Hug a Teacher

The best days are those when a child actually gives a real response to the everyday questions, “How was your day?”

This unbelievable occurrence happened in my household on February 28th at approximately 3:11 p.m.

I notated the date and time because it is a rarity.  Rarer than the talking dog from the film Up.  Rarer than my husband likes his steak.  Rarer than me being on time for an event.  I am talking rare, my friends.

Since my oldest has hit middle school, he arrives home before the rest of the household.  He usually has about 10 minutes before I get there. Most of the time I find him watching The Family Guy on Netflix (he has been instructed since the beginning of time to start his homework, alas it doesn’t happen often without prompting).  This was different.  The TV was silent and the dude was sitting at the computer looking something up on Google.

“How was your day?” I asked.

“It was OK,” he answered.  A typical response at our house.

“That’s good.  Anything else going on?” I questioned, hoping he may add something to the conversation.

“Mom, you know what?”

I turned, shocked that I was actually asked a question!  “What, kiddo?”

“It stinks that it is the end of February.  I liked February.”

My mind raced trying to think of why… Maybe it was because he had one of the leads in our community theater’s production of Willy Wonka (he was Mike TV, appropriately) and we were heading into the final weekend of the show? Maybe because snow days are fewer in March? Maybe because a free Pokemon download wasn’t available after February at Game Stop?  Maybe I should just ask him?  Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

“So, why did you like February?”

“We learned a lot this month in Social Studies.  We learned about all sorts of people I had never heard of,” he replied looking a little melancholy.

“Really?  That’s awesome!” I exclaimed, excited that he is actually absorbing what he has been taught. Then, curiously, I added, “Who was the person you liked learning about the best?”

“Ella Fitzgerald.  She was very talented.  She was an inspiration,” he answered without hesitation.

“Wow, I’m impressed,” I said.

“I know, right?  Who knew February would be such a great month in Social Studies!” he said, jumping onto Minecraft on his iPod.

“So true,” I said as I began humming a little Ella.

I will be hugging his teacher soon.  For sure.

And he is back on technology. Again.

And he is back on technology. Again.

The Dancing Nancys

A few weeks ago, I had the agony pleasure of attending a teacher conference.

Both of the speakers were named Nancy.

The name Nancy is not too common these days.  It is one of those names that was huge (according to my mom, Crazy Pat) in the 60s and fizzled shortly thereafter.

I have a friend whose mother AND mother-in-law are both named Nancy.  This is almost as rare as finding a 100 bill in an old purse.  Yeah, it barely ever happens (although I feel like searching in vain through all of my old purses!)

The two Nancys, or as I referred to them, Nancy Squared or the Dancing Nancys, both took turns going through the PowerPoint presentation.  They also both color coordinated their outfits. I have not seen too many royal blue printed dresses, but amazingly enough, they each had one on.  Matching Nancys!

Nancy #1 was the rule keeper.  She informed us of special “norms” she expected from us throughout the two-day conference.  She specifically stated that we were to put away our computers, smart phones and iPads, and were not to use them under any circumstances unless it was break time.  As she was sternly giving stating this ridiculous important rule, everyone was packing their laptops, iPads and phones guiltily away.  Funny thing about Rules Nancy, she constantly broke this rule.  Each and every time the other Nancy took over presenting, Rules Nancy would get on her iPad and iPhone.  Hmmm.  Gotta love some irony!

Another interesting thing I learned from Super Rule Breaker Nancy was a phrase called “Equity of Voice.”  Unbeknownst to me, this is a very important norm to help motivate those who don’t participate to participate and motivate those, like me, who participate too often, to shut the heck up.  Who knew this even had a name!  Sadly, the very prestigious sounding “Equity of Voice” did not prompt the quiet ones to speak up, nor did it stop the ones who continually add to the discussion.  So much so that when the Nancys were having trouble getting anyone to raise their hands and share (hey, I felt scolded into refraining from using my Equity of Very Chatty Voice), they would shoot over a death stare to my table for a response.

Sharpies. One of the workshop highlights .

Nancy #2 was a fast speaker who didn’t read directly from the slides, thank goodness.  She was intent on getting the information to us so we could break into groups and write on sticky-note-like poster boards with primary colored markers.  Fast Talking Nancy also had a stray piece of hair that kept migrating to her lips.  Why did I notice this? Because, she had to keep pulling it off of her lipstick.  I began to take a tally.  The totals: Hair in lipstick – 38, Fast Talking Nancy Lipstickhair – zero.  Poor Nancy #2.  Oh wait, scratch that.         Do not feel sorry for Nancy #2 and her lipstick saturated hair.  She started reading directly from the power point slides.  Epic power point fail. Ugh.

Coffee. The gets-me-through-everything elixir.

After awhile, I became frisky.  I decided that I would not, under any circumstances, look for a clock in the room.  I made it an hour and seven minutes before my eyes deceived me and scoped it out.  9:37.  How would I survive not one, but two days of bone-crushing boredom, silly rules and the crazy, dancing, matchy-matching, Power-point reading Nancys?  Maybe by sneaking quick, longing looks at my iPad?

I survived by writing about the Nancys, drinking waaaay too much coffee and daydreaming about finding a twenty in an old purse.

TGIF!

To Give is Human, To Bribe is Divine

String Bean is enjoying fifth grade.  Thank goodness.

The Captain and I were more than ready for the continued horror of the fourth grade to be over.

At the beginning of the String Bean’s fourth grade school year, he was happy, enjoyed going, and was excited to share what he learned.

After a month in, we learned that the rules for fourth grade were quite different from third grade.  One of the biggest rules we learned right from the get go was it’s every man for himself.  I wrote about our struggles here.

If the district really knew what I thought about fourth grade, they might not be too happy.

Being high school teachers, The Captain and I have some strong mild philosophies on education. We believe that our duty as teachers is to teach and empower students, not to tear them down.  For some reason, the fourth grade philosophy is different.  It adds an excited dose of humiliation and public embarrassment into the mix.  Fourth grade for my son this past year beheld a different theory.  It specialized in Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  Not a good thing.

By the last nine weeks, it got to the point where my husband, The Captain, started bribing String Bean.

Let me rewind for a moment.  The Captain does not believe in giving monetary rewards for grades.  He does not believe in giving gifts for grades.  He does not believe in any tangible rewards for grades.  Until now.

In the car this past spring, the dudes were talking about the upcoming state mandated tests.

“My class gets to have a movie day Friday after our tests are over,” Squishy said, happily.

“Well, we get a cool pizza party when our tests are over,” added String Bean.

The Captain is seething. “We let kids graduate when they pass our tests.”

Squishy interjects, “Your butt is going to graduate.”

“Dad’s butt already graduated,” I said.  (Side note: I have boys.  Butt jokes and fart jokes are imperative ways to get everyone’s attention.  It works.  Ask any mom of boys.)

“I don’t think these parties are necessary,” stated The Captain, or, Captain Obvious because it was obvious how he felt about the matter.

“It is a nice motivator for the kids, don’t you think?” I said.  I am the awesome peacemaker/cheerleader/glass half full/uber positive one in the family.

“I don’t think they should be rewarded.  I hate bribes,”  said The Captain.

“Dad, if I do well on the tests, will you get me an XBox 360?” String Bean asks.

I looked over at The Captain.  His ears turned red, a vein pulsated on his neck and he is in a low growl.  The car teetered on silence that seems to stretch on for miles.  No one breathes.  The air is frozen. All are awaiting the response that is surely going to include the word “no” in it.

“Maybe. Well, yes,” he finally said.

What the heck?!

“Yes, I will get you an Xbox 360 if you do well on the tests,” he stated.

I almost steered off of the road.

“Do you realize how expensive those things are?” I quietly asked him.

“No. Fifty bucks or something?” he asked.

“Uh, try two fifty, dude,” I said.  “Plus, we have a Wii already. We really don’t need one.”

Meanwhile, the back seat of the car is all abuzz with the amazing news.  I heard snippets about how awesome Dad was, and the games they were going to get, and how much they needed to get it with two controllers, and that they needed Kinect so even Mom can play games like Just Dance.

The Captain looked pained.

“A deals a deal, dude,” I said to him as we pulled into our destination.

The tests were taken. May ended.  Summer began with the anxiety of when THE RESULTS would come.

It took a while.

Finally, in late July, it arrived.  Believe me when I say that there were many heartbreaking trips to the mailbox – back and forth, back and forth – from May until then.  What happens when kids have time to kill in the summer?  Stalk the mail lady, of course!

On the day of THE LETTER’s miraculous arrival, String Bean grabbed it and raced up the driveway to have me open it on the spot.  To this day I am still unsure of how he knew it was THE LETTER.  All the envelope said was the district name (which is also where The Captain teaches – that letter could’ve been anything.) But it was certainly the one the dudes had been waiting for.

I opened it in a truly dramatic fashion, slowly and meticulously peeling it out of the envelope.  It was “the one.”

The results were there in black and white. String Bean did fine on the tests.  The Captain had to get an XBox 360.

A happy dude!

To give is human, to bribe (only this one time, I promise) was divine.

So excuse me while I go and play Just Dance.  After all, the dudes insisted on it.  So sweet of them!

Under the Big Top

The end of a school year is a circus.

As teachers, we can fight it or we can embrace it.

A circus costume!

I am now embracing the big top and all of the eccentric things that can happen under it.

Students?  They are the audience after all. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be a show in the big top. Some do not like the show and are vocal about it. Some sneak out of the show never to be seen again. Some are there because they are waiting for the circus treats. Some are there to socialize with the animals – who may, in fact, be other students. Some cheer, some yell, some cry and some are silently waiting until the circus comes to a close.

The animals are ready.

Teachers?  They are the performers.  Some are masters at walking the tightrope.  Some are clowns, laughing and making the last days seem like a hilarious joy ride.  Some are the lion tamers.  They make sure all is well under the big top for the final performance, and navigate all of the hoops with ease.  There is the bearded lady who is counting down the minutes to summer and a good facial.  There is the strong man who willingly holds down the audience and makes sure they stay in their seats until the end of the show.  There are the trapeze artists (like me and The Captain) who feel as if they are on solid ground and the next moment feels the rush of the floor free-falling beneath them.  Swinging and balancing in the air until the final details are complete.  And lastly, there is the tired ringleader, who is hoping for a smooth and serious ending to a lengthy run.

Staff?  They are the tireless crew.  Some make sure the big top is successfully taken down, some clean the big top after the audience leaves and some ensure the big top will rise again.  Without the crew, the circus would not go on.  They are the planners, and the ones in the background who make things run.  Even though they are out of the spotlight, they make things happen.

Circus dogs are a must have.

All that is left is the circus dog, and a good trapeze artist always has one of these at home.

The circus will return, the performance will resume with a new audience, new faces and new tricks.

And that is the power of the big top.

***A brief side note:  This post is dedicated to one of the crew who has made my life as a teacher in my district wonderful.  He is the behind-the-scenes in all areas dealing with technology, and has taught me more than I can ever repay.  He is making a career move, and he will be greatly missed by me and the rest of the circus we call a district.

Tales of the No Good, Very Bad Fourth Grade

String Bean is reaching the end of fourth grade. I must admit that it has been a no good, very bad school year for him.

He liked school in the third grade. He liked school in the second grade. He liked school in the first grade. He liked kindergarten and preschool.

He hates fourth grade.

The homework menace.

Each day after school is a struggle. He has more homework than I assign high school Language Arts students. Some days, we sit for over two hours while he works on his homework. This is not only torture for String Bean, but torture for The Captain and me.

I have to be honest when I say that the homework routine gets really draining. Who knew that 4th grade would be so hard? There are some days when I have come to be the peace maker during homework time. If String Bean gets frustrated, The Captain gets frustrated. The cycle is endless. It usually ends with tears (from the 4th grader) and me calming both parties down. I should have been in politics.

As a teacher, I want both String Bean and Squishy to love school. I want them to enjoy learning and become passionate about subjects that interest them.

But I do not have patience with a grade that is killing my child’s love of school.

The Salt Map of Ohio. I am not even going on record to say how long it took us to make this.

In fourth grade, String Bean had to make a salt map of the state of Ohio. I do not know what the point of this was besides seeing whose parents make the coolest project.

In fourth grade, String Bean had to create a brown bag book report. Now, I am all for book reports, but apparently the brown bag I sent along was not the correct brown bag. Minus 10 points for String Bean because I wasn’t correctly informed.

In fourth grade, String Bean has been sent home with four behavior slips. This is my quiet, Lego building child. Turns out, the behavior slips are not for what one would think are traditional “behavior” issues. One was for neglecting to put his name on his paper. One was for leaving his folder (which was empty) at home. One was for not have eight lines in a poem (he had seven). And the last one, the one that The Captain almost rocketed through the roof about, was when a girl tossed a swing that hit him on the back at recess, he told the teacher about it and the girl said it was his fault and he got into trouble. What a democracy!

As I look toward the light at the end of the tunnel, I hope I can salvage String Bean’s zest for learning. I hope I can remind him of what he liked about school before this year. I hope I can re-engage his curiosity in the world around him. I hope.

But, for now, I will hold my breath, hold my frustration and keep smiling to help him make it to the end of the fourth grade road.

Wish me luck.

I am ready for this sweet smile.

So Many Drafts…

I have a number of drafts started for this blog.  And some are sort of witty, funny, silly or just are my “unique” point of view.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel like editing, revising, critiquing any of them tonight.

I spent most of my school day editing, revising and critiquing 88 freshmen essays.  I now have officially forgotten how to spell, write and use punctuation correctly.  It is as if I am seeing double – what should be on the paper and what actually is on the paper.  This may be a good thing because what is actually on the paper may cause me to weep hysterically or run screaming from the entire profession.

Today was also a day of education politics.  Apparently, the new trend in public education is this new, feisty phrase called “value-added.”  This means that the teacher is ultimately and entirely responsible for how each student achieves based only on data from state standardized tests and other data sources “yet to be determined.”  This in itself is frightening because a.) standardized tests are imperfect and b) the “other data sources yet to be determined” is suspiciously vague.  I want all my students to do great in my classes, but how realistic is the expectation that teachers are responsible for students who have zero will to learn?  Students who don’t care or even attend school on a regular basis?  Students whose parents do not attend any conferences (or don’t even return phone calls)?  Wowza.  For more about this, see my soul sister’s blog brainvomit40.

I did not go into education to make the big bucks.  None of us did.  I very much love my job and I like teaching teenagers despite all of their quirks and drama.  However, it is completely against my philosophy of education to measure each student by only standardized testing.  What about imagination and creativity?

Tonight my mind is garbled with all of this.  And, as I said, so many drafts, but too many other conflicting thoughts going through my mind to edit, revise or critique them.  I think I am just going to finish my beer and – in the words of Donnie Brasco played by Johnny Depp – “forgetaboutit” tonight.  Although I do have to wonder which lawmakers I need to send those 88 freshmen essays to.  Maybe they will weep hysterically or run screaming from their professions.  Or maybe they will see that creating cookie-cutter kids is not the way to go.  Hmm.

Brainstorming. Is everything spelled correctly?

A Teacher’s Mantra

As a teacher, there are certain days of the year when relief surrounds us.  That day is today.  I just finished (although it is 11:44 p.m.) grading all of my midterm exams.  All 122 of them.  Here is the kicker – I created the exams.  I could have made it really easy on myself.  I could have given the students the same test from last year.  Yet that is not my MO.  I made brand new exams AND put time-consuming (to grade) essays on them.  Why would I do that?  Isn’t that a crazy person?  Well, it is because I didn’t want to scrimp on their learning.

Teachers get a bad rap.  We actually do go the extra mile.  We don’t finish all of our work in our 7 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. day.  We take things home.  We create things at home.  We even worry about our students’ well being at home.  Our job doesn’t end in the summer either.  We take classes.  We read educational books.  We create more lessons and try to improve upon the year before.  We are constantly assessing and reflecting on our own work.  We consistently re-invent the wheel for the betterment of students.

I read an excellent article in 2002 and, if I could find it, I would proudly cite it and boldly link to it. Here is what the article simply stated:  Teachers are many things to their students.  They are cops, counselors, parents, referees and coaches.  They are a shoulder to cry on and a deliverer of tough love.  They are there for their students sometimes more than the real parents are.  They are teachers and they are important.

That is why I do what I do.  That is my mantra.  The tests are graded.  I am relieved.  Now onto creating a couple of cool lessons for The Scarlet Letter.  🙂

Ready for the next round.

Jazz hands, Go-go boots and a State of Memory Loss

There are some days when I am many people. Today is one of those days.

This morning I was a mom. I fixed lunches, got backpacks ready, made coffee (for me!) and put clothes out for my dudes to wear to school.  I forgot to take the coffee with me.

This morning (and until 2:30) I was a teacher. I stopped at the local donut shop (and, if I must say, the best donut shop this side of the Mason-Dixon line) to pick up two dozen scrumptious and oh so healthy treats for my first period class. I gave three exams today, graded countless essays, backed up my Mac, complimented many students on end of semester projects and edited two exams to give tomorrow.  I also spent over 30 minutes trying to find my car keys so I could leave the building.

This afternoon I was a choreographer. I made up an audition combination in the car while driving from my district to my husband’s.  I put the jazz hands, jazz squares and grapevine steps together along with other tried and true audition moves for the next musical I will be choreographing. I taught over 60  teens the combination – still in my work clothes – with enthusiasm and energy that I wasn’t aware I had.  I was so into it that I left my phone in the auditorium.

This evening, I am tired. I can’t remember anything that I had planned to accomplish tonight. I am aggravated about my phone and all I can think about are jazz hands and Go-go boots. Plus, I keep remembering the look of anticipation, nervousness and desperation on those kid’s faces. I was once in their shoes, so I hope the director will cast the show with care. If he doesn’t, I may put my foot down.  After all, I am the show’s choreographer and he is my husband.  This is our 10th year of working together on shows. But the funny stuff that goes along with a husband/wife team (think opposites – I am the goofy one, he is the serious one, or I am good cop, he is bad cop) will have to be for another post.  I can’t seem to remember the stories right now.  All I know is that I complained enough about the phone so he went back and brought it home.  What a nice director.  Jazz hands.

Where, oh where, did my iPhone go?

Salty Sunday

Originally posted on my http://overlyenthusiastic.com blog:

I grew up listening to U2.  I am a big fan of Bono and all of his fabulousness.  Today, the song Sunday, Bloody Sunday was on my XM Classic Rock station.  Not sure when U2’s Joshua Tree songs became classic rock, but I guess they did.  Bummer.

But this is not what this post is about.  It is about salt, 4th grade and work.  These three things have no connection at all, you think? Well, they do.

String Bean’s 4th grade class was required to create a salt map of the great state of Ohio.  What is a salt map, you ask?  I didn’t know what it was until a thousand page long rubric came home stating all of the specifics.  Essentially, it is mixing a special salt mixture, putting it on a pizza box in the shape of Ohio, creating all of the hills, valleys, rivers and lakes in the state and picking a theme to label the map with.  Whew.  That made me tired just typing it!

Master Chef Tom began saying each day after school, “This weekend we are working on the salt map.”  Basically he would say it to whomever was around, as if he was working up the courage to start Bean’s project.  I would sit and roll my eyes and continue reading my Kindle or messing around with the iPad.

The weekend (two weeks later) finally came and Tom and Bean started to diligently work on the salt mixture.  They spread it over the state layout on the pizza box and put it in the laundry room to dry.  Apparently salt mixtures need a full week to dry.  Who knew?

By the next week, Tom began his after school statement again.  “This weekend we are working on the salt map.”

Finally, we were pressed to deadline.  Salt maps were due on Tuesday and it was the Sunday prior.  They take this cardboard pizza box with this crazy salty state and set it on the kitchen table and they look at it. (Insert cricket sounds here.)

I swoop in and begin helping by painting the box and the salty Ohio.  Then, Tom and Noah cut out and glued the million cities, lakes, rivers and surrounding states that were required on the rubric (I did mention the rubric was a thousand pages long, didn’t I?!)

Next for the theme.  Tom and Bean picked this out long ago.  First, they were going to put the state parks in Ohio on the map until they realized there are MANY state parks (almost as many as the number of pages of the rubric.)  So they narrowed it down to the Underground Railroad stops in Ohio.  There were 13 of them.  How do I know?  Because I printed them off, cut them out, labeled them and helped Beanie with the key.  I am smarter now.

My question is:  How do children who do not have parents who take an active role in their education complete a project of this magnitude?

Here is the finished project:

The Masterpiece