Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Few Questions

Here are some questions/statements I have answered in my education career.

1.  Is this homework?  When is it due?  I write my agenda (day’s plans) on the whiteboard in my classroom and put an asterisk/star by the homework.  I even write the letters HW by the assignment so that it is visible.  Homework is due the next day unless I specifically tell you a different date.  I post my agenda on a PowerPoint daily and read it aloud at the beginning of each class each and every day I am present in the classroom.  I am predictable about starting my class.

2. Why do I need to put my last name on it?  I tell them that once they become world famous like Cher, Madonna, or Sting, then they can use one name as their moniker, and I’ll be more than happy to do the same, but until that time, I still need your last name on your paper.

3.  How old are you?  I am as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.  I’ve joked about my pet dinosaur Sparky the T-Rex so that they know I am serious.  I even tell them we used chisels and slates in school, so messing up a writing assignment was a real pain.

4.  Can I sharpen my pencil?  I respond, “Are you physically able to sharpen your pencil?”  They respond affirmatively.  I reply, “Great.”  The student looks at me with some confusion.  “Did you ask permission to sharpen you pencil?” I coach.  “No, ma’am.” “How do you ask permission?” I say, “May I sharpen my pencil? Great! Please sharpen your pencil.”

5.  “I don’t get it.” My response: “The sentence ‘I don’t get it’ is a statement, not a question.  When you have a question, ask me.  Please have a seat until then.” I want my students to use the proper language to express themselves. Tell me which part of the assignment is confusing, and then ask for my help.

I will add more to the mix as I progress along.  More anon. ¡Ciao!

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I remember having substitute teachers when my regular teachers were sick.  They never had a reason to write my name down because I was taught how to behave properly at home and not raised in a barn.  After my student teaching stint, I subbed for about one month to make some money.  I covered a number of special education assignments due to ARDs being conducted.  One time two of my students lied about where they were headed and roamed the halls for most of the class period.  I haven’t any idea where they went, but I wasn’t given information about who does or doesn’t leave.  I was also green.  Fast forward to present day: kids who’ve been in my class before tend not to be troublesome when I cover a class for someone.  They understand that I am not playing around when I run a classroom.  I tell them, “I am in the system and have no problem sending you to another room where you can work.”  I have a sense of humor, but do not mess with me.

I leave a sub folder with directions, seating charts, attendance sheets, lesson plans, etc.  I also ask them to tell me about who was absent, tardy, or a problem.  They are given a list of students who are responsible and those who have special needs.  A while back, I had a student who used a wheelchair and would park his ride by the desk and haul himself out.  He had a wicked sense of humor, so I had to pick on him.  He wrote some funny entries that he shared during our journal time.  Some of my students have medical concerns, so I let the substitute know about those, too.  I’ve had diabetic students before, so they were on a permanent “If student X asks to go to the nurse, send right away!!!” basis.  My students are warned that I reward bad decisions with detentions after they have the opportunity to explain themselves to me face-to-face in a student-teacher conference.  Few accept my offer.  Subs are guests in our home, and they should be treated with respect.  Two of my favorite subs are retired teachers who do not play around at all.  The kids know it, and they stay in line.

When I plan an absence, I remind my classes of my expectations. The vast majority of them comply with my request and save their humor and zany behavior for me when I return.  When my grandmother died in late January 2007, I went to her funeral in Phoenix during the first weekend of February.  I was crying as I told my kids about what had happened, so they saw my pain was real.    One year later, my father’s baby sister—my youngest aunt—died the same month. She was a mean Chinese checkers player and would always beat me.  Aunt Pat had cerebral palsy and never walked, but boy could she be center of attention when you took Miss Thing to the mall.  She was always scoping out the good-looking guys.  I went to her funeral out in Phoenix and missed a day at work. Within a week of that loss,  my mother’s older brother and my favorite uncle died.  He is the one who I bantered with about the silliest stuff whenever we were together.  Unc and I loved strong coffee and beignets.  My one regret was not getting him to this cute little New Orleans-themed sandwich shop called The Big Easy where they will make some good beignets and coffee with chicory.  My kids were there for me when I needed them to be. They were PERFECT. That class of students is graduating this year. I can hardly wait to see what they will do as they enter the world of life after high school.  I pray they do well.  Their former teacher is rooting for them.  ¡Ciao!

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I am a rule follower, and I expect my students to do the same whether they are in my classroom, in the hallway, or wherever in the building and on school property.  I don’t expect them to be perfect, but I expect their behavior to meet my expectations.  When I correct a student, it can be his or her perception that I am “mean” or “don’t like him/her.”  That isn’t true.  I separate the person from the performance and tell them so.  Some students hold a grudge against me because I correct them one or two times, and then the jig is up.  I still don’t know how to change anyone’s mind about me, so I don’t try to change their minds.  I show them respect and courtesy despite their perceptions.  I also realize that not every student who crosses my threshold will love much less like me.  We are all individuals with individual personalities.  I have worked with people I didn’t respect, but I didn’t tell them I didn’t respect them.  I treated them with courtesy and appreciated the positive parts of our relationship.  You can always learn something from someone even if you don’t worship the ground they walk on.  I respect my students’ individuality because I am the adult and grown up.  Some of them learn about different personalities the easy way and go along with the flow; others have given themselves a hard row to hoe.  That is a shame.  Life is too short to hold on grudges and make yourself miserable.  Way too short! I plan to live to be 120, and that won’t be long enough for me.  ¡Ciao!


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Rapport With the Girls

One day after school, a group of young ladies stroll down my hallway with little secret smiles on their faces.  I see that the inevitable hug is coming.  I screech, “Gack!  Why are you hugging me?  You know how I feel about hugs.” I actually don’t mind them, but if you respond in a negative way, then they tend to want to thwart you.  Reverse psychology strikes again.

They laugh, “I know!” and hug me harder.  What has happened to my authority?  Why won’t they listen? These girls and I have established our own brand of rapport.  One young lady in particular would come and see me during morning tutorials during her sixth grade year even though I wasn’t her teacher.  She accidentally left her flower ring in my room, and I wore it for the rest of the day not realizing it was hers since I found it later on.  The next day, she showed up asking about my new ring.  I had to return it to her, but I threatened to charge her rent the next time.  She didn’t leave anything else behind, so I never got my money.

I taught a young lady who loved to play hockey who I wound up calling “Mama.”   She’s apparently pretty good.  Mama was one of the toughest girls I knew who rarely cried or got upset.  There was not an ounce of drama in her body.  Mama had my same dry sense of humor, and it was a sad day when the last day of school arrived.  She reminds me of a former student who is on the junior varsity football team at my son’s high school.  That young lady and I would exchange words about whatever evil plans she had for her older sister. I didn’t teach the gridiron girl’s sister, but I do have legacies in my classroom; these are students who have an older sibling who’s been in my class before.  They walk in knowing that I will make a connection about the older sibling but treat them like an individual.  I do this because I haven’t any idea how my younger sister fared with me leading the way.  I hope her teachers remembered that we were individuals with different personalities, talents, and gifts.

I’ve got Soccer Divas this year.  Any time I mention soccer, they perk up.  I have a magnet that looks like a soccer ball.  We have battles over who gets to have it on her desk.  Any self-respecting soccer player needs to avoid these young ladies on the field.  They look adorable but will demolish their opponents.  Don’t let the ponytail and fresh-faced enthusiasm fool you.  They want to have an indoor soccer game in my classroom on the last day of school.  I put the kibosh on that little plan.

Years ago, I had a group of girls who wanted to be called the “thug girls,” so I obliged.  Each one was as sweet as she was smart, and they liked being picked on, too.  I taught a small Pre-AP class where all of the girls had brown eyes, so I called them my brown-eyed girls.  They are high school juniors now.  One of those girls was called “Bookworm” because she ate any large book she encountered, and she wrote a sixteen-page short story. Yes, I read every single word.

And now about that sibling I mentioned in the previous post about boys.  She would write in her evil journal devising schemes, plots, and revenge on her older brother.  I would have to make sure that she didn’t “steal” her journal by taking it out of the classroom on journal days. She called herself the Good (Last Name), but I will refer to her as the Good Child.  She loved free write days or the one day I said, “Write about how you plan to take over the world in five easy steps.”  Her maniacal laughter made me fear for big brother’s safety.  I see her in the hallways periodically when she stops by to tell me of a new plot to get Mr. Baseball.  I shake my head as I laugh at the Good Child.  I will always want to know what is happening with her, too.

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Rapport With the Boys

I know what you’re thinking: what about the girls? That’s another post for another day.

A male student walks by my classroom wearing a sports jersey or sweatshirt.  I see the shirt and make a disparaging comment about the team.  He grins and walks away.  This is rapport. I will see the same young people walking down my hallway on a daily basis as I stand in the doorway of my classroom between classes. Some of my best student relationships have started with my “picking on” a student about something harmless.  Here in my part of the world, we play football at a young age, so the team names and jerseys make the the kids look like miniature NFL players.  If it’s a team from another region of the country or even state, I make a comment like, “Really, the Bears?  Why in the world would you wear that here in Dallas Cowboys country?  That’s a dress code violation!”  In former years, I have actually taken a student to the assistant principal’s secretary (keeper of dress code) to show an “infraction.”  One of our administrative assistants was a huge Oklahoma Sooners fan, so any student wearing Texas Longhorn gear was subject to scrutiny.  The kids love this extra attention.  Some will even walk by a little more often than necessary just so I will say something to them.  I find out my victims’ names and keep up with them as the year goes by.  If I see one of them upset or in pain, I transform into Mama Grizzly.  No one messes with my cubs!

I have one student whose locker caused him distress this year at the beginning of the year.  Once we got that little problem fixed, I told him that he owed me brownies if I couldn’t get it opened after he’d tried once again. I had to use my locker key to open that silly thing.  I would check on him and ask about my reward.  He has now become the infamous Dr. Destructo!  Dr. Destructo always has an evil plan brewing, and he’s given me some story about the ingredients for the brownies taking ten years to grow.  I think he’s stalling.  I can see him start smiling as soon as he sees me in the hallway.  I mentioned that since it was the start of a new year, he ought to try to be good.  His response was negative. He indicated that he’d resolved to become even more evil.  I guess I’ll wait twenty years for those brownies now.

One former student stands out in my mind because he reminded me that I like baseball.  Mr. Baseball would read his library books sitting like a comma.  The desks in my room have chairs attached, and he didn’t like to sit in them the right way.  He had a rapier wit and would crack me up laughing with various antics.  He enlisted his mom to help out with the canned food competition we had that year at school.  I always seemed to come home with some story about what he’d done that day to the point that my husband wondered if I wanted to adopt this kid.  “Yes!”  We did a baseball research project because of him although I never told anyone that reasoning until now.  I can see him grinning as he would come to my classroom even now.  I had asked my teaching partner if she had any kids who would benefit from being in my Pre-AP class, and he was one of the transfers.  I guess the LORD knew I neeeded some more laughter in my life.  The last day of school found me upset as usual.  I hated to say goodbye.  Even when he’d left my class, he’d stop by if he had some time as a band aide.  We talked sports or life, and it was cool.  Mr. Baseball is now old enough to drive, but because of the bond we established, I am always glad to see him and give him a hug.  Any time I see his mom, I ask about what he’s doing.  I will always want to know what’s happening with him.  He has a younger sister who you’ll hear a little about next time.

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Back to School, Part Deux

We begin our spring semester today with our students in class.  A new year makes me feel introspective; I can be a fierce critic and hardest on myself.  Our grades are due by the end of the day for the report cards that will go home with the students later this week.  Failure rates are evaluated, and it can be nerve-wracking to me when I see students choose to fail my class and excel in others.  I do take it personally in an impersonal world of numbers, data, and trends.  In my rose-colored musings, I want them to have the same intrinsic motivation I have to be successful and try their hardest.  Because I do not have this lack of motivation in my professional life, I “don’t get it.”

I exercise regularly, so I have stamina to teach my young ones.  I cook several meals at home for my family each week; however, I love having a Whataburger combo meal when the urge to do something easy strikes.  Ugh! Am I showing the same lackadaisical pattern in my personal eating habits? Am I trying my hardest with my exercise program even though I walk faithfully each week?  Am I asking myself to ignore what is best for my physical well-being while concentrating so much on the daily details of teaching?  Do they have enough work to do?

I can plan my menus before going grocery shopping so that I have the ingredients on hand to make nutritious meals.  I can gradually incorporate running back into my routine.  I haven’t any plans to run a half-marathon like my younger sister will later this year, but I will run at least one or two 5K races just to run them and have the satisfaction of completion.  I will remind my young charges that the reward of finishing their work is to exercise their minds with a good book, do some journal writing, or complete a puzzle of some sorts.  The reward is not to sit idly and stare into space.  I believe idle hands are too quickly involved in mischief in a school setting. The caveat here is that I must make sure their materials are always readily available even when they choose not to come prepared.

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Night Owl vs. Morning Lark Civil War

I am officially on the night-owl patterns of my former days when I could stay up past midnight, sleep in until sometime after eight o’clock, and get up and do it again the next day.  The irony is that my morning lark tendencies haven’t departed, so that is why I am up and on the Web before 8:00 A.M. without coffee.  My brain awakened me saying, “It’s time to go exercise.  You know you love this.”  My body resents the early intrusion to a nice restful sleep in a dark room with no lights.  I will grab a nap later this morning or in the early afternoon.  Who knows at this point? We have a couple of errands to run, and I will most likely treat the guys to Starbucks or QuikTrip for a frozen drink.  Even if it’s 41 degrees, I would still drink a cold freezoni.  They just taste good.  Anyway, I like this lack of schedule and hustle and plan to savor and stretch it out as much as possible.

I haven’t forgotten my students’ names or educational needs.  I have simply remembered how to be a daughter, wife, and mother over the break.  I didn’t get to see my best friends but spent some time with some good friends on Christmas Eve.  That was sufficient for me.  I keep up with my friends even though we don’t see one another all of the time.  I’ll check in with them today and see how their New Year’s Day went.