Thursday, November 27, 2008

Whiteheads, color of

Dylan the Girl (not to be confused with Dylan the Boy, who is in the same class) came up to me during class and asked me to look at a couple of small white bumps on her face.

"What are these?"  She asked me worriedly.

I looked at the dots but they didn't seem terribly disturbing to me.  In fact, they looked a little like zits.  "I'm not sure, are they hard to the touch and a little painful?"

"Yes!" she replied.

"I'm guessing they're probably whiteheads, Dylan.  People get them all the time."

She looked confused.  "Whiteheads?"

"Yeah, you know.  Zits?"

Sudden understanding dawned on her face.  "Wait, whiteheads are white?"

Now it was my turn to be confused.  "Yeah.  Just like blackheads are black."

Dylan stared at me for several seconds, then with a chagrined "Oh duh, I get it," she grinned at me and returned to her seat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Today, a student taught me....

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I was given a moment to be thankful for.

The deadline for late and missing work is this Monday and one of my boys recently stopped doing his homework.  His mother had missed parent-teacher conferences because she was sick and she wanted to meet with us today to get a list of what he was missing, how to do it, etc.  Unfortunately, the day before Thanksgiving, most teachers are out the door and on the way to the airport on the heels of the students, so there wasn't any way anyone was going to agree to meet.  Especially after 4 days of staying late for parent-teacher conferences: most of us were dead on our feet and just wanted to sleep.

I felt bad for Tim.  He's a smart kid but he's experienced a period of popularity recently and I think it's gone to his head.  So I looked up his address and realized I practically drive past his house on my way home.  How hard would it be to drop off the stuff he's missing?

It took me longer than I thought to find his address.  I knew he lived near the trailer park, but I couldn't seem to find the right house!  I thought about giving up a couple of times, but I knew he was there somewhere and I really liked this kid: I wanted to see him win in the end.  I kept driving in circles, thinking, "I could have been home by now!"

As I drove past a mailbox I had ignored up until now, I suddenly noticed it had the address I was looking for listed on the side.  But surely not: the road next to the mailbox could hardly be identified as a driveway.  It was more a muddy footpath leading through an opening in some trees.  But I turned in anyways and drove down the path.  There was a clearing behind it, with a tired, tiny house at one end.  Someone had parked a motor home a bit away from the house and had run an extension cord to it so it had some power (though it was obvious no one was home right now).  There was a tiny garden growing in front that had a few sickly-looking tomato plants and some unidentified herbs (it looked like they had already shut down for the winter).  When I knocked on the door and asked for Tim, the teenager who answered the door directed me to continue down the driveway and park behind the house.

Tim's house used to be a workshed tacked onto the back of the main house.  It showed evidence of being converted into a living space on the inside, but the outside clearly showed its history.  A front door had been installed where the shed door would have been, but the walls looked paper thin and I didn't see any windows.  It must have been a cold, claustrophobic existence to cram a family into that small space.  And here I was, driving up in my nearly-new SUV, wearing my fashionably thick and warm pea coat and corduroy pants and feeling completely out of place here, where three families were living in a space meant for one, where everyone was barely holding on.

I wondered if anyone living here had lost a job recently.  Lots of people in the area had.  I didn't think anyone here could even afford a sick day, much less a period of unemployment.

Tim answered the door wearing a beanie, a thick coat and a pair of mittens.  And no wonder: there didn't appear to be any heat in the house at all.  He was genuinely surprised to see me, and a little uncomfortable to have me at his door.  I mentioned that I knew he needed to make up some work but he had forgotten to see me, so I decided to drop it off on my way home.  He woodenly took the stack of papers and directions from my hand.  I heard a faint, nearly whispered "thank you" as he backed into the house.  And, as I said my goodbyes and headed back to my car, a much louder and more sure-sounding "Thank you!" followed me out.

As I climbed back into my car, the digital thermometer informed me that it was 38 degrees outside.

I realized then that, for many of our students, our school is probably as wonderous as Hogwarts was to Harry Potter (except Harry stayed at Hogwarts for most of the year: our kids have to go back home every day).  It's warm, spacious, and clean.  Our library has a huge window overlooking a tree-covered mountain and instead of library chairs, it has plushy love seats that face that window.  Our cafeteria bakes fresh every day.  Except for this week, I suddenly realized with a great deal of guilt.  No wonder so many of them were hungry!  School lunch was probably the only reliable meal many of them got in a day.

Probably some of the canned green beans and ramen and cranberry sauce we'd collected during the food drive was going to feed Tim during this holiday.

As corny as it sounds, I'm going to be much more thankful this Thanksgiving.  My condo may not be large (compared to the other houses around me), but it's big enough and it's warm and there's always something to eat.  I have three wonderful cats to keep me entertained and warm, and a snake that shows love in his own way (translation: he tolerates me and doesn't bite me even when he's annoyed).  I have a husband that loves me to distraction, who has already bought me my first Christmas present he tells me, and who always has my back when I need him.  We both have jobs, we're both healthy, and we're both happy.  A gut-stuffing meal would never have reminded me of that, but a cold child huddling in a moorlock-like existence in a converted work shed did.

Happy Thanksgiving all.  I hope every one of us has something to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The day everything blew up

Every so often, students bring....pets to class.  Believe me, I don't sanction this: most pets are terrified of 30 kids staring at it.  The only reason I had a corn snake class pet is that snakes have no eardrums and most snakes don't seem to give a shit who holds them.

One day, Shaw brought a mouse to class, in one of those tiny cages I use to transport mice for Corneilia's (the snake) dinner.  You're really not supposed to keep a mouse in a transport cage for more than a half-an-hour or so, but here's Shaw with his mouse, in a tiny cage and no water.  The poor thing looked terrified.  I could hardly teach with the dehydrated mouse cowering in the cage, so I paused class long enough to inform Shaw of basic mouse care, find a larger container for the mouse and get it some food and water.  Goldfish crackers are probably not on the approved diet list for pet mice, but it was the best I had.

Unfortunately, by trying to care for the mouse, I broke the cardinal rule of teaching: always keep an eye on your class.

Unbeknownst to me, our resident football star Cody was showing off for his friends.  He pretended to be constipated by making groaning noises and scrunching up his face as if in effort (I swear, I don't know where they get these ideas).  It had the added benefit of turning his face bright red, I heard later.  It had the unexpected side effect of bursting a blood vessel in his nose.

My first sign of trouble was when I saw Cody's hands cover his nose.  The rest of his table did the same.  I assumed at the time that someone at his table had farted and they'd work it out somehow.  Until, I noticed the blood dripping from Cody's hands.

"Cody, bathroom NOW!"  I yelled and a relieved-looking Cody bolted from his seat and raced for the door, dripping the whole way.  As luck (and state funding) would have it, I had no sink in my classroom, which meant I also had no paper towels (forget Kleenex: a snowball has a better chance of lasting in hell than a box of Kleenex in a classroom during cold and flu season).  And now I had a puddle of blood that everyone apparently wanted to use as finger paint (note to self: have the social studies teachers include "biohazard" on next week's vocabulary list).

There's still a mouse on my desk, in case you forgot.

Thankfully, the custodian break room is right next door so I didn't have to go far to get some help.  I told Danny to keep everyone away from the blood (including himself) and knocked on the custodian's door.  But.......this required me to take my eyes off my class for a crucial minute, and God had one more joke to play.

Let's rewind to Cody's mad dash for the door, shall we?  Monique, one of my girls, has a secret crush on Cody (Monique is not a subtle person, so by secret, I mean everyone including the snake knows Monique likes Cody, but Monique thinks no one else knows).  As Cody ran for the door, Monique gasped in shock and dismay.  I didn't notice it at the time, but someone else did: Anbir, a boy at Monique's table.  While I was outside of my room talking to the custodian, Anbir started chanting "MONIIIIQUE LOOOOOVES COOOOOOODY!  MONIIIIIIQUE LOOOOOOVES COOOOOODY!"  Monique, pissed that her "secret" was blown, stood up and decked Anbir.  By the time I popped back into my room, Anbir was picking himself up off the floor and Monique was winding up for another pitch.

I'm not sure what the mouse thought of all this.

I managed to get Monique and Anbir down to see the principal (not at the same time for obvious reasons) and the custodian got the blood cleaned up without anyone dabbling in it and the mouse did eventually get his larger cage, water and Pepperidge Farms Goldfish Crackers.  After that, I decided we were having a movie day.

If only I'd had Ratatouille with me that day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November doldrums

My last post reminded me: November is the hardest month for teachers.  We haven't had a significant break since summer, the days are getting colder, the students are testing our limits, and many of us are saying goodbye to the sun this month (most teachers will get to work before sunrise and not leave until after sunset in the winter, so we only get out in the sunshine on weekends).   Oh, and Thanksgiving break isn't until the last week of November this year.  This is truly the horse latitudes of the school year.

So, if you have a favorite teacher, this is the best time to send them a little note, e-mail or voice mail telling them how much you appreciate them.  It means a lot to hear "I know you work so hard", or "You're my favorite teacher", or "My child says such nice things about you", or even just "thanks for helping my child with their homework after school".  It makes getting through this month much easier

It's been a while

It's been a while since I've posted last: I just didn't have the energy until now.  I get like this every so often: I get depressed and I can't get anything done for a week or two.  I'm working with my doctor to figure out what's going on, maybe it's a hormonal thing.  I snapped out of it on Monday and I'm good to go, but I'm getting tired of going through this over and over again.

This does bring to mind another thing I've wondered about: how many teachers are there taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers?  For that matter, I've seen how much teachers can drink: how many of us are self-medicating?

I started to wonder about this when I ran into the teacher who teaches next door to me as I was coming out of my psychologist's office.  I think she was just as surprised to see me.  We talked for a little while and she mentioned that she was having stress and anxiety issues.  I didn't think much about it until other teachers in the building started to talk to me more, and I heard more about the medications they were taking, the problems finding medications that you could take every day but hopefully didn't interfere with driving, etc.  It was like being discovered with a therapist was a codeword that opened the clubhouse door, and I realized there were a lot of us who were coping with anxiety or bipolar disorder or depression and were hiding it at work.

I'm not sure how the percentage of teachers medicating for mood disorders compares to the population at large.  Certainly, it's not something most people share at cocktail parties: " when I realized I wanted to stab him with a toasting fork, that was when I asked for the valium.  I'm feeling much better now....."  Mostly, I think teachers usually medicate their moods for the same reason that humans don't whelp litters: humans aren't designed to raise more than 5-6 young at a time.  Trapping any adult in a room with 30 children for 6 hours a day will batter your emotional stability after a while.

Not that I'm saying pity us, or I'm making the case for a $10 Starbucks card come Christmastime.  Just something I noticed, and wondered about.  Maybe the elementary 20:1 model should be the norm.