The Mustache Problem

Last year, I had a sudden and uncharacteristic fit of what I call “Pinterest Teacher Syndrome”. I assume most of you either pinterest yourselves (Is that right? Pinteresting? I pinterested it?) or have female acquaintances who do. I have no idea why this seems to be an entirely female dominated enterprise. Are there men out there pinning football stats and pictures of craft beers? I just don’t know.

Anyway, pinterest scares me. I am not crafty. I am not a fan of organizational systems, or repurposing things to make new household decor, or finding ways to incorporate more yogurt into my diet. Not that there is nothing wrong with any of these things! But it just isn’t me.

There is a thriving teacher community on pinterest. If the regular pinterest makes me feel inadequate as a human, the teacher section makes me feel like my kids must be wilting in an environment devoid of colorful worksheets, cute new spelling games, and vibrantly decorated bulletin boards.

Last summer, however, I succumbed to a Pinterest inspired idea- I was going to decorate my classroom library! I went with an ocean theme. Blue backgrounds, a hanging stuffed fuzzy jellyfish. We wrote our favorite books and authors on cutouts of sea creatures. I took pictures of the kids reading books while wearing snorkels, goggles, and flippers and hung them up. I made a giant poster that said “Dive into a book!” I even drew and painted a giant poster board book. I used GLITTER, for $@*% sake!

And unlike most of my endeavors that end with me covered in paint at 7 pm thinking “I’ve made a huge mistake”, this came out awesome. The kids loved it. Parents thought it was adorable. Colleagues complimented me!

So this year, I wanted to replicate my success. This time, though, I would let the kids pick the theme. Together, we would find ideas for backgrounds, pictures, and decorations! They would love it even more than before because they had a hand in it’s creation! Parents would love it! Other teachers! It would be great.

So we brainstormed ideas, and they voted. The choices included jungle, space, Australia, soccer. So many great ideas to choose from! So many opportunities for fun decorations!

The winning theme? Facial hair. Mustaches and beards were suggested individually, then merged into one. By an overwhelming, nearly unanimous vote, my kids chose to decorate their library with a facial hair theme.

This should not have been surprising. They are OBSESSED with mustaches. Last year they put mustache temporary tattoos on when a child brought them in for Valentine’s Day. A common free time activity is drawing mustaches on fingers and holding them up, or taping paper beards on themselves. “Your class has a mustache problem”, a colleague told me.

So far, here is their game plan. They want to write favorite books and authors on cutouts of handlebar mustaches. They want to have time to make their own beards and mustaches, and bring in materials to do so. On the day we hold a “make your own facial hair” party, let’s have it be pajama day, too! Because, why the hell not. Then, we’ll all wear our new beards and mustaches (and sideburns and chest hair, too, if desired) and have our pictures taken while reading our favorite books. Then we’ll hang these pictures, and parents will look at them when they come in for conferences and ask themselves what is wrong with me.

As for the background, one boy suggested we find a picture of a guy with a big beard, and make it into a giant poster. “We can take a picture of beard guy!” One girl responded enthusiastically. ‘Beard guy’ refers to my fiancee, who the kids remember by his most memorable feature. Everyone agreed that the best course of action would be to blow up a giant picture of him and hang it on the wall above the bookshelves.

I explained to them why this was a bad idea, mainly in the sense that it would be difficult for me to explain to my colleagues and principal why a poster sized picture of my future husband was on the wall. “But he has a BEARD!” They argued. “A HUGE beard!”

Eventually they accepted that this particular idea wasn’t going to work. The jury is still out on whether we can find a picture of a different bearded guy to hang. I’m tempted to get a poster of Hemingway. Bearded writers! It would be perfect.

My student teacher asked if I was going to let them go through with it. I am, because I told them they could pick a theme. This one is school appropriate (I vetoed a zombie theme), can be done in a few hours (I vetoed building a paper mache replica of the solar system to hang), and doesn’t involve live animals (I vetoed taking pictures at the zoo in the animal enclosures). And finally? It’s going to be hilarious.

Maybe I’ll even put pictures of it on pinterest.


Smig Smatin

I had originally intended to do this post and the last post combined, but I realized that instead I had a sweet, inspirational post, and a funny post, and that maybe they would be better separate. So here is the humor!

When I told my kids our new student didn’t speak English, I wanted to capitalize on the fact that many of them new what it was like to learn and speak another language. However, this conversation always goes the same way with kids. For whatever reason, kids want to be known as speaking another language, and always claim to. I get it! Languages are fun, speaking something others don’t understand is neat, doing something others can’t can make you feel special. Most times when this comes up, I let the claims go. But in this case, I wanted to stick to the facts. So what followed was expected, and hilarious.

“Raise your hand if you speak a language other than English at home.” I told them. Every hand in the room went up.

“If the language you are thinking of is Pig Latin, put your hand down.” Lots of hands went down.

“If the language you are thinking of is another made up language that is almost Pig Latin but that you have given a different name to, put your hand down.” A few more down.

“Listen closely guys- this means that your family speaks entire conversations in a different language, and that you understand it and can respond. Not that you know a few words.” Three hands went down.

At this point, quite a few kids still had their hands up, despite the fact that they most definitely did not speak anything other than English. So I addressed it directly.

“What language do you speak at home?” I asked one little guy. “What? Oh. Um, I thought you were asking something else.” Hand down.

“How about you?” To an enthusiastic front row hand waver. “Um, Polish?” She said hesitantly. “I know for a fact your family is not Polish.” She shrugged. “Chinese?” “Nope.” Hand down.

“You?” “Pig Latin.” He responded firmly. “We already went over that.” I told him. “Smig Smatin.” He said immediately. “Nope.” Hand down.

Then I noticed some hands down that should have been up.

I called on one of my girls. “Didn’t you just show me a book in Spanish that you and your mom read together?” I asked. “Yeah, but my Spanish isn’t that good!” She protested. “But you speak it!” I spluttered. “Hand up!”

“And you!” To a front row boy avoiding my eyes. “You told me about when you learned to speak English in kindergarten and only spoke Hindi before! You still speak Hindi!” He shrugged. “I don’t know, you seemed mad!”

I guess the lesson here is, everyone has something that felt new, or scary, or unfamiliar, and they can empathize based on that. And that languages are awesome, and we should all be excited about them, and the opportunity to learn more.

Or that we should all just learn Pig Latin and call it a day!

New Year, New Challenges!

Fourth grade time! I started this year with 23 students. Since my school loops grades, they are all the same kids I had last year for third grade. One moved over the summer, and I figured that I was likely to get a new student soon after the year started.

I also have a student teacher this year, a very enthusiastic and talented undergraduate that has been a great fit. After a particularly stressful day last week, her and I were reviewing some of the challenges and issues our students face. And there are a lot of them, from health problems to family troubles to disabilities. They seemed to come to a head that day, so I was doing my best to keep my student teacher from feeling overwhelmed. Trying to look on the bright side, I told her they all provided great learning experiences, and added “At least it’s unlikely we’ll get anything thats a bigger challenge than this!”

The phone rang at that exact moment. “You’re going to get a new student on Monday!” The secretary cheerfully informed me. “And she doesn’t speak any English.” At this moment, I was silently praying that the language she did speak would be one I knew. Although to be fair, unless we had a time traveling student, most of the languages I know would be no help. As it turned out, she did not speak a romance language, nor was she from either ancient Rome or tenth century England.

“She speaks Hebrew.” The secretary said. Well. Ok. I then cheerfully informed my student teacher, who stared at me with wide eyes. “Have you ever had a student who didn’t speak any English?” She asked. “Nope!” I said, with my own enforced cheeriness. “It’ll be a learning experience for both of us!”

I was worried about it all night. What would I do? Would she feel lonely? Left out? What if she was hurt and couldn’t tell me? Even the alphabet is different! How will she learn math? What books will she read? However, I forgot that I had at my disposal 23 people to whom challenges like this seemed minor.

When I told my kids, they immediately suggested that we all learn Hebrew in the next 4 days. Once they realized this was impossible, they came up with their own game plan pretty independently. They decided to learn to say ‘hello’ and ‘my name is’ in Hebrew. That we should play games with simple rules. That we’d need to make her a name tag for her cubby and a popsicle stick for her attendance, and that we should put it in Hebrew and english. That we should label things around the room in both languages. That we should have a buddy with her to help her find things. They pointed out that one of our students was learning Hebrew at temple, and that a boy in the class next door not only spoke Hebrew but had also emigrated from Israel. At the end of our brief meeting, I felt much better. It’s nice to know that there are so few challenges I really face alone.