Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Raging Giggles

Occasionally, I get a raging case of the giggles, which is not so bad- it's good to laugh so hard you cry. What is not always such a good thing is getting a case of the raging giggles WHILE I'm trying to teach. In order for me to continue with the story, let me first give you a visual of one of my students. He is a big, dough-y kid with thick glasses and mussed up hair. In addition to the glasses, he usually has kind of a far away look in his eyes, kind of Christopher Lloyd -ish when he was on Taxi. He also has a volume control issue, where he speaks too loudly, but it's inconsistent- odd cadence, too. (I teach language, so I notice stuff like this, big time.) He is quite smart- his accent's pretty good, and he's, well, creative. He's way into Japanese anime, he's usually reading the paper or something else during class, which ordinarily would irritate me to no end, but it doesn't seem to adversely affect his grade. We'll call him Austin.

So, I'm in my 4th Block class, the last class of the day, it's a big class-27 kids, and they love the class. This is good that they love, but it's also bad, because it means they just wanna have fun and we don't get as much work done. So, they are already jacked up when they arrive. I had some "house keeping" sorts of business to take care of at the beginning of class- collecting money for a field trip, handing papers back, etc. I was just settling them down to start our "Anuncio" part of class, where they have to tell the class something in Spanish. I happened to glance over at Austin, who was pouring Sprite from a bottle into the tiny lid of the bottle and was about to take a sip. Sometimes kids do things like this in front of an "audience", for attention. Austin? He was in his own little world, ready to take an itty bitty sip of Sprite. I said to him, "Um, Austin??" , upon which the entire class swung their heads around to look at him and busted out laughing, as did I. I wondered what must have gone through his mind "I've got this huge bottle of Sprite, I wonder what it'd be like to drink it a teaspoon at a time from the lid? Let's see..."

I finally got my own self settled down, making a subtle point not to look in his direction or think about him anymore so as not to crack up- without corners of mouth twitching, small bubbles of laughter escaping, giving me away. I was pretty successful, until he raised his hand with a question about our upcoming field trip to Chicago. On this trip, the kids will have a little bit of free time to shop downtown- at the Water Tower Place. So, Austin asks "During our shopping time in Chicago, do you think I could maybe buy some meat and bring it back?" I tried not to laugh- and failed. At least I didn't spit water out my nose or anything. I did ask him to clarify, and by that I mean I looked at him and said "What?!" The funniest thing was that he thought this was the most natural question for him to have asked. "It's cheaper up there! I can get pancetta and it's way cheaper up there, " he confided, loudly, to the kid next to him. First of all, how does a 16 year old boy know from pancetta? And second of all, what's with the meat purchase?
I told him he could buy whatever he wanted as long as it didn't stink up the bus.

THEN, when I was asking about who was going to Spain and telling them they needed to turn in their registration and deposit, I asked Austin if he was going to go, because he had indicated weeks ago that he was. His reply was "ummmm, ?" I said "Austin, you've got to decide, because we have to send in the money tomorrow. "Oh yeah!" he said, shaking his pointer finger, as if something just occurred to him, "We just bought a house!" I'll take that as a "no".
How lucky am I that I get to be around these characters every day?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

(Most of) The Kids Are All Right

Most of the time I really like the fact that I teach at the school where kids in my neighborhood attend. I live in a fairly large city, but it seems more like Mayberry most of the time. I walk 2 short blocks to church- also the girls' school. There, I see some of my own students and their families. Many of my students work at the grocery store closest to my house. Yep, they get to see me in my Saturday attire- hair in ponytail, no makeup, warmup pants, sweatshirt- bathing is optional. They get to see what I buy- which here in Iowa could mean a 12 pack Leinie Lodge, since we can actually purchase alcohol at the grocery store. I tend to shy away from buying "embarrassing" merchandise when I know there is a good chance I'll see my students. It's as much for me as it is for them- do they really want to ring up my feminine hygiene products, dandruff shampoo, de-louser? (ok, I made that last one up, but, you never know) The answer is, they do not.

Today I was at the store, which I hate doing on the weekend, by the way, but am usually too damn tired to do after school. I saw my usual crew of students, some of them current, some former, some just know me because their friends have me. They are so sweet- chatting me up, "have a nice day, Mrs. T", "Did you go to our game, Mrs. T?", "My homecoming date ditched me, can you believe it??". And then, it all comes crashing to a bitter end when I see Mr. Ick- a boy I had in class a couple of years ago who was like poison in the well. He was the proverbial turd in the punchbowl- he infected an entire class of otherwise decent kids. Oh, he wasn't the only roadblock, but he was definitely the worst. He was one of those where I tried everything- appealing to him, finding out what makes him tick, joking with him, ignoring him, being overly strict with him, sending him to the Dean's office, getting in good with his cronies- NOTHING worked with this kid. The kicker was that he was smart. He just was too cool for school and way, way, way too cool for my lil' ol' Spanish 1 class. I would get a tight, clutching feeling in my stomach every day before class, just knowing I'd have to deal with him. He did do me the favor of getting himself suspended a couple of times and the atmosphere in our class was sooo much better.
And today, I saw him at MY grocery store! I avoided him, but I won't be able to forever. I'd like to say that I was a better person than this, but I'm not. I hold a grudge. I can generally fake it and smile and nod, but there are a handful of kids who have driven me way too close to the edge and for those few, I find it really hard to be nice to them when I see them. I don't like this about myself, but 'tis true.
Does anyone else have this? Or am I an insufferable witch who needs to suck it up and just be nice to the little buggers?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What a Wonderful World

My Lydia has always had a thing with voices- not other people's, hers. She "does" voices, and quite well for her tender 6 years.
Today was spent soccer-ing, thus loads of together time as a family. She was getting really punchy by early afternoon and was singing and being silly in the van. Her crowning moment, however, was when she sang her scat (as in jazz improv, not scatalogical)version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in her Louis Armstrong voice and changed the words to "Mary's Got a Big Ol' Lamb!" I thing Satchemo would be proud.

Edited to add: While Lydia was a-singin' away, older sister Claire was decidedly NOT amused. She suggested to her songbird younger sister that "If they ask you if you want to sing professionally, tell them you don't want to." I have no idea who "they" might be, but I had to laugh.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You Say Hello?, and I'll Say Hello?

On Children Talking on the Telephone:
AAAck. Since last Spring, Claire and Lydia have discovered the joys of talking on the phone, even more so, answering the phone- especially being the FIRST to answer. Most of the time, it doesn't even ring a complete ring before it is snatched up, immediately following an earsplitting "I'LL GET IT!" Usually it is not for Lydia, but that doesn't stop her from remaining on the line. I'm sure I've become the bane of everyone's existence, for my conversations sound a bit like this:

"Hello? Oh, hi! Lydia hang up the phone, please. Yes, well, I've been trying to get a hold of you, too. LYDIA. Hang up the phone! Sorry. Right, practice is at 5 instead of 5:30? Ok. And who's bringing drinks to the game? LYDIA! HANG. UP.! Ok, we'll see you then!"

Isn't that annoying? And yet, I fall for it every time.

The other annoying kid/phone thing? When their friends call and respond to the universally accepted telephone greeting of "Hello?" with another "Hello?" Ugh. My mother in law does this when she calls, too. It quickly turns into a very baaad Abbott and Costello routine.
Me: "Hello?"
Her: "Hello?"
Me: "Hell oooh?"
Her: "Hello?"
Me: "Hell ooooh- wuh??"

I don't know's on third and what's on second and who's on first.

On a different, non-vaudevillian note, it's Homecoming this week, and you teacher types know what THAT means. Yeah, lots of interuptions and dressing up in the name of "spirit". Mmm, yes. Yesterday was Superhero Day,tomorrow is Cowboy Day and today? Today was 80's Day. 80's Day! Yes, the side ponytail, plastic bangle bracelets and beads, pastel blazers and white pants replaced our usual standard ponytail, black rubber bracelets (which, incidentally were popular in the 80's as well), sweatshirts and low-rise pants. Since when did I get to be old enough to have my youth exploited in such a mockery? Since when did "my" music get played on the "Retro-Ride"? Retro? Duran-Duran? Wha? When? Time keeps on slipping (slipping, slipping) into the future... (sorry, couldn't resist)

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Well, we're all back in the groove of things. We've got almost 3 weeks of school under our belts and the weather has taken a turn- not for the worse, just that fall crispness.

Claire has survived her first spelling test of the year and has another tomorrow. It is the bane of our existence, as I have always been pretty good at spelling. (previous statement guaranteed to make this post have at least one spelling error)It is hard for me to understand her difficulty with spelling and I find myself becoming impatient with her. There goes my damn Mother of the Year award...

Lydia lost another tooth- that makes 4 since school started on Aug. 28. She opted out of the tooth fairy, saying she wanted to keep her tooth til she was in 8th grade. Fine by me.

I have given my first chapter test and have already put off grading it. Have I mentioned how much I. Hate. Grading. Papers.? There's always that one student whose paper you are tempted to keep putting to the bottom of the pile because it is just THAT horrendous. It is such a blow to my self esteem- I keep wondering what the hell is wrong with me that this poor dopey kid can't conjugate his way out of a wet paper bag.

Observations of some of our more colorful students:

Goth BoPeep- I swear I thought I was hallucinating when I first saw her. She truly looks like
Amelia Bedelia in a frilly black and white, ruffly, lacy dress and bloomers. We are talking Swiss Colony Cheese Girl. But, she has this goth element going on- heavy eye makeup and hair dyed burgundy. I can't for the life of me wrap my brain around the look she's going for.

She-Man- This is a girl that I had as a student way back when she was in middle school. When she came to my class on the first day, I remember double checking my roster to see if it was correct, that this child was indeed female. Yep, she was. She was beyond tomboy- I never even really regarded her as female. Fast forward 6 years, she has her hair cut short like a boy, she dresses in boy' clothes and has some kind of flattening device to make her chest flat. And, today? She was all cozy with another girl at the lockers. Do not get me wrong- I am just fine with all kinds of diverse lifestyles- I was just a little shocked that she would be this "out" in high school. Last year I read the book Middlesex and ever since then I've been more aware of the possibility that students could be trans-gendered. (can't wait to see the hits I get for this post...)

Homecoming Queen- polar opposite of She Man. He is delightful and so, so much fun to have in class. He is currently very, very excited about the Homecoming Queen coronation to be held next week. I think he wishes he could be crowned, but is settling for being an escort and campaigning heavily for one of the girls on the court. The thing with this kid is that his family is ultra conservative and not so accepting of a gay lifestyle. My hope for him is that he be comfortable with who he is and that his family will love him and accept him no matter what.

This weekend, Mr. T is going up river with a bunch of guys. It's their annual Botel weekend- they rent a houseboat go up the Mississippi to Northeast Iowa, around McGregor- beautiful, scenic area. They bring their guitars and talk music and politics and have a good time. The girls and I will attend 2 soccer games on Saturday and maybe make homemade pizza and watch something girlie like Freaky Friday or The Parent Trap.

I hope all of you get the chance to enjoy some nice Fall weather this weekend!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where the Sun Don't Shine

The neighborhood hoodlums wrote this on the alley side of our garage. I am less upset by it than one would think- I mean, good god, someone vandalized my property by writing semi obscene words on it with a Sharpie. Upset? Not really- Mr. T slapped a few coats of house paint from one of the many cans in the basement and voila! Good as new. Puzzled? Yes, a little. Who on earth would write such a bizarre thing? And why? What must the little bugger look like? I'm thinking it's probably a boy- with apologies to male readers who will take offense. I'm thinking 11-14 in age. I'm thinking too much time, not enough supervised time. But, maybe I'm way off base. Maybe it's some frustrated soccer mom who's out to prove she's in charge of her life. Maybe she commandeered her minivan through our narrow alley in the dark of night (well, not too dark- what time does Starbucks close?)and turned off her headlights, rolled down the driver's side window and leaned out and quickly left her mark.

I was also a bit clueless as to the meaning of the term. I searched for
a definition and got one. Again with the why? Was the perp "tagging" our house? Trying to tell the neighbors something? Is it the urban equivalent of

Maybe I'm TOTALLY misreading it and it's a very embarrassing spelling and grammatical error. Maybe it's supposed to read "But, Cherry!" Hey, the kid coulda been a big SE Hinton fan- you know, of The Outsiders fame? Cherry Valance, watching sunsets that are the same, whether you're a Greaser or a Soc- "stay gold, Ponyboy".

Or, it could be some Beavis and Butthead prototypes on dirtbikes, riding up and down the alley. "Heh-heh. Beavis! I just wrote butt." "Heh heh. Now write cherry."

I taught middle school for 5 years. Do you think it shows?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wish, Come True

The honeymoon is over. Oh, me and Mr. T are great- I'm talking about that beginning of the school year honeymoon, where kids have yet to get "comfortable", teachers go easy on the homework, all is well, little woodland animals make us dresses....
Claire has spelling words to master by Friday, when they will have a test, and Lydia has a math sheet where she has to make tally marks and numbers. I know, big deal, right? But, it IS a big deal- I feel the stress of them getting their work done almost as if it were my own.

When Claire has spelling homework, I am reminded of one of those "teacher stories" that we all have. It goes way back to when I taught in a bilingual program at an elementary school. I was the "push in" teacher (as opposed to a "pull out" teacher, one where the kids are pulled out of class.) I worked with most of the grades- "pushing in" those classes that had large numbers of LEP (Limited English Proficiency-aka ESL kids) Since I was in a "regular" classroom, I worked with all of the students. One of the classes that I worked with was a 2nd grade. One little girl, who was not an LEP learner, but she was a little behind the others, was named "Renaa" (not her real name, but pronounced Renee). She was shorter than the other kids and had short hair with that either just climbed out of bed or just rode a roller coaster look. She wore very thick glasses and was extremely pigeon toed, which gave her a rather clumsy gait. Very nice, sweet little girl. However, she came from this train wreck of a family. The father was a really wiry little man who also had that just got out of bed/has-just-been-camping grubby look, plus reeked of cigarettes. He was at school with the kids every day with his suspiciously young wife and their grubby, happy toddler. In addition to Renaa and grubby baby, they also had an older child, who was woefully overweight. And grubby. And looked like Ralph Wiggum on the Simpsons. The father also had a much, much older daughter who was in her mid 20's or so. Father was able to be at school every day because he did not work. He did not work, because he claimed there was no alarm clock loud enough to wake him up to go to work. He spent a lot of time leering at the younger, cleaner teachers. One of the other teachers saw him on the first day of summer vacation at the public swimming pool. In a Speedo. Their last name, which I won't give, was very uncomfortably close to "Klampet".

Ok, you've got some visuals, some background info. So, it's the beginning of 2nd grade, they've got spelling lists and words to practice. One of their assignments was to write one sentence for each spelling word- a total of 10. One of their words was "wish". So, there were lots of "I wish I could go to Disney World.", "I wish I had a gazillion dollars." "I wish I had my own room." kinds of sentences. Renaa's sentence for "wish"?

"I wish my dad would shut up."

sounds much better when read with exaggerated, hillbilly accent.

Yeah, we all wished he'd shut up, too, but we wished more that he'd bathe.

Hope everyone's school year is off to a good start.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Badump Bump Chhhh!

I am not a huge "joke" person, mostly because I can never remember the punchline or I forget some bit of crucial information and then I end up having an argument with myself AS I'm telling the joke, which, as you can imagine, makes the joke much, much less funny. Do any of you suffer from this affliction? Where you start to tell a joke and it goes something like this:

"So, a priest, a rabbi, and nun- no, a REPUBLICAN, walk into a bar. Or were
they stranded on a desert island together? I don't remember. Maybe one of
them was blonde...."

Not funny, is it?
So,when I DO remember a joke, I must tell it right away to as many people as I can before I forget it for all eternity.
Here's one (with apologies/thanks/credit given to Mr. Garrisson Keillor, courtesy of the "Pretty Good Joke Show" on Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion)

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Control Freak. Now you say "Control Freak Who?"

Isn't that funny? I have endured several years of groaner knock-knock jokes, and even some non-sequitur knock knock jokes, courtesy of Claire and Lydia, but this one is really funny to me.

Ok, I remembered another- same source.

A man is on his way into a bar and he nearly misses a pile of dog shit right outside the door. He bends down, picks it up and walks into the bar. "Boy, am I lucky!" he says to the bartender, holding out his hand. "Look what I almost stepped in!"

Ok, I'll keep my day job.