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Little Squirrel Lost March 30, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Urban Wildlife.
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Sunday – I woke up this morning worrying about my book club brunch. It wasn’t until noon, but there was still lots to do. That is, until the first guest arrived unusually early and with a splash. My husband, Richard, first saw the baby squirrel frozen behind a big pot. He was soaked. We realized he’d fallen 25 feet from his nest in one of the queen palm trees that surround our pond. Suddenly, running out to buy more orange juice seemed oh so unimportant.

After ten minutes the baby squirrel had managed to climb two feet up a tree. My husband tried to be optimistic. “At least it’s the right tree.”  But then he fell off the tree (the squirrel that is, not my husband). “I think I better get dressed,” I announced. I could see the future, and it involved squirrel wrangling and a very long ladder.

By the time I was dressed, Richard appeared with the squirrel attached to him. “He jumped into my arms!” he said, holding him tight.  So much for squirrel wrangling. He passed the squirrel to me, and yes he (she?) was adorable. I love squirrels. They always look like they’re having so much fun and they’re naturally caffeinated. Think about it. Have you ever seen a squirrel that looked depressed (unless it’s lying flat by the side of the road)?

We could see another baby squirrel peering down from the nest, but no mother was in sight. When this happened last year (different tree, no aquatics), the mother squirrel came down the tree and after scolding her errant offspring, and checking him out to make sure he wasn’t injured, grabbed him by the nape of his neck, and carried him back up to the nest. Just watching how attentive that mother squirrel was left both my husband and I in tears. So where was this little guy’s mother?

Richard woke up our son Ian, who’d worked the late shift at the restaurant.   Ian staggered out and I watched The Two Stooges try to round the corner of the house with the 30-foot long aluminum ladder. By then I’d gone into full maternal mode and named the squirrel Wet Willie. Our two dogs were very interested in our visitor, but their motives were suspect.

With the ladder positioned, Richard took Willie and made the slow climb to the top of the tree. He reported there were two other babies in the nest then climbed back down.  The ladder was put away.  Ian went back to bed. Richard ran out and bought more orange juice.

We had a lively discussion at book club, and no squirrels toppled onto the umbrella on the patio. Success! Later, I was googling information on abandoned baby squirrels, as the mother had yet to appear. I was relieved to read that mother squirrels will take their babies back even after humans have handled them. Mission Accomp…. whoa, not so fast!  At dusk, I looked out the window and saw Richard cradling something.  Something small and furry. Willie is obviously precocious.

I called the Pasadena Humane Society, and they had one of their officers call back.  She suggested we put Willie back in the nest, as squirrels settle down at night.  Out came the ladder – again.  Richard made the slow climb up into the tree – again.  He  said Willy sleepily slipped down inside the nest.  So he’s safe – for now.

It will be daylight in 12 hours, and that’s when squirrels start to act – squirrelly.  But, we’re no dummies.  We left the ladder tied to the tree.  

Monday – The question today was not “Who’s your momma,” but, “Where’s your mama?”  The Pasadena Humane Society is closed Mondays, so my husband’s calls went unanswered.   Richard located a great site on the internet with information on what do do if you’ve found a baby squirrel: Squirrel Rescue.  Did you know it’s illegal to keep a wild squirrel for more than 48 hours?  (Not that I know anyone doing hard time for this crime), but the intent is to get wild squirrels into professional wildlife rehab ASAP.)  Another great site is 911 Advice for Squirrels.

Late this afternoon the woman from the humane society finally called  back. Bless her.  She said with no mother to keep the baby squirrels warm (their body temperature should be around 99 degrees), they might not survive the night.  She gave us instructions on how to keep the babies safe until they can be dropped off tomorrow morning. There’s no room at the inn, what with 42 baby squirrels already being cared for, but she agreed to take them. 

So, Richard put a backpack on his front like a pouch and, as the sun set, climbed up the ladder one last time. That’s when he saw there were not three, but FOUR sleeping babies.  Three were scooped into the bag without a fight, but there was one stubborn one.  I heard some wild squeaking as I stood down below doing the really important work – holding the ladder steady.

And Willie?  To be honest, all the baby squirrels look alike.  We popped all four of them into plastic pet carrier with a pillowcase (no towels cause their claws get stuck).  Richard filled syringes with Pediatric Electrolytes (fancy Gatorade according to Richard, minus the sugar) and I fed them.  With their tummies full, they promptly dozed off.  (Note to self – Do not wear a cable knit sweater when feeding squirrels).  The carrier is now sitting atop an electric heating pad in our bedroom.  The squirrels are getting a good night’s sleep. And now that they’re fed and en route to a safe haven, we can get a good night’s sleep too.  Finally.  I wonder if I’ll dream of acorns

Tuesday – Before our baby squirrels were sent packing to the Pasadena Humane Society, Richard fed them some bites of avocado.  His assistant, Michele, let them try a banana and they took to it like sharks to chum.  The woman at the humane society said as soon as our squirrels are “of age,” they’ll be returned to us so they can be released.  Which begs the question – How will I know if they’re OUR squirrels and not somebody’s else’s?  Willie? Where’s the indelible ink when you need it?   



Friday Club March 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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The first year I taught I realized I needed to find a way to reward students who work hard and complete their homework each week. “Friday Club” was born.  Unlike Fight Club, (“the first rule of Fight Club is – Do not to talk about Fight Club“), EVERYBODY talks about Friday Club.  It’s the place to be a quarter ’til three on a Friday afternoon. Are you in?

I lay out the membership qualifications for Friday Club in a letter home to parents on Week 1.  A student cannot participate in Friday Club if 1) I’ve had to call home because of their behavior; 2) another teacher or staff member talked to me about the student’s behavior; 3) A student has incomplete homework that was not completed on the bench, or 4) a student has unfinished classwork or has not met their AR reading weekly point goal.

I let all students participate the first week (even those with less than stellar behavior), as I want them so all see how much fun it is.  But after that first fight (er, Friday), the gloves are off.  I write “Friday Club” on the board with the universal NO symbol over it, and if you mess up during the week that’s where your name goes.

So what do kids DO during Friday Club?  In years past, I’ve had two computers with two versions of “I Spy” on them.  I set the timer for 10 minutes so two kids can play at a time and then rotate. For my English Language Learners, just trying to locate the “tong-goo” is a challenge. When they invariably ask me what it is, I ask them to stick out their tongues. When they do, I say, “That’s your “ton-goo.” They never make THAT mistake again.

Students can draw on the whiteboard, but if it gets out of hand, I set a limit. They love to take turns playing “teacher” and mimic everything I do. If you want to see what your teaching looks like, just sit back and watch your students do the most amazing impression of you. (And you thought they weren’t paying attention!)

I’ve got a bin of board games.  The two mancala boards are the hands-down favorites. Students are also allowed to bring board games or puzzles to share.

This year I’ve got a group of boys who love to play with the math pattern blocks. I’d like to think they’re solving complex mathematical problems, but I know they’re really building forts and dungeons. There’s usually a couple of chess masters who sit locked in a mental battle while all this activity swirls round them.

And there are always those artsy craftsy girls who are happy to just glue beads and bend pipe cleaners to make butterflies.  If I’m lucky, I’ve got one student who can do origami and teach it to the rest. I’ve cut squares of newsprint so they can practice. I’ve got lots of “How to…” books that kids love to go through – How to make hand shadows, puppets, draw monsters…

Last year I had two boys who designed elaborate marble chutes using paper towel tubes. I took to dragging in boxes for them which they fashioned into half-pipes and jumps. I liked to think they were destined to be engineers or architects, but then I’m prone to optimism.

I’ve always let one child walk around and pass out ONE red licorice whip. This is the first year my students have been so sweet, I haven’t bothered to break the seal on the licorice. (But, I’ve seen the students coming up from the second grade, so I’m already stockpiling licorice.)

Some days, with all the direct instruction, I feel like I’m teaching junior college. What I love about Friday Club is my kids get to act like kids. And that 30-minutes gives me time to clean up and prepare for Monday, or just go around and talk to kids one-on-one – something that’s often hard to do during the regular school day.

I used to have the kids who weren’t in Friday Club sit at their desk and write standards, e.g.,” I will do my personal best.” (No one is allowed to “distract” them). Sometimes I had them write the standards in cursive as that seemed less draconian. (And yes, some kids can write standards until the cows come home and they’ll still misbehave and be writing the same old standards the following week.)

This year I’ve had a terrific class, so when a kid sits Friday Club out, I have them write me a letter about what’s going on in their life or they can tell me their plan for improving their behavior. (I’m big on telling kids you’ve got to have a plan, or you plan to fail.)

I have a student who missed Friday Club a while back. He hadn’t been returning his homework and when he did, it was sloppily done. I told him to write me a letter. He wrote he was upset since his dad left. (I found out his father had been deported). Knowing this, I was able to sit and talk to him. I’ve found that the kids who aren’t eligible for Friday Club are often the very ones who need someone to talk to.

During Friday Club, some of my former students invariably stop by. They’re supposed to be en route to the bathroom, but I know they’re taking a trip down Memory Lane. “Ah, Friday Club,” they say wistfully. There’s always a collective groan when I tell students it’s time to start cleaning up. When I ding the bell, the kids have to clean up EVERYTHING. (One of my students loves to tell visitors, “Ms. M is a horrible maid – Just ask her husband!”)

But I’ve got to get my students out the door cause I’ve got my own Friday Club to go to. It’s called Happy Hour.

Art Smarts #1 March 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art Education.
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Close-up of art by 8-year-old artist








Black construction paper.  White glue.  Chalk.  It’s that easy.  (Okay, I used pastels instead of chalk, which aren’t that cheap, but you can get a lot of mileage out of a couple of boxes). I’d seen the fantastic artwork done by second graders displayed in the hall using this process.  That art was simpler – a straight line, a curvy line, and a zigzag line, with the shapes colored in between.  Wonderfully abstract images.  Some of my third graders had already “been there, done that,” so I upped the ante.  Since we’ve studying fractions, I had them fold their paper into fourths.  (I’m big on killing one bird with two stones -better yet, pummel that bird with as many standards (er, I mean stones) as you can lay your hands on.

The directions were to draw a geometric shape (a triangle) in 1/4, an organic design in 1/4, and a spiral in 1/4. The last quarter was free choice (that always elicits a cheer). No drawing in pencil first either.  I drew a couple of examples on the board then turned my students loose.

Glue on paper before it's dried

Glue on paper before it's dried

The biggest problem was even though I’d checked the Elmer’s glue bottles, half of them were clogged.  I spent a fair amount of time bending paperclips to try and get the glue flowing.  Note to self.  Next time, have a student test all of the bottles ahead of time!  A few students were a little heavy-handed when it came to squeezing the glue, but overall it went quite smoothly.

I showed students how to carry their papers over to the floor like a tray of cookies, or else the glue would start running.  I hoped that if we laid the papers in front of my big fan, the glue might dry while we were at lunch. Wishful thinking.  This is a 2-day project.

I cordoned off the “drying” area with rope.  One student remarked it was like having an art gallery in our classroom. The children proceeded to crowd the rope to get a better view of their art.   Yes, it did look like a gallery – on the floor and laid out over several chairs.  When one boy decided he was going to be the museum “guard,” I sent them all back to their seats.





By the next day, the white glue had dried so that it was clear.  I gave a quick lesson in how to use the pastels.  Don’t use them like crayons; use the sides. Each table got a paper plate of various colors and  I suggested they complete 1/4 then walk around to see what other students were doing.  There’s always a couple of “Class Artists” who are only to happy to share their expertise.




Trouble Shooting:  1) There’s always those kids who just use the same old colors on the school rug-red, blue, yellow, and green.  I suggested they experiment with blending colors or working with only cool colors and then using one warm color.

2) A couple of kids paid no attention to the raised glue lines.  They just wanted to color in big areas and viewed the lines as “speed bumps.”   I had to get them to slow down and work within the lines.


Considering it was the first time I taught the lesson, I thought the results were stunning.  When the pastel goes over the glue, it takes on almost a metallic or jewel-tone look.  Ooooh!  Ahhhhh!

Cursing Cursive March 16, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Millennial Generation Seen As Increasingly Cursive Illiterate” was the headline story in the NEA’s The Opening Bell on Jan 5th. One teacher lamented that cursive is “almost being forced out” of the elementary curriculum due to “the priorities of No Child Left Behind.” My reaction? Boo hoo.

I teach third grade – Ground Zero for teaching cursive. The first week of school, I have my students complete a variety of assignments that go into a Time Capsule (okay, it’s just a decorated paper towel roll with tissue paper glued on the ends).  About Me. My Favorite Things. My Best Friend. You get the picture. Then I have them write, “In third grade we learn how to write in cursive.” There’s always that one kid who already knows cursive, but the rest, after some moaning and groaning, just make something up.  It usually looks like they wrote with their foot.

In May, I have my students write the same sentence again. At Open House, they get to open their Time Capsule and see how much smarter they’ve become (this has only backfired twice). Students laugh hysterically when they put the two samples of their cursive side by side.

Recently I ran across my own report card from 6th grade and was surprised to see that I’d received  a grade in Penmanship, with subcategories for letter size and formation, Slant, Spacing, and Neatness!  I had a check on Slant, but received an “I” for “Improved” two quarters later. Whew! But that was BC  – before Computers. Almost everything I write now (aside from the grocery list) is on the computer. I’m honest with my students. I only use cursive to sign my name, and then I challenge them to try and read my signature.

I’ve got two students this year that are still printing letters using “The Claw” technique. They literally grip that stub of a pencil in their crab claw. Now this was something that was supposed to have been addressed in first grade, so I have to set them straight. No matter how brilliant they are, if they apply for a job and fill out the application using “The Claw,” they’re going to be shown the door. So I’ve got some kids still learning how to hold a pencil.

Not that teaching cursive isn’t a teacher’s dream. Put on some classical music and watch the kids zone out as they write an entire row of double “l’s.” In a soothing voice, I coo, “take that letter all the way up to the belt line” or “remember, it’s like each letter is a breaking wave” (adding whooshing and swooshing sounds is optional). For that smarty pants who already knows cursive, I have a satchel filled with calligraphy markers and a How to Write Calligraphy book. (I’d like to think I’m giving them a head start on the art of forging historical documents.)

I’d much rather have my students perfecting their keyboarding skills in computer lab. My students take Accelerated Reader tests on-line and some can take 15 minutes just to type in the title of the book.  Most of the research for their projects is now done on-line.  If they’re going to have to learn cursive, they should at least be able to fashion their own quill pen.

My friend Kristina said her third grade teacher had her class write the same sentence over and over. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy sleeping bear.” This single sentence has ALL the letters in the alphabet in it. Yep, I checked. It’s a big improvement over the last sentence I had my students write, “Writing in cursive is obsolete!”

Another teacher (who writes in cursive and prides herself on not having a computer) took issue. “I’ll have you know that I’m taking a night class in French and my teacher writes everything in cursive.” Leave it to the French. I rest my case.


Butt, Naked? March 8, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Teaching.
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Nothing prepared my third grade girls, or me for that matter, for a walk through the women’s locker room at a nearby local aquatic center. No, there wasn’t anything titillating. Tits, yes, but nothing titillating. It was strictly R-rated – “R” as in  Real. Real people. Real bodies. Real scary – as in adult naked women, who bore no resemblance to Hannah Montana, toweling off. The horror!

First, some back story. Our entire third grade was given the opportunity to participate in the center’s “Olympic Challenge.” Four weeks of swimming lessons, four days a week, at the most gorgeous aquatic center imaginable. Swimming doesn’t get any better than this.

But to get to that gorgeous pool, you have to go through the locker room. Now, I never liked locker rooms when I was a kid. In middle school, I was so skinny that I could hide INSIDE my locker to avoid the dreaded gang shower. Luckily, the swim lessons were provided by young hard-bodied instructors. Us teachers got to sit pool side warming a bench – fully clothed, ostensibly “grading papers.”

No sooner had we marked our territory with the our grade books, than a wide-eyed boy emerged from the men’s locker room. “There’s a naked man in there!” he announced, as though he’d just seen an alien. Yeah, the boys have their own issues.

The teacher I partnered with has spent a lot of time in Europe and is married to a European. She gave me the impression they actually have a hard time keeping clothes on those fun-loving Europeans. But reading The Emperor Who Had No Clothes two weeks earlier was the closest my class had come to discussing nudity. We’d decided that the Emperor was wearing his “birthday suit,” though some kids later wrote that he was “butt naked.” (I don’t have a problem with the word “butt,” unless it’s preceded by the word “big.”)

I told my students to hurry up and change. They had no reason to linger in the locker room. “It’s not like you’re at Starbucks,” I told them. The first week was the worst. My Korean girls opened all the lockers and then draped towels between them so as to make small private dressing rooms. At least, that’s what I was told. I only set foot in the locker room once and the collective scream that went up sent me scurrying outside.

The first day, kids had to try on a swim suit (which they got to keep). Several of my bigger girls had to try on more than one to get just the right fit. One girl, who can look me eye to eye, sat pool-side the first week because she was “coming down with a cold.” After a few days, the swim instructor told me she needed try on a suit so she’d be ready to swim. The instructor then handed me three suits.

The girl hunkered down in a bathroom stall and I had to talk her through trying on each suit. Lots of grunting and groaning followed by, “Oops!  I think I have it on backwards.”  I offered to take a look, but she was horrified at the prospect. I finally convinced her this was okay, but first I had put on my dark glasses and keep my eyes shut as I’d promised. I groped around and fiddled with the straps. Then I was granted a quick look. “Hmmm.  I think the straps cut into your back,” I said, reaching for the next size up.

I groused as I heard the girl’s elbows knock against the sides of the stall, “You could have at least chosen a handicapped stall!” At last, we found a suit that covered the subject. I was exhausted. I had no idea that being a “highly, qualified teacher” involved THIS. The icing on the cake was when the girl’s family went out of town the next week – for the duration of swimming. Hmmm… But then what do I know?

When it was first announced that students would be swimming, my Muslim girl’s mother took me aside. She was concerned that her daughter be dressed “modestly.” I assured her I’d figure something out. That night I found myself googling “Muslim swim wear.” Oh dear. Snappy music came up with a woman riding a jet ski wearing what appeared to be a beekeeper’s suit. So not! Later, I found myself at Target checking out board shorts for girls. In the end, my student wore board shorts and a matching top, and yes, the other students knew why. It was no big deal. My student had never been in a pool before, so when she jumped off the diving board on the last day, I was ecstatic.

It was easier for the boys, although the bigger boys (those who wear “Husky-sized” pants), were plagued by an even more embarrassing issue – man boobs. Most of these boys were used to swimming in a t-shirt, so having it all out there for the world to see was humiliating. They walked around with their arms folded over their chest which made them look like they were chronically cold.

Each day we took the swimsuits back to school and hung them up to dry. When I noticed that one of my boys was always the first ready to swim, I realized he was taking his suit home and wearing it under his pants to school each day. Yeah, that would have been me, so I said nothing.

The first day, one of the instructors said the last boy out of the locker room would have to do the “chicken dance” in front of the girls, and vice-versa. This got the kids moving at warp speed. It is possible the “chicken dance” is just an urban legend, because I never actually saw it performed.

I never got around to grading any of those papers, what with taking photos of my students and passing out towels and all. But I had plenty of time to check out the other people at the pool. Not a lot of hotties swim during school hours. Like I said – “R” rated. We were sitting there one day when a guy walked by, his trunks clinging for dear life to his back side. The other teacher turned to me and said just what I was thinking – “crack kills.” We both burst out laughing.

Remember, last one out has to do the “chicken dance!”

Photo Credit:  Chicken Dance by babka_babka on Flickr.

Masters of the Universe March 4, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Teaching.
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When I told my husband I was thinking of going back to school to get my Master’s degree, he said, “You know I’ll support you.”  That’s when I said, “Actually, it’s because I’m worried that you won’t be able to support me (us) that I’m thinking of doing this in the first place.” Ouch!  But it’s true.  It all comes down to numb3rs.  If I get a Master’s degree, my salary will bump over two columns.  No small potatoes given the state of the economy.

As a teacher, I’m already performing brain surgery on a daily basis, so it’s about time that I start making the big bucks.  But here’s the catch.  The one-year program I’m appying for is in Education Administration (as in I’ll have my Preliminary Administrative credential when I finish).  Me as an administrator?  That’s like letting the inmates run the asylum.  But what’s a 50 Something to do?  

The price is right.  I can pay for the cost of the program in a year.  After that it’s all gravy. Not a big serving, but gravy none the less.  I’ve applied with three of my friends from school and if the planets align and 20 people sign up for the program, I’ll be going to class two nights a week just across the street from my school.  If the planets align.  Otherwise, it’s the dreaded schlep up the HILL to the local college two nights a week.  

I actually went on-line and checked out other programs.  I figured if I’m going to get an M.A., why not get one in something I’m really interested in – like forensics, or storytelling, or anything that doesn’t end with -tion?  Too expensive.  Several teachers said they were interested in getting their Administrative Credential so they could understand how administrators think. I suggested, if that was the case, they should enroll in Abnormal Psychology. (I don’t know why people don’t take me seriously.) 

The application is due this week.  I had to write a 500-word essay about why I want to be an administrator. I already have a B.A., but fell back on my B.S. to pull this one off.  It’s the first time I’ve accessed the “Word Count” feature under “Tools” that tells you how many words you’ve written – and how many you have to go.  It’s like pulling teeth very slowly, o-n-e  t-o-o-t-h  a-t  a  t-i-m-e.

But here’s the good news. Two people wrote personal letters of recommendation for me and my friend and colleague wrote the most awesome letter. Not only am I a stellar human being, but my students LOVE me. She wrote that, so it’s gotta be true.  >blush< 

So I soldier on, hoping to add a few letters of the alphabet after my name. Who knew that lifelong learning was such a _________ (rhymes with rich).