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!

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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.

The Bard, Field trips and Nail Biting

Each and every year, I embark on a perilous journey.  One that defies all things known and makes the impossible possible.  One that is a black hole with a narrow escape.  One that encompasses magical powers beyond the scope of nature.  What is this odyssey?  Why, it is taking students on field trips to see a Shakespeare play.

This year, I enlisted the help of my trusted friend and confidant, Brainvomit40.  She and I gathered all of the courage and tenacity we could muster to organize this massive undertaking.  She is the reason I made it through the day.

Let me back up in time and explain the path of the most recent journey we were destined to travel.  It was year 2002, and I was summoned to a grand place in the land of Cleveland known only as The Great Lakes Theater Festival.  From this moment on, I was entranced by their powers.  Enamored by their gently use of The Bard’s great words.  Encased in their sheer talents.  I was, to put it mildly, hooked.  As Juliet would say, “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”  Yes, indeed.

From then on, I took students to see these incredible works of art each year.  It was a time to develop young minds, and show (not tell) them how important and timeless the plays of Shakespeare really were.  It was mystical.

But not always.  Many times there were alien students among us.  One particular one did the worst thing possible – he tripped an actor.  According to E.T., his legs needed “extra room” so he put them in the aisle.  Bad, bad alien student.  Another Alf-like creature listened to his iPod through Act I, Scene II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  His excuse?  “I don’t understand what they are saying.”  My response, “We covered it in class.”  One Mork actually fell into a deep slumber during Twelfth Night.   His rebuttal after other students woke him up with furious tapping and shaking?  “The girl is dressed like a guy and it creeped me out.”  Classy.  These are the villains of my days with The Bard.

But, alas, I have held true to my word and provided the non-alien youth with the best gift of all: the gift of live theater.

The cover looks like Twilight meets R&J.

This year’s presentation was Romeo and Juliet.  I was ecstatic for a few reasons.  First, this is actually one in our literature books, and second, I teach it every year.  Double score!  Brainvomit40 and I got crazy-eyed with happy thoughts and reserved not the usual 40 tickets, but a whopping 80 tickets with visions of Romeo dancing in our heads.

Yikes.  But we had high hopes. Maybe too high as Mercutio states, “True, I talk of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain, begot of nothing by vain fantasy.”

Let me just state that, for the days approaching the trip, it was as if “the mad blood stirring” was a reality.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.  Brainvomit40 wrote an excellent post about how asinine the entire process was.

Finally the big day arrived.  We herded 80 students into two school buses at the blistering early time of 7:35 a.m.  We ventured on the hour and a half bus ride to Cleveland.  We gathered all of the students and promptly got them seated in the theater.  We smiled as we sat down in our seats, breathing a collective sigh of relief.

The set. Taken without a flash before the show began.

Intermission came.  Our students deserved halos for their amazing behavior during the first half of the performance.  Brainvomit40 looked at her watch: 11:39.  The buses had to be back by 2:25 for their routes.  Would the show be finished and we be out the door before 1 p.m.?  Enter nail biting.

Throughout the second half (and I must say half, it was technically Acts III, IV, V), I couldn’t focus.  All I could think about was what was coming next.  Here is a look into my mind:

“OK.  She is getting the sleeping potion.  Finally.  Good.  Now she is going to have a monologue and drink it.  Fine.  Now Romeo is going to find out she died.  OK.  We’re good on time.  Crap.  Romeo still has to fight and kill Paris and there is dialogue.  Darn.  OK, he took care of Paris.  Now the death scene.  Geez.  Totally blanked that the Friar’s so many lines here.  Come on already and bring out the Prince to wrap this up!”

By this time, I have no nails left to speak of.  I would be lying if I didn’t confess that Brainvomit40 and I were about to cheer when Juliet said, “O happy dagger!”

The play ended, and we made it on the buses by 1:06.  We made it back to the school by 2:22.  Whew.  I should have been feeling down because it was over, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” but instead I was thinking thank goodness this is once a year.

I still love the Bard, and I appreciate the opportunity to showcase how incredible his words come alive in a live performance.  “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”

To Shakespeare!

Here is another post I wrote about the Bard.  Enjoy!

If I Only Had a Clone

Remember the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton?  Over the past two weeks, I know why he embraced the philosophy of having many clones.

I would like just one clone.  Stat.

It has been unbelievably busy lately.  I mean non-stop busy.  I have decided the way that would have been the easiest would be to have a clone.

Many me.

I would have my clone take my place as National Honor Society adviser.  I could have celebrated with the newly members while my clone could have eased the pains and wiped the tears of the 15 who did not get in.

I would have my clone go to Wal-mart.  I hate going there, and it is almost a festival of clones there anyhow.  I would have hung out and read books with Squishy or played String Bean in a round of Mario Kart.

I would have my clone sit through boring staff meetings.  She could sit there, smiling at all the information that would have been better off in an email while I would get my copies ready for the morning’s classes.

I would have my clone deal with my mother-in-law.  My clone could go there and fix her computer for two hours while I ventured to the park for a nice walk.

I would have my clone conference with String Bean’s teacher who has not prepared him well for the state tests this year.  My clone may be better at this than I am because she would not be so fired up.  I would get a massage – to calm down, of course.

I would have my clone grade freshmen English persuasive essays.  I would give her a purple pen (it is less threatening) and have her go to town.  She would not feel pained as the students leave the classroom and dump the carefully graded essays in the garbage after glancing briefly at the score.

I would have my clone go bathing suit shopping.  She could have the honor of trying on a variety of suits and finding the perfect one all while standing under harsh, flourescent lights.  I would sit and read  Stephen King’s new novel on my Kindle.

I would have my clone update my Facebook, reply to text messages, fetch my lunch, get allergy shots, pay bills, go shopping, feed the dogs, clean my closet and pretty much do everything that has piled up from The Captain’s musical and break.  During this time, I would have been able to write on my much-neglected blog.

If I only had a clone.

The Spanish Inquisition

As a high school teacher, sometimes the littlest of instances force a reflection on my own less-than-stellar moments as a student and helps me get through some less-than-stellar days on the education front.

So a confession: There were times when I did not behave as a good student.

Spanish class was one of those times.

I was horrible in Spanish class.  From the day I stood in the door of the classroom, to the day I vowed never to take another course from that teacher, I was just an absolutely plain awful student.

Let me back up and explain that this was a difficult time for me.  My dad’s career transferred us from New Jersey to Ohio.  I was a junior in high school, moving away from all of my friends, my networks, my favorite mall (this is important to a teenager) to a town I didn’t understand.  I went from being a Fighting Eagle to a Fighting Quaker (yes, frighteningly enough, this is a real mascot – an oxymoron in itself).  Did I mention that I was a junior?  In high school?

As a new student, I got the thrill of being escorted around the building by the wind-pant wearing, whistle-swinging P.E. teacher.  He led me through the building with an editorial about many different things: who not to hang out with, what not to eat in the cafeteria and where not to sit at the stadium.  He also introduced me to all of my teachers – as they were in the middle of teaching their first period classes.  It was quite embarrassing, if I do say so myself.

He directed me into the Spanish classroom, and I stopped dead in my tracks.  The class was being taught by the wife in The Shining with a pyramid haircut.  I had a flash to being snowed in the high school and this teacher screaming as her students shouted “Red Rum, Red Rum!”  I could not step any further into the door.  This did not bode well for the gym teacher who proceeded to push me as if I was on the defensive line through the doorway.

Mrs. S. looked at me inquisitively, introduced herself and was very nice that day.  It was the first and last time that would happen.

I was awful in her class.  First, I was placed in the back of the room.  This is not a good place for me – especially in a class that was Greek to me, oops, I mean Spanish.  I would try listening to her, I really would, but I couldn’t get the vision of her fighting off Jack Nicholson’s character out of my mind.  The same actress also starred in Popeye – as Olive Oil – so it was Shining or Olive Oil, all day, every day.  Also, Mrs. S. talked like she was eating her face.  It was very disturbing.

After awhile, I began to read in class.  Novels, not Spanish.  This is when Mrs. S. caught on to my less-than-stellar performance as a student.  She began taking away the precious novels I would be reading in class.  I switched to magazines.  She figured that out, too.  Darn.

My mom, Crazy Pat, was concerned when Mrs. S. called her in for a conference.  I told my mom that Mrs. S. was mean and that she reminded me of a horror movie actress.  I also told my mom that Mrs. S. was so boring and she always took my things away.  Did I mention I was awful?

Crazy Pat went in for the conference.  She came home, spread out 12 novels and 16 magazines on the kitchen table.  She told me she believed that I was not acting appropriately, and there was a personality conflict because of it.  She said I needed to apologize the Mrs. S. and start paying attention.

I started paying attention.  But I never apologized.

Driving home from school yesterday, I saw my Spanish teacher walking her dog.  She still had the pyramid haircut.  She still had the inquisitive look on her face.  She still looked exactly like the actress in The Shining.

I felt badly for my behavior as a 16-year-old.  To Mrs. S., I am truly sorry for my poor behavior.  The old saying is true: what comes around goes around.  And it has come full circle now that I am a teacher.  Oh, and one more thing, thanks for giving my novels and magazines to my mom.   I really appreciated it.  Oh, and, sorry for being just plain awful.  OK?  Thanks.

Welcome to Spanish.

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?