simply spilling out all over the place. It looked like what would happen if porn stars began shopping at Chicos.

There were no wooden school bus necklaces or sensible shoes at this affair. No sir! It was little black cocktail dresses, women unaccustomed to spiked heels teetering around, feather boas being used as lassos, and phrases like "You look HOT" being tossed about.

These teachers have boobs and they are not afraid to show them off!

And frankly, I thought it was great! Other professions have opportunities to dress up and party and so should we. These teachers have worked hard all year and have earned a night out in celebration with their peers.

Three cheers for the fun-loving bunch over at TaTa Unified School District for honoring their own in such boob-tastic fashion! It was a pleasure to be included.

Next time, I'll wear my bustiere.

Monday, May 12, 2008


It's TOTY time again! For those of you know in the know, that's Teacher of the Year.

Tomorrow night I am going to a dinner honoring the TOTYs in another district. My dear friend "Caroline" has been selected, for the second time, as Teacher of the Year at her school, and I could not agree more with their selection. She tirelessly works to improve the physical and emotional well-being of her school by planning school fundraisers, after-school events, during-school events, and school beautification activities that make her school a welcoming and caring environment.

Muffins with Mom, Donuts with Dad, jog-a-thons, Saturday flower-planting days, and the design and painting of a mural at her school are just a few of her activities. Her efforts bring together school employees and parents in ways that build not just a school community, but a school family to be envied by others. Her firm belief that all children deserve a warm and inviting school filled with adults that care about them drives her work, and I hold her in high regard because of that.

I could not be more proud of you Caroline. You are an inspiration!

In addition to honoring their teachers with a dinner, her district also endows them with money to be spent on their classrooms and a personal bonus check as well. While I know that she does not do any of her extra activities with these perks in mind, I have to say, I admire her district for making extraordinary efforts to reward teachers like Caroline.

In my district, TOTY does not hold such high esteem. Nominating a coworker for TOTY is really more of a threat rather than an honor.

"Help me with this fundraiser or I'll nominate you for Teacher of the Year! I'll campaign for you with such vigor that Obama will look like a shiftless, lazy bum."

I've even threatened to wear a sandwich board covered in campaign slogans to every staff meeting to get what I wanted with this threat.

Why is it not an honor, you ask?

My district gives our TOTYs an apple statuette, multiple after-school meetings, and mounds of paperwork. I am talking about an unbelievable amount of paperwork that continues on into the next school year when you are required to participate in the selection of the district-level TOTYs. Paperwork that never ends, that sits on your desk next to all the other paperwork we have, that follows you home on weekends and vacations, that haunts your dreams, and has insane due dates.

But it's not all bad. Did I mention the apple statuette?

Our TOTY this year is a distinguished educator who will retire at the end of the year. She has served as my personal role model and mentor since I began teaching and I greatly admire her. After this school year, she and her husband are moving out of state (in large part to escape the on-going requirements of the TOTY, I'll bet!) She deserves to be honored with something other than paperwork…

and an apple statuette.

Maybe I'll offer to grade some of her papers to make up for what we have done to her with this honor.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May I Have the Definition, Please?

There are many things my students do not have a great concept of. A few examples might be:

  • The Trash Can

    • Concept – A can-like receptacle INTO which we place our trash .

    • Students' Concept – A can-like receptacle NEAR which we place our trash. In our room, it's like a monument to trash, surrounded by trash, but void of trash on the inside. Close is good enough for these kids. They'd make stellar horseshoe players.

  • Asking Questions

    • Concept – When the teacher says, "Raise your hand if you have a question" students should raise their hands if they have question.

    • Students' Concept – When the teacher says, "Raise your hand if you have a question" students should raise their hands and share inane stories that are completely unrelated to the lesson being taught and generally start with the words, "One time…"

  • "Balls Bucket"
    • Concept – The blue equipment container in my room used to store basketballs, soccer balls, and playground balls for use during PE and recess, once referred to as the "balls bucket" by a new student. When another kid asked him to repeat what he'd said just for the giggle factor, he said, "You know, the blue balls bucket." Now that one got a good giggle out of the teachers in the lounge at recess.

    • Students' Concept – Use your imagination on this one. If I have to spell it out for you, maybe you shouldn't work with children.

  • Jackass

    • Concept – A male donkey. Also referred to as a mountain canary during the gold rush. "Jackass" is found repeatedly in the story By the Great Horn Spoon which we recently read.

    • Students' Concept – NOT a male donkey, but merely a "jackass." No matter how many times I tell them it is not a bad word, it's still just "jackass" to them. Actually, it's pronounced "Jackass…(gasp)."

But, to their credit, there is one concept they have a beautiful and heartwarming understanding of.

I'm not much for the sappy stuff, but that got to me.

By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman is a novel set during the California Gold Rush period. While it nicely intertwines language arts and social studies, it also encourages students to think more deeply about other concepts as well such as the definition of what constitutes a family. Just before we got to the end of the novel, where a new "family" is created, I asked the kids to write their own definitions of the word "family."

While not one child mentioned parents or children, every single kid wrote something about love. We started talking about this and I told them of my surprise that no one mentioned parents as I expected they would. As it turns out, they have life experiences that have redefined "family" for them.

Many of my students are being raised by people other than their parents; be it aunts, uncles, grandparents, or foster parents, and they have found that all those various relationships make for great "families" simply because they have love. Of course, they agreed, you love your parents but they were very clear that you don't have to limit who you can call "family."

They even suggested that our class was a "family," but groaned when I exclaimed, "Then you DO love each other after all!"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ahhhhh….Joe C.

I'm on vacation! Wahooo!! Yee haw!! And you know what that means…

I've got a cold.

Yup, a full-blown, lungs-rattle-when-I-breathe, make-myself-dizzy-when-I-sniffle cold.


This always happens when I get a break. I teach at a year-round school, so every three months I have a month off. That means that every three months, I have a cold.


This is our last year as a year-round school, so maybe during the 08-09 school year, I'll only have 1 cold!

Enough with the whining. Now on to my real posting.

Even though I went on vacation on Tuesday afternoon, I returned to school on Friday for a meeting about Joe C.'s pending expulsion.

You're not going to believe this. Are you sitting down?

He is not being expelled.

And here's the crazy part:

I am ok with that…

Am I nuts? Have I taken leave of my senses? Has my weakened condition led to some sort of temporary insanity?

I don't know. All of the above is possible. Most of the people who know about this situation feel strongly that the zero tolerance policy should be enforced. When a student brings a weapon to school, the student should be expelled, period. It sends a strong message to the child, to the student body, and to the public that we take safety seriously. I agree with that.

Furthermore, I am no softy when disciplining my own students. My personal motto when it comes to serious discipline is: If they're not crying, you're not trying.

So why do I feel we made the right move in deciding to hold off on the expulsion of the Cussing Bandit?

Like everything in education; it's complicated.

While I believe strongly in fair and equal implementation of rules, I still hear my Master Teacher's mantra ringing in my ears. She taught this to her students, and I have taught it to mine:

Fair does not mean equal. Fair means getting what you need.

"Getting what you need;" in the light of that phrase, I see Joe C. differently. What does Joe C. need right now, in addition a swift kick in the a$$? He needs what every kid, EVERY kid, needs: A community of people who care about him, even when he makes STUPID, STUPID choices.

He's nine years old, has never been in trouble like this before, is dealing with the recent absence of his abusive father, lives in a two bedroom apartment with 11 other people, is basically being raised by his 12 year old sister, and has spent the last 18 days making STUPID, STUPID choices.

None of these things are excuses, but they do shed some light on what Joe C. needs.

First, he needs an IEP that is compliant with the law. Because of his diagnosis of ADHD, his requires a behavior plan, which it is lacking. We can give him that. Although I feel strongly that a behavior plan would not have deterred him from bringing a weapon to school, he should have had one in place nonetheless.

He needs counseling to deal with his anger and impulse control issues. We can give him that.

He needs adults to offer him the guidance that a 12 year old sister cannot. We can give him that.

Most importantly, he needs to see forgiveness modeled for him so that he can experience its powerful effects. He has been a royal pain in my rear since day two. So what? As the adult in this relationship, I need to realize he did not arrive in this life with the same set of skills other kids have. So long as I stay mad and irritated at him, I am depriving him of the opportunity to hone the skills he does have AND I'm allowing myself to feel frustrated and powerless. I need to forgive him so I can get my head in the game as his teacher.

But what about the other students? What do they need? Don't the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one? (There's a little Spock quote for you. My boyfriend would be so proud!)

Good question! They need to have an environment that is safe, nonthreatening, and weapons-free. We can do that, even with Joe C. on campus.

His world is about to become very small. He must check in at the office each morning to be frisked for weapons. He is no longer allowed to carry a backpack. He will have limited freedom at recess and lunch because he must stay near a designated supervisor. He is banned from public restrooms. There will never be any times when he is alone with other students without immediate adult supervision, and all of his time will be structured. These steps go a long way to ensuring the safety of other students.

It is easy to become frustrated and disillusioned with a student. The challenge for me lies in finding a reason to keep on trying.