Support

Almost 2 years ago, I went to a protest in New York City. I got arrested on a bridge, made the news, which led to some awkward explanations for my then students and my administration. It all turned out ok.

The biggest event of that day wasn’t the zip tie handcuffs and the ten hours in a cramped cell full of really awesome, politically active gals (although that was pretty amazing.) No, it was that I met a great guy. While still in the then-occupied park, my brothers (who also got arrested!) struck up a conversation with a handsome bearded man. Of course, I noticed, and joined the conversation. Our new friend marched with us, and then we lost him in the confusion of being forcibly detained. I was sitting on the ground, zip ties firmly and painfully in place, when they led him by me, also cuffed.

“Nice to meet you!” I yelled. “Maybe we’ll see each other again some day!”

After everyone was out of jail and returned to our respective homes, we tried to find each other. We had no phone numbers. His last name was too common to find him through social networking, while mine was too unusual for him to remember. So he watched hours of youtube videos, found me hollering my name and my brother’s names to the lawyers guild (complete with spelling!). He found me on facebook, came to visit, moved to my state, got a job in my city, we fell completely in love, and the rest is history.

Now we live in a quiet little suburban town (when it isn’t being invaded by gun-toting terrorists, that is! Welcome to Watertown, MA). We have a dog with attachement issues and a cat with food issues. It’s our little corner of paradise.

To get to the point of this rambling how we met story…

One thing I love most about my bearded, criminal record holding man, is that he not only gets the teacher part of my life, he embraces it.

He listens to me rant about standardized testing for the thousandth time. He doesn’t complain when my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. Or when I decide to sleep later than usual and then yell at him for waking me up at 7 to check if I overslept. Or when I come home at 9 p.m. He consoles me when I burst into tears about work stress. He cooks me dinner when I’m too tired to move. He listens to me tell story after story after story about my kids.

And today, he took the train an hour out to meet me at school after hours to help me run a fundraising party for 25 shrieking, sugar high, hyperactive little girls between grades 1 and 4. He served pizza, cleaned up their mess. He helped them on the monkey bars, let them call him “hairy head”, let them climb him like a tree. Played capture the flag, and tag, and some sort of game that seemed to just involve running while yelling a lot. He led a group of 4 little girls in an intense hide and seek battle across the school, which included being crammed into very tight spaces, and dealing with the fact that “cheese pizza makes me gassy”, as one odorous little gal announced cheerily.

On the car ride home he said “I’m exhausted. I think every part of my body hurts.” Then a heartbeat later, “That was awesome. I had so much fun!”

This job isn’t easy, and finding someone who understands that and can offer emotional support is so important. But this job is also pretty awesome, and finding someone who understands just how fun these tiny people are, and how great they are to be around, is just as important.

I’m a lucky gal.

It’s raining… possums?

Spring is in full swing in our little corner of the world, and everything is blooming. All the trees on our playground are covered in flowers, and every time the wind blows petals swirl around. This happened out at recess and one of my boys joked to his friend, “Look! It’s snowing!”

His friend scoffed at him and said, “Uh, no! It’s possums.”

“It’s what?” Asked the first kid.

“Possums. That’s what it’s called when flowers are on trees. It’s possums that are falling on us.”

The first one said “Actually, it’s blossoms…” but his friend had already ran off to join a soccer game. The first saw me watching and walked over. “Are you picturing the same thing as me?” He asked. “I hope so.” I told him. “What are you picturing.”

He turned his little face up to the sky, closed his eyes, and whispered “Possums. Raining down on everyone.”

Another testing rant

A long time ago (Ok, not that long ago), I was in middle school. After years of being slightly tuned in to the vague rumblings from the educational system, I knew that we would have to take a big test. We had taken the CAT test in second grade, maybe some other grades. California Achievement Test. (We didn’t leave anywhere near California). I remembered being bored, filling in bubbles. Now it was a state test. It was IMPORTANT! It was based on STANDARDS! (I had no idea what those were). If we failed, we wouldn’t graduate.

It was my mother who filled me in on the tests. She’s amazing, and has shaped me into the person I am today. She’s also a teacher, a political activist, a rebel. She also has a tattoo, but it’s small and hidden and secret from her colleagues. Technically, she is the original tattooed teacher! I’ve known for years I’ve been following in her footsteps, and nothing makes me prouder than that.

She’d worked for many years with children with disabilities, and it’s her outrage over the unfairness this test put on them that I remember most. I knew she disliked this new system. I knew some of my teachers did. I knew they were worried it would negatively impact teaching. So I did my best to whip my friends into a sense of injustice over the issue. We thought it was unfair! It didn’t really test our intelligence, or what we’d learned. It wasted our time when we could be learning. In hindsight, I think most people who I got involved just didn’t want to take the test. Who would? Boooorrring, I can hear our teenaged selves saying.

Here’s what we did. We signed a petition. We delivered it to the principal, who met with us and heard our complaints and quietly explained that he couldn’t do anything about it. We talked about a walk out, but that seemed to extreme to most. For weeks leading up to the test, I wanted to do it. I told myself I would, and that maybe people would follow me!

I was too scared. I didn’t want to be the only one. Instead, when it came time to take the test, we were asked to write an essay in response to a reading selection. I wrote my essay on why I believed this test to be a flawed system. I don’t know if we even got scores back then. If we did, I never saw them, and I imagine my mother simply threw them away. At the time, I hoped that this ridiculous system wouldn’t last long.

A decade later, I found myself as a scribe for a disabled student I was an aid for, helping him take the same damn test. Making him sit still for 3 hours to take it, even though he was only 8. Even though he had attentional and impulsivity issues. Even though afterwards he put his head down and cried because he felt stupid.

5 years into my teaching career, I am no longer afraid to say what I think of this test. It doesn’t test my children’s intelligence. It doesn’t test what kind of a teacher I am. It doesn’t test what they learned. I think this test is a waste of educational time. We spend about a week every year on this test, and more on prep. The same people who write the standards have stakes in the companies that make the tests and the text books that come out yearly- “Now, aligned to the NEW standards! Only cost thousands of dollars, even though you bought them brand new two years ago when we had NEW standards again!”

I thought the pendulum would have swung away from this by now. Instead, it’s gotten worse.

Right now in social studies, we are learning about the industrial revolution. About the factory workers unfair, unsafe conditions, and how they organized to fight against injustice. Strikes, walk outs. The birth of the labor movement. Through activities, read alouds, pictures and stories, they learn that one person alone can only do so much, but that a group united can do more. This isn’t a political agenda, this is history.

They asked if it happens today, so I gave a few examples. The janitors strike in 2000 was one, but that felt too distant for kids born in 2004. “No, today!” they insisted. While they were at lunch, I did some research. I found a news article about middle school kids in Chicago who walked out of class and sat in the halls to protest their schools imminent closing. High schoolers who formed a picket line around the school when art and music were cut. These are articles from the past few weeks! So I told my kids.

“Do you think it could happen here?” One asked. I told them it could, but we were lucky that our school had enough money to keep our building open, to provide us with great things like art and music. “I think we have it pretty good here, so I don’t know if there would be a need to protest.” They had a discussion among themselves about how lucky they were, and it was awesome to hear. I felt so happy to be where I was.

Later that day, a few kids were huddled in a corner having a quiet discussion. When their buses were called, they came up to me. “What about the test?” One asked me. “Do people protest about that?” I told her, truthfully, that I didn’t know. “Could they, though? Maybe when they are older?” she pressed. So I answered honestly again. “Absolutely.”

Is this a Monday or what?

This Monday was one of those days that before it even technically begins is a disaster. After an early morning meeting, I headed up to my class. The first thing I did was take off my shoes. I like to be barefoot, and I tend to take my shoes off and forget them. The second thing I did was check the fish tank, where I noticed that the tank full of guppies now had half it’s residents floating belly up. In the months since I inherited all my colleagues fish (roughly a billion, by my counts) when her tank cracked, not a single one had died. Now the whole top of the tank was a mess of tiny, disintegrating corpses.

I was attempting to fish them out when my colleague came in to borrow a book. She told me some of her fish had died, too, and guessed that the freezing temperatures last night this late in the season while the heat was off sent the temperature in the rooms way down. While we were talking, a wasp suddenly came out of nowhere and dive bombed us. I jumped, flinging dead fish all over the wall and surrounding bookshelves. My colleague then managed to kill the wasp by smacking it with the book, leaving a swear of guts and a new dead thing on the counter.

Of course, the kids arrived then! My colleague left to go to her own class, leaving me in my circle of death. I explained to the kids that some fish had died, and that I had accidentally flung them all around the room. And there was a dead wasp, too. And I’d clean everything.

To back track a bit- one of our art caddies has a drawer that doesn’t stay shut. It also slides slowly open and closed on it’s own at really strange moments. Being the mature adult I am, I joked that the room was possessed by demons. Now when the drawer opens or closes on it’s own, the kids blame demons.

It was a logical next step.

“Demons killed the fish!” One yelled, and word spread.

“Where are your shoes?” Asked another. I had no idea.

One of my students is the kind of kid who seems like an old man in a child’s body. He get’s huffy when things change, walks with a slouch and his belly protruding, grumbles to himself loud enough for others to hear, and uses quaint colloquialisms like “jeepers, creepers!” And ” Well golly!”

He surveyed the scene, sighed loudly, threw up his hands and announced to no one in particular “The fish are dead and it’s MAYBE because of demons, there’s a wasp invasion, and my teacher is barefoot and can’t even find her own shoes! Is this a Monday, or what?”

Kindergarten Comedy

My students are third graders- 8-9 years old. Occasionally some will start at age 7. This is the youngest age I’ve worked with, and I’m fine with that.

Being in a k-6 school, however, I get to interact fairly often with kindergartners. In my professional opinion, they are a whole different ballgame than first grade and up. A colleague once described teaching kindergarten as “being pecked to death by ducklings.”

I tend to think of them as puppies. Have you ever tried to yell at a puppy? Even if it does something awful like crap on your rug, eat your shoes, barf in your purse, it still looks at you with big, sad, adorable eyes. I can’t discipline kindergartners for the same reason it’s hard to yell at puppies.

I also find the range of their ability amazing and frightening. Kids develop at very different times, so in kindergarten you have kids pooping their pants regularly just for the thrill of it, and kids with a vocabulary and deductive reasoning skills that make you feel bad about yourself.

Right now I tutor a kindergartner, and my class is paired up with a K class once a week to read to. I also see them around the school, and when I bring kids to their buses. I don’t know what it was, but this week was full of some real comedic gold from that age group. Here’s some of the best.

While bringing out buses, a little girl who has a sister in my class came up to me and informed me that their was an animal in her backpack. Further questions revealed that it was not a toy, was moving a lot, and had fur. Hesitantly exploring her back pack, I found a caterpillar that seemed prepared to grow up into a moth the size of an eagle. After admonishing me for not believing her in the first place, the little girl and I managed to coax the beast onto a piece of paper and free him into the garden, where I assume he will catch and eat small birds. I told her we liberated him, which she heard as “libraried”. Now I think her class thinks I teach bugs to read.

The boy I tutor was telling me about how his class is studying dinosaurs. He was thrilled to learn that we shared a favorite dinosaur (a velociraptor. Obviously.) and impressed by my knowledge. Now every child in his class refers to me by my name followed by “who knows a lot about velociraptors.” I don’t think I’ve ever had a better name.

Two teeny girls entertained themselves while waiting for the bus by making paper hats. First they showed me how, then they made one for me. It was tiny, so I figured I wouldn’t be required to wear it. They then made two for me, so more of my head was covered. I put them on for a minute to be a good sport, and one clasped her hands under her chin like a damn disney character and said “I’m so glad you weared them! Other teachers don’t want to weared them.” So in front of a couple hundred kids and a few colleagues, I weared my two paper hats proud.

While holding my hand and walking to the bus, a small boy with a huge vocabulary informed me that he had the power to transform people into toads. Specifically bullies and “people who have done wrong to me”. He then told me he keeps them in cages at his house and feeds them human food because “They might look like toads, but they’re still humans, so they need human food.” He keeps them so they remember “that they did wrong.” He also casually mentioned his ability to teleport things by opening portals of the right size. “It drains my energy, but the bus gets here faster.” I put him on the bus while fervently hoping that when he becomes supreme chancellor of the world he remembers me kindly.

This is a single weeks worth of kindergarten comments. If I taught that age, I could update this damn blog hourly.

Peers

There are times that I feel far more similar to my students than I do to my colleagues.

My boyfriend and I have been considering buying a house. This freaks me out. In a way I still am expecting to be handed an official grown up certificate before I’m allowed to do things like buy a house.

When I talked about it with my colleagues, they said things like “That’s a really sound financial investment”, and gave me advice about mortgages and loans and contractors. I nodded and agreed and inside was thinking “What the hell does that mean?”

When I told a few of my former students, their reaction was disbelief. “Is it expensive?” “How will you get the money?” “Who do you have to talk to to do it?” “How do you even do that?” And it was to them that I could honestly answer, “I don’t know! I’m freaking out, man!”

We talk a lot at my school about peer groups. When we regroup students in new classes, we like them to have a comfortable peer- a friend they feel close with and safe around. My second year of teaching, when I was a special ed assistant, a student who had been in the previous class I taught in asked me on the first day “Are you my comfortable peer?” I’m still not sure to what extent she was joking.

I’m 16 years older than the students I had the conversation about the house with with. I’m more than 16 years younger than quite a few of my colleagues. I think it’s a good balance. Sometimes you need financial advice. Other times you need to acknowledge that you’re freaking out, man.