Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Motivation can often be hard for a teacher. Abstract concepts like letter grades often slip right past most students. They understand much more concrete motivators, like "If I don't see an A, B or C, you don't see your PS3 until I do". Thankfully, most parents come through wonderfully with concrete motivators to match our abstract ones. Occasionally, however, other motivators need to be found. Sometimes it's even the child that hopefully motivates the parent to do something.

Take, for example, this conversation I had today with Andrea:
"Andrea," I said, "you haven't done anything in the last 2 weeks. If you don't make up the work soon, you'll end up failing this trimester too and you might have to be a 6th grader again next year."

"I don't care. I'll just learn the same things again." Andrea continues to doodle in her notebook.

"You don't mind being a 6th grader again? But you won't be able to talk to any of your friends."

"I'll see them after school."

(long pause) "Once you get kept back, you usually don't get caught back up again. You probably won't even graduate high school with your friends. They'll be talking about jobs and cars and you'll still be stuck in school."

"Oh, I'm not graduating."

I'm confused now. "But what are you planning to do when you grow up? Most jobs want a high school diploma."

"I'm not going to do anything". Andrea continues to doodle.

(very long pause now. Apparently only one of us has thought this plan through to its logical conclusion) "You need food to eat and a place to live. You want a car? (Andrea nods) Well, that all takes money. How will you get what you want without a job to pay for it?"

"I'm going to live with my mom."

"Until when? 20? (Andrea nods) 30? (Andrea nods) 40? (Andrea nods) You know, your mom probably won't let you live with her when your 40. Most parents expect their children to move out when they're not going to school."

Andrea shakes her head. "No, my mom will let me live with her. She can pay for everything."




................. and then I walked away.

No matter what Andrea says, I'm pretty sure mom won't be happy with Andrea's "mommie will support me" plan for life. And I sent her an e-mail detailing this conversation, just to be sure.


After school today, I walked by a student. He smelled exactly like a freshly-fried doughnut. I'm still not sure why.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Teacher Types

It's been a while since I've done an informational, not an anecdotal, post, so here it goes. I'm sure you know that there are different categories of workers in any job. From Mr. "Knock off 10 minutes early everyday" to Mrs. "That's not how we do things here", each person brings their own brand of.....character to the workplace. Here are the most common teacher collaborating personalities:

"The Uniter"- As the name describes, The Uniter will try to get everyone to reach consensus. Cajoling, compromising, sometimes even begging and pleading, The Uniter will do whatever it takes to get everyone on board They may actually succeed from time to time. The problem is, sometimes the ideas The Uniter pushes are, well, unreasonable. Our Uniter tried to get everyone to agree that we would all get parent signatures on all study guides for every chapter in our book. We go through a chapter a week. That's a lot of freaking signatures, not to mention the time and effort required to track down who didn't get a signature and call mom or dad to remind them to sign the study guides. Occasionally, The Uniter will drift to the dark side, outright lying by saying, "Liz thought it was a great idea" when Liz merely mumbled noncommittally to get The Uniter to go away. Once the rest of the staff agrees to The Uniter's plan (because they thought Liz wanted to do it), The Uniter will return to Liz and use the group's agreement to pressure Liz. Luckily, getting teachers to agree to anything is like herding cats, so The Uniter often doesn't have much to work with.

Mr. "That's not in my contract"- Every staff needs one of these, but only one. Mr. TNIMC can be a benefit or a detriment depending on the situation. For example: the principal has a great idea. Every other week, we'll have a field day on Friday and all the kids can play sports on the field after school. Who's going to supervise this? Why, the teachers, of course! At this point, Mr. TNIMC stands up and asks how much he's going to be paid for giving up two hours of his time on a Friday. The principal looks surprised: "Paid? We don't have money in the budget for this, I just kind of thought you'd do it for the enrichment of the kids". Mr. TNIMC snorts, says "That's not in my contract", and poof! The idea is killed. Mind you, Mr. TNIMC can be a real pain in the ass when you have a problem that you're trying to fix. For example: you have a student who owes you detention but you have a special education meeting you have to be at. Don't ask Mr. TNIMC to watch your student in exchange for doing the same for him later. Mr. TNIMC doesn't give detentions, because that would extend his workday past the contractual time. Incidentally, Mr. TNIMC gets to school at the contracted time and leaves at the contracted time, not staying a minute extra. I don't know how the bastard does it.

The Restater- Restaters restate what you just said, until it's enough to drive you batty. They use such phrases as, "so what I'm hearing you say is..." or "In other words, it sounds like you want to (fill in the blank here), am I right?" Restaters are at their worst after having gone to teacher training courses about building consensus or increasing communication amongst your staff. During these courses, The Restater's position is validated as essential for reaching all members of a team. After such trainings, Restaters are often compelled to restate each opinion as it's given, slowing any meeting to a shambling crawl.

Mrs. Anecdote. As you can probably guess, I have to control my Mrs. Anecdote gene. Mrs. Anecdote likes to derail boring meetings by spicing things up with a funny kid story or whatever random thought flitted through her head. Mrs. Anecdote is fine as a distraction, but often sends staff members off on a tangent that will drive The Uniter crazy. This type of person can make a 15 minute meeting go longer than a cricket game. If you're busy, don't let Mrs. A get started: she won't shut up.

The Domiator- You know this person, no matter where you work. The Alpha Personality. The Bulldog. This person will inevitably take over a meeting to air their own personal needs. And you're not getting your meeting back until they get their way. Whether it's dress code, lunch room behavior, or who's using too much paper, The Dominator will make sure you're on top of it (even if you don't care that Sarah's bra-straps were peeking out from under her tank top). Not even Mrs. Anecdote can turn a conversation for long with this type of personality holding the reins.

Mrs. Fucking Sunshine- this is the person who got into teaching because she just loooooooves kids. Mrs. Fucking Sunshine inevitably is up at 4 in the morning for her daily jog before eating a healthy breakfast and getting to work an hour early to tutor underprivileged children in math because she's a morning person. Incidentally, only morning people like other morning people. Mrs. F S always has all her papers graded and her desk organized. Her files are organized, color coded based on ability levels with a secondary index based on test scores. She acts surprised that you haven't taught your students triangles yet: she finished Chapter 7 weeks ago. In fact, her kids are working on an interactive project where they are making scale models of their bedrooms to reinforce their learning on proportions while you catch up. How nice.

I'll add more as they come to me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The hell of the magazine drive

So we're right in the middle of our magazine drive and I'm ready to kill. For those of you who haven't been exposed to the yearly hell that is the magazine drive, here's how it works. Students sell magazines to their family and neighbors. Unfortunately, the ordering process is so complicated that so many students make mistakes and people don't get their magazines. That isn't the part I hate. In return, students earn cool prizes for how many magazines they sell. 10 magazines get you a limo lunch. 5 orders gets you a tiny iPOD speaker. 2 orders gets you a 5 pound bag of Gummie Bears. 1 order gets you a squishy-ball pen.

That's the part I hate.

Nothing says hyper like a 6th grader with a FIVE FREAKING POUND BAG OF GELATINIZED SUGAR. And don't get me started on the pens. The kids liked the squishy ball pen until someone figured out how to remove the squishy ball from it's mesh prison. Then they used the squishy ball as a stress ball. Until the first one exploded. I'm so not joking. Exploded a orange mess of what felt like slime. That of course was the coolest so I had exploding squishy balls all day. I can't wait until they get to the locker toy that makes dripping noises so your locker sounds like it is actually a deep cave. No one's going to be able to walk down the hallway without getting the urge to urinate. Or how about the howling monkey toy? I still remember hearing AROOOOOO! AROOO AROOOOOOOOOO! until I was about to rip that fucking monkey's plush head right off.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Substituting Videos

So I was out of town from Thursday until Saturday, helping out at a new teacher retreat. Our local union every year pays for 15-20 new teachers to spend 3 days at a secluded location and they learn techniques about classroom management, dealing with trouble parents, managing stress, planning for retirement, that sort of stuff. Along the way, they get to bond and talk about how they're feeling doing, etc. It's a great opportunity to shake off the stress of the year and realize that everyone else hates their job at this time of the year about as much as you do.

Since we left Thursday night, I needed a sub for Friday. I figured my social studies kids could watch a movie on something they were studying or had studied. Since I had a new mummy video and we had studied Egypt, I thought maybe I would show that.

But I'm no dummy. Remember the pornographic Pompeii video I mentioned in an earlier post? I never show any movie without previewing it first. In this case, I'm glad I did: the movie was waaaay not appropriate for 6th graders (there goes another 15 dollars down the drain, sigh). In the video, they mummify a corpse. Amongst other things, they show the doctors ramming a hook into the corpse's nose, scrambling the brains, and allowing the resulting mess to leak out the nose. I was grossed out, and I usually like gross things. Way over the top.

So I found a video online on the silk road, which we're studying now. I left careful directions for the sub on how and where to find the movie on my computer desktop, what video player to use, and anything else I thought could go wrong.

The one thing I forgot to do was take the mummy video out of the VCR.

You can probably see where I'm going from here. When I returned today, my instructional aide pulled me aside and asked, "Did you preview the movie you asked the sub to show?"

Of course I had previewed the silk road movie! Like I said, I'm no dummy. Then she explained that the substitute had not shown the movie on the computer like I'd asked, she showed the mummy video in the VCR. Aghast, I asked what the student reaction was.

"Traumatized," she responded.

This is why most teachers don't take days off. It's hard to predict what's going to happen when you let someone else in your classroom unsupervised. Hopefully I'll get off light: the movie was a bit graphic but very scientific in nature.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sundresses and the multiple uses of

When I was a student teacher, I taught a mixed 1st and 2nd grade class (this was when I discovered that I never wanted to teach little kids). At the time, I always wondered why elementary school teachers wore stretch pants under their sun dresses. I mean, the dresses weren't transparent and the stretch pants turned what would have been simply elegant summer attire into something mommy-like. Mind you, they might be mommies, but stretch pants under sun dresses always looks silly.

I discovered why when I taught the first and second graders. On that day, I wore a beautiful blue sundress with a black dappled pattern that reminded me of what the world underwater looks like. And of course, I wore it without black stretch pants.

Have you ever seen elementary school students playing with a parachute? It's fairly common: everyone takes a piece of the edge and you all raise your hands high, letting air fill the parachute. Then, when the chute is at its highest, you rotate so that you're holding the edge still but your body is on the inside of the chute. Pull the edge quickly down to the ground to trap the air inside, and it's like everyone is inside a giant silk house.

The students took one look at the folds of my sundress and thought, "PARACHUTE"!

Three students ran to me, grabbed the edge of my dress and flung it high into the air. Then, they stepped underneath and tried to pull the dress to the ground, nearly pulling me off my feet. Far more worrisome to me was the fact that everyone had seen my underwear and I now had three small children on the inside of my clothes. People have been arrested for less shit than that.

So that's why elementary school teachers wear stretch pants under their dresses. You can't stop them from playing parachute with a dress. The best you can do is avoid child molestation charges.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu

The swine flu has come at last to Seattle, and the entire school is in a panic. Me, I'm not terribly worried about it. There's been one US death so far: all other suspected cases appear to be progressing fine (probably due to the benefits of health care). Our biggest problem is going to be when it hits the Seattle homeless population, a group with no access to healthcare and a healthy suspicion of city services.

In the mean time, schools are closing down and other schools are enacting quarantine rules for students with a fever and aches or a cough. These students will be required to call home and will sit in the office with a mask until picked up. They will also be physically separated in different rooms from students who come to the nurse for different reasons. Teachers in our district are now required to have students wash their hands before eating. The school has ordered a large supply of hand sanitizer for each classroom with money we don't have. All desks, chairs and door handles must be wiped down with antibacterial wipes each day. Communal items such as tape, staplers, the salad dressing pumps in the cafeteria, etc should be wiped down with wipes as regularly as possible.

I didn't even think about it at the time, but the 8th grade science teacher Daniel brought up that viruses laugh at antibacterials. Antibacterials kill bacteria admirably, but not viruses.

I'l still comply with the rules because I understand our district has to do this. If a student transmitted swine flu to even one other student in our school and it came out we had taken no precautions, we'd get our knickers sued off. Still, it seems like an overreaction to me: kids are called "germ wagons" for a reason. If swine flu makes it to our school and it turns out that it has the normal flu's human-human transmission rate, most of us are going to get it.

Practice random acts of coerced kindness....

We finished spirit week yesterday (it's a week where you dress up differently each day according to the theme of the day, participate in contests, etc) and Thursday was "random act of kindness day". Each class got a partner class and you had to do something nice for the class, like make origami or perform a silly song. My class decided to bake a giant cookie for the other class. Now here's what strikes me as funny: "random act of kindness day" = "you have to do something nice for the class". Had we not been strongly encouraged to do something, my class probably wouldn't have baked the giant cookie for the other class (or worse, would have kept the cookie for themselves). Therefore, it's more of a "heavily sponsored act of kindness day". Our class got candy from Mrs. Ima's class, but I don't think my students even connected that the windfall candy was the result of the efforts of another class.

So, in conclusion, our "random acts of kindness" day was in actuality a "forced act of kindness resulting in the expectation of gifts" day.