When the Time Comes, Pick the Top One

It all started in Helen, the fictitious German town in north Georgia. In Helen, gnomes walked among us, and people wore Bavarian hats, willy nilly. Beverages were poured into plastic boot mugs.  There were people playing air guitar to Jimmy Buffet cover songs. I saw one Fräulein, in full Oktoberfest garb, walking her dog all over the city. Yes. Her hair was in braids.

I knew my fun and frolicking couldn’t last. Maybe it was the cool mountain air. Maybe it was the enchantment of fake Germany in Georgia. Maybe a troll jumped in my trunk and has been tormenting since the Helen weekend.

The next day, when I woke up, I had a slight cough. No big deal. I did the Sunday chores as usual. I did take a nap, which is unusual for me. The nap was more like a light coma. But, I thought nothing of it.

Monday morning, I was feeling warm, and a little light-headed, but I figured I needed coffee and more sleep. So, off to school I went. I was teaching math, and it was one of those Ally McBeal moments when the kids started looking like they were moving in slow motion. I still kept teaching.

ME: Order of operations. Parentheses, braces, brackets. PEMDAS

Student: Do the parentheses go first, or do the brackets? Wait, are the brackets the twirly things or the boxy things?

ME: Yes.

Student: ooookay.

After class, I went to the nurse to take my temperature. She had this new thingy that she ran across my forehead. It read 100.9.

I went home. I slept. I fell into a level of sleep that is yet to be identified. I woke up long enough to swim out of the puddle of my fever to email my professor. I remember writing: Not coming. I’m dying. I didn’t really write that. But, since I was feeling particularly dramatic, it seemed concise. I actually thought I was going to make it to work the next day.

Delirium sets in when a fever takes over the body. My dreams were lucid and freaky. You would think that in the throws of a high fever, I would have serene, calming dreams. But, no. I had one of those waitressing dreams where I couldn’t get to all the patrons. I dreamed that my laundry was piled up to the ceiling. I also dreamed that I was replaced at work because I had missed school. Yes. Sad. But true.

By Tuesday night, I had one of my suburban village friends take me to the after hours clinic, which was closed, after hours. I ended up in the ER. There was an IV and a doctor who was a Christopher Walken look-alike. The people in the waiting room were suspiciously similar to those in Helen. It was a Twin Peaks/Mork&Mindy episode

Wednesday happened. I just don’t remember it.

Thursday, I trudged into school to teach my math class. Bad idea. I looked like the Goldi Hawn character in Death Becomes Her, where she has a hole in the middle of her body, and her head is twisted and contorted in the wrong direction. People in the hall scurried away from me. I don’t blame them. I went home and fell into another coma. No grad school. Sleep.

Friday!!! I can go to work!!! No fever!!!

I taught my math class. I was dizzy. I sat at my desk and had children come to me.

I went home. I slept.

One friend told me that I don’t hold the world up, and I could take a week off to recover from the evil virus. My other friend sent me threatening text messages, guilting me into staying home and keeping the world safe from my germs. My explanation of the horse-pill antibiotics meant nothing. Another friend sent me a text, “Have you met your maker?”

There are times when your body says enough is enough. I scheduled my life so that I had no time to sit in silence and reflect.  Because sometimes, reflecting isn’t pretty. And sometimes, the silence is deafening. Sometimes, movement is easier than stillness. Hitting the wall is a mild description. I slammed up against it, splattered a bit, and had no choice, but to be still.

My Suburban Village showed up again. They were like superheroes, swooping in, with their capes flapping behind them.

Today, I took my daughters and some other little people to eat Chinese food. My fortune said, “When the time comes, pick the top one.” I asked them what it meant, and Courtney, Violet’s friend, said, “You will know when the time comes.”

She is ten.

So, I’ll slow down, maybe a fraction, and wait for the time when I have to pick the “top one”.  Apparently, I’ll know when the time comes.

Here’s to friends, family, and little people with infinite wisdom.

K

My Suburban Village

Thursday was one of those days that lasted eighty-seven hours. I had a Common Core meeting before school, a gifted meeting after school, and then I trudged my way to graduate school. I can’t remember Tuesday. I don’t know what I ate for breakfast, or if I even ate breakfast. My contacts began to blur, because they had been in for more than twelve hours. I thought of the Fred Flintstone episode where he used toothpicks to keep his eyes open.

This is my LAST SEMESTER in graduate school. Thursday, was my first night of my research capstone class. The professor asked us to introduce ourselves. This is the first-day-of-school custom that makes me twitchy.

My professor said, “I admire each one of you for coming here to school, after working at a job that drains the energy out of you. But, if the job didn’t enchant you, you wouldn’t do it. Right? So, why are you here?”

I perked up a bit. He was saying profound things. Did he use the word enchanted to describe teaching? I had never heard that word used in that context. Enchanted was one of my vocabulary words for my gifted first graders when we did our mythology/fairy tale unit last year. It denotes a magic element.

I wondered why I was there. I was so exhausted, I think I dozed off sitting upright. My fancy pens didn’t even lift my mood.

My professor told us that he drives from St. Simons Island to teach our class. He visits his mom and brother, then goes back home for the week. He told us he knows what struggles we face as educators, and he is honored to teach us. Although I was emotionally drained, my eyes teared up, because someone validated the ten bedraggled souls sitting in that classroom.

I wondered what this degree will do for me? Will it really make me a better teacher? Am I just a tiny spec attempting to push a boulder?

I had that moment where I thought that nothing I could do would change anything in the world of education. It has been a while since I felt that my efforts were futile. I keep planning , learning, and trying, but some days my brain is filled to capacity.

I thought about my day. I thought about the writing workshop in the two first grade classes that left me and the other teachers in a sweat, but we were all so enchanted afterward. The kids wrote words! They stretched the sounds of words they didn’t know how to spell! Yah, that was kind of magical. In another class, students were vying to get into the guided reading group. Okay, that plastered a smile on my face for a while. Maybe a sprinkle of magic worked its way in.

After my research class, the torrential rain prevented everyone from leaving. I sat on the bench near the doors of the education building. Disgruntled students filtered in from every direction of dismissal. They contemplated how they were to get to their cars. They stared at the rain as if they could make it stop with their magic powers. A few exhausted ones just walked out of the door, letting the rain soak them to the core. I watched them. They didn’t run. They walked through the torrents, and conceded to the weather . Apparently, getting home was more important than driving and shivering in wet clothes.

My odd professor emerged from our classroom. He put a trash bag over his head, poked eye and mouth holes in it, and proceeded to leave.

Before he left, he turned to us and said,  “You will learn something from this old guy.”

Those few words stayed with me. Did he mean that I’ll routinely keep trash bags in my purse, or that I’ll figure something out in this stage of my teaching career? It didn’t matter. I believed him.

One of my classmates sat across from me, and gave me a huge smile.

She said, “I’ve been in class with you for a year now. Every time I hear you talk about teaching, I always think how much you could do for our school.”

“Really?”

I couldn’t believe that anything I rambled about in school would have any impact on anyone. I’m not having a pity party, really, I’m not. It is just that some days, we are all pushing against the current. This week, the current took me with it.

Isn’t it true that circumstances put us in places to re-evaluate our skewed perspectives? The rain Thursday night made it so that we had to acknowledge one another. We had to slow down. We had to stop the incessant treadmill of the day. We weren’t teachers. We weren’t students. We weren’t parents. We were exactly the same in that moment. We were waiting for the rain to let up, to get closer to home, to our cozy beds-to sleep.

When the rain did dissipate, during the drive home, I realized that I wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for my village. Four of my friends helped me work through a complicated schedule to make sure that my ten-year old was taken care of. I was so grateful for my suburban village, that no more appreciation could be compacted into that tiny moment. Thank you Katey, Jennifer, Kate, and Jay.

Friday rustled me awake with its steely gaze and 5:30 alarm screech.

Car duty. Get up. You get to wear jeans. Get up. Coffee. Car duty.

When I got to school, I saw a mass of tired teachers. They smiled. They hugged small people. They read books to their classes. They planned for the next week.

There is nothing more inspiring than to see the school village at work, after your personal village has saved you.

Here is to a little awareness to awaken a tired spirit.

K

A.K.A. Teacher.

You can see them in the corner, swiftly changing from bathing suit cover-ups and flip-flops, to new Anne Taylor Loft capris, cotton shirts, and noiseless shoes. Or, they may donning pressed khakis and wearing Tweetie Pie ties. The fancy-free summer personas disappear with the twirl of a lasso.They are armed with  bulletin board borders, items to be laminated, and school-issued lap tops.They become unrecognizable to family and friends. They have vague likenesses to those fun, deck-sitting, staying up late, vacation going, sleeping in people.

I finally understand the entire Clarke Kent-Superman, Diane Prince-Wonder Woman confusion. Were people really that confused about their identities? Seriously? But they inherently changed because they had to save people, and get rid of the bad guys. This made them unrecognizable.

Who are the bad guys in education, you may wonder? It doesn’t matter, because if you trust us, we can take care of them.

But, as I am part of the annual teacher transformation, I understand Clark’s and Diane’s struggles. And yes, I’m saying that teachers are like Superman and Wonder Woman. To be a superhero, one must eliminate the mundane, and embrace hope and determination. . We have to be dynamic, wear magic accessories, and proficiently spin.

The minute we walk into the school, after a few weeks of summer, we slough off the frolicking, singing birds, and popsicles. We instantly begin planning, organizing, discussing, hot-gluing, taping, shifting, maneuvering, and sweating.There is no in-between, adjusting period. In fact, we are a bit scary. Okay, quite scary.

This post is just a shout out to my teacher friends. Their ambition, passion, love for education, and continual quest to learn more and enhance their craft, is enough to get anyone motivated for another school year.

Our summer selves are somewhere, inside of us, throughout the year. Hopefully, they won’t entirely disappear. The year will consume us. But, this is the sacrifice superheros must make.

K

Their, They’re, There, it will be okay…

A homophone is a word that is pronounced like another word, but it has a different spelling and meaning. 

There is a  literary pandemic of homophonphobia-the fear of actually checking to see what you wrote is actually the correct form of what you intended to write. Now, I know use dashes too much–semi-colons just don’t do it for me.  And not too long ago, a friend schooled me on the proper use of a colon. But, for the love–heard and herd are not interchangeable. They never have been, and they never will be. It is like saying that two plus two is suddenly five. Just in case anyone is wondering, these homophone lessons can be found in the second grade curriculum.

I put this lesson together to clarify the issue.

“Has anyone seen Logray? We are supposed to have lunch.”

“Isn’t he over they’re?”

“Stop right there Troopie! You used the wrong form of there. THEY’RE is a con-trac-tion. It means they are. So you were really saying, “He was over they are.” Now that doesn’t make sense, does it?”

“Why do I get the feeling he is over their?”

“Goodness gracious! The grammar force is definitely NOT with you! You used the wrong form of there.  You used THEIR which shows ownership. Now that doesn’t make sense, does it? Look! THERE he is! It looks like he made a few friends.”

The next lesson will be on threw, through, and thru.

K

Invasion of the Recycling Bins

My environmental science class is slowly altering me, like the pods-I’m slowly being taken over, and there will be another, just like me-reducing, reusing, and recycling. I’ve been aware, and haphazardly tossing my La Croix, snob water, cans into the recycling bins. But, after a few weeks of environmental science, the guilt began to eat at me. Isn’t it always true that our intentions are to save the planet…..later?  I did some research, because that is how I roll before I take on another obsessive habit. Only about 30% of people in the south-east recycle from their homes. More people recycle in the north than they do in the south.

I sit in class with eleven environmentally savvy people. Yes, they are a bit weird, and the idea of watering your lawn with the water from your shower caused an electric stir throughout the room. (My professor suggested that we put a bucket under us as we shower.) Apparently, going green isn’t always convenient, comfortable, or attractive.

He asked us this-“How many of you get rid of your clothes because they are worn out?”

Silence.

Student: “Do you mean if there is a stain on it?”

Professor: “Can you still wear clothing if there is a stain on it”

Student: “Yes, but why would we?”

Professor: “Because it serves the purpose of clothing you.”

I glanced at my new DSW, sparkly wedges. The thrill of the sparkle was cloaked in blackness.

Professor: “What would happen if (those of you who love shoes) were to give up all of your shoes except for one pair that would get you through the season?”

I broke into a cold sweat. My left leg involuntarily shook. Visions of my color-coded closet being emptied made me dizzy. I believe I had the vapors for a moment.

It would have to be like a 12-step program. You can’t go all cold turkey on a shoe obsession for goodness sake!  This idea is not possible, at the moment.

Professor: “How many of you could change your habit of buying new clothes, and only wear clothes from consignment or hand-me-downs.?”

Student: “Sorry, I have to draw the line there. I don’t know what those people did in those clothes.”

Our professor poses these questions to make us think. I began to wonder why I have so many things that I don’t need.

The turning point was our discussion about the book Ishmael. Well, maybe it was this quote that made me perk up one Saturday morning,

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Daniel Quinn-Ishmael.

Every summer, I seek out what will put that first-year-teacher mojo back into my spirit. This just may do it.

The teacher in this story is a gorilla. He is telepathic, and he is able to teach the ‘narrator’ how things came to be. The premise of the book is that there is more than one species on the planet. Sustainability is a collective effort. Get off your butt. Do something. Of course, as I was listening to the discussion, I was sipping from my Dunkin Donuts to-go cup.

Environmentalism is like a flu virus. You get exposed, then 3-5 days later, the effects begin to take over. I have this nightmare, that I’ll be that lady who dries her paper towels, breaks appointments with friends to rinse the plastics,  and keeps the same paper bag for her lunch for three years. I will be shunned, and people will tease me by throwing recyclables into the trash.

It is just that I’ve never met an environmentalist who wasn’t, well….a bit fanatical. I have witnessed, the go greeneries, filtering out the non-recyclables from the recyclables. They are in a frenzy, and we all know never to make eye contact. Because, inevitably, we are the ones who tossed the styrofoam cup into the bin, on our way to some very important place. Now, I appreciate their efforts. There are a few people who try to keep us all on track. No wonder they are manic and angry. They are doing their part, which is way more than many of us are doing.

I had to conduct a data-driven experiment for my final project in environmental science. I wanted to see what would motivate my daughters to recycle more. Yes, there were variables like one stealing from the other’s bins. They both took from my bins, and suckered people to save their recycling. My smaller one, collected beer cans from my neighbor. But, by the end of the month, during the last week-my recycling bins were filled to capacity, and my trash output had decreased. During this time, I became that frenzied recyclist who began following my children when they get up to toss something.

Me: “Where are you going to put that?”

Child caught in the scary mom vortex: “Um…in the…well…um the recycle bin-yes…it is going there.”

Me: “Right answer.” (Insert cackle).

Hopefully, my kids will think about their carbon footprints a little more. I know I will.

This week is the 4th of July. I won’t begin to discuss the firework/atmosphere controversy.

Happy Fourth!

K

Tales from Summer Break

Summer Break. Those two words have held different meanings for me. As a kid, that meant I could play from morning until dark, and only go inside for food or a bathroom break. As a teenager, that meant sleeping until 1:00, then finally deciding to get a job. As an adult, working in the corporate world, it meant sweating in office wear, and wishing I was one of those teachers who has the summers off.

Well, I’m one of those teachers who has the summer off. Except, that I don’t. It is all my fault. I over book myself with things I love to do. Because, God forbid, I sit still-just for a moment.

I am teaching drama camp at my elementary school. I am also directing Macbeth (for kids) at our local theater. I am taking three electives in grad school, so that I can finally finish the degree.

Drama camp. Within one week, we write a play, learn it, and perform it. Well, the play-writing part is my favorite. Our Gods vs. Monsters play includes a slow motion volleyball tournament to the Rocky soundtrack, Zeus getting miffed at Poseidon for posting cat videos on his INSTAGREEK wall, and a sinister Barbie who is the root of all of the evil in the world, thus inadvertently creating an alliance between the Gods and Monsters. My friend, and drama partner-in-crime (Shannon) decided it would be fun to have the kids mouth the words to Wilson Phillips’ hit song, Hold On. Our inspiration?

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Makes perfect sense, right?

Macbeth Jr. Some may say that things have gone a bit far, but no one stopped me. My friends just keep encouraging my errant behavior. So the kids wanted to have a Star Wars theme. There is a light-saber fight. Lady Macbeth  wears the Princess Leia buns, and she has a full-on tantrum, on the floor, in a tiara and prom dress, when Macbeth begins to waver in his decision to kill King Duncan. The witches play cards, knit, play Sorry, have mini lady Macbeth Barbies (with mini Lady Macbeth tiaras) watch when Duncan becomes a ghost (who, by the way, is wearing a sheet with the eyes cut out). There are narrators who have morphed into the Godfather and his sidekicks. Somehow, the Godfather makes sense in Macbeth. We are Family is the curtain call music. I stopped there-I promise.

Young Adult Literature Class. I have to read 24 books by July 11th. I love to read, but somehow now that someone is telling me to, I am having a difficult time sitting still. I get up and vacuum. Sit down and read. Get up and organize the garage. Sit down and read. Get up and have a snack. Sit down and read. Run on the tread mill. Sit down and read. This is another eye-opening moment for me, since I have spent the last eleven years telling kids to read, with good intentions. But the pressure-oh the pressure!

Physical Science for Teachers. This is a great class, but I am the only non-science specialist elementary teacher in the class. On the first day of class, I just happened to be wearing my DRAMA CLUB shirt. I couldn’t have been more out of my element. Spoutings of ions, surface tension, and Newton’s laws pelted me. One classmate had a physics book handy for reference. I went to my happy place.

Environmental Science. Okay. This is one of the weirdest classes I have ever taken. Our professor is an entomologist. He is particularly interested in the mating habits of bugs. Did you know that some people have pet cockoaches….and they name them? We only have ONE written assignment for the class. We have to CONVINCE our professor that we read a book and visited a landfill and a water treatment plant. If I were in high school, I might feign my way through. But, somehow-I believe he would know. Then there is the inevitable guilt that would follow. So, I will drag my younger daughter a landfill next week. This jaunt will be under the guise of a ‘fun summer field trip’.

This summer also brings bitter-sweet feelings about the passing of time, and of the way a life can swiftly change and become something entirely different.

In a few weeks, my daughter will be moving on and going away to college. There will be a new silence in the house. Her unfilled space will be palpable. I’ll miss her irrational rants, and her incessant foraging in my closet. I’ll miss her odd obsession with baking cupcakes. It was five minutes ago when she was three years old, wearing a princess costume, and holding a magic wand.

So, as my summer passes, like the tesseract, I’ll attempt to see what is in front of me, and enjoy what I can-even if it is in a landfill.

K

Smartie or Dum Dum?

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Did you know there is a FB page for Smarties, Nerds, and Dum Dums? Well, there is.

Did you know that some teachers give out Smarties for correct answers, and Dum Dums for incorrect ones? Well, they do.

First of all, my child psychology professor would send me a reprimand email (as he has done in the past) if he knew I was even considering giving candy for rewards. Those are extrinsic rewards that promote behaviorism. (Think Pavlov’s dogs.) But how can a Twizzler possibly hurt anyone?

We want children to learn for intrinsic reasons. But this is not the point I’m trying to make. The issue for me is that we are telling children they are Dum Dums if they get an answer wrong. I understand that not every teacher gives out name-calling candy. Although, a “Nice Try” or “Did You Study?” candy would be great for high-schoolers.

I’m referring to testing. Yes, it is that time of year again, and I’m on one of my rants. In one of my graduate classes, we learned that high test scores don’t necessarily correlate to future academic or work-force success. Did you ever make A’s in a class because you memorized the information the night before? We all did. The only reason I know anything about the Civil War is because I taught it for three years as a fifth grade teacher. I definitely don’t remember one battle from my college Civil War experience.

One advantage of NCLB is that it has provided us with a decade of  data that validates the fact that American students are below average in reading and math. I like data. So, they get a check for that. Ten states have accepted the NCLB waiver. This is as long as we implement a college and career-ready curriculum.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that current law drives down standards, weakens accountability, causes narrowing of the curriculum and labels too many schools as failing. Moreover, the law mandates unworkable remedies at the federal level instead of allowing local educators to make spending decisions.

Behind No Child Left Behind

It took ten years to figure this out. DUH.

Is there a life-size Dum Dum we can give to NCLB?  It would clench a Dum Dum in one hand, and weep into a box of waivers. Following its sloth-like gait, there are hundreds of thousands of students yelling, “Wait! You left me behind!” NCLB randomly tosses waivers in the air, without looking back, as he shuffles away.

Dramatic much? Yup. But, we experimented on a generation of students, and there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe, we can think ahead and put kids first? We should all aspire to be Smarties on this goal.