Parents in Denial March 12, 2013Posted by alwaysjan in Parenting, Teaching.
Tags: Difficult Parents, Education, Humor, Parents in Denial, Teaching, Third Grade, What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents
Saturday morning I woke up with my stomach churning over a conversation I’d had with a parent after school. No harsh words were exchanged (unlike my first year of teaching when a parent flipped me off in front of a class of second graders), but the parent looked at me incredulously when I said her child was still having the same issues as he had on Day One. Another Parent in Denial
But there’s something I need to come clean about. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I, too, was a bonafide Parent in Denial. If only I’d been a teacher before I became a parent, I wouldn’t have been such a pushover when it came to my sons’ lame-o excuses. My boys were angels! So any teacher who tried to tell me otherwise was obviously not used to dealing with a creative genius or a real boy.
How bad was I? When my younger son was accused of throwing an apple across the lunch area outside and hitting the custodian in the head, I insisted that it couldn’t have been him because I’d seen him throw in Little League and his aim wasn’t that good! And I believed this with all my heart.
The “apple” incident was just one of many. There were phone calls. Meetings with tribunals of teachers. Suspensions. Sometimes the police were involved.
My sons are now 30 and 26 and they are decent, hardworking young men whom I’m now very proud of. So, imagine when several years ago my accused “apple thrower” blurted out, “Mom, you know all that stuff they said I did in middle and high school?…well, I did it all.”
By then I was teaching and I had to hang my head with shame. To think I had been THAT parent. Not always, but there were a couple of rough years when I’d questioned a teacher’s motivation, competence, and even demanded that my son be changed to another class. Because of me, there were some teachers who woke up on Saturday morning with their stomachs churning. Karma?
A colleague posted What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents on Facebook. It was just what I needed to read on Saturday morning. At a time when the average new teacher leaves the profession after only 4.5 years and “parent disrespect” is cited as one of the leading reasons, I think this is timely indeed. Read it and see what you think.
On My 9th Year of Teaching – Looking Back at Year 1 August 19, 2012Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Classroom Management, Death of a student, Education, First Year of Teaching, Personal, Reflections on Teaching. First year of Teaching, Teaching, Third Grade
This week I’ll go back to school. It will be my 9th year working as a credentialed teacher in a public school.
I took the scenic route to becoming a teacher. I taught art in NYC. I worked as a substitute on and off. I was a District Intern with the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 months teaching in a modified bilingual classroom. There was no toilet paper. The jello made the kids sick. My own sons were acting up. I quit and sold my blue pocket charts at a yard sale.
Two years later, I tried another alternative program to credentialing and was placed in a classroom of high risk 5th grade students. I didn’t have the experience at that time to deal with them. Every day after school the custodian would push his broom through my classroom and say, “These are bad kids, very bad kids.” The enrollment numbers were down, so I was first to go. After only 15 days in the classroom, I couldn’t leave fast enough as I was done – or more accurately, done in.
Yet, no matter how many times I decided I was DONE with teaching, I always returned. No sooner had I sold those blue pocket charts than I was out buying more. Ultimately, I realized that it’s when I’m in the classroom that I feel most alive.
In 2004, I finally earned my California Teaching Credential. I was 50 years old. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.
Did you know that half of all teachers leave teaching within the first five years? Looking back, it’s a wonder I even made it through my first year. It’s a year still seared in my memory as no class in pedagogy could have prepared me for what was in store.
It was only the second week of school when the principal came to the door of my classroom. This was not a good sign. Had I filled out the attendance incorrectly? He led me to the office where I met the father of one of my students. The man, head in hands, was weeping.”She was just so stressed,” he kept saying. I wasn’t quite sure what this was about.
It was only the next day that we learned his wife had committed suicide by shooting herself in the garage. And the kids? They were still at home watching TV as he had told them their mother was at work. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. Several days passed and the boy returned to school. I bought a heart-shaped pillow where he could sometimes rest back in the library when he felt sad.
A new boy, Ezekiel, joined our class. He was adorable and so smart that he’d skipped first grade. He immediately befriended the boy who’d lost his mother. I remember thinking, “This is a good thing” as they were both such bright and kind-hearted boys.
But after Thanksgiving, Ezekiel did not come back to school. Could he have gone on a trip to see relatives I wondered? Then came the call. He’d collapsed at home and was at the hospital on life support. Could the children pray for him? They did – with all the strength their little second-grade hearts could muster.
The next day the principal and I drove to the hospital to see this precious boy. When a child was pushed by us in the hall on a gurney, the principal asked, “Was that him?” I honestly didn’t know. I was used to seeing Ezekiel in his school uniform with those big sparkly eyes. The family was gathered. The mood was somber. He’d just collapsed one evening at home. It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Ezekiel was taken off life support the next day. Crisis counselors from the district descended on my classroom. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. But the words eventually came to me. We wrote a poem. We talked about how someone is never really gone unless you forget them.
At Ezekiel’s funeral, his first grade teacher was the first to speak. I will never forget what she said.
“Teaching is a dangerous job because you can fall in love with other people’s children.”
That’s the truth. And so begins another year.
Photo Credit: Jan Marshall
History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part 2 May 1, 2012Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, History, History Wax Museum, Humor, Open House Projects, Teaching, Third Grade, What is History Wax Museum
When I wrote History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part, I ended by saying that I would NEVER do this project again. Not with 28 students. Well, as my mother always said, “Never say never,” or as I like to say, “Crow is best eaten while warm.”
Fast forward a year. I now have 31 third graders and History Wax Museum is HAPPENING! Why? Two teachers are new to 3rd grade, so they don’t have any lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from last year. And those of us who are veterans? Well, what can I say? I’d like having a baby. Once you pop the little booger out, you tend to forget all that came before.
It also helps that History Wax Museum is performed at Open House. For teachers this means no Dog and Pony Show (my dog has been dead for years and the pony is out to pasture). No attempts to out-cutesy the teacher next door and NO cleaning the classroom. Can you say bliss?
This year a parent suggested that students should be able to explain just what a history wax museum is to the uninitiated. Okay, here’s what you need to know. NO WAX is harmed in the making of the History Wax Museum. The students stand frozen in a pose in front of their tri-fold board. There is a button on the floor (okay, it’s a fake button – a red paper circle actually) that visitors step on to activate the character. The student then “comes to life” and tells their story.
Last year, I found myself doing a lot of things that weren’t covered in my teacher credentialing program like throwing together costumes for kids whose parents couldn’t pull it together. Galileo showed up with a piece of a white t-shirt to wear as a beard. It looked a bit like a do-rag. Really? That’s the best you could do?
I sprinted to the local Out of the Closet and found a woman’s frilly shirt. It was supposed to be for Florence Nightingale, but she pulled a costume together at the last minute. Florence (The “Lady with the Lamp”) Nightingale even had a lantern thanks to my neighbors. Galileo ended up wearing the frilly shirt. He did manage to drag in a HUGE telescope for visitors to trip over.
I also helped Abe Lincoln, who was portrayed by a girl, make a stove pipe hat from a paper plate and some black paper. It turned out way better than I ever imaged. Abe’s mom found a “beard” at Michael’s. The girl looked like she had a furry hamster clinging to her face!
This year, I’ve got a new group of kids who are doing a lot of different people. I’m thinking I might sandwich George Carlin between Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. LOVE IT!
Both Picasso and Gandhi are being played by girls. Gandhi has nixed wearing a skull cap. She asked me for advice on her costume. Another teacher suggested, “How about a diaper?” Okay, that is SO not happening. A lovely parent from last year from India stopped by for a costume consultation. All I know is it involves bedsheets. With another kid’s John Lennon glasses, I believe we have lift off for Gandhi!
I couldn’t resist taking the photo of the Secret Lives of Great Artists. Last year’s Frido Kahlo (I have Frida “dos” this year.) was surprised to learn that she’d had affairs with women as well as men. I have learned to deftly handle these delicate questions. I’ve found that, “Whatever floats your boat” accompanied by a wink explains so much about the human condition. And to be honest, my Frida was more distressed that Diego was so fat.
Queen Elizabeth I took me aside the other day to let me know that her father Henry VIII was behaving very inappropriately with her – something about spanking and tickling. I suggested she just skip to the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Nudity – no. Violence – yes. That said, what about Annie Oakley? How can you be a sharpshooter without a gun? Annie made one out of paper, but it looked like a Saturday night special. Now if we can just get a 2×4 and get carving…
Photo Credit: Jan Marshall
Lockdown! November 27, 2011Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
Tags: Classroom humor, Humor, Lockdown, Shelter in Place, Students during lockdown, Teaching, Third Grade
Forget Black Friday. Crowd control? Violence? People trying to claw their way to the front of the line? Hell, every day is Black Friday when you’re a teacher.
In keeping with my mantra, “I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed” mantra, my school recently went into lockdown mode.
Never mind that what used to be called “Lockdown” is now referred to as “Shelter in Place.” When things got dicey, the voice over the PA made it clear. “Teachers we are in lockdown. This is not a drill!”
I dutifully locked the door to the classroom (Thank god I could find my keys on the mess that is my desk!) One student asked if someone might be coming into the school with a gun. “That’s unlikely,” I replied. “But if anyone does, I’ll take a bullet for you. That’s why I make the big bucks.” My students seemed relieved. “Now let’s get back to those Thanksgiving turkeys,” I chirped.
It helped immensely that half of my class (31 students, yes 31!) was out of the class on the Woodworking Bus. I was busily dipping the coffee filters that had been colored with magic markers into a glass of water. These would be the turkey’s feathers. “Ooh! Aah!” Kids never cease to be amazed at the results. But the sound of helicopters nearby was hard to ignore. Someone jiggled the doorknob and students froze. ‘They’re just checking to make sure we’re safe,” I said. I casually strolled over to the glass just to make sure Michael Myers was not lurking outside.
An hour passed. The kids complained that recess had come and gone, like it was MY fault that we couldn’t go outside. After another 20 minutes had passed, some started in on their snacks. It was then that one boy said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I ordered him to quit sucking on his juice pack, but it was too late. “I really have to go,” he repeated.
For six years, I’ve had an emergency potty in my room. It’s basically a plastic waste paper basket with a rubber lid. A bin of books is balanced on it, so the kids hadn’t even noticed it. We popped it open to see what was inside: a blue plastic tarp, pairs of latex gloves, plastic bags, a bag of kitty litter, and a roll of toilet paper.
“I really have to go,” moaned the juice-slurper. I figured out how to drape the plastic tarp – one end on the metal cabinets and the other on my easel. Not bad. The boy was now doing the potty dance, a sight that strikes fear into the heart of all teachers.
I had all of the kids move to the far side of the class. “Keep coloring those turkeys!” I ordered. You could have heard a pin drop. And that was the problem. No one wants to have everyone hear them “go.” I found my Muse CD and cranked it up LOUD, guitar riffs and all.
The first boy went. He emerged smiling from the makeshift restroom. I handed him a leftover Halloween cup half-filled with kitty litter and instructed him to go back and toss it in. A second boy came forward. He used the potty. More kitty litter. Finally, another boy said, “Oh, I might as well.” He complained that there was kitty litter around the rim and requested a wipe to clean it off. No sooner had he gone than there was a knock at our door. Security was escorting children to the bathrooms for a quick break.
The three boys stayed behind. “We don’t need to go because we went IN CLASS!” they bragged. I gave them a Sharpie and let them autograph the toilet. They insisted on writing the date beside their names.
I’m afraid the children who were most traumatized by the lockdown were those out in the Woodworking Bus. They were forced to go into a kindergarten classroom and then herded into the auditorium where they were, according to them, forced to sing the “Hokey Pokey” over and over. Their eyes were glassy.
Later we learned the lockdown was due to three pipe bombs found in the apartment of a parolee who’d been arrested the night before. His apartment was a block from the school, but the Fire Department issued the lockdown as a precaution as the Bomb Squad went in and detonated the bombs. The parolee had served time in prison for methamphetamine use. “Boy, meth will make your teeth fall out,” I warned the kids. “Never an attractive look.” This is what’s called a Teachable Moment.
Later, a custodian came in to remove the emergency potty for cleaning. Another teacher asked if I put the plastic bag inside the potty. Plastic bag? I asked. Oh crap! That’s what they were for? Said potty has yet to be returned, but we’ll know it when we see it cause it’s got our names written all over it.
Just another day in Paradise.
Teacher or Score Whore? August 13, 2011Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Creativity, Divergent Thinkers, Education, Educational Reform, Educational Revoluation, Matt Damon, NCLB, No Child Left Behind, Score Whore, Sir Ken Robinson, Standardized Testing, Teaching, Third Grade, Urban Dictionary
“All perceived underachievement by students is entirely the fault of teachers.”
I’ve been mulling over posting Rewriting the Attack on Teachers from The Last Word on The Lawrence O’Donnell Show for over a week now. The show featured a clip of Matt Damon and his mom, who is a teacher, speaking out against this national obsession with standardized testing. The comment above is taken from the show. (And yes, if you click on the link, you have to sit through a commercial first. ^#^&8&.)
But in the meanwhile, MY students’ STAR test results came in. I was elated to learn that four of my 28 third graders scored a perfect 600 in math on the standardized STAR test given in May! Even more exciting, 24 scored Advanced and 2 at the Proficient level. I wasn’t surprised about the two students who didn’t make the grade. They struggled all year and scored Basic, but it could have been worse. There ARE sub-levels of failure including Below Basic and Far Below Basic.
It helped that this year I taught a cluster of GATE (Gifted and Talented Students). They made up half of the class. The four previous years, I taught an ELD (English Language Development) cluster where the test scores can sometimes make you wonder if you’ve been talking to yourself all year.
My students’ English Language Arts scores were less stellar, but that’s always the case. Whereas, math is black and white, the English Language is a moving target for my students. Still, if I taught in one of those districts that handed out money for test scores. Ka-ching! My initial reaction was, “Woo hoo!”
But then I got to thinking, something that teachers are prone to do. Though my class tested well, most of my students have difficulty writing a coherent paragraph. And with all that test prep, we barely touched on those two subjects that begin with S – Science and Social Studies. But these things aren’t “on the test” which is code for they must not be that important.
But what about imagination, passion, and creativity? Matt Damon asked. “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.” Sssh! The elephant in the room has stirred!
In Not Your Imagination: Kids Today Really Are Less Creative, Study Says, Ron Beghetto, an educational psychologist at the University of Oregon, posits, “The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering the development of creativity among kids,” adding, “There ‘s not much room for unexpected, novel or divergent thought.”
When it comes to talking not just about educational reform, but educational Revolution, I can think of no one as articulate and downright funny as Sir Ken Robinson. In his 18-minute talk at TED Bring on the Learning Revolution!, Robinson urges us to scrap the outdated industrial/manufacturing/fast food model of education where the goal is standardization and success is based on the standardized test in favor of a model where kids’ natural talents can flower. He also debunks the myths that “Everyone should go college” and “College begins in Kindergarten.”
It’s rousing food for thought, especially as a new school year awaits. Score whore no more! I’m a teacher. Period.
Credit: Score: Score Whore merchandise (yes, that’s the front of a notecard for the teachers in YOUR life) available through Urban Dictionary.
History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part May 17, 2011Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, GATE, GATE projects, Henry VIII for kids, History Wax Museum, Humor, Increased Class Sizes, Open House, Open House activities, Teacher Humor, Teaching, Third Grade, Tudor Flat Cap
Last Friday, I found myself having a chat with Henry VIII about annulment vs. divorce, while JFK, Frida Kahlo, and Emiliano Zapata waited impatiently to talk to me. Yes, the History Wax Museum project is consuming my life.
This year, all four third grade classes at my school are doing this project which requires students to research a famous person’s life, then write a narrative speech in the first person which they must memorize and perform at Open House. The finished History Wax Museum is quite impressive. Students stand frozen in their costumes with a tri-fold board serving as a backdrop. There’s a red paper “button” on the floor that visitors step on to activate the character. To my knowledge, only one performer has thrown up in three years – and it was not on a visitor. That’s what I’d call Good Odds.
I’m afraid I’m a Johnny Come Lately to the GATE scene. (For you civilians that’s Gifted and Talented Education.) Yes, this year for the first time I have a cluster of GATE students. And this year for the first time, I’m expected to shepherd my students through this godawful project. I suppose when there were 20 students to a class, this project was doable, but with 28 warm bodies wall-to-wall in my classroom, it’s become unmanagable.
Students were to pick someone dead. Michael Jackson is a no no as all students want to do is wear a glove and do the Thriller dance. But some teachers caved, so this year Yoko Ono will be making an appearance. Another teacher asked, “What’s she famous for? Breaking up the Beatles?” I’m still wondering how a third grader in 2011 knows about Yoko Ono.
Students were to find two to three resources and do their research at home. They’re to do the writing at school to make sure good ole Mom and Dad don’t stick their finger in the pudding.
Last week, I waded through reams of paper that students had downloaded off the Internet, most of which was written for adults. One of the the questions was, “Where was your character born?” One girl answered, “A hospital.” I should have recognized that answer for what it was – the canary in the coal mine that had fallen from its perch. It’s been only downhill from there.
I have to remind myself that it’s not my students’ fault. Most were born in 2001. They have no concept of history. When I met with a student today, she’d written that her character, who was active in the Mexican Revolution was arrested and sent to a convenience store. “That would be a convent,” I reminded her. Even then, she didn’t have a clue.
Galileo is stressing about his costume, though he has yet to put a word on paper for his speech. “You know,” he said with utmost sincerity, “I wanted to be a monk, but my father didn’t want me to go to monk school.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Alien abduction makes more sense to these kids than half of the stuff they’re reading off of Wikipedia.
Which brings me to Henry VIII. One of my big Hispanic boys chose this character to research. As I skimmed over how Henry was “licentious,” I had to paraphrase for my student. “Wow, you were a real ladies man!” I said. He cracked a smile. He now has the “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” ditty down. Today he was bragging to another boy about all of his wives. I felt the need to take the wind out of his sails, so I reminded him that in his later years he had an oozing sore that didn’t heal and that was a real turn off for the ladies. Boy, that did the trick!
My Henry, unlike the real Henry VIII, comes from a family of meager means. When I asked how he planned to pull of this costume, he looked downright stricken. So in a moment of weakness, I ordered a black velveteen Tudor flat cap off the Internet. I know I’ll be able to use it again someday. The boy mentioned he’d need a feather for the hat. I think we need to scout the area outside the lunchroom where the pigeons roost.
Last Friday a teacher new to third grade announced History Wax Museum would be off her radar next year. I asked what she planned to do instead. “I have one word,” she said wiggling her hips, “Zoomba!” I don’t even know what Zoomba is, but I’m in. But, can I wear my Tudor flat cap?
School Supplies – The Cupboard is Bare September 19, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Economy, Education, Humor, Larger class sizes, Public Education, Rant, School Supplies, Teaching, The State of Schools, Third Grade
I wanted to write a post about the first week of school but couldn’t find a picture of a person being hit over the head with a frying pan. But I did find the illustration above of Mother Hubbard and her ever hopeful dog checking the cupboard – only to find it bare. I guess that would make me ol’ Mother in the pointy hat, which is about how I felt last Friday afternoon after four straight days with my new third graders.
Last year we had no school supplies (e.g. pencils, paper, Crayons, glue, journals) because the orders were LOST. But supplies eventually did trickle in. This year no one has even offered an excuse for the lack of supplies save the economy. You have to understand. Good teachers don’t get mad. Okay, they do, but then they go to Target and buy whatever supplies they need with their own money. It’s usually on a credit card cause we received our last check in July and won’t see the next one ’til October. What’s wrong with this picture?
There are a few teachers who’ve I swear have been stockpiling supplies since 1999 in anticipation of the chaos the millenium might bring. They’re set. The rest of us are scrambling to “make do,” which I’m beginning to think should be an educational standard children are tested on, as it’s a valuable life skill.
On the first day back, our PTA (which is filled with dedicated and passionate parents) gave each teacher a $20 Target gift card. You’d have thought people won the lottery. We teachers are a humble lot. A $5 gift card to Starbucks makes us tear up. There was a drag race to Target as soon as our staff development let out. Unfortunately our district started so late this year that the Back-to-School section had been replaced with Halloween merchandise. All the good stuff was gone. Dang!
This had to be the craziest first week of school I can remember. It didn’t help that two of our six third grade teachers were let go due to budget cuts. Or that because of five furlough days, we had four full days with new students instead of the usual two on Week 1. We were told there would be higher class sizes, but it was anticipated that some of those on the roster would be “no shows.” Last year student numbers crept from 20 to 24. This year they’re capped at 28. I had 32 on my roster, but only 29 showed. In the classroom next door to me 35 children filled the room making it impossible to move about the room.
Not only did I not have supplies, I didn’t have an extra eight desks and chairs! The day before school started our hard-working custodians dragged in a motley assortment of desks and chairs, some obviously from the 60s. Some were too big, some were too small, and none were just right.
I’d put in an order for my peeling wall to be repaired last June. I’m sure it’s lead-based paint, but I arrived back at school just in time to meet the painter who said he’d be back “later” to fix it. He was last seen running from the school. None of my computers had internet, so I had to summon my inner New Yorker to “persuade” ITS to send over a technician – now! A technician did arrive and fixed the computers. I did not show my fangs. In fact, I went out of my way to be nice to him. Now I had computers, but still no journals or pencils.
I allow my students two pencils a month and one Kleenex a day (okay, if your snot is cascading onto the floor, I’ll give you two). I told my students there were virtually no supplies, but tried to keep the mood positive. Let’s pretend we’re camping! You know there are schools in sub-Saharan Africa that have dirt floors? Children write their math problems with sticks in the dirt. Does anyone have a stick? My goal was not to burden the children with adult problems. “Pay no attention to that man standing behind the curtain!”
I sent home a letter to parents and thank goodness rolls of paper towels, glue sticks, and some stickers arrived. I even received a $20 gift card to Office Depot. I actually now have a red dry erase marker! As teachers we’re so used to making do with so little, that the smallest gesture of kindness puts us on top of the world. I’m of the opinion that during the BP oil spill, if they’d offered free food, teachers would have flooded in from all over the nation and capped that d^mn well! We’re doers, but we get tired of having to “make do.”
This is the first time I’ve ever written a post that has the tag “Rant” on it, as I don’t like to to go THERE. I finally broke down and bought pencils and had some additional ones donated. My parents are not rich, but like all parents, they want the best for their children. I remain an optimist and choose to believe that my supply ship will come in. If necessary, I’m willing to battle Somali pirates with my yardstick to make this a reality.
Finally, on a more positive note. Although it’s only been four days, I think I have the makings of a great class!
The ABCs of ASL May 23, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Apologize, ASL, Classroom Management, Humor, ICstars, Justin Timberlake's Apologize in ASL, sign language, Signing in the classrrom, Teaching, Third Grade
I took my students on a field trip last week. The professional storyteller asked how many of the teachers in the room like to play school when they were growing up. All hands shot up – except mine. She storyteller was genuinely surprised. “You’re the first teacher I’ve met who didn’t play school,” she said. I shrugged, “Teaching is my second career.” But the damage was done. “One, two three, eyes on me”- the teacher who never played school as a child.
Though I didn’t play school, when I was in the third grade (which just happens to be the grade I teach now), I read Helen Keller’s biography and learned the manual alphabet at the back of the book. My friends and I used it as our secret code in middle school. I still remember standing outside my friend’s classroom and signing some message of major import (everything in middle school is of major import). Years later when I was in Idaho, I met one of my husband’s distant relatives who was deaf. My signing was rusty, but I was able to communicate with this woman. I remember thinking, “This is so COOL!”
I once subbed for a fourth grade class learning to sign “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” I only knew how to finger spell words, so this was fun. When you sign “used to,” you throw your hand over your shoulder like you’re getting rid of something. I loved that. Later when our friend Leszek became a U.S. citizen, I watched as a woman signed the entire swearing in ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center. It was beautiful to watch. But what does this have to do with teaching?
As a teacher, you get tired of hearing the sound of your own voice. And at some point, your students do too. Signing is a great way to give directions. And I’ve learned that students LOVE to sign. When you sign, students are “all ears.”
Last year I bought two decks of signing cards and a book Signing at School. There’s always several students who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over this book. That would have been me in third grade. Did you know that knowing ASL qualifies as speaking a foreign language? Just in case you’ve got to get that requirement out of the way.
This year, I have a class heavy on girls, so that means one thing – girl drama. I had to laugh as the other day when the girls were having a go at each other, one of the boys looked at me and signed “Girl Drama!”
I learned to sign “Girl Drama on ASLPro. You can search for a word or phrase and see it signed. My only complaint is that some of the signing is a little fast. I need it in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.
I’ve slowly been trying to build my signing vocabulary. I began with “Sit” “See you later” and ” I love you.” I’ve graduated to “Follow me” “boys” (which is signed using the motion for the brim of a baseball hat) and “girls” (which mimics a girl tying her bonnet). I teach a cluster of English Language learners, but they love using ASL.
I’ve actually found that watching songs helps because of the repetition of signs. Recently, through my blog’s Tag Surfer feature, I came across middle schoolers signing Justin Timberlake’s Apologize on Youtube. While on Youtube, I stumbled across Apologize signed by ICSTARS, who is hearing. It’s probably the most expressive signing I’ve seen. His signing shows how ASL is not just communication, but art.
Finally, ASL Tutor On-Line is a site where if you have SKYPE, you can be personally be tutored in signing for only $15 an hour. I’m seriously thinking of expanding my signing vocabulary this summer using this feature. With the projected class size increase next year, I need to know how to sign “You’re standing on my last nerve!”
May Means Mother’s Day Cards May 1, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Teaching.
Tags: Humor, Ideas for Mother's Day Cards, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Cards, Mother's Day Cards for Students, palindromes, Teaching, Third Grade
April showers bring May flowers, STAR testing, and, what’s that other one? Oh yeah, Mother’s Day. This year Mother’s Day falls on May 9th, the day before STAR testing begins. So this week my third graders will be cranking out Mother’s Day cards. Actually it’s a great way to remind them that both “Mother’s” and “Day” need to be capitalized, as there’s always a question like that on the test.
Last year I finally got around to making five templates, so students can take turns tracing MOM. (Taking turns – a valuable skill NOT on the test.) When folded, the card is around 5×6. I actually have them use card stock, so they can color it in with markers. (I’m notoriously stingy when it comes to letting students use markers.) They color in the positive space and then the negative using a variety of lines, and geometric and organic shapes.
When they’re done, I have them flip over the card, so they can see it says, “WOW.” They think this is way cool. I explain that both MOM and WOW are palindromes and give them several other examples. (One year I conveniently had a Hannah in my class!) So this week my students will walk out of class with a cool card for “dear ole” and some more esoteric information that will NEVER appear on the STAR test. LOL.
Playing Musical Chairs April 18, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Classroom seating, Education, English Language Learners, Humor, Persuasive Writing, Teaching, Third Grade
It’s that time of year. With all the yakking and smacking (gum, rubber bands, and pencils that is), I need to move some kids around. But my students sit at tables for two, so anytime I move one kid, it has a domino effect.
It’s also that time of year when students learn to write a persuasive letter. So if a student wants to switch seats, they have to persuade me. Over Spring Break, I ran across letters students had written in years past, which cracked me up. I gave them a few tips on how to be tactful, and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Please bear in mind some are English Language Learners. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Dear Ms. M,
May I change seats please? Because Ricardo steal my pen and every day Ricardo say “Can I have your pencil?” and “Can I use your sharpener?” I want seats by Anthony. Because Anthony he can help me, and I can ask to him. Most important Anthony has own pencil.
Dear Ms. M,
I would like to change seats please. The person next to me talk to much and they are very bossy. That is why I want to move. The person is N and she tells people to do this and do that. She’s telling me what to do write now. If you move me then I will work harder and help people in need.
Dear Ms. M,
May I change seats please. The person sitting next to me talks all the time so it is hard for me to focus when you are talking about all the really important stuff. He is also a big boy so he takes up a lot of leg room.
All three students got to change seats. But then they got to learn an English idiom – The grass is always greener.
Running on Empty February 7, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Blogging, Clipart, Discovery School, Foot Fetishism, Humor, Teaching, Third Grade
Getting my masters degree has seriously gotten in the way of the really important things in my life – like blogging. For my my regular readers, I do have a lot of posts “in the works.” There’s The Scarlet Letter – A is for Autism, The Narcissist as Nobody and the confessional tell-all, I was a Difficult Parent. I’ve also been working on a post on foot fetishism, which I became interested in when I saw the search engine terms people used to reach my Why is Horniness Coming from My Mom’s Feet post. Actually, I just want an excuse to get a pedicure so I can use own feet in the preferred “fan pose” for the graphic.
I just passed the halfway point in my program. If I can hang in there until June, I’m home free. But in the meantime, I’m running on empty.
For all the teachers in my life, the clipart is from Discovery Education.
Dead Fly on the Wall January 26, 2010Posted by alwaysjan in Art.
Tags: Art, Dead Fly Art, Geekery, Humor, Imagination, Teaching, Third Grade
I was scrambling to finish my final five report cards when my friend Nancy emailed me pictures of “dead fly art.” According to the email all you need to do is get a dead fly (or moth), let it sit for an hour, and then let your imagination run wild. Hey, I’m good at that.
Those who know me know I’ve got a thing for bugs, even dead ones, so of course I put the report cards on hold and googled “dead fly art.” I found lots of links, most which featured really annoying ads. (And you thought I was going to say ads that “bug me,” but I’m not THAT obvious!) The “dead fly art” has been featured on several sites in the UK. Some of the original photos have what looks like German Swedish writing on them. Who is the genius behind these? (I’ve since learned it’s Swedish photographer Magnus Mohr.) I’m now thinking of a really cool art project for Open House. After all, our current unit is Imagination, and Picasso is so old school. I hope the parents have a sense of humor. Now, back to those report cards.
To see more “Dead Fly Art,” go to The Chive Photo Blog.
Boys Book Club December 6, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Book Clubs, Boys and Reading, Boys Book Club, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Education, Guys Read, Jeff Kinney, Jon Scieszka, Second Grade, Teaching, Third Grade
Some boys are reluctant readers, and when they do read, it’s not Junie B. Jones. Boys like non-fiction – dinosaurs, bats, and things that go bump in the night. Books with cool pictures of hairy cavemen carrying strategically placed clubs, or of a lion gutting an impala. Books with a high gross-out factor. You know, funny stuff.
Two years ago five boys in my room bought Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney at the school Book Fair. I’d never seen the boys so excited about reading. I’d recently joined a book club myself and suggested they could form a book club too. When I mumbled something about snacks, the boys were gung ho.
There was just one small problem. This meant I had to actually read Diary of a Wimpy Kid to come up with questions to discuss. It turned out the book was hilarious. Although the book is a 5.2 reading level per Accelerated Reader, my students seemed to understand most of it, so I thought it was worth a shot.
Author Jeff Kinney originally released Diary of a Wimpy Kid online on Funbrain.com in daily installments before he got a book deal. That should warm any blogger’s heart.
Boys Book Club met in the hallway outside our classroom. I propped the door open to keep an eye on the rest of the class while we discussed the questions. Our “signature drink” was apple juice, which is an excellent accompaniment to animal crackers. The boys were most excited because BBC (as it came to be known) did not involve bubbling in the correct answer like they have to on the weekly Open Court test.
As the boys discussed the questions, I learned way more about each boy than I’d known before. It was such a lively discussion that at one point I found myself thinking, “Wow! This is why I became a teacher.” When we got to the question about nicknames, one of the two Korean boys only knew his nickname in Korean. The other boy, whose English was much better, thought for a moment and then translated it into English as “Big Sweaty Boy.” We all laughed hysterically, as it was so appropriate. The questions for Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the end of this post. Feel free to steal them.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon Guys Read, a website devoted to getting boys excited about reading especially fiction. Guys Read was started by Jon Scieszka, the author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, of which I just happen to have an autographed copy. Everything on Guys Read is incredibly clever, just like everything Scieszka writes. If you know a guy, big or small, check it out.
Boys’ Book Club
Discussion Questions for
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
by Jeff Kinney
1. What made you want to read this book?
2. Do you think the book would be as funny without the illustrations?
3. When you think of someone who is wimpy, what do you think they’re
4. Do you think that sometimes you are wimpy? Why?
5. The main character, Gregory, thinks his parents treat his younger brother
Manny better than they treat him. Do you agree? If you have a brother or
sister, do you think your parents ever treat them differently than you?
6. Do you think it would be fun to make your own haunted house like Greg
did? What would you put in it?
7. When Greg takes wrestling, he’s paired up with Fregley (p. 83). Have you ever been paired up with someone at school, who you didn’t want to be with? (no names, please!) How did you deal with it?
8. Greg told his brother not to circle all the expensive stuff he wanted for Christmas and just to circle a few medium priced gifts because he was more likely to get these. Do you think this was smart advice?
9. Greg’s brother, Manny, embarrassed him by calling him by his nickname, “Bubby.” Do your parents ever call you a name that embarrasses you?
10. The following expressions/idioms are in the book. Do you know what they REALLY mean?
p. 18 But no matter how many “noogies” I give him…
p. 19 “take him under my wing”
p. 26 “mopping the floor with him”
p. 30 “caught red handed”
Turkeys in Disguise November 29, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Art.
Tags: Disguising a Turkey, First Grade, Humor, Second Grade, Thanksgiving Art for First Grade, Third Grade, Turkey in disguise template, Turkeys in disguise
Did someone say, “Insufferably Cute?” After my last conference (yes, I went to school in my zombified state), I was on my way out the door and saw these. Those First Grade teachers are ruthlessly cutesy.
Students had to “disguise” their turkey, so it could escape the carving knife. There were lots of ballerinas and princesses. That one on the end said, “I’m a black hairy monster. My father is Big Foot. If you try to eat me, I’ll eat you first!” Be on the lookout for these turkeys in disguise!
Here is the Turkey Template:
How Did You Get Your Name? November 8, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: American Names, Angel Child Dragon Child, Art Lesson Using Name, Baby Names, Family Names, First names, Humor, Parenting, Teaching, Third Grade, Unusual Names
I could have been named Susan or Barbara, but the relatives in California nabbed those first. So, I was named Janet. When I got married my husband started calling me Jan. I was fine with that. Because I was such a happy child, my nickname was “Jan-ny Gay.” But that was back before…oh, you know.
When I was in LAUSD’s District Intern Program, (but that was back when there was one), one Saturday morning, our class was asked to stand in a circle and tell how we got our name. It was fascinating exercise, as it was a diverse group.
There were two people whose parents had taken their names from rock ‘n roll songs. Several others had been named after a character in a book or movie. There were the usual biblical names, the juniors, and family names. One man had been named after his father’s best friend who had died.
Several Asians had decided their names were too hard to pronounce, so they chose an “American” name. I’m afraid my Susan, Barbara, Janet story seemed pretty lame in comparison. Why couldn’t my parents have been more creative? Years later when I was a sub in San Gabriel, I smiled whenever I met Elvis Wong (and there were FOUR of them). It reminded me of the book The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. The main character’s American name is Shirley Temple Wong.
Any teacher can recite an exotic list of names of the students they’ve taught over the years. There were twin boys, D’wayne and D’won, and twin girls, Eunique and Especial. Klinsmann. Toshiba. Cinnamon Jade. I could go on and on. Maybe it’s an urban legend, but teachers always swear they’ve heard of a girl named Chlamydia.
Several teacher friends are hoping to get pregnant. They want to do so before every name carries with it the image of a child they’ve already taught.
Recently, I did an art lesson on lines for my third graders using their names. This must be something that third graders have done since the dawn of time, because I remember doing it when I was in third grade. The pharmacist had typed my name as “Janette” on a prescription label. (That was back when the pharmacist typed.) I thought “Janette” was was way cooler than “Janet,” so that’s how I wrote my name. My teacher was surprised. My mother was not happy. And me? I reminded that I was just Janet.
For the “Names” art lesson, students first draw a border the width of their ruler on 8×10 paper. Next, they write their names and color them in with black marker. They use a variety of lines to fill in the background. Diagonal. Wavy. Zigzag. Organic. Have them fill in the lines with colored pencils, as using markers is overkill and you don’t get all of those cool details and colors.
This year, I decided to take the project a step further. We’d just finished reading Angel Child, Dragon Child about a little girl who comes to the U.S. from Vietnam. It was hard, at first, for the students to pronounce the Vietnamese names in the story, but they got better. I always tell children that it’s a sign of respect when you call someone by their given name.
My students’ homework was to find out how they got their name. I wasn’t concerned about the origin of their name. I just wanted students to talk to their parent/s about why they chose that name for their child. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, ” Your parents spent a lot of time choosing your name, so you can at least write it on your paper!”)
The form I sent home is below. I was surprised that every child actually talked to a parent (this year every child is living with a parent) and returned the form the next day. Okay, one girl told me her name meant “African princess with chocolate colored skin.” She was so busted! But by the time I called home the next day, she was in the midst of a conversation with her mother about how she really did get her name. It’s a fun project. If only I had that girl Chlamydia in my class this year!
How I Got My Name
Last week we read “Angel Child, Dragon Child.” The main character was a girl named Ut, who was from Vietnam. We learned that “Ut” was her “at home name,” or nickname. We also learned that in Vietnam, people say their surname, or last name, first.
How did you get your first name? You need to talk to a parent and find out why they chose this special name for you. They had thousands of names to choose from!
1. Were you named after someone in your family?
2. Were you named after someone famous?
3. Does your name mean something special?
4. Or, did your parents just like the sound of your name?
Find out how you got your name and write about it below. Do you an “American” name or a nickname? Use the back if you need to.
Photo Credit: Mark Shaver for The Times
Celebrating the Devil’s Birthday October 29, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, Halloween, Halloween Celebrations at School, Halloween in France, Halloween is the Devil's Birthday, Holidays, Humor, Teaching, The Devil's Birthday, Third Grade
It was just a matter of time. Sure enough, last week one of my students said, “My mom told me Halloween is the Devil’s birthday.” “Well, that can’t be,” I replied, “Because my birthday is in April.” A quizzical look. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.
I try to be hopelessly PC. “Well, we all have different ideas and opinions. That’s what makes our world so interesting!” I say through clenched teeth. At my school, we arrange for alternative activities for children whose parents don’t want them to participate in the Halloween Parade.
Several years back, I had a family who had called their daughter’s first grade teacher to suggest prayers for her. They’d also called to make sure that the teacher wasn’t planning on coming to school dressed as a witch on Halloween. I’m not going to even go THERE. I don’t have to worry ’bout stuff like that since I keep my broom parked in the corner. I tell the kids that’s my transportation. Hey, can’t you tell I’m kidding?
When I taught a bilingual second grade class, my students had no idea how much Spanish I really knew. (The answer is not much.) But one day I was sweeping up a mess and noticed two girls watching me. I said, “Una bruja, si?” (A witch, yes?) The look on their faces was priceless.
My one complaint about Halloween is that if I see one more Scream mask, I’m really going to scream. Okay, make that two. In Los Angeles, it’s usually hotter than Hades on Halloween. Herding a bunch of squirmy kids around in their itchy polyester costumes IS a devil of a job.
My school has a parade, though only children dressed as storybook characters can win a prize. So, we have a lot of grim reapers who are just plain grim, since they can’t carry their scythes, and pirates without swords. When it comes time to change into their costumes for the parade, I’m in charge of the girls. There is always a plethora of princesses. When I taught fourth grade, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the “princesses” looked more like a Vegas show girl. It was only later we learned she was actually 14! Ay carumba!
My friend Cathy sent me a link to a great story from The New York Times on how the French are starting to warm up to the idea of “Alowine.” Notice how it has “wine” in it. It’s called Pumpkin Eaters, and it’s hilarious.
Red Ribbon Week October 13, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Drug Awareness, Drug Education, Education, Jellybeans Up Your Nose poem, Red Ribbon, Red Ribbon Week Ideas, Teaching, The Origin of Red Ribbon Week, Third Grade
The first year I taught at my school, I was informed that my class needed to make a poster for Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon what? Something about “Saying no” to drugs.
I was used to the DARE program that my sons attended in middle school. Never mind that by high school all the stoners wore their DARE t-shirts proudly.
The teacher in the classroom next to me had an adorable “Bugs Not Drugs” poster outside her door. I so love bugs, but THAT idea was taken. A first grade classroom had “Hugs not Drugs” featuring little children with outstretched hands. Can you say insufferably cute? So what was I going to do? One student in my class loved pugs….no, I don’t think so.
When I worked as substitute, I used to take pictures of interesting bulletin boards or make notes when I saw cool stuff. I rummaged around and found a poem I’d seen in a high school classroom. I reread it and thought third graders could relate to it as well, as it’s all about peer pressure. It’s called Jellybeans Up Your Nose.
Not only did my third graders so “get it,” but they made a great poster and won the poster competition. When we talk about drugs in third grade, most kids think cigarettes. There are a few kids who confide that their parents drink beer. One boy confessed that his mother drank something called a Bloody Mary, not to be confused with the specter that haunts school bathrooms. I tell students that when it comes to alcohol, it’s all about moderation, so they don’t go home and give their parents a hard time. But I have students whose lives have been torn apart by drugs and are all too familiar with crack cocaine and syringes. It makes for one very interesting conversation.
My students loved drawing pictures of the children with Xs for eyes and anime princesses with cigarettes dangling from their lips.
Jellybeans Up Your Nose
Johnny stuck jellybeans up his nose,
That’s a pretty dumb thing to do.
But the other kids said, “Hey Johnny’s real cool!
Let’s put beans in our noses too.”
Well, a kid can’t breathe with beans up his nose,
‘Cause they get all stuck inside.
So Johnny and the kids, well, I hate to say it,
But they coughed and they choked and they died.
That’s a pretty grim tale, I must admit,
And it may not all be true.
Still when somebody cool does something dumb.
You don’t have to do it too.
The origin of Red Ribbon Week is actually a pretty grim tale itself. To find out all about it, go to Red Ribbon Week on Wikipedia. It’s an interesting read. And it’s all true.
Being a G-Rated Teacher Sucks October 3, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Dr. House, Education, Gay Students, House, Humor, Teaching, Teaching High School, Third Grade
Third grade teachers don’t ever to go to the bathroom, and we certainly don’t swear. On some days I feel like Mary Poppins, when at heart I’m really Dr. House. But high school is a whole different ball game. When my son, Ian, walked into his art class on the first day of school, his teacher, Ms. Thurber, didn’t mince words. She’d been there, done that, and had the t-shirt to prove it.
She informed the class, “I don’t care who is gay, or who you think is gay. Just don’t carve it on the tables.” She continued, “And if you feel like writing a note that says, ‘F&ck Ms. Thurber,’ you can throw it over there on that pile with all the others.”
In a Dr. House vs. Ms. Thurber match-up, my money would be on the old girl. You gotta love a teacher who tells it like it is, but then I teach third grade. Would anyone like a spoonful of sugar?
Photo Credit: Dr. House by sweetxandxbitter on flickr.
The Homework Myth July 6, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, English Language Learners, Homework, Homework Procedures, Teaching, The Myth of Homework, Third Grade
I’m beginning to question the whole “homework reinforces learning and teaches responsibility” crap argument. Recently, I stumbled upon a Q&A with Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, that was published in the American School Board Journal.
Okay, I’ve still got to do my homework on homework (as in, buy and read the book), but according to the interview, there are NO studies that show that assigning homework in elementary school (grades K-3) improves achievement. I know what you’re thinking. At least it promotes self-discipline, right? But according to Kohn, there’s no scientific evidence to prove this is true either. Hey, is that my pig that just flew by?
I’ve always assigned homework. Your reading log must be signed by a parent every night. “I don’t care if your parent is passed out on the couch,” I’ve been known to say. “It’s your responsibility to put a pen in their hand and move it around!” Students who come to school without a parent signature are benched for morning recess. Okay, it’s only 15 minutes, and they can still use the bathroom, but it’s the thought that counts. I’ve had students weeping over the loss of that 10 minutes of runaround time. We spend maybe 15 minutes a day correcting homework and another ten minutes talking about the homework that’s to be done that night. It adds up.
For the record, I’ve spent two years designing and fine turning homework that incorporates the week’s spelling and vocabulary words, and English Language Conventions (read Skills) that we’re studying that week. But I’m not sure this homework actually helps the kids who need help the most.
I’ve taught a cluster of English Language Learners (ELLs) for the past two years. The other half of my students are English speakers, and last year I even had one boy who read at a 7th grade level. They’re all over the spectrum. In a perfect world, I’d be differentiating homework. But to be honest, I don’t have the time. I could ask my student from Mexico to practice her English sight words every night, but there’s no one at home who speaks English. And when I looked at the homework one of my Korean students turned in, I could see his father had translated it word by word and then written the spelling sentences for him.
I’m hearing more and more that it’s not “practice makes perfect,” but “perfect practice makes perfect.” So how does homework promote that? Or should it? Do students really need to work a second shift?
I do remember one homework assignment that yielded results. Our vocabulary word was “exist” and I had students ask their parents (or whoever was in charge) about things we have now that didn’t “exist” when their parents were in the third grade. Oh, the list we made! Cell phones, iPods, Invisalign braces – the list went on and on. Of course, one girl’s father told her toilets didn’t exist, but I chalked that up to him growing up in rural Mexico (or maybe he just didn’t understand the question).
I also sent students home with plastic straws and paperclips and had them construct right, isosceles, and obtuse triangles, which they had to “hand in” the next morning by sorting them into the correct piles. If only homework was always that interesting.
Once my students got the hang of Accelerated Reading (AR), I let them take home books from the class library so they could take the on-line quiz the next day. Talk about motivated readers! And my students can alphabetize their spelling words and draw a line between a vocabulary word and its meaning, but still…
I’ve only had a few parents over the years who asked for more homework. They tend to congregate in the GATE clusters. When parents do ask for more, I tell them their child would be better off watching the Discovery Channel or baking a cake. Some look relieved. Others are confused.
The week my students took THE TEST (the one that will determine who’s getting left behind), teachers were told not to assign homework.
A collective sigh of relief echoed through the hallways. No dashing down to copy homework only to find the copier was broken. No dashing down to find the copier had been commandeered by one of those upper grade teachers, who are always in the midst of printing out 35+ packets. Waiting to use the copier is a lot like standing in line at a Methadone clinic waiting for my fix turn. Fifty some teachers, two copiers. You can do the math. If life was fair, there’d be a technician chained to the copier 24/7.
To avoid this, I have all the homework on my computer at home and print it out on Sundays. Did I mention that Sunday has become my least favorite day of the week?
In my master’s program, we had to pick a topic to do an Action Research project on over the next year. My cohort’s topic is…homework! No sooner had we decided on our topic than our district revamped its homework policy. The new guidelines cite the importance of daily homework to “reinforce learning” and report that “homework promotes responsibility.”
Okay, the jury’s still out, but it should be interesting to see what our research reveals. In the meantime, if you don’t have that parent signature on your reading log, you’re benched.
Playground Posse June 22, 2009Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: Education, Health, Hot Cheetos, Humor, Junk Food, Teaching, The Playground, Third Grade, Yard Duty
As a “highly qualified teacher” it’s only fitting that I’m expected to do Yard Duty for 15 minutes twice a week. (Andy Warhol had the math wrong – It’s 15 minutes of fame 2 times a week for an entire school year!) This job is just too important to be left to amateurs, although my posse includes minimum wage employees.
This year we got to “choose” the days we wanted had to do yard duty along with the times. I signed up to do the “before school” shift, not because I’m an early morning person, but to get it out of the way.
I lucked out and got assigned to the climber and back basketball court. Whew! I managed to dodge the most dreaded of all Yard Duty assignments – Supervising the restrooms. That’s where the real action is. But assignments change each year, so I’m not counting my chickens.
When I’m on yard duty, I’m basically back on Sixth Grade Safety Patrol. Throw in a little Mall Cop and the LAPD’s “to protect and to serve” motto. You get the picture. A lot of school districts hire people just do to Yard Duty aka Playground Supervision, but not my district. This is not a job that just anyone can do.
Case in point. When my husband was in art school, he got a lunchtime job working as a Playground Aide at the local public school. He was fired after two weeks when he kicked a kid in the butt, after the kid spit on him. Unlike my husband, I take pride in my ability to maintain a cool demeanor when spittle is dribbling down my face. A police officer once told me, “I couldn’t do the job that you do – not without my gun.” That’s why us teachers get paid the big bucks.
Monday Morning. “Hey you!” I yell. “It’s Monday. First graders only on the climber!” “But I AM in first grade,” the boy protests. I look him over. This kid is HUGE. Freakishly huge. But several other first graders assure me he is indeed in first grade. Geez Louise. When Tyrano-boy runs across the bridge, the entire structure shudders. I decide to keep an eye on him. “I’m watching you,” I say, just to let him know I’m nobody’s fool.
I spend an inordinate amount of time standing at the bottom of the slide repeating the mantra. “We don’t go UP the slide, we go DOWN it.” I say this so often and to the same kids, that someone suggested we just have a recorded message. Hey, I came up with an even better idea. You know those metal spikes that puncture your tires when you drive the wrong way?
I also do a lot of conflict resolution which usually culminates with rock, paper, scissors or an insincere, “I’m sorry.” Every day it’s the same kids who get in trouble. Hmmm, I wonder.
And there’s always a small group of junkies students who huddle under the climber snarfing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. NPR did a great segment called Kids Love Hot Cheetos But Schools Hate Them. We teachers know the signs. Red encrusted lips and the insatiable need to drink water.
At my old school, I was on Yard Duty on day when I got a report of illicit activity in the girls restroom. I slipped into the girl’s restroom and could hear the telltale rustling of the bag in the last stall. There I found three Latino girls standing on the toilet sharing a Family Size bag of Hot Cheetos. “You are so busted!” I said. I like to use that line of Kevin Spacey’s from American Beauty. In fact, I like it so much, I actually look for opportunities to use it.
Wednesday Morning. “Hey you!” I yell. “It’s Wednesday. Third graders only on the climber!” Since I teach third grade, I can easily sort these kids out. Third graders have typically graduated from Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to cell phones.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with kids having cell phones, as long as they keep them in their backpacks. But kids seem to have this need to show their phone to friends. They Show and someone Tells. That’s when I step in. “Oh, you are so busted!” I announce, as I confiscate the phone. What they don’t know, is that when I walk away, I can’t help but smile. Hey, I’m nobody’s fool.