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Putting on a Dog and Pony Show or Surviving Open House May 27, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Cue the dog. Corral the pony. It’s that time of year – time for the dreaded Open House! For teachers, this is the equivalent to having your persnickety in-laws come for a visit. Of course, the purpose of Open House is to display all of the learning that has taken place during the year. All of the learning that was sandwiched between those Open Court lessons and a laundry list of assemblies.

If scientists detect a sharp increase in global warming this month, it can be attributed to the round-the-clock lamination of precious student artwork that will be displayed at Open House. Nothing is more exciting for a teacher than the smell of coffee and a warm idling laminator, aside from free food, which is a given.

As Open House looms, a teacher’s entire extended family appears out of nowhere, brandishing staplers, scissors, and an overly caffeinated positive attitude. Those who don’t have relatives or an entourage at their beck and call are on their own. Stressed out about Open House? A few tips.

1.  Wear a really hot outfit. Steer clear of anything with an ABC motif. You want to look like you have a life outside of these four walls.

2.  If you’re really stressed, you’re allowed one drink before, but no more. And don’t forget to brush your teeth. I’ve found that wearing whitening strips while I’m sipping red wine helps reduce tooth discoloration.

3.  Print out a student-directed itinerary, or what some teachers call a scavenger hunt. This directs parents to the things you want them to see. Make sure you review the itinerary with students the day of Open House so they know what the hell you’re talking about. Never cracked open that Open Court Inquiry Journal? Remove it from students’ desks the day before. They’ll never even notice it’s gone!

4.  Set up a student desk just inside the front door. Use the desk of someone whose parents will not show up. You already know who I’m talking about. Cover it with colorful paper and put the sign-in sheet there.

5.  Put a plate of cookies out on the sign-in table. Steer clear of any cookies containing nuts. You don’t want to have to do CPR, even though you had to learn it to clear your credential. This is your night to shine, which is hard to do when you’re giving mouth-to-mouth to your student’s aged uncle.

6.  Buy a bouquet of fresh flowers and put them in a real vase. It’s like the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies wafting through a house on the market.

7.  As you prepare for Open House, you’ll notice there are certain students (round up the usual suspects), who’ve never finished anything! Use Open House as an opportunity to openly expose these underachievers who will undermine our democracy in the future. That spot on the writing wall where their essay should be – just leave it blank, or better yet, add a card that says in bold type “Incomplete.” This will save you from having to explain to parents why their child received an unsatisfactory mark for their work habits on their final report card.

8. Some teachers go all out to impress parents. I did that once or twice, but then realized no one noticed. It’s all hoopla, so don’t stress. I have a friend who purposely strips her room down for Open House. At our school,  there are always parents shopping for next year’s teacher. I’ve even had parents wander through my classroom with a clipboard in hand during Open House. My friend swears that by NOT putting on a dog and pony show, she scares off those demanding parents for the next school year. So setting the bar low is always a viable option.

9.  Have crayons and paper available for your students’ younger siblings, who otherwise, will methodically destroy your classroom.

10.  When all else fails, upload all of those photos you took over the year onto a Powerpoint slideshow presentation and play them on the computer monitor. This never fails to reduce parents to a near-hypnotic state.

11.  If you’re a newbie, arrange to have a family member or friend attend, preferably someone who can make balloon animals or looks even hotter than you do.

12.  Finally, have a plan to meet your cohorts after Open House at a nearby establishment that sells liquor so you can celebrate.

Congratulations!  You survived Open House.

Photo Credit:  Thorntm on flickr.

May Mao May 25, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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May Mao

A little background first.  I’d seen Mao around.  His milky-white china presence presided over all things Asian at Marz, my neighborhood source for campy culture.  I was armed with a gift certificate, so there was no stopping me. As the salewoman, who was wearing a bejewelled bandoleer, rolled Mao into a burrito of tissue paper, she mused, “Sometimes when people have a gift certificate, they rush to spend it all at once. You know,  we get new things in every week.”  Could she sense impending buyer’s remorse, or did she just want Mao for herself?

Once home, I placed Mao in the dining room in front of the mirror in the built-in china cabinet.  I stood back to take in the total effect.  Instinctively, I checked my purse to make sure I hadn’t lost the receipt.   Just in case.  My husband walked by and gave Mao a sideways glance.  “Cool,” he said without missing a beat.  Really?  Cool!  But politically uncool?  I googled Mao on Wikipedia in an attempt to try to ease my conscience.  It didn’t look good.  I looked him up in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  It didn’t help that Mao’s entry was opposite Mother Teresa’s.   I decided to sleep on it.

The next morning I called my friend Christine and told her I’d developed a full-blown case of buyer’s remorse.  She drove over to check out the damage.  “I don’t think it’s bad at all,” she said.  “Most people will just think it’s Winston Churchill,” she added,  pointing to Mao’s double-breasted coat. If this was meant to reassure me, it had the opposite effect.  Did I know anyone THAT ignorant?  If so, I vowed to purge them from my address book in a Cultural Revolution of my own.

When I’d bought the large stone Buddha for the garden, I’d wrestled it into the passenger seat and fastened the seatbelt.  I remember feeling a sense of peace descend over me as I drove home, with Buddha beside me riding shotgun.  Not so with Mao.  Marz is closed Mondays,  so I decided I’d return him Tuesday.  I just hoped the same saleswoman wasn’t working.

But on Tuesday, Mao looked different.  Or maybe I was looking at him differently.  “Maybe I could surround him with broken pieces of white china that all have Made in China printed on them, ” I suggested.   My husband nodded, obviously not wanting to interfere with my creative stream of consciousness.   “Why don’t you just make him lean to the left,”  he said, sipping his coffee.  Great minds DO think alike!

There was one detail I’d overlooked.  I didn’t have any broken pieces of white china.  Let’s see, what do we have that’s white?  I emerged from the kitchen with a bag of rice, which my husband grabbed.  “You can’t use basmati!” he chided.  He returned with a big bag of short-grained rice and we spent the next hour rearranging  the rice.  It was like playing with one of those desktop Zen sand gardens.  When everything was just so, we lit the candles and stood back.  “Cool,” I said.   And I really meant it.

So meet May Mao.  June Mao will make his debut June 1.  I plan to use Monthly Mao as an excuse to finally learn Photoshop.   

As a footnote, my eldest son, Taylor, was down from Santa Cruz last week. When he first walked through the dining room, he did a double take. “What’s with the statue of Mao?”  he asked.  “Oh, your mom bought it,” my husband said.  “Oh, okay, that explains it,”  Taylor said.  And that was that.