Sunday, May 9, 2010

I didn't teach him that....

We were studying Athenian democracy in social studies the other day. The book made the following statement: "Only free men could vote in an Athenian democracy."

"What does that mean, 'Only free men could vote'?" I asked the class.

Michael raised his hand. "Does that mean that married men weren't allowed to vote?"

Science Instruction Fail

Missy chased me down one day as I was walking back from the copy room.

"Mrs. W! I have to talk to you!"

"What do you need, Missy?"

A look of frustration crosses Missy's face. "Well, I caught a snail the other day and it just won't do anything!"

Let me start this story by filling you in on a few things. We'd studied snails a few weeks back and the interest level in them was surprisingly high. I guess it makes sense in hindsight: they are kind of cute when you get to know their personalities better (yes, they do have personalities. Mojo, for example, refused to eat carrots, even if he hadn't been fed for a couple of days and that was all you gave him). After we'd studied snail preferences for a week, the students designed a terrarium for them and we filled it with all the things they seemed to prefer, such as dirt, rocks, sticks, and the vegetables they preferred most.

The kids forgot about the snails for a little while, but interest in them really exploded when they started breeding. We found little egg clutches buried in the dirt, which soon became droves of baby snails. The babies could unfortunately fit through the mesh of the cage top and pretty soon were cruising throughout the room and out the door. They found one on the underside of a chair in a room 50 feet away from mine. The students have been pretty good about catching the escapees when they find them and returning them to their home, but we finally had a baby snail adoption day last week to help with our baby snail overpopulation problem.

Back to Missy: she apparently had a snail issue she wanted me to help solve. I'm not exactly an expert (I know they're gastropods, they have a strong preference for cucumbers and they taste good in butter) and I'm not used to doing tech support on a snail, but I'd do what I could.

"What do you mean 'It won't do anything'?" I asked her.

"It won't go," she replied.

Great. That was vague. "Ooook. Well, they tend to be more active at night. Have you checked then?

"Yeah, it doesn't do anything then too."

"Are you misting it frequently so he doesn't go into estivation?" (The kids learned that snails go into a form of hibernation when they get too dry)

Now Missy looks really frustrated. "Yeah, I'm doing all that stuff! I'm misting it, I gave it some lettuce and cucumbers, I put dirt in the cage for the eggs, but it won't do anything!"

Eggs.....? "Wait, are you trying to breed your snail?"

I can tell from Missy's relieved expression that I've hit the jackpot. "Yes! My little brother wants a baby snail but I can't get the snail to lay any eggs!"

"You said you had A snail. You do realize it takes two snails to make a baby snail, right?"

Missy looks at me, dumbfounded, for several moments. "Oh. Never mind."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How do grades work again?

Shelli flounces up to my desk one afternoon, obviously upset.

"I have to talk to you about my grade," she huffs at me.

"Ok, what's up?" I reply.

"It says I have a zero for one of my tests."

"Yes." I say, waiting patiently.

At this, Shelli stamps her foot (stamps her foot!) and heaves an explosive sigh. "So I don't understand how I can have a zero on a test I didn't even take!"

I look at Shelli for a second.

Or two.

"You want to rethink that statement for a little while and get back to me?"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

52 ways to touch yourself without taking your clothes off

Mrs Chan came up to me today (she's my instructional aide in charge of helping my special education students). "You have to move Veronica," she stated baldly. She's normally good-natured, but her face brooked no argument today.

Crap, what now?

"Sure thing, but why?" I asked (It does have a bearing on where I move them. For example, talkers and wigglers get moved next to bossy kids so they get the crap kicked out of them whenever they bug the people around them. Daydreamers get moved in front of me so I can badger them to my heart's content).

"Well......," she started, then looked uncomfortable. Definitely not normal for Mrs. Chan. "You know how Ryan sits behind her"

Um, yeah....

I nod.

"You know how he's started to wear those silky pants?"

Uh oh. I have a sneaky suspicion I know where this is going.......

"Well.....he sits at the corner of the table, you know.....and lately, he sits with his legs around the table leg.....and then he starts talking to Veronica and he starts rubbing himself on the table leg.......", ..........and Mrs. Chan pauses significantly, looking at me expectantly.

Thankfully, this isn't my first rodeo.

"Let me guess: he's masturbating on my table leg while he's talking to Veronica, right?"

Mrs. Chan looks so relieved, I have to laugh: it couldn't have been easy on her, trying to tell me this.

"So you're going to move Veronica,right?"

I assure her I will move Veronica. What I don't tell her is, moving Veronica isn't going to stop Ryan getting his jollies on my table leg (I am sooo not touching that table again). Now that Ryan has figured out his penis does other stuff than urinate, it's probably going to see more rubbing than a ShamWow.

I had to call my mom and tell her about this. You see, mom's a former special education teacher. I thought she could use a laugh.

"Oh that's nothing," she replied. "Did I ever tell you about the book Maggie (Maggie was the name of her instructional aide) and I wanted to write? We wanted to call it '52 ways to touch yourself without taking your clothes off'. Seriously. In one school year, we counted 52 separate ways."


And she proceeded to tell me several of her favorite ways her students figured out how to pull out that ShamWow cloth and buff up the classroom without taking off a stitch of clothing. Here is a few gems gleaned from her years of experience:

- The Obvious- reach down the pants.
- The Less-Obvious- reach in your pockets.
- The Less-Obvious-2-pretend your hands are cold and shove them in your crotch to warm them up.
- Ryan's favorite: straddle a table leg.
- lean against the edge of a desk and wiggle.
- take an umbrella (only works with the long kind, not the collapsable kind) and roll the handle back and forth rapidly in your hands in front of you.
- pull your shorts up really high and wiggle.
- put an open book in your lap and wiggle: also known as the single-cover method.
- the double-cover method: put the book in your lap and open and close the cover rapidly.
- lean against the door frame, face-first, and roll in and out of the room.
- put a stapler in your lap and rock (makes an unfortunate "click-click, click-click" noise. Also have to worry about accidental stapling).
- put a large rubber eraser down your pants and wiggle (notice how a lot of these require vigorous wiggling? Welcome to my world).
- straddle a chair and rock in a 180 degree circle from left to right.

As my friend Chuckles says, "I.....I got nuthin...."

Now THAT'S dedication!

We've been studying flowers (pollination and all that) in class and let me tell you, it's been hell on the allergies. Remind me next year not to pick flowers with so much pollen. Unfortunately, it caused more serious reactions than just a few sneezes and stuffy noses.

They actually had to call 911 for one of my girls (she's ok now).

We'd been handling the flowers for about 15 minutes when Anna comes up to my desk, huffing and puffing like a five-pack-a-day smoker.

"Can I go to the office?" she wheezes at me.

Of course I'm going to let her go to the office: the girl's got something seriously wrong with her. 20 minutes pass. Then I get a phone call.

"Can you send down Anna's stuff to the office? Her mom's coming to pick her up."

Like wildfire, word passes around the school that there's an ambulance in the parking lot (how the hell does word pass that fast when everyone's in class?). Sure enough, it's for poor Anna, who's still wheezing in the office. But despite her sure-to-be-impending-demise due to a pollen allergy, she manages to convince her mother that she needs to get her homework before she leaves school.

So mom drops Anna off at her locker and stops by the language arts teacher to get the homework. How could she know that Anna would go charging back in my classroom to get the math homework?

I turn around (I'm standing 2 feet away from a large bouquet of flowers, mind you) and there's Anna, gasping something about the math homework. It takes a moment for me to realize just who I'm looking at and why I shouldn't be.

Aw, shit....

At this point, mom realizes where Anna is. She rushes in to my room and starts dragging Anna out of the room by her arm. Anna, who I would swear had barely enough air to stand, drags mom back into my room, whistling angrily the whole way about the math homework like a deranged tea kettle! Finally, I manage to lead Anna out into the hall (as the dispenser of math homework, she has to follow me) and explain to her that she has to stay in the hall: I will happily bring her the math homework if she will just keep breathing until I get back.

Thus, with the math homework in hand, Anna triumphantly leads a weary mom back down the hall and out of the school. I really think that girl would have killed herself to get that assignment.

Now that is true dedication.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


So it's March. The hardest month. Statistically, this is the month when teachers refer the most number of students to the vice principal. It's the month when the most number of detentions occur. It's also a month when we have no holidays.

This is the month of angst. The month when the teachers hate the students and the students hate the teachers. When everyone just wants a friggin break. When you just want everything to end and the end is nowhere in sight. So pardon my spleen: it needs a little venting.....

1. No, I will not give you another pencil. What the hell did you do with the last 2 I gave you, eat them? Lose them in an orifice? What?
2. Stop picking your nose. It distracts the hell out of me when I'm trying to teach and I can't stop thinking about what you've wiped on your papers when I'm grading them. And speaking of your papers, I DO NOT GRADE HOMEWORK DONE ON A FUCKING POST-IT NOTE, SO STOP TRYING TO TURN ONE IN!
3. When you smell like cheese, it's time to take a shower. And Axe body spray does not cover the smell, it just makes you smell like a hideously-smelling cheese.
4. I am not your mother and i don't clean up after you, so stop pretending my entire classroom floor is your own personal garbage can. Besides, if I was your mom, I'd beat the shit out of you for doing that.
5. I do not teach Romper Room. I don't care if Jacob stole your pencil: if you're running in my room, you're getting detention. Deal with it and shut the hell up. And beat up Jacob when I'm not looking so I don't have to punish your ass again.
6. If you were talking when I was teaching, do not expect me to feel sorry for you when you have no idea how to multiply a fraction and a mixed number together.
7. Yes, you have homework. And even if I wasn't planning on giving you homework, you have homework now.
8. Only geniuses and idiots do math in pen. You are not a genius.
9. If you were passing notes in my class and Maddie stole your note and showed all her friends what it said, publicly embarrassing you, karma's a bitch.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Do you ever remember using a pencil in school? So why do they keep asking me if they need to have one?

It was Michael today. ""Mrs. W, do we need a pencil for this?"

"No," I replied. "If you have a thumbtack, you can always write it in blood."

He looked at me suspiciously for a moment. "You're being sarcastic, aren't you?"

It only counts as sarcasm if you were joking.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pull my finger....

In its infinite wisdom, the state has decided that it wants to do its standardized testing online this year (for those of you who don't remember standardized testing, it's the bubble test you had to do every year in the spring that took 2 hours a day for a week). This sounds like a great idea at first: it saves paper, cuts down grading time, reduces waste, eliminates a lot of error, and means I don't have to sharpen 60 #2 pencils for once.

In reality, there are a few problems. First, teachers are total technophobes. I know teachers that can't change their own wallpaper. You want them to administer an online test? To students that can probably circumnavigate our own porn filter? Second, our students type at, like, 10 words a minute. Seriously, they hunt and peck like retarded chickens. They'll be taking the reading test for a month.

But still, the state dictates, so we follow. So on a Friday afternoon, when I'd rather be playing World of Warcraft, here I am, trying to figure out how to administer the state's reading test (WHY?! I don't even administer the reading test!!!).

Let me set up some background knowledge before I continue. Kyle is one of the teachers at our school. I guess you could describe him as a big kid. He sings in a very loud voice as he walks down the halls. For superhero day, he dressed up as TeacherMan and pretended he could fly outside the windows of all the 8th grade classrooms. He even changed the marquis screen savers of all the 6th grade teachers to say "I Love Skool" to drive them crazy because he knew half of them didn't know how to change it back (technophobes, remember?).

So anyways, we're all sitting in the computer lab, running through a tutorial on how to administer and complete the state's online reading test. To amuse myself, I'm trying to see how fast I can get through the tutorial without reading anything (because I know that's what all the students are going to do).

The room was fairly quiet, so what happened next startled everyone.

From two computer banks in front of me came a loud ripping sound, as if a sheet of silk cloth had been rent in two. A shocked silence filled the room. Then pandemonium broke out. I looked up just in time to see five teachers dive out of their seats and sprint towards the corners of the room, panic on their faces.

When the dust had settled, Kyle sat alone in the middle of the computer bank. The entire room glared at him. His face turned a dark shade of red.

"You weren't supposed to hear that," he muttered......

we interrupt this blog for a moment of gravity

Ok, fair warning. If you want to laugh, skip this post. It's been a long week and I need to detox.

I've been feeling very introspective this weekend. Probably a large part of it has been the tremendous lack of sleep I've gotten. From Tuesday morning until Friday evening, I'd logged a minimal 13 and a half hours of sleep (and don't you dare feel sorry for me: it was my own damned fault. I'd promised too many things to too many friends). When you're that exhausted, you tend to wonder what you're living for.

So I started wondering what I was doing with my life. Why I get up at 5 in the freaking morning each morning (and let me tell you, I hate it every morning. Even the birds tell me to shut the hell up because they're still sleeping). Why am I still teaching? I've joked about my kids, but I don't think I've ever really talked about my kids.

I think it's time I talked about my kids.

Yeah, I joke about my kids all the time. I tell goofy stories about them. Some of them even get not-so-respectful nicknames amongst the teachers like "Mr. Wifebeater" (named after the wifebeater shirts he always wears) or "Coppertop" (because she tried to add a little red to her hair and instead died it bright orange). But deep down, I've always loved my kids.

That's why I get up in the morning. And that's also why I wonder why I get up in the morning.

Part of what makes teaching such a hard job (in addition to the long hours and the sucky pay) is the fact that we're not exactly making widgits here. We're trying to pass information from one person to another. And that requires some sort of relationship. You can't teach without building that bridge first. So I've tried to build that relationship with my students. But you can't build that bridge without giving something of yourself first. It's hard to offer a piece of yourself: rejection is a real possibility. Thankfully, with most of them, it's pretty easy: as long as you're willing to reach, so are they. But some of them have been hurt before, and they don't want to reach. They push you right out. And it hurts. It might not even be your fault, but it still feels like a fail.

And things happen to kids. Oh, the broken bones and badly-dyed hair isn't so bad: you can laugh about shit like that with them. It's the other crap that you can't do anything about that breaks your heart. Sometimes it's something small like Taylor falling in love with a girl I knew didn't love him. Sometimes, it's not. Kevin lost his dad to cancer. His brother couldn't handle it so he started doing drugs and disappeared on the streets. So, now Kevin has lost both his dad and his brother. One of my girls has an inoperable brain cyst: every time it gets bigger, it makes it harder for her to learn. To add insult to injury, the cyst has made her deaf in one ear. Samantha was kidnapped for 4 days and raped by her captor. I never even got to say goodbye or give her a hug before her parents moved her to another school.

All this happened this year alone.

They become a part of you, and you a part of them. Whether it's something cataclysmic or merely a broken heart, you feel it. And when they fail, it feels like you failed too. Every D and F on the report card feels like your fault. Every tear you can't stop feels like you caused it.

Yeah, I make fun of the funny moments. Sometimes, you have to hold on to the funny moments.

Next post will be a funny moment. Promise.

Friday, February 26, 2010

And now they've ruined the best meal of the day

They were staring at me this morning, the dirty little vermin. I usually spend the first 10-15 minutes of my day at school drinking coffee and eating my breakfast while reading my choice blogs on the computer, but it's hard to eat with a dozen Madagascar hissing cockroaches eyeing your egg mcmuffin. I had to throw most of it away. Sigh, I've been wanting to lose weight anyways.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me.....

So I'm planning my science lesson for tomorrow on transpiration when Mrs. Skapinsken walks into the room with a small terrarium in her hands. She plops it down on my desk. The terrarium looks at me innocently, it's newspaper-filled insides concealing the terror hiding inside for me.

Oh shit.....

"Oh please no," I beg her, "can't we skip this lesson? There has got to be another way to teach them about more complex organisms."

She smiles at me, as innocent as the terrarium. "You knew this was coming, it's the next unit. I know it's going to take some time to get used to them so you might as well start handling them now."

Shit shit shit shit SHIT, she's got me there. I did know this was coming, I just kind of hoped it would go away. Damn you FOSS and your innovative curriculum. You absolutely had to pick something guaranteed to scare the ever-loving crap out of me, didn't you?

Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Mada-fucking-gascar hissing cockroaches.

I managed to skip this unit last year by conveniently falling a bit too far behind. I had to get to the solar system somehow, so I skipped this little experience. Didn't exactly make the principal happy, and I knew I would be paying the piper this year, but it didn't matter at the time so long as I could sidestep my phobia. Well, the piper has come a-calling. Shit shit shit shit SHIT.

Snicker at me all you want, I don't care. You don't understand. Karen left a bunch of these little bastards at school over the summer. You're supposed to leave a wet sponge and dog food in the container to meet their basic needs, but Karen forgot to take care of them for 2 whole months. We all figured the damn things would be dead as doornails. Imagine our surprise when, upon returning, we discovered that they had survived by EATING THE SPONGE. They had even had babies. It's not natural, I tell you.

Janine opened the container and picked one up, looking at me expectantly.

What, we're starting the training now? Shit.

Tentatively, I held out my hand. She gently placed the insect in my palm. At first, I was ok. Then, I heard someone was talking: I was barely aware I had started to speak....

Get it off get it off get it offgetitoffgetitoffgetITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFF!!!!

Janine quickly removed the cockroach from my hand (I noticed that it had barbs or something that it used to cling to my skin. Great, something else to get used to). She dropped it back into the terrarium. Her shrug was apologetic, but her smile was definitely smug.

"I'll be back tomorrow," she promised. "In the mean time, you might want to at least try to touch them, if not pick them up."

And out she went.

She's enjoying this, I know it.

Paging Mr. Murphy on the white courtesy phone

And guess who blew into my room today? The principal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A note on principals

Yeah, it's been a while. I know, I know. I've had plenty to blog about, just been lacking in time (and, I suppose, in motivation. It hasn't been the most fun year). I'll get around to it. In the mean time, let me leave you with a note on principals.

Principals are a lot like tornadoes. Most of the time, you don't see them. They go wherever they go and do whatever they do. Then...suddenly....BAM! One blows into your classroom and throws the entire room into chaos. No one knows why they're there. No one's sure why they walked past this classroom and that classroom and walked into yours. They roam around for a few minutes. And, just as suddenly, they're gone, leaving mass confusion in their wake.

A principal will usually observe your class for 5 or 10 minutes, then wander around, talking to the kids. What are you studying? What did you learn how to do yesterday? Why are you doing that? The kids aren't sure what to do. Are they in trouble? Why is she talking to me? To be fair, it's not like the principal is trying to cause confusion. It's just that most kids only talk to a principal when they're in trouble.

It's not much easier on a teacher. Sure, academically I know she's probably there just because she felt the need to drop in on any classroom (it's what they do), but I'm still sweating bullets, thinking this will be the day that someone manages to amputate something with a pair of Fiskars scissors. And then there's the suggestions. Oh, the suggestions. Sometimes they're helpful, but sometimes it would be funny if they weren't made so seriously.

"You know, it would be fun if each student could come up with their own experiment to test" (sure, I bet the district is going to love to pay for all the supplies. And I'm just going to looove grading them for hours and hours). "I noticed your low math block was having problems multiplying. Maybe you could send home some multiplication worksheets they could practice on in their free time?" (they don't even do the homework I give them now, and you want me to give them more?) "Your period 6 class gets distracted when they have to borrow supplies. From now on, they can only borrow supplies from you." (Of course, because borrowing from me every day isn't going to be distracting to me at all)

You have to try the suggestions. Hey, when the boss says try it, you try it. Often, you go crazy trying to make it work until you give up. And then you're ok until the tornado blows through your door again.....