Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why you shouldn't use T-Mobile (a complaint to Consumer Affairs)

(Not school related, this is just how upset I am)


I was a customer with T-Mobile for seven years. For most of this, I had no issues.  About two or three years ago I switched to a smart phone - the Motorola Cliq.  Initially, for what it was, the phone worked fine.  Eventually, it picked up the habit of freezing on me, or going a little haywire.  After trouble-shooting, they decided to replace the device. The problem was recurring.  I replaced the phone three times for the same reason.  

Finally, when it happened again, I asked about exchanging my phone. They told me they were running a special where I could replace my cliq with the Gravity Smart, and this should solve the issue.  Well, I've had it for a month, and it hasn't been freezing, but everything else has been horrible.

I've spent a dozen hours trying to solve my phone's issues, at least seven to eight hours with one-on-one tech support, over the phone or at outlets.  The phone was a mess.  It couldn't merge my contacts with ease as the cliq did.  Instead, there were contacts stored in triplicate, or that I could not merge. After six hours of various one-on-one...it's still not to even where the cliq was.  

Then I ran into the issue with memory.  It doesn't have one.  In the three to four weeks that I had the phone, I downloaded six apps onto the phone, and the memory was completely full, to the point where it was rejecting text messages.  I assumed there was an easy explanation.  There was.  The phone has the memory of a beta fish.  My old phone, problems though it had, could handle a dozen or so apps that I put on, as well as over half a year's worth of texts, and have no problems.  The Gravity Smart, not so much.  

On the plus side, it comes with loads of useful crap like Bejewled 2, and AIM, which I have absolutely no use for, and which there is NO way to uninstall.  So I have to keep their crap on my phone and erase my own.

T-Mobile's solution?  Delete the things I actually want, to stare in fascinated revulsion at all the crap I won't ever use.

Well, assuming you ever get a hold of customer service.  Their new, "Improved Support System to Better Serve You", is somewhat akin to a piece of horse crap at their front door.  All it does is to keep decent smelling people out.  

You have to sit through several minutes of a computer irritating you, and when you try to explain what seems to be the problem, it won't understand you (trust me, it won't understand you), and then it will simply hang up on you.  Great customer service, there.  

The computer system at T-Mobile was always a bit of a retarded, deaf toddler, but it used to be that if you screamed and grunted at it often enough, it would send you over to a real human.  Now you have the infuriating experience of having a computer hang up on you.  I've tried to offer complaints to Will Smith and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I'm still waiting to hear back from them. 

I finally asked to speak to a Manager about getting my old defective phone back, as opposed to the lemon I replaced it with.  I called on Saturday and was told I'd have a return call in an hour.  By Tuesday afternoon, I assumed these people probably didn't actually own any of their own phones, and so I called again.  

After explaining the mess I've been through, and how I've called T-Mobile more often than my family over the holidays, the manager kindly told me that there was nothing she could do.  Never mind that I've been a customer for seven years, never mind that I was given a complete piece of lemon-shit to "fix my problems," there was NOTHING T-Mobile could do except to replace it with the exact same crappy phone.  They couldn't even give me back the model I had traded in.  

I love corporations who don't have the "power" to "do anything".  Does this mean I have the "power" to not pay for shoddy service?  Oh, that was the other "option".  I could pay for an upgrade.  Even though I had JUST paid off my last phone last month.  AND extended my contract with them for two years to get this "great deal".  I wish to hell I had not renewed my contract.  Now my only real option is to pay t-Mobile 200 dollars for the privilege of never dealing with them, again. 


Karl was sad.
Then Karl was mad and sad.
Then Karl was mad, sad, and infuriated.
Then Karl was two-hundred dollars poorer, and in need of a new phone and provider (assuming that's my only option, which is looking to be pretty much the case)

Monday, September 19, 2011

DeLorean time machines, giant hamster balls, and sick teachers

This group of kiddos is way more cognitively with-it than I’m used to.  On the first day of school, the FIRST DAY, mind you, one student asked me if I knew that Chester from the Kissing Hand (a great first day book) was nocturnal.  http://www.amazon.com/Kissing-Hand-Audrey-Penn/dp/0878685855 – some lessons, here - http://www.mrsnelsonsclass.com/teacherresources/storylessons/kissinghand.aspx.  She also sprung “camouflaged” on me.  And another student asked if ‘The Kissing Hand’ was nonfiction.  I was so confused I started bawling, just to hear a sound that I was accustomed to.  The students asked me if I need an epidural needle.  Three of them were expert in the technique, and a fourth once completed a doctorate on the comparison of the epidural to the Boo-Boo kiss.

Actually, that reminds me.  I have been sick, and after two weeks, the students have started to look at me in mild disgust when I practice my whale call and fog horn imitations with a tissue.  Firstly, you never know when you might become stranded in a fog-lit boat in the middle of an ocean night.  Secondly, although they clearly view themselves as my intellectual superiors, they at least offer helpful advice. “You should be in bed, Mr. Gardner.”  “You need nose medicine, Mr. Gardner.  My mom has nose medicine.”  “You didn’t give us our gumballs, yesterday, Mr. Gardner.” (I color in gumballs at the end of the day – 10 equals treasure box. One of these students is not receiving a pleasant letter in the ‘takes care of teacher’ category of the progress report.)

The same student who mentioned nocturnal threw ‘Satyr’ at me a couple of days, later.  Who the devil throws ‘satyr’ around? I think that was quite possibly the first time I’ve heard the word come up in conversation.  Another student is reading at a DRE level 18.  She now spends half her day with a first grade/second grade mix.  I tried for just first grade, but they just laughed when I mentioned her reading level.  I asked the student how she would feel about reading with second graders, but she just muttered under her breath that she had already calculated this outcome to a 97.893 degree of probability, and had already mentally scanned ahead to the second grade room, and deemed them at least remotely acceptable.  She then levitated through the hallway to the next room, while I lumbered out of breath behind her with a runny nose and a normal I.Q.

Back in the classroom, six of my students had designed a functional DeLorean time machine to allow them more recess time.  Only they improved the original design.  Now, instead of a vehicle moving at 88 miles per hour, it only requires a medium sized adult running for thirteen minutes inside of a giant, plastic, hamster ball.  They offered to let me help them out with the final modifications tomorrow.  I’m pretty excited.  I’ve never worked on a real time-machine, before.  I wonder what I’ll be able to do to help.  I haven’t much experience in engineering.  

Testing phonemes is usually loads of fun with my students.  “I’m going to say parts of a word.  Tell me the word I am saying.  “/Ch/-/ew/”


/Ch/ – /ores/”

This group, though, provided me with this:

-“Hmmmm, like me!  I’m living.”

-“Like, to be quiet”

-“Like me!  I’m a smart girl.”

-“Like Mr. Gardner!”

“Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and count these.  Next!”

-“Like a nexus!  A connection, or series of connections, linking two or more things.”

“Oh, god.  Next!  Next!”

Fred Orchestrates Death From the Skies

On a lucky stroke of happenstance, Thursday happens to be the official “Bring a Bloody Large Mitt or Net to Work Day.”  I wonder if work will call in a Satellite Day.  

The latest on Fred: He was spotted in Venice coating the inside of elderly citizen’s mail boxes with peanut butter.  In Sarasota, he also purportedly planted fresh bubble gum right outside the entrance to the shoe store.  Supposedly he considered doing the same in Bradenton, but lost interest after surveying the Desoto Square Mall.  Fred is considered in charge and extremely irritating.

At six o’clock, tonight, at work, my brain clicked off, and I decided that it was completely ridiculous for me to still be at work.  So I left.  I’ve spent approximately eight hours this weekend and after school today just to reach the point where I would normally START progress reports.  After eight hours of work, I was able to look at the progress report and ask myself,

“To what degree are these students meeting benchmarks?” 

After.  Eight hours.  Of work.  Luckily, this was eight-hours of unpaid work.  Or, as a friend put it, “That’s working for less than minimum wage in China.” 

Yes, friend.  Yes, it is.  And all that just to take me to my usual starting point.  Then I would normally consult work and assessments, and decide.   And write a thoughtful comment on their progress.  Instead, I spent four hours on Saturday, and four hours on Sunday, and an hour and a half after work, today, just setting up a gradebook system, and entering in grades.  And dealing with shutdowns, internal errors, and carpel tunnel from needless, meaningless clicking.  And then there’re the little things.  Like satellites falling on your head.  And not knowing how to print.  Or typing away happily on your grades, plugging things in, only to hit save and realize your page had timed-out, nothing had alerted you, and nothing had saved. Instead, the system had amiably watched you work, too polite to tell you it was on illusion mode, and then smiled proudly when nothing shows up after you hit save.  

“See!?  See what I can do?  Ha!  You thought I was on this whole time!  Fooled you!”  Thanks, pleasant yet diabolical henchman to Fred.  You two are truly made for each other. 

Or there’re the silly things, like comments that are regulated to letters to “help” you.  But instead of a drop box with the options right there, you have to click elsewhere for a key to which letter means what.  And you can’t copy and paste.  And you have to put these “helpful letters” in EACH of the six pages of subjects.  And all those grades you plugged in?  You can’t overview all of them while typing in your final grades (there’s probably a way to print them?).  And none of the comments are that helpful.  Usually I try to actually tell the parent how their child has been progressing, what specifically they might need help with, and what, going by what they’ve shown so far, their next step will be in reading, writing, and math.  Sorry parents, all my time went into clicking 120 boxes and typing letters that tell you your child is a delight in class.

Ah, Fred.  The best part is that people in the know downtown have already said that it’s expected that this program will be out in three years. I’m giving it two.  They also know that of the other counties who have used it, some have dumped it because they hate it, and the others broke down and slowed down the process.  One year they only used it for attendance. The second year they learned gradebook, and the third they combined with progress reports.  Apparently we have the advanced group. We learned all three in one week.  Good job, teachers.

I think the ranting has officially left my system.  Although Fred might appear in graphic form as soon as I master (or at least make a stab at) the technique.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thanks for the Alcohol, Mr Gardner! and Teeth Marks Fade (old livejournal posts. Remember those days?)

Thanks for the Alcohol, Mr. Gardner!

One of my students certainly picks up new vocabulary with enthusiasm.  Before lunch, I always line my kids up at the door and give them a squirt of sanitizer.  One of my students was upset that it burned a small cut on his hand.  I told him that it's the alcohol in the sanitizer, and that it's good for the cut.  It helps clean it, which is why it burns.  Not thinking anything of it, we continued with our day.

The next day, I followed the same procedure.  Line them up at the door.  Recite our "Line Time" poem, and gave out the sanitizer.  We then just starting walking out the door, when my vocabulary astute student yells out at the top of his lungs, "Thanks for the alcohol, Mr. Gardner!"

I'm pretty sure my face took up gymnastics.  “Sanitizer!  Let’s call it Sanitizer!”


That was a stressful.

I felt like taking a hot frying pan to the face.  It's so frustrating trying to do writing with them at this stage.  I have two people come in to help, and it's still hair-pulling.  They just can't do it.  Yet.  But, I don't know why in God's name they should be expected to. We're still teaching them their letters!

"Here's the letter 'A'.  That's right.  'A'.  Now give me a five to seven word sentence about what your favorite animal is and why.

As you master the Venn diagram.  And cutting and pasting."

They have their writing test on Thursday.

And all of the rushing around trying to figure in Holiday activities and projects is also driving me crazy. This morning it felt like Wednesday. This evening it feels like Thursday.  It's still only Tuesday.

Still wouldn't trade it in, though. 


- Suddenly realizing I have a sticker on my hand from a student, with no memory of them putting it there.

- A student telling me he's changed his name to Kris. When I ask him what's wrong with his old name, I get a long stare into space, then, "I can shoot baskets now."  He's a fun one.  One of my two white students in the class, he's in a world apart.  Not because of race, he just resides elsewhere.  Very involved with intensely studying and memorizing anything to do with bugs or dinosaurs, and very smart, but barely registers that he's surrounded by students in a classroom.  Occasionally, he'll break out in a country love song for a few seconds.  Once, after coming up to ask me a question, he slow danced back to his seat.

Teeth marks fade:

I've been half-assing it this week at work.  I'm sure it shows.

           On the other hand, I was informed that I had a "GQ" look going on today, which I found amusing.  Apparently, I make half-assed look good.  Don't worry, I took pictures with my digital camera and uploaded them onto my websites.  Oh, wait, that would require my having a digital camera...and websites….  You'll just have to trust me that, for a day, I was a hottie. ::nods head::

I'm not doing enough with my students in the phonics department. I also need to improve classroom management and transitions.  It's preventing me from getting to everything that I need to.

But, with kindergarten, every time you're feeling kind of poopy, one of the kids says something really sweet to you.

That, or they bite another student.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fred! Put the school down! You're upsetting the teachers!

At this point, in my immediate sphere, the only thing causing me to deplore, despise, and decry our educational system is our county and state's absurdity of floundering implementations.

Really the only thing I can't stand about teaching is the powers that be that continually make decisions removed from any sense of practicality and reason.  Call it the school board, the county, the state, or Fred.  Whatever you call it, it drives me crazy.  They take something that works within reason, pay themselves to break it, and then hand it back to us with the same look a mentally retarded kitten would give you as it drops a dead mouse at your feet and looks up all expectant and hopeful for a kind word or some catnip.  We can't give Fred catnip.  He foams all over himself and starts hitting himself in the eyes.  

Exhibit A.  Our school had designated every Friday to be an early release for students.  They left at 1:15, and we were provided with an extra two hours to plan with our teams. And, occasionally, have an important meeting.  It worked quite well.  Parents were able to accommodate for the early outs, the time was used prudently, and it was essentially a stress-free transition.  Then the county saw it.  It was bright, shiny, and functional.  It made them a little excited.  They snatched it, looked at it, spun it around, and paid themselves to make some decisions.  They concluded that teachers couldn't be trusted with an early-dismissal of students on a Friday.  Teachers are lazy and somewhat resemble a high-school stoner.  They will clearly use this as an excuse to dip out early on Friday and go have sex at Suzie's house while her mom's away.  So they mangled it, and handed it back. Suddenly it was a Wednesday early out, which upset the parents because the middle of the week's a lot harder to get out early or make accommodations (Some jobs, including ones where you are paid more for having a college degree or masters, can usually get out earlier on a Friday).  

This did several things, besides upsetting parents.  It made the transition difficult throughout the week by dropping a stone in the middle of a consistent structure.  It made planning as a team difficult as they were suddenly trying to plan a week and a half ahead, instead of a week.  Which is rough as you can't be as certain on Wednesday what you and the students will make it through by Friday.  However, the county fixed this planning problem by almost completely annihilating the actual planning time with regulated meetings.  What's that you say?  No meeting is actually needed?  Don't worry, Fred'll provide a needless one.  He's very skilled at providing needless meetings.  Usually they cover needless implementations of other items that he's broken and wants to share. And sometimes they serve no purpose except to make you feel like a worthless drain on American society and possibly the cause of nuclear war.  Awww, who's a good boy, Fred?  You're a good boy!  Chase the stick, Fred!  Sometimes Fred forgets if he's a mentally challenged kitten or puppy.  It's part of his condition.

But this is old news.  This isn’t what threw me into a tizzy.  This didn’t totter my teeters.  Teeter my totters?  No, what tottered my teeters is what’s come through the loop recently.  First, there’s Waterford, then, there’s the new gradebook, and finally, there’s the new progress reports.  Waterford is an educational computer program that we’ve used on a rotational basis in the classroom.  It’s effective, though not without its flaws.  Then Fred saw us playing with it.  Suddenly, it changed.  Fred wanted proof of how he’s holding all of us accountable, so he took a system that was, for the most part, working, and tweaked it.  Before, it was a closed system where the students are prompted with their picture and name, and only your class is possibly accessible.  Now, the students have to find the name of their school, then the name of their teacher, and then their own picture, and THEN they can start.  No problem.  All this so Fred can monitor to make certain that every student has a set amount of time on Waterford each week.  This is being enforced, as well.  Fred likes enforcement of silly, one-size-fits-all, policies.

Luckily, of my four computers, Waterford isn’t installed on one, I can’t log onto another, and on the one I managed to access, two of my students were locked out, and the third I started, but couldn’t stop without turning off the computer.  In years prior, we were able to load the pictures of the students onto Waterford and start them up with only a few glitches within the first week of school.  Now that Fred’s trying to control it, it’s been a month and they’re not even running yet.  But that’s okay, Fred, you watch those screens!  Someone will get on eventually and you can bark (or meow) most triumphantly!     

Still, this is minor.  A hiccup.  The worst is gradebook and progress reports.  All of this is now online, connected with the entire county, monitored by a Fred who shall now be portrayed as an evil, sadistic, fat warden sitting all fattily in his evil, sadistic den, with a gleam in his eye, a shirt that’s two sizes too small and smudged with an unidentified stain, and a nasty habit of glowering while rubbing his greasy hands together.  Oh, Fred, what has become of you, and your mouse-dropping-at-our-feet days? 

I’m not going to say that the end product MIGHT not be worth it.  I can’t say one way or the other, at this point.  But I will say this.  Slow your ass, down, Fred!  Slow down!  You’re throwing all these new things around as if they’re necessary for any sort of improvement in the school system.  First of all, it probably won’t do anything.  Really.  It probably won’t make any substantial difference in the classroom.  All you are doing is giving teachers MORE work to do.  Your program isn’t even ready!  Slow down!  IF it’s good, IF it’s worthwhile, then it will BE worthwhile when it is READY.  You’re throwing all this at us, and you don’t even have it up and running on YOUR end!  What on earth is the rush?  I can guarantee that having a new way to publish progress reports and keep track of grades isn’t going to accomplish that much in real results.  MAYBE there’s an unforeseen benefit to be had, but only if you’re ready to put it into play.  You’re like a new teacher just throwing one thing after another at their class while trying desperately not to drown.  This isn’t going to do anyone any good at this rate, and it will do some harm.  Think about it.  We had training (which was overwhelming) on WEDNESDAY, to completely finish a product by MONDAY, and you’ve already admitted that it’s not really working, yet.  Why push it without reason or need?  We’ve kept grades and printed progress reports for years.  If you need another year, or a couple of months, to finalize a new system that you’re all excited about trying, then take the time to get used to it yourself, and to have your staff familiar with it.  My God, man.  You’re telling us that we have three days max to figure out how to use the system, design it, decide as a team what every assignment will be that is going into this system, and then BACK-LOG the last half of the quarter WITH GRADES into a system?  Why?  Because it will make you look good?  ALL of this is just extra work for the teachers.  My team has already decided to come in Saturday at nine to work on it.  And this after staying till 5:30 today to try and grasp how it all works.  And in three days you think the entire county will have finished this?  And worse, you’re telling us that everyone HAS TO PRINT ON THE SAME DAY?  My god, how do you NOT expect a system to crash?  Or what if someone is sick, or has an emergency?  What if someone drops a dead mouse in front of me, I trip, and fall through a wormhole into a rational educational system?  Who will print my progress reports and back log my gradebook electronically while making certain that Angel from Tweakley Elementary doesn’t log into Angel from Quackly Elmentary by mistake? 

Keeping daily track of assignments on a system in Kindergartn isn’t completely insane (I guess), but asking us to rush it in three days, and to fake it as if we’ve had it for the past five weeks, is just stupid.  Teachers work.  They work hard.  And not for very much money, no matter how long they’ve been teaching or how high their degree.  I arrive between 7:45 and 7:55, and have been leaving nearly every day between 5:00 and 6:15.  This is just going to add an hour or two to this time.  And there are dozens of cars at work before and after me.  I drove past the school at 8:30 once, and three teachers were just leaving. 

Fred, this is not about the kids, this is about you trying to prove that you’re worth being paid as much as you are, when in other states your job is voluntary.  If you have an idea that is worth trying, wait until it is ready to try, so that it will have a better chance of being successful.  If you give me a student, I will do my best to teach them.  I have my faults.  I am aware of them.  I work on them.  But if you give me a kid I care for them, and will do my damndest to meet their needs and see them along on their educational path.  But do NOT give me more work to do just to make you look good on paper.  And, for God’s sake, if you have something worth implementing, wait till it, and we, and you, are ready.  And don’t, please don’t, break something in the system that is at least partially working unless you know that it will be improved.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Batman, Pink Underwear, and The End of Everything.

I like to think most Walmart stories have a happy ending.

On the way to work this morning I found myself behind a Ford 150 truck that had "Vote NoBama" and "Choose Rick Scott" stickers. As I'm following behind him, he runs through a puddle, heedlessly splashing a fourth grade girl who was walking to school. At first I thought, "You asshole."  But then I paused to reflect, and further thought, "Well, at least you're demonstrating the strength of your convictions."

I hear snippets from the teachers.  A student stuck a crayon in their ear and proceeded to color their inner ear blue.  In another class that was previously a sauna, they came to fix the system and it’s now growing progressively colder.  Students peek out from turtle shells of shirts, heads and arms withdrawn.  As apparently it can’t immediately be fixed, and will only grow colder, the teacher sent home notes asking for sweaters, jackets, parkas, and possible snow shoes.  Also in this class, twenty-four students engage in elated farting parties, or while in line, hold hands and jump up and down in down in gleeful circles.  No one’s really sure yet what school is about, other than breaking wind, experiencing frost-bite, and that when the maestro speaks strange words in English and gestures, she must be signaling a fiesta.  She signals a lot of fiestas.

After work I spoke with a friend who I haven’t heard from in a while.  During this conversation the visuals in my head were going off like fireworks after closing time at Disney.  I’m not even sure what to start with.  She’s a guidance counselor at an elementary school, and this one conversation encapsulated Walmart scooter fights between elderly, heavy-set married couples, the future of American society, and an inadvertent hot-pink undergarment flashing.  All in all it was a pretty image-filled conversation.  In said order:

She recently moved near a Walmart, and finds herself frequenting the place much more often than she should like, and not half as long as she should desire to like.  Thanks to http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/photos, many are familiar with the joys of Walmart people-watching.  Really, anyone who has ever set foot in this magical realm has formed a special place in their heart for its traditional charm and pull. You can’t but seem to want to go local once you enter its sacred halls.  Shun those shoes, roll those cigarette cases in yon sleeves, wear those leotards and moo-moos, it’s Walmart!  Everything’s magical at Walmart.  Are you drunk, high, currently ODing, or running from the law?  Walmart!  Do you suffer chronic itch, a sense of fashion not legal in the eighties, or have no sense of actual body weight?  Walmart!  Do you live in a trailer, possess sixteen children, and your wife can beat you at horseshoes and arm-wrestling?  Walmart!  It’s the magical place to be! 

In an attempt to go native, I have no less than three times dressed in costume to better study these indigenous shoppers.  Once I arrived decked in full eighties gear – chains, tight black ladies’ jeans, cut-off jean jacket, studded red fingerless gloves, cow-bell earring.  On this particular occasion I was teaching high school, and saw a student with her parents enter.  I hastily spun my back around, but was informed by my companions as the parents did a double-take, stared at my visage, and walked backwards into the door.  Sorry, parents.  Another time I walked in with midriff Eyore shirt, blue-flamed board shorts, pink headband over a white man’s fro, and a superman cape.  I was just trying to be unremarkable.
I need a quarter!  You! Random Homeless man! Spare some change?
And last I entered in a red jumpsuit complete with American jacket, sunglasses, and bike helmet.  My favorite bit from this, besides posing for dare-devil pictures on a tricycle, was driving back with two friends, the driver in a Batman suit, and being pulled over.

Batman, who nailed the outfit so completely a kid had previously asked for his autograph, sat calmly in his regalia, facing forward, until the cop approached.  When the cop stepped up to the window, he lowered the window with a touch, turned abruptly, and asked in a darkly husky voice, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
I come in Fun Size!

So much for my history with Walmart.  Now on to the conversation.  My friend has noted that she cannot seem to step foot inside without witnessing a fight amongst couples.  But her last trip took the cake, ate it, and then still tried to return it for store credit.  Walmart accepted.  There was a couple, both equally elderly, equally overweight, and equally struggling for supremacy on their shopping scooters.  My friend’s not certain as to what caused the altercation.  She only stood witness to its result.  Perhaps there was some couponed item left behind.  Or mayhap the old man had made a snide comment on aisle eight.  Or he had turned a deaf ear to her wishes for a nice chicken pot-pie dinner for once.

Whatever the cause, the old man in his scooter was waiting in line, when his wife came scooter charging towards him, yelling her pain, and crashing her scooter into his own, forcing him away from the line.  There was much shouting, and a slight scooter war unfolded.  In my mind it involved long, slow charges incorporating cue sticks as lances.  The wife won, to no one’s surprise, but the thought of a scooter war between elderly, overweight, locals immediately brought me back to college, where we once decided it most prudent to have a bike jousting in our overly-long hallway.  Though the pool sticks that were used in this endeavor were most probably not in our wisest of choices, the inference and background knowledge it lent to this story is most appreciated.  And to these wizened warriors I advise them, even if you are wearing two thick sweaters, your ribs will still hurt in the morning. 
This is my roommate Mark from college. He's wiry but fierce.

My counselor friend then uttered the prophetic warning that America will end in Walmart.  There is a multitude of ways to look at this, and I invite you to find your own.  I fear the truth of it.  More, I fear Walmart.  There was a night, in particular, that I condescended to frequent this store though I had no local attire.  It was midnight.  This particular store, though I didn’t know it at the time, was under  reconstruction.  More than half of it was emptied and blocked off with wooden blockades, while the entirety of the store was constrained to its central.

Walking around a Walmart at midnight, which was completely emptied at its edges, gave one a complete, utter, and terrifying sense of pure entropy.  This is what the end of America will look like.  An empty Walmart at midnight. 

And as to education?  Well, my friend, step right up, and watch Walmart slash those demands!  Two years ago I experienced a concerned parent telling me at the beginning of the year that she had heard that it didn’t really matter how her child did in Kindergarten, that he would be passed on regardless.  Guess what?  She’s right!  We’re slashing expectations!  We have a new progress report online to experiment with this year.  There are absolutely zero comments that we can type in which would indicate to a parent that their child needs to work on a subject or behavior.  We’re slashing expectations!  The amount of work for the teacher is on the rise, and they’re being judged, but every student gets a happy face!  We might be tripling expectations upon the profession of teaching, and channeling pay based on student test results, but guess what!  We’re slashing teacher’s pay and slashing student expectations!  Everyone passes, and everyone’s doing just fine!  This is more elementary based at the moment, but it’s starting to entrench into middle, high, and college.  We’re putting out a baseline and expecting everyone to fall in suit, and if they don’t make it, why, send them on, anyway!  What’s that, you say?  Johnny’s hitting Sue and Brenda’s sniffing glue?  Steve has bitten Mike and Matthew didn’t learn to write?  Send them on, anyway!  We’ll expect the best from teachers, and pay them next to nil, make them teach sixteen hours a day, but if a student doesn’t make the cut, send them on, anyway!
But perhaps this is too harsh, to cold and drab a picture of our future.  Perhaps we need some brightness in our lives.  Some neon pink glow on a rainy day to give us heart.  Perhaps even a bright pink with “H-O-T-T” written across it.  And that’s where a guidance counselor comes in.  She’s there to provide whatever support and encouragement we need.  Even if it means an inadvertent hot-pink flashing of her underwear for everyone in the parking lot to see.

My friend was making a phone call to the school board when she realized she had a meeting downtown in thirty minutes that she had forgotten about.  She immediately grabs her stacks of files and rushes to the car.  It was storming heavily along the way.  To the point that the rain was actually coming in sideways.  But then, just as she parks, the clouds give way to the sun.  It’s a good sign.  God must be looking out for the rushed and the weather beaten.  Filled with renewed faith and hope and goodwill, my friend gathers her substantial stack of papers and her Starbucks coffee, and proceeded to hurry through the parking lot.

Let me pause, as she did, and point out that she was wearing a wrap-around dress.  A dress, for the less-informed, that is essentially made up of two parts.  I believe they wrap around.  So as she’s hurrying across the wet pavement, hands full, she makes it to the breezeway just as a gale force wind rushes in, snags part of her dress, and spins it up and over to land affectionately on her shoulder.  Exposing, to the parking lot, her bright pink undies.  And, with a hot cup of coffee, a multitude of papers, and a wet ground, she has no recourse but to keep walking, as her dress magically stays atop her shoulder, defying natural gravity and physics.

After at least a full minute she’s able to rectify the situation, but in the meantime she noticed at least four other people in the school board parking lot.  Fully clothed again, she attempted to ascertain whether anyone bore witness to her cheery good-morning.  Attempting to make eye-contact with one individual and ask them an off-topic question, the person refused eye-contact and blushed.  That would be an affirmative.  Her ‘Good morning!” was heard clear across the parking lot.  Announced all the louder for the “H-O-T-T” in typeface across the back of her knickers.  It may have only been one “T”.  I always feel there’s an acronym out there that I’m not cool enough to know about.  Anyway, here’s to cheerful, hot-pink “Good mornings!”  We salute you.
This is Sue. Sue was very helpful. Thanks, Sue!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I’ve got pukies in my mouth.

(This is from the beginning of this year, as opposed to the others)

A first grader was walking determinedly down the hallway.  Our reading coach stopped him and asked him where he was going.  “The clinic.”  “Oh, what’s the matter?”  “I’ve got pukies in my mouth.”  “Okay. Carry on.”

We’ve had an epidemic.  Custodial cleaned up ten “Code V’s” in one day.  Only five students made it to the clinic.  The other five?  Unknown.  But they’re presumed to be primed and extremely dangerous.  Do not prod them.  Keep your distance.

My morning pretty much started out in a similar vein.  A mom brought her daughter in, who was crying, yelling, and clinging.  The mom did as she should; basically brought her in the classroom with a few positive words, and tried to escape as her daughter clung to her belt loop.  I intercepted, and tried to calm her down, but she wasn’t having it.  She was throwing a fit, hyperventilating, and fighting for the door.  Hard.  I tried to get her to talk, and managed to get an “I want to play with mommy” from her, which was a start.  Luckily my aide came in, because I needed help.  I mean, this kid was fighting strong.  She could be a contender.  And my class this year is right next to the exit.  Mom would have been gone by this point, and I’m pretty sure this girl would have taken off through the exit trying to find her.  I had to physically restrain her from opening the door (fingers and thumbs lightly pinched together over wrists.  She can’t break out, but little risk of hurting her.  A trick I learned in V.E.  Plus the getting her to start talking – less chance of putting herself into a tizzy of hyperventilation).   After a brief trade-off with the aide, I call the assistant principal for assistance, and then go back to the student.  Meanwhile, the class is stirring quite a bit, and the aide comes up to me, as I’m still trying to calm the student down and keep her from breaking for the door, to inform me that another student has just vomited all over the table.

There’s a morning for you.

As a whole, this class is nothing like what I’m accustomed to.  That last bit notwithstanding, I have the high class for the first time, and it’s a completely different animal.  There’s way less hair pulling in the beginning, and the kids are still sweet, so the only stress I’m dealing with is how to be a better teacher.  Reflecting on what I’m doing that I don’t like, what I want to see change, and then try to figure out how to change it.  I have an idea of the first two, still working on the last.  There’s a lot of balancing and figuring out at this point.  I have to cut down on my talk-time, a lot, and streamline myself, so the students are doing more.  I have to determine where exactly everyone is so I can move forward from where they are, as opposed to just following the standard curriculum timetable.  I still want resources and structure in place, so I have to make it work for me as well as for them, and though I definitely need to cut back on ‘me’ time (my talking, my stating, my doing) I also don’t want to have chaos in the room.  So I’m walking that balancing act.  And trying to keep the pukies out of my mouth.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's Not A Carrot! It's Not A Carrot!

During the first week of kindergarten, recess somewhat resembles that old seventies football board game with all the little metal players sitting on a tin field.  You turn it on and herds of little painted men oscillate forward in commingling groupings of collapsing confusion.  Into this melee throw basketballs, six students at a time climbing up the wrong ends of slides, and students with no English running around in glee as unheard teachers chase after with waving arms and unheeded pleas.  I spent my own time plucking dangling five-year olds from the tops of slides, chanting out phrases as mantras, “bumper not tummy, feet first not behind, look before going, one at a time, don’t jump from that thing keep your feet on the ground, where did that come from please put it down.”  One student went wandering right out of the playground, right through the gate near the back car lot.  Then we saw Arnold Schwartzenegger come running across the grass, shouting, “I’ve got a ferret!  I’ve got a ferret!”  Or so we first thought.  Turned out to be a rather tall, chunky kindergartner holding something of orangeish hue in his hands and yelling, “It’s not a carrot!  It’s not a carrot!”  None of us felt like investigating. 

Yet all of this is a cake walk compared to dismissal.  What exactly does “cake walk” mean?  Do people take strolls along cake alleyways?  Do they take a beloved cake for an afternoon saunter?  Do daring adventurers canter across icing covered boston-cream pies?  Is a boston cream pie indeed a pie and not a cake?  Whatever the case may be, I’ve heard Vietnam veterans shudder in fear over the first week of dismissal for the Kindergarten Year.  Armies of students might trample afoot, and adults think they’re safe, with shoulders aloof.  Busses lined up, all ready to go.  What could go wrong? Oh, wait, there’re kinders along.  Grab hold of those backpacks, snatch hands and don’t wait, but please, oh, please, don’t they know where they belong?  No?  Oh, dear.  Rush back to the rooms.  Call one teacher, another.  Who is this, and where do they go?  Oh, please, but please, don’t they know what they’re called?  A name?  A nickname?  A brother or sister?  Don’t they know their teacher, or for the love of God a preacher?  I don’t know where to go, I don’t know who to call, now they’ve taken off one shoe and are scampering down a hall.  I’d chase after the one, but another kinder’s crying, that one’s tripped over their laces and I do believe she’s flying.  Whatever the case may be, I’ve heard Vietnam vets shudder in fear, over the first week of dismissal for the Kindergarten Year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today, we tried cutting.

 My students are usually pretty good with scissors, I swear.  That's what I'll have to tell their parents after today, I'm sure.

We're cutting up numbered squares to sequence them on writing strips (tomorrow we glue popcorn kernels on each square). I don't hear screams or see blood or clumps of hair - I assume things are going fine.  I start walking around.  What I find: One student could have a career in confetti making.  One student decided she didn't want to cut out squares so much as quarter inch sections of the numbers.  Not too conductive to step two, I would think.

Then there's the third student:

This student - and he is a very special flower, yes he is - stands up and yells, in a completely shocked voice "Mr. Gardner!  I accidentally cut my shirt!"

Now, he is one who I would not blink if he did such a thing on purpose, but all the students around his table were repeating that he accidentally cut his shirt (of course, with kindergartners, that doesn't stand for much - they generally repeat whatever they hear, regardless).  I look over and see him standing up (he's quite the little guy to boot.  He looks, and acts, more like a pre-schooler than a kindergartner) with a completely stunned look on his face.  He still has his kid belly, and his belly button is just greeting the world for all to see from a hole in his shirt.

I couldn't help it.  I laughed.  Something, under the circumstances, I knew was a no-no.  I tried to address it - pointed out how we need to be careful with our scissors, yadda, yadda, yadda.  The damage was already done.  Within three minutes, another student (a spanish speaking student with almost no English), had decided that laughter must point out the correct path.  He in turn cut his shirt, and proceeded to stand up and beam happily at me.  It was like a mini-reenactment of "The Dead Poets' Society," with less meaning.

I give this student my best language-bridging "Teacher look" (and yes, I am acquiring one, thank you very much - though I am still years away from the famous Ms. Vella "Oh, God, I swear I didn't do it, I was just out here in front of your house, it was my friends who toilet papered your house, and besides you know me, and Lyss is okay with it, I swear she practically invited us to come over, please don't kill me" kindergarten teacher look).

No sooner than I feel that I've given him the teacher "aren't you ashamed of what you did, I know it won't happen again" stare down, than I re-circulate the room, and discover that the original student, also pleased at the laughing, had decided to add on to his work by cutting down from his belly button to the end of his shirt.

Next week, I'm thinking of teaching them how to carve their own turkeys.

Excuse me, Miss, do you accept frog?

            Day one went too quickly to say much about it.  It's too early in the ball game.

I'm still putting in ten-hour days, it seems, but it makes a difference when half of your team is there, as well.

Trying not to feel overwhelmed with whether I'll be able to manage them into procedures, and being a family unit. And then there's the whole curriculum side to tackle.
All in all, a better day than my first day at high school. Probably in large part to the people that are there, and seeing some old students of mine.

I had two criers in the morning, but both calmed down after a while and with some assistance from the aide.  One never rejoined us (they only go till twelve, the first week, which is nice), but I didn't force it.  One has already shown that he likes to do what he wants to do, and two more may cause some mischief between them. But they're my kids.  For the whole year.  I find that exciting (and, again, somewhat overwhelming).


After work on Thursday, I went to pull out my wallet to buy a soda in the work-room.  Only, instead of my wallet, I pull out a stuffed frog.  The surprises of being a kindergarten teacher.

On Friday, some of my students told me they had a surprise for me at the writing table. I look, and they had glued some of their work to the wall. :0) They had seen me staple some students' work on the bulletin board, and decided to take matters into their own hands to make it easier on me. They were too proud for me to point out that that's not quite appropriate. :]

I like my job. I hope they keep me.
Our new kinder teacher, who has even less experience than me, and had to come in five weeks after the year started, is a natural. It's crazy. On the plus side, it keeps pushing me forward.  I hope it's a good year all around for the students, teachers, and school.

Amusing moment:

I was talking with the kids about how we can count backwards from ten, and asked if any of them knew how we could do this.  One young girl raised her hand, and very enthusiastically said, "Like this!" She then turned around backwards on the floor and started to count to ten.
There are times when you are just thrilled to be around these kids.


Long, long day.  I'm pooped.  We had an apple day, where the kids rotated through all of our classes, and we did an activity with each class.  It was non-stop, and hyper, and messy, and insane at the end, as I tried to do too much in too little time and the kids were off the wall, so to speak. They actually weren't all that insane; it was just the culmination of it all.

I was also observed for the first time yesterday (basically ever, as I never really had one last year at the high school).  It went okay.  The kids were themselves, but it worked.  We even met that day.  She liked the positive atmosphere, and my level of drama/enthusiasm, which was nice.  I would have been much, much more nervous if it was the principal, instead of assistant. He self-admittedly doesn't really grasp kindergarten.  Not in a negative way; he's just more geared to the upper levels.  Anyway, it went fine.  They were a bit antsy and wiggly, but she was kind because they were eager to participate.  I did a very simple lesson, which is good, because I was just nervous enough to forget to do a major section of the lesson. Whoops.  I kind of just went with what was going on, and extended the activity we were doing.

One of my students counted “One, two, three, two one” when asked to count to five.  This is the same student who told me she could count backwards - and proceeded to turn herself around and count regularly.

Another of my students has come in the past three mornings to tell me very unique vignettes.  First, he described to me how he brought his horse with him to school on his handlebars.  It was a toy horse.

The next day, he tells me in the hall that he has something very important to tell me, and can he please tell me in the room.  We step in the room, and he proceeds to tell me an extraordinarily long story that can be best summed up as follows: His dad told him and his brother to walk to school this morning. And they did. And they saw two other students they knew.  The end.

             Glad he got that off his chest.

The third day, he tells me he's going to ask his dad if he can invite me over to his house. It's a red-brick house so the wolf can't blow it down, even if he huffs and puffs.

There is another student, however, who has made me actually laugh out loud twice. It's a student I've had a lot of trouble with - very immature.  He's emotionally more about the level of a three year old.  He's had quite a few major hardships in his life, such his mom passing away from cancer.  This makes my third student who has lost a mother by the age of kindergarten.  On this day, he's really upset because he says a student at the table is bothering him.  I ask him what the student was doing.  Well, you know how little kids like to repeat what they hear another student say?  He's sitting there, all upset, breathing erratically, and he starts to inform me in a stutter that "So-and-so, so-and-so, he, he..." It is at this point that a different student at the table says "nothing". And, of course, the student I'm talking to ends his own sentence with "nothing.”  And then stops, as though confused, or as though everything is apparently fine.  I couldn't help it.  I laughed.

Today, the same student again made me laugh out loud in class. I've been testing all day, today (tomorrow, too). They come back from lunch and if they have been quiet, they have a ticket that allows them to go to recess.  Since I have to test, I tell them I’m going to allow them to play at centers, instead.  I tell them to raise their tickets up if they have them.  I then realize that I still have to go over some of the centers.  I begin to do so.  This student starts whining, and keeps trying to get out of his seat and give me his ticket.  I ignore him/tell him he has to wait at his seat until I collect his ticket.  This all takes place as I spend several minutes going over their centers.

Finally, the student cries out: "Mr. Gardner!  I can't hold my ticket up in the air anymore!  My arm hurts!" He had been holding it in the air, like I told him to, the entire time.  Again, I couldn't help it.  I laughed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Why, yes, I AM wearing a Care-Bears band-aide. Thanks for noticing."

                I was asked to teach coach for summer school.  This is the second time I’ve said yes.  It’s fun.  A complete 180 from my year working as a high school teacher.  I have tons of planning time, people stop in to see how the day’s going, I can actually go over lesson plans for the week with a fellow teacher, and the kids are, almost exclusively, engaged and excited.   And everything I plan has an element of fun to it.  I ran a pirate theme for the summer.  I wore a costume, built cardboard boats, incorporated relay races and feats for treasure.  It culminated in an epic pirate ship and water balloon battle between the fourth and fifth graders.  It was bloody and beautiful. 

    At the end of the program, four teachers cornered me in a classroom.  Four teachers gave me the teacher stare.  And four teachers told me I was teaching kindergarten next year.  Have you ever been faced with the power of four teacher stares?  Once, right out of high school, my friends and I were toilet papering another friend’s house.  Her mother was a kindergarten teacher.  Sweetest woman on the planet, next to my mom.  She came out in full teacher stare-down mode, and I’ve never been so terrified in my life.  We all ran like hell, and I’m pretty sure I smelled flesh burning.  Never did find out which one of us didn’t make it out.  Anyway, faced with four such stares, I didn’t stand a chance.  Not only do they want me to teach, they already went to the principal, and cleared it with him.  They said it was mine if I wanted it.  Shizer.


Thoughts while jogging:

-Next time, don't do your stretches next to an ant's home.  It'll give new meaning to "I've got ants in my pants." Well, no, I guess that's sort of the old meaning, as well.

-Songs grow lengthier when jogging.  For example, behold my thought process:  "Wow, I've been jogging for a while, now.  It has to have been at least ten, fifteen minutes.  Maybe even twenty.  I can't believe this one song has been playing the whole time.  I didn't even know Alkaline Trio HAD any jam sessions on here.  Oh.  Four minutes, huh?

I've been in to work today, and I may be going in tomorrow, as well as doing some homework, which has me worried about burning out. I've been more excited about going in, though, as it doesn't feel like it's just me, on my own.  The team has been there just as much as I have.  And my mentor teacher is four feet away from my door.  And she had to leave early one afternoon for her daughter, and felt so bad that she came back afterwards to touch base with me.  Did I mention that my last mentor, at the high school, never once came to my room?  In the whole year?  And she left at 2:45 (or 3:15?  I forget the day's times) every day to pick up her daughter?

             Yeah.  Nice change.  Oh, and I had seven out of nineteen kids show up for back to school night.  Out of those seven, three don't know any or nearly any English.  I think I'm looking at close to half my class in a similar boat.  We'll see.

              I'm so going to be teaching kindergarten.