Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spelling Tests and the Latin word for Vagina.

The students took a spelling test, today.  One of our students ("Check your zipper!") is very sweet, but he does have an anger/stubborn streak in him.  Especially if he thinks he’s in the right and is being cheated.  He had quite the row when playing a Memory card game.  He didn’t believe that the other student could go again after making a match.  Not because he was losing, but because he thought the other student was trying to cheat.  He's small but fierce. 

Ironically, this came full circle.  We’re in the middle of taking the spelling test, when the teacher notices him sneaking something from his pocket.  He had the words written down on a piece of paper and was stealing glances.  She took him out into the hallway to talk with him about it, and he grew furious.  He started loudly protesting and blaming the teacher.  The principal happened by during this and tried to see if he could help sort it out.  Apparently, verbatim, the student’s issue was that the teacher “hadn’t told them that they couldn’t keep the words in their pocket and look at them.”  Let’s face it, the kid has a point.  Our bad.

Let’s move away from my school, for a moment, and visit a friend’s school.  On the private, affluent level.  Just for kicks.  My friend teaches art there.   She related this story to me. One of the coaches is named Coach Willey (very nice guy, unfortunate name).  An older student (somewhere between fourth and seventh) had written a pleasant little ditty in the locker room: "Coach Willey has a vagina".  Very deep and well thought out.  A kindergartner later finds this, and tells another one of the coaches.  Only he doesn't  know the last word, so in relating what was on the wall, he states, "It says coach Willey has a...v…vag… I think it's Latin."

That's right, kids.  Latin.  Kindergartners are commenting on Latin.  Another student (keep in mind, we're talking second grade or less, here)...well, hold on.  Preamble:  My friend's last name is Gross. The little ones don't like to call her Mrs. Gross, because they think they're being rude or mean. They have told her this.  She has reassured them that it is okay, because that is her name, but they still hesitate every time they have to say it.  Anyway, one of the little tykes commented that, because it's German, it's probably pronounced [Grauss].  A second grader.  Or younger.  Correcting German.  I don't even know if they were right, but I wouldn't be too surprised.  What the hell do they feed these kids?

Monday, July 18, 2011

You know, it's the small joys in life (a random week's collections)

You know, it's the small joys in life.
The feel of a small hand on your back,
The other hand cupping your ear.
And the owner's voice whispering,
"There's no more soap in the bathroom".

Me, to my friend, Scott – “Today, when I came in from recess.… I really don't have to finish this story, do I?”

Scott – “No.  No, you don't.  But I was hoping you were going to say, 'I got out my blue mat and had milk and cookies'.”

 One of my students after dropping his cookie on the floor and retrieving it: "If you say, 'God bless the germs,' it helps."

Another student - “I’m not going to be here, tomorrow.  Can I use the restroom?”
::My head therein explodes like the jury member on South Park after the Chewbacca/Ewok question.  Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Me -"How are you doing, Xavier?"

Xavier -"How are you doing, too?" :o)

Maybe you had to hear him say it.

Boo-ya!  The Assistant Principle just told me (well, she told me ma, but either way) that I would make a great father.

Ladies, start faxing in your resumes!  Well, I don't have a fax machine, so maybe just send it some other way. And I’m not really looking for the father thing just yet, so maybe just send a note to say hello and how nice the weather is.

Dear diary,
The rambler ran today. There were only two small fires,
and I may have become a tad high on fumes.  It was great.  And a little nauseous.  And loud.  I think Suzy is cute.  And she smiled at me today in math class.  I think we're going steady.  It's a good thing I was wearing my lucky Star Wars underwear.  This is the best day of my life.  Except there was meatloaf for lunch.  Yuck.

A final note to the heedful:  Never, under any circumstances, sneeze while peeing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Check Your Zipper!

I've taken a long-term position as a Teacher's Assistant in an elementary Varying Exceptionality class. The main teacher was out, so there was a substitute in the room, as well as myself.
Before lining up for lunch, the substitute asked the kids whether they knew the days of the week (in order). Sadly, many did not (apparently we need to review). She also asked if any knew the names of the days in Spanish.
One of our kids is a very small second grader. Picture a cute little child who's missing his two front teeth and has a slight speech impediment.
He doesn’t know any Spanish, but he was so eager to answer a question that he was standing up, raising his hand, and yelling "Ooh! Ooh!"  Keep in mind that he doesn't know any Spanish.  While this is happening, I notice that his zipper is down.  So, I whisper over to him, "Check your zipper!" Hearing me, he thinks I’m feeding him an answer and redoubles his effort to be noticed.
Trying to keep from laughing, I quietly call him over to me.  He rushes over, eyes still on the substitute and nearly shaking with excitement.  I whisper, again, "No, check YOUR zipper!" He nods enthusiastically and bolts back to his desk.  He proceeds to jump up and down with his hand raised, and yells, excitedly and repeatedly, "Check your zipper! Check your zipper!"
            And that’s when I passed out from laughing.


Our students really do need and thrive on stability.  They have trouble adjusting to a substitute if the main teacher is out.  Having me there tends to keep some level of normality (zipper checking aside).  Yesterday, we were both gone.  One of my students did not handle it well.  Apparently, he freaked out and grew enraged.  He starting throwing papers around the room and then threw a desk over.  The sub had to call the principal in, and he came and took him to the office.  Once there, the student then proceeded to try and shove the principal’s desk.  The principal had to physically restrain him (one of two of the adults on campus who's legally allowed and trained to do so).  As he's holding him down, my student is letting loose with a volley of angry curses.  It's a never-ending stream of grammatical discovery.  Entire sentences are diagramed and brand new pairings of noun-verb-adjective-adverbs are revealed.  He's a third grader, but he swears at least a tenth-grade level.  At one point during this eloquent elocution, he's so out of breath that he belches.  At which point he pauses, says, “excuse me,” and then goes back to cursing.  Remember: Politeness, first, people.

Friday, July 8, 2011

In The Beginning...There Was A Substitute. (That was me!)

This one goes out to all the kindergarten teachers out there.

I've made mention before of my theory that small children (much as I love them) are in reality just very short vampires that find sustenance through draining your personal energy.  They grow stronger as you become more tired and befuddled.  If this is the case (oh, and it is), I believe that I've discovered their lair.  They call it "kindergarten" and they possess the strength, energy, unpredictability, and energy-sucking capability of at least three normal vampires.

I'm really not sure how my day went.  It's sort of a blur.  I do remember one kid bawling his eyes out no less than six times BEFORE LUNCH.  I still have no idea why he was crying.  The final time I just gave up, lay down on the floor, and bawled along with him.  The best part is that he also stutters.  At one point he was crying because someone had hurt his feelings.  At least I think.  He came up to me in tears.  I asked him, myself already a little on edge, what was wrong.   Through his bawling and stuttering, I stayed stooped in front of him for five very long minutes, nodding encouragingly while casting a wild eye stare around the room at students with scissors and glue, waiting for mayhem.  At the end of the five minutes, though he was trying hard the whole time, I still couldn't tell what had happened.  At this point I uttered a banal generality.  "There are plenty of fish in China."  Or perhaps it was "there are starving students in the sea."  I've never been very adept at generalities, generally speaking.  Besides, I had to run to take crawling students off the ceiling.

One kid was suspended (not by me, but one of my kids) for fighting off and on THE ENTIRE DAY.  Trying to get them quiet except, miraculously, at naptime and during silent speedball, was an effort in futility.  I wanted to curl up on my own blue mat by ten-thirty.  I came home exhausted, with markers and blocks in all of my pockets, and feeling like I'd just been in a war.  I read Crime and Punishment on my break and found it light-hearted and humorous.  I also felt dirty.  Sure, my fingers were blue and green and I had glue on my pants, but besides that, just a general feeling of the griminess of battle.  I was an aid in a Varrying Exceptionality class yesterday, and I think I had a better idea of what was going on.  That's not a good sign.

On The Second Day...

I went back.  Today I declared war on the kindergartners.  I lost.  I judge this by the fact that at the end of the day, they left running and screaming in glee, whereas I left crawling on my hands and knees.  I put up a valiant fight, though.  After assessing yesterday’s battle while hiding in my underground bunker, I decided to change my tactics.  Realizing I needed to upgrade my warfare, I engaged in tactile, smart gummy bear bombs.  Being unable to assess the over-all effect of this procedure, however, I called for reinforcements.  Besides obtaining aid from the assistant, as well as on one occasion a fellow kindergarten teacher (who carried out an elegant ‘seize and procure’ mission to take out “The Crier”), I went for some more personal help.  That's right.  I called for “The Mom.”  Although normally opposed to “The Mom” running my operations, I could clearly see that I was outnumbered and being outmaneuvered, as well as simply ignored in lieu of bright, shiny objects.  The terrain seemed to be working in my favor, as well.  The chairs were strategically set up for one child to run aground, and two others to fall out of.    
Unfortunately, it was still too little, too late.  Despite our best efforts, I had to call the retreat.  Mainly because the bell rang and they melted back into the shadows.  But not before leaving their own paper, chair, and puzzle mines scattered throughout the territory.  This battle may be over, but the war will never stop till kindergartners everywhere learn how to line up without fighting, listen without talking or playing on the other side of the room, taking things and then forgetting where they came from, crying for no apparent reason, and generally confusing and exasperating teachers everywhere.  The end.  For now.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Poop and Cupcakes, Part 2

             Now.  We’ve arrived back from the station.  I’ve had a bit of a talk with them about line business and what-have you, and then we’re off to lunch (which is late and at the end of our day except for specials.  Which means you would think my day was pretty much concluded.  It wasn’t).  I drop the kids off at lunch, tell the aides that it’s okay if they use the cafeteria restroom, as I didn’t really give them the opportunity to go beforehand, and exit for my own lunch.
            When I come back to pick them up, I find out that one of my students, Teddy, had been in a fight in the bathroom.  Apparently the aide was letting too many boys go to the bathroom at one time.  I heard which students were involved, and called the one not from my class over to me first as  my student is a good kid, but doesn’t shy from telling stories in a way that casts him in a more positive light.
            So I hear the others student (Q’s) story, first, and then call mine over to get the other half.  And this is what I piece together.  As said, too many boys were in the bathroom at the same time, and when Teddy was in the stall, a student from a different classroom (J), opened the door on him, and Teddy felt like J was watching him pee.  So, when Teddy walked out of the stall, he was very upset and angry.  And Q, seeing this, thought Teddy was going to fight with J, so he tried to stop him.  By holding his hand out.  Into Teddy’s neck.  Thus followed a slight scuffle.
            After hearing the story, it made sense in my mind how it came about, and I could understand their sides.  So I didn’t really punish them as talk with them about it for a bit, and then moved on.
            I take my kids back to class, where we have time for a quick read-aloud and lesson at the rocking chair before specials.  Thus do we do so.  A few minutes into this, the students in my front row start making faces and groaning and holding their noses.  This has happened before when a student has gas, so I repeat that that’s rude and you need to ignore.  Not thinking any more of it, I line them up for specials – coach.  They’re in line, I walk to the front, and immediately smell poop.
            I quietly ask the first five students if any of them had accident.  “No. No. No. No. No.”  Oooookay.  Maybe it’s in the hall.  We start to walk down the hall.  Still smell poop.  I tell them to stop.  I ask them individually again. “No. No. No. No. No.”  I tell them to wait here.  I walk to the end of the hall. Test the air.  No poop.  Call my students forward.  The line stops where I am.  Poop.
            I ask again, still quietly, but more forcefully.  One student admits to having had an accident.  The student whose birthday it was (remember?  The cupcakes?  Time-out chair at the fire station? Yeah, him.  Eddie.)
            I take the class to coach, but keep him with me.  I also kept back another student.  One who had been pushing and whining and hanging on me almost the entire time since making it to the fire station.  I take both to the clinic.  The later to nap, the former to change his clothes. 
But first, he tells me his story.  Apparently, at lunch, Eddie asked to go the bathroom.  The aide said yes, and he walked in, just as the “fight” happened, and he got nervous and left without going to the bathroom.  Correction. He did go to the bathroom. Just in his pants.  And he didn’t tell anyone.  For thirty minutes.
So I drop the kids off at the clinic (the nurse loves me. She really does), and run back to my room.  The nurse didn’t have any pants.  I look around the closet and find an extra pair of pants, and bring it back to her, then rush back to my room again.  At this point, I have maybe twenty minutes to fill out agendas (including a large note about Teddy. – my losing his sunglasses which I don’t mind reimbursing,  and his sort-of fight, and about Eddie. – time-out at the fire-station and why he went poopy in his pants).  I also have to put together their gifts from the fire-station – workbooks and hats.  I’m working frantically when Eddie. comes back into the room.  Still wearing his original shorts.
Me – “Eddie, you’re still wearing your shorts.”
Eddie – “Yeah.”
Me – “Why aren’t you wearing the pants I gave you?”
Eddie- “No.  I’m wearing my shorts.”
Me – “I know you’re wearing your shorts. Why are you wearing them?  You’re supposed to be wearing the pants.”
Eddie (exasperated) – “No!  I’m wearing my shorts.”
This goes on for a good five minutes before I figure out that he apparently put up a fuss about his shorts, and the nurse gave up, smelled them, said they were fine, and let him wear them (though he did change his underwear).
At this point it’s time for me to grab my kids, and I haven’t finished getting everything together.  The end of the day, by the way, is crazy. We have five minutes to get them back, get them packed, and get them out the door to their designated areas.  And one of my students (Joseph), comes to me from V.E., and rides the first bus outside, which means we have to book it, and are always rushed.
So I grab him, go back for the kids, come back, frantically have them grab their backpacks, get their papers, and sit by me so I can finish handing out agendas and fire station goodies. 
Eddie – “Do I have tutoring?”
Me – “No. It’s Friday. You never have tutoring on Friday.  And don’t forget your clothes (the nurse had placed his dirty underwear in a plastic bag and given it to him)
The bell rings, we’re still getting ready.  I line them up for buses, Joseph first.
Me - “Eddie!  Do you have your bag?”
Eddie – “Yes.”
(Side note: I completely forgot to mention. Eddie had brought cupcakes, you’ll remember. At some point, after the fire station, we had them.)
At the last second I see Eddie’s extra container of cupcakes – which I had placed at his desk so he wouldn’t forget them – They were still sitting at his desk, so I grab them. 
Me, to my bus line – “Okay, let’s…”
Student – “Mr. Gardner!  I found this by the backpacks!”
I look down.  It’s Eddie’s bag of dirty underwear.  Awesome.
“I’ll take it.  Okay.  Let’s go!”
And I walk out the door, the bus riders lined up behind me.  I go through the workroom, cut across another teacher’s classroom, open the door to the bus hallway.  Look behind me.  Annnnnnnnd, no students.  No one had followed me.  I turn around, still holding cupcakes and poopy underwear, head back through the classroom, through the workroom, and back into my classroom.  My line is just standing there, with Joseph at the lead.
“Joseph!  We have to go!  Come on!”  Turn back around, still holding cupcakes and poop, back through the workroom, back through the classroom, back into the hallway.  No students.  I spin around, run back to class.  Joseph’s looking at me blankly while the students are yelling at him to go.  “Come on! You’re going to miss the bus!”  This time he and rest of the class follow me, and I’m practically rushing them through the hallway to busses, with the cupcakes and poopy underwear  bag still in hand.  I sit them down, get Joseph onto his bus, and turn around to give Eddie his missing items.  Annnnnnnd, no Eddie.
“Where’s Eddie!?!?!”
No answer.  I rush back down the hallway, still carrying poop and cupcakes, and almost run into Teddy.  I ask him where Eddie is.  “He said he had tutoring! I tried to tell him he didn’t!”
“I already told him he didn’t have tutoring!  Go join the class.”
And I rush into my room.  No Eddie.  Check the bathroom.  Nope.  Run out the other door and to the cafeteria (where he meets for tutoring on the other days).  Nope.  I rush to the car riders.  Still holding cupcakes and poop.  Kids see me and try to give me hugs. “Not a good time…” as I, hold my prizes above shoulder level.  Outside.  No Eddie.  Run back to busses.  No Eddie.  I load the other kids onto the bus.  Exasperated, I call the office and have them do an all call for him.  Sure enough, two minutes later, he shows up.
Me – “Eddie!  Where were you???”
Eddie – “I thought I had tutoring!
Me – “I told you, you didn’t have tutoring!  Where did you go?
Eddie – “To where we have snack.”
Me – “Even though no one else was there?”
Eddie – “Yes.  I didn’t know.”
Me. – “Fine.  Here are your cupcakes.  Here’s your underwear.”  I hand him his poop and cupcakes.  “Now get on the bus.”

And that’s how I ended my field trip to the fire-station.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Poop and Cupcakes, Part 1

           Around the halfway point of the school year, we take a walking field trip to the fire station.  All of kindergarten takes the walk together.  It’s a good fifteen to twenty minute walk, complete with police officers blocking traffic at the busier intersections.  We walk two-by-two in a long line, teachers spread out intermediately for crowd control.  On this particular trip, it was one of my student’s birthday.  Let’s call him Eddie.  Eddie’s a bright student, and is being raised by his great-grandmother.  He’s a good kid, but loves to show off and perform.  And sometimes he can be a stinker.  For his birthday, he brought in cupcakes.  I put them in the fridge for later on in the day.  This part of the story comes up later. 

To start the day, another of my students, let’s call him Teddy, shows up wearing sunglasses and a huge skull and crossbones belt-buckle.  Teddy’s a bit like Eddie, but a little rougher around the edges.  He also has an extremely sweet heart, but hangs out with kids twice his age, and it shows.  I take the belt-buckle, but let him keep the sunglasses.  However, as we walk, they keep falling off his face, so I take them and put them in my pocket.  At some point during the trip, they fall out of my pocket and I lose them.

            We’ve just gotten past the school, not five minutes into our journey, when we pass three men sitting on their porch.  They are across the road, having nothing to do with us.  But apparently, one of them is Lulu’s father, because she runs out of my line towards the street yelling, “Daddy!  Daddy!”  I immediately move to intercept, only to hear another of my students, hereby known as ‘Stranger Danger’, screaming out at the top of her lungs, "STRANGER DANGER!  DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS!  STRANGERS BAD!"  I stop the runner, calm the sentinel, and continue back to steering my herd of  kindergarteners.

            Eventually, with much shepherding of students, we make it to the fire station.  We split into our classes, and each class goes to a different station (a different section of the fire station).  Mine do well for the first station – they’re allowed to play with the water hose.  They take turns shooting the hose with a firefighter’s help.  The students are clapping and yelling out appreciations for each other, and I get some great photos.  Then the fire station gets three calls, two of which can be covered by another station, but they have to leave for the last one.  Which has never happened in all the years we’ve been coming to them.  So we gather the students together and sit them down, while putting on an act of how awesome this is and aren’t they lucky to see them rushing off to do their job (inwardly, we’re all panicking about we’re going to do with ninety kindergarteners and no show).  Much to our relief (and the people who made the call), it’s a false alarm and they come back after only five to ten minutes.

            By this point, my students have used up all of their attention span.  And I mean all of it.  When the fire fighters get back, they ask the classes if they’re having fun.  Eddie, the one whose birthday it is, yells out “No!”  And thus makes it into a quickly set up “time-out” chair.  Yes, on his birthday.  And I wasn’t at all surprised.  But it was in the middle of the station so he could still see and hear everything that was going on.

One of the guys takes my class into a large closet filled with their equipment and uniforms.  It has things they've never seen before, especially up close.  It has things I’VE never seen before, including night-vision goggles.  While he's trying to talk to them, a bird flies past the open closet door.  My class - "A BIRD!!! THERE'S A BIRD!!! LOOK!!! A BIRD!!!"  The firefighter’s passing around night vision goggles and my entire class is captivated by a bird that just flew by the door.

Then they go see the fire truck.  Same thing.  He's opening up compartments, explaining things they've never seen before, and being extremely animated and dramatic.  He’s doing a great job.  Here's my class: "What's this?? Must touch... Wow – Cool!  What is it?"  Me - "...IT'S A FLAG POLE!!!  WE HAVE ONE AT SCHOOL, PEOPLE!!!  PLEASE LOOK AT THE COOL, SHINY, RED, FIRE TRUCK!!!!" 

He even tries to play a joke on them: "I've saved the best for last.  In this compartment, we keep... SPIDERS!!!" (As he flings open the door). From my class: dead silence.  Blank stares.  Crickets.  I scream, just to help.  All that happens is that my Haitian-Creole student starts laughing at me: "Haha, Mr.Gardner say 'Ahhhh!'"

“Yeah!  That’s right!  I thought there were spiders!  Anyone else think there were spiders?  Or that he was being funny?  Or, well, have any idea of what’s going on around them?”

            The last stop is where the fire-fighters eat, exercise, and sleep.  At which point it's pretty much over.  They're whining that they’re hungry/thirsty/tired/he pushed me/can't see/have to pee.  I do let Lulu use the restroom, only she can't figure out how to close the door because of the stopper.  I close it for her.  Two minutes later I hear knocking. She couldn't figure out how to get out of the bathroom.  I repeat: Lulu couldn't figure out how to get out of an unlocked bathroom.  I was tempted to send two more to time out for being whiny or pushing in order to see, but I was terrified of leaving the poor guy alone with my class.  At one point, we're in his office, and my class has made a standing circle to hear him speak.  A circle containing two of my students, who are rapidly pin-balling back and forth in the small space.  I reach out a hand to stop them.  I think they were just uncertain of where to join the circle.  We’ll go with that answer.

            So, eventually, we make it through, have snack, and start walking back to school.  This time the fire truck is blocking traffic for us.  At the crosswalk, we pass a mother with a stroller and two small children waving at us.  That poor mother had no idea what she was in for.  Sure enough, Stranger Danger yells out at the top of her voice, "THAT'S BAD!!!  DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS!!!  STRANGER DANGER!!!"  I quickly try to hurry her along across 301.  She starts taking ginormous steps (For her. She’s pretty tiny), and cries out, “I can’t!  I’m going as fast as I can!”  She then informs me that she can't walk any faster because her feet are "beeping."  Beeping.  I have no idea what to do with this information.  Eventually it’s discovered that she meant "tingling", but I was quite baffled for a while.

            That’s the first installment of the story.  You would think that would have been my entire day.  It wasn’t.  Pause for intermission, pee breaks, or coca-cola runs, and then continue to see how “poop and cupcakes” become involved.

Intro to the Dark Side of the Crayon

This is a collection of stories.  It’s about students, and the teachers caught in their path.  Namely, that teacher is me, but I like to pretend that I’m not fighting the fires by myself.  I started jotting down these stories in 2003, when I worked first as a substitute, then as a teacher’s assistant, and finally as a full-blown Kindergarten Teacher.  I work at a title one school that I adore, with students that I adore.  But sometimes, my best laid plans get covered in glue, paint, and poopy underwear.  This is the dark side of the crayon.