Pooh are You?

To the tune of The Who’s Who Are You:  Pooh are you?  Pooh, Pooh, Pooh, Pooh.  I really want to know…

What Pooh Are You?  This question was posed to brainvomit40 and I during the school day last week.  I was going on and on about a certain student acting like Eeyore, and Suz was talking about one who was like Pooh.  It was a perfect question and ideal for a manic Monday’s blog entry.

"Say, I'm so happy I feel like bouncing!"

Over the weekend, it was posted on my Facebook saying that I would be Tigger.  OK, I thought, I can handle Tigger.  Tigger is cute – he has stripes, he’s a tiger, he is bouncy.  I am sure that sometimes I really could be a little like Tigger.  Bounce, bounce, bounce.

But the real question is, what Pooh are you?  High school students can easily be put into Pooh categories.  As I mentioned earlier, I have an Eeyore, but I also have all of the other Pooh characters as students.  There is always at least one of each of Christopher Robin’s friends every school year.

I have an Eeyore during my first period class.  In their mind, nothing goes well for them.  The Eeyores never have a good day, and are frequently seen visiting the counseling office because they can’t find their tail.  Again. The Eeyores mumble, and physically show their feelings.  When disciplining an Eeyore, it may require chocolate or some other incentive so they don’t droop down to the floor and give up all hope.

I have a Rabbit.  He knows all and doesn’t hesitate to share it with everyone.  He firmly believes he is smarter than everyone around him – including me.  He, however, does not want people to think he is pushy or a know-it-all and will defend, defend, defend until the cows (or his Pooh friends) come home.

I have a Piglet.  This is a student who gets very excited, eager, basically thrilled about everything.  They have a thousand questions, always needing constant reinforcement and encouragement. Yet, this student is timid with the Rabbit and doesn’t understand the Eeyore.  This student will not voice how very excited, eager, basically thrilled he is because that is not in his nature.  He is a usually a sweetheart.

I have an Owl.  Owls are special because they always know the right thing to say at the right time.  Sometimes, the owls keep talking and don’t know when to stop.  This student will speak until they realize their audience is totally gone.  Then, they will fluff their wings and move on to another group.  The owl is friends with many, however many stop listening soon after the owl starts talking.

I have many Kangas.  This student is the mommy figure who takes some of the Poohs, Eeyores, Piglets and Tiggers under their wings (or in their pouch).  Kangas are special because they are not afraid of the Rabbits and will basically stick up for all of the characters, not just the ones they hold closest to their chests.

I have some Roos.  Roo is a cute little guy who will always want to play.  Roo students are easily distracted and can run with the Tiggers of the world.  Roos also get along with Rabbit, which says a lot considering the Rabbit students are, well, you know, bossy!

I have a Tigger (and apparently I am a Tigger according to our school counselor who knows best).  Tiggers have tons of energy and want to make people feel happy.  They are confident, “The wonderful thing about Tiggers is that Tiggers are a wonderful thing.”  They are proud to be their own person.  They may be entirely too enthusiastic for some.  Like my former boss, for example.

I have a Pooh.  The curious student, who really is concerned with the simple things like, “When is lunch?” or “Do you think we will have a snow day tomorrow?”  Pooh always has random questions that come out of left field.  The Poohs are always thinking about something simple.  Like how many minutes until the bell rings.

So, what Pooh are you?

My own Tigger and Pooh.

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?

Censorship Blinds the World

I have a poster hanging in my classroom.  It has many different covers of many different novels on it.  In the center, it looks as if it is an eye chart used by  optometrists everywhere.  But the kicker is what it says:  “Censorship Causes Blindness. Read!”

This is my tenth year of teaching high school Language Arts (that’s fancy educator speak for English literature and writing.)  I have had this poster since day one, and I believe in it wholeheartedly.  Pictured on the poster are books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984, and even Judy Blume’s Blubber.  Books that are classics.  Books that encompass time periods that we have conveniently forgotten about.  Books that are guides to not making the same mistakes twice.

My students don’t understand how some of these books could be the victims of censorship.  They can’t wrap their heads around how a book about a Southern girl or a book about a wizard boy with a lightening bolt scar can be on the same poster.  They don’t get how a book about a girl being bullied because of her weight or about a boy would choose to eat worms would be censored.  These students are not blinded by censorship.

If they aren’t, then why are adults?  Why the need to censor books, blogs and more?  Who decides what is to be censored and what is safe?  Isn’t censoring these things just making more of an issue?  Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to understand what is right and wrong and also, more importantly, truly understand the defeating power of censorship?

I just finished reading two novels set during World War II and the Holocaust.  One was Sarah’s Key.  This book was unbelievably heartbreaking to me.  Censorship?  Yeah, it was everywhere during that time.  So much so that the French didn’t even understand that Jewish neighbors were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  The second novel I read was Those Who Saved Us.  This was from the point of view of a German teen who fell in love with a Jewish doctor.  She ended up having to do many difficult things in order to survive.  One point rings true:  No one was told anything.  Everything was censored.  The news, the neighbors and even the words each said to each other.  Censorship was hurtful. Censorship caused blindness.

It is important to look back on these novels for reference.  Especially books like 1984 when the world is a false utopia and Big Brother is constantly watching.  It is important to look back in history so the same mistakes aren’t repeated.  It is important to look ahead at the ever-changing landscape of the world and make sure our children don’t have to face the dangers of censorship.  It is even important to think of the words of Elie Wiesel when he said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  So, in turn, we are not blinded by censorship.

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?

My Own Chocolate War

Quite a few years ago, I taught the novel entitled The Chocolate War.  From the title, one may feel that it is a Willy Wonka romp through a magical land of chocolate with some prevailing conflict that can be solved by – you guessed it – chocolate.  And maybe even the Oompa-Loompas go on strike and are protesting by stopping their tireless production of chocolate, or the chocolate waterfall stops flowing and Charlie has to find out who of the original group sabotaged it.  However, that is not the case.  The novel is about a chocolate selling fundraiser, which is the hell I am dealing with at school.

Fundraisers are hard.  Schools don’t have money to buy things and even, sometimes, replace technology.  I teach a broadcasting class that airs announcements every day over our own cable channel.  This year, we have lost five video cameras.  Not physically lost, just dead soldiers who proudly served for five plus years each and every day of the school year.  Cameras are not cheap, and video cameras run around 300 clams each.  Hence the fundraiser.

What is one not-so-fundraising-creative teacher turn to?  Why, chocolate, of course.  It is not a difficult fundraiser, even though it is completely time consuming and the chocolate is always around.  This is the bad part.  I have zero willpower when it comes to chocolate.  As I said, it is always around and I see it, smell it and basically figure out ways to justify/rationalize devouring it.  Skipped breakfast?  Why not have some Buckeyes.  Afternoon snack as a reward for grading freshman essays?  Why not try a London Mint bar.  Stopping at the post office after school?  Well, you get the drift.

This time, I have 50 cases.  Each case has 48 bars.  That is a total of 2400 chocolate bars.  I could build a chocolate mountain with all of it. I could surprise my friends with a two-story chocolate fountain.  I could be the envy of my neighborhood when I don my new chocolate winter apparel.  But, I digress. In all honesty, I would love to find another fundraiser – one that is not going to cause me to gain ten pounds each year.  Any suggestions?  Well, while I am waiting, I guess I will just have to Willy Wonka it and get busy.  I have some chocolate to peddle/smell/buy/eat/enjoy.  But first, I may have to have a little, bitty bite.  And then hit the treadmill.  For days.

A quest to stop the insanity.

C is for Coffee

Every morning during the school year there is one thing I enjoy the most.  It is having a good cup of coffee.   I know that this may not seem like much, but I love good coffee.  And I won’t stop there – I love good coffee creamer and sugar in the raw.  Mmmm.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law know this about me.  It is weird that they know I love coffee, but they do.  On a family trip to Disney, I saw this awesome coffee mug.  Now, travel mugs is actually something I use every single day during the school year.  As I mentioned above, it makes my morning.  But my husband, being cranky because it was the last day at Disney and we were shopping for last minute purchases, said that he would not buy me this mug.  Uncool.  That was July.

On my birthday, in September, my sister-in-law Lisa and my nephews stopped by to drop off my present.  She was giggling like crazy and practically shouted to me to open the present.  I pulled out the “Mine” mug that I coveted at Disney and hugged her immediately.  Hooray!

So here it is, on my desk at school, in all of it’s splendor.  Mine.

Making the morning grrrrrreat!

To let go of To Kill a Mockingbird

In my past zillion nine years of teaching, I have mainly taught freshman. Freshman are unusual creatures. They usually still like some aspects of school and they are easily entertained through humor – or what I refer to as my stand-up comedy teaching routine. This works when we read my ultimate favorite novel of all time: Harper Lee’s amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. Each year I have perfected my Mockingbird teaching like when I performed a podcast reading of the first chapter with a Southern accent. Or when I took a super-cool (to me, that is) informative slideshow and turned it into a video introducing the novel.  That novel and I are soul sisters and teaching it gave me an excuse to shout it out to the mountaintops (well, to the ninth graders) and make them love it as much as I did.  Some did.  Others did not.  Some didn’t read a bit of it.  Still, this was the book I loved teaching.  Until this past year.

For some reason, the class of 2014 did not take kindly to the book.  Some had a lot of trouble with the dialogue, some were confused with the parallel story lines and some were just breathing in oxygen.  I started getting random questions as we were nearing the end of the novel.  The straw that broke the camels back was when a young dude wearing a LeBron James traitor to the Cavs jersey asked why the narrator was so smart for a six-year-old.  There needed to be a change.

So, I held my quivering chin up and discussed the situation with my amazing colleague.  She suggested moving the sophomore novella, Of Mice and Men, to the freshman level and my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird to the sophomore level.  The only heartbreaking thing is that I don’t teach sophomore English.  So bye bye to TKM.  Sniff sniff.

I went into panic mode.  It was October and I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men since my sophomore year many moons ago.  I think I was also in a class behind the cutest guy named Tim and I don’t think I even concentrated at all on the class discussion.  I believe my sophomore year was The Year of Tim, and one where I didn’t even realize my hair was burning (hey, silly girl with major Crush on Tim, meet the Bunsen burner!) until I smelled it.  Yeah, Tim was in that class, too.  Sigh.

Needless to say I was in panic mode.  Severe.  My super-dee-duper colleague came to my rescue like Superman to a runaway elevator.  She gently led me through activities, discussion topics, study guides and helped me find some much needed courage.

Amazingly enough, it has worked out well so far.  My freshman love Lenny and George, and even want to get up in front of the classroom and read the dialogue from the novel – which is a great use of oxygen!  Hooray!  I even got a little teary-eyed at the part about Candy’s dog (let’s be honest here – who wouldn’t?!)  And I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher helping me through this transition.

As Atticus Finch would say, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  Ah, Atticus, my hero.  I am really going to miss you. But, I do think I will refer to you now and again AND I think I may use that quote tomorrow when I teach The Scarlet Letter for the first. time. ever.

And I repeat…

When I was working in business, I remember a particular conversation with my boss.  His name was just initials, and to protect his identity (because I may say not so nice things about him in later posts) I will call him BK.  Not as a reference to Burger King, but to Butt Kisser which he was legendary for.

One afternoon, when the leaves had just started falling (I remember this because I absolutely was in no mood for BK and instead wanted to stay home and play in the leaves with my dog), BK wandered over to my desk.  For some reason he liked to have my desk planted in the most awkward areas of the office.  It was right by the men’s restroom.  I could seriously hear the flushing, zipping and washing hands (or not washing hands) happening.  Yikes.  But, once again, I digress.  Here is the conversation:

He cleared his throat (think Office Space) and said, “Do you want to know what words you say a lot?”

I replied, “Hmmm.  Not really.  Why?”

“You say ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘like’ a lot.”

I sat there are stared at him thinking what in the world was he talking about?  “Oh,” I sheepishly stated.

“Why do you think you say those words so much?” BK inquired.

“I don’t know,” I answered, confused. “Maybe it is because I lived in New Jersey in the mid 80s,” I responded as if this was the end all be all statement to end this super strange dialogue.

“No, I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” he stated matter of fact like and turned on his heels and walked away.

Stumped, I sat there at my desk.  Was I supposed to follow him?  Hmm.  Of course, my semi-ADD and paranoid self couldn’t get back to work.  So I turned on my Flying Toaster screen saver and walked to his office (which had a great view of the county jail and the parking lot and was not awkwardly placed at all).

“BK, what was that conversation all about?  Is there anything I need to work on?” I asked, innocently, trying not to sound neurotic or annoyed.

“Nope. Just thought you needed to know your faults,” he said.

“Cool,” I replied while some of the confidence began to seep back into my body, “Awesome.  So, like, it was just to let me know my faults but I, like, don’t need to fix anything?”

“Yeah.  Something like that,” he curtly said and turned back to his paperwork.

“Awesome.  See you in a few,” I said as I backed out of the office.

And so it goes.  I believe there are words in our speech we use often.  I still overuse “cool” to this day.  But, I don’t see that there is really much harm in it as long as the audience is OK with it.

As a high school English teacher, students always catch words, phrases and even non-verbals that I use.  Sometimes, they just catch the mix of accents I have inherited from the wide range of places I have lived, but this is for another post.

This past week, my word was “sweet.” Every time someone said something I agreed with, I would say, “sweet!”  I used it to replace awesome, cool and other words my long ago boss from hell told me I overused.  Let’s just say the students didn’t like “sweet” and by 8th period, they were teasing me about it. So I changed it back to “cool.”

My friend, who has a great blog http://brainvomit40.wordpress.com, told me that her word of the week has been fabulous.  When I asked her if she noticed me saying any particular words a lot, she replied, “No.  You’re fabulous.”  Love her.

Being a teacher is like being on stage where the audience can interact, and even critique, on a regular basis.  I have an audience of over 148 students I see daily. Yes, 148.  It was an even 150, but two kids moved.  Sometimes my stand-up routine is good, other times it is not.  But the most interesting part about it is that it is always different. Except for some of the words I use, of course.

Besides the words awesome, cool and like I “overused” in my old job (BT – before teaching), here are some things I say a lot.

To express shock:  “Really?!” or “No way!”

To express compassion: “Oh, Sugar”

To call someone when I can’t recall their name (which happens frequently): “Honey” or “Sweetheart”

To describe almost anything: “Cute”

And here are some of the sayings I use frequently:

To students when they aren’t working on their own:  “It’s time to start paddling your own canoe.”

To a group of students who can’t stop looking out the window at the rain: “It’s raining so much the frogs are drowning.”

To a student who was making fun of me writing on the white board: “I’ve been spelling a lot longer than you’ve been pooping.”

When a student wasn’t being honest:  “And I just pulled a Christmas tree out of my butt.” (Not the nicest or most tactful saying, but one I have had to pull out now and then!)

And when a student seems overly cranky, I pull one of my brother’s standards: “Did you fall off the fuss bus and hit a grump bump?”

So, as I repeat directions to my class of 30, send someone on a bathroom pass and write the name “Sweetheart” on the top, and tell one kid that his shoes are cool, I once again think of my old boss BK and remind myself that I am pretty awesome no matter what he said.  🙂

A vice or the grip of reality

I am going to have to go total cliche in this post.  My favorite blogger, Brainvomit40, decided she is going to write on her blog about defending her vice.  And I thought, what is my vice?  Then I thought, what the hell is the definition of a vice?  I know what it kind of means but I couldn’t really explain it.  So, I turned to Dictionary. com (insert cliche here!) and did what all of my students do when they open a persuasive paper: write the definition.  Here goes:

According to dictionary.com, the super fast website that is a crutch to many a young person, the definition for vice is as follows:  1. an immoral or evil habit or practice. 2. immoral conduct; depraved or degrading behavior: a life of vice. 3. sexual immorality, especially prostitution. Synonyms: wantonness *hilarious word – * 4. a particular form of depravity. 5. a fault, defect, or shortcoming: a minor vice in his literary style.

Did you get all that?  Well, I just don’t know if I actually have anything today that counts as #1 – an immoral or evil habit unless you count the countless hours I have spent playing Plants vs. Zombies.  For #2 – immoral conduct or degrading behavior – I think I cursed a few times at the dude driving 35 in a 55 on my way to school today, but I didn’t give him the finger or anything so that doesn’t count. Next is #3 which is sexual immorality or prostitution which I can safely say I would probably only run for about $25 bucks and that is just not worth it.  I am going to skip #4 because I would have to go back to dictionary.com to find the definition for depravity.  And last, but probably the most fitting for me in the vice category, is fault, defect or shortcoming.  Let’s just stop there and say yes to all in the glorious #5.

Side note here:  Students would have never made it to #5.

I guess, when looking at #5, I have a few (quite a lot, actually) vices, and/or faults.  One is that I get easily distracted.  For example, I really like talking to people.  Case in point:  a few weeks ago we had parent/teacher conferences.  I like to refer to them as conferences that parents don’t really care about because their kid is almost out of high school and they should be responsible for themselves so we don’t need to go conferences.  I had a little time on my hands for the lack of parent participation, and I started to get down to grading projects, papers and everything else on my desk.  Within ten minutes, I had two visitors and decided I needed to visit someone else and tell them what the other visitors and I had discussed.  I ended up using a lot of my time just communicating.  Let’s just say that I successfully solved the world’s problems but ended up taking all of the grading home because I didn’t finish it.

Another is reading. I love to read books and I love my Kindle.  Reading is good, but it can be bad when I tune everything – phone, conversations, stove-top timers – out when I read.  For some reason I plant myself into the book and stay there.  I remember being in high school and my mom would have to physically get my attention by touching my shoulder while I was reading.  Of course, when I got older and got married, my mom forgot to mention this to my husband.  Needless to say, he gets incredibly frustrated with my “reading zone-out” times.  And is is a lot of times – whether I am in my beloved Kindle or just reading something on the iPad or my MacBook Pro or my iMac or my iPhone or just checking Facebook. (Another vice: I love technology toys. Could you tell?!)

As I am writing this, more and more vices are starting to pop in my head.  The idontcookprocrastinatorvideogameplayingcursingwinedrinkingshoppingpicturetakingtimewastingandmore are starting to fester in my brain making me want to get post this blog and clean out my purse in order to procrastinate going to the craft store or grading the latest round of papers.  Suffice to say, we all have vices.  Hopefully not the #3 ones, but some more healthy ones.  But, instead of worrying about them,  I am just going to smile, click on dictionary.com and check out the word of the day.  Which is pansophy.  What, you don’t know that one?  Well, just look it up already.  Geez.