Revolution, Babies, and Pill Bugs

The last time I told a class I was pregnant, they spent about 45 minutes processing and asking questions. This time, it went VERY different.

After telling most of the staff, I was eager to let the kids know. Especially as it got more and more obvious that I was not just getting chubbier. I wanted them (and their parents) to hear from me before word got out. Unfortunately, crazy schedules, extended absences and unexpected time out of the room meant over a week had gone by since I planned to announce. Finally, I had a day that would work.

We spent the first part of the day on a field trip, touring sites in Boston associated with the American Revolution. One of my favorites! We were scheduled to get back around 1:30, which would give us two hours before the day ended. Plenty of time!

Except it wasn’t, because we got lost walking back to the bus, needed to find bathrooms, got lectured by a very cranky bus driver on noise level before we could leave, and then hit traffic. We got in about 2:15. An hour and a quarter? Plenty of time to process the miracle of life.

As we walked in, a frantic secretary waved me over. I ushered my kids into the class, and went to see what was up. Turns out the living organisms we had ordered for our upcoming science unit had come in. Not last week, like the original order said, or next week, like the company told us when they contacted us about the delay. Sitting in the office patiently waiting to be ogled by children were several containers of snails, worms, and pillbugs. All of which would die if left over night in said boxes. Excellent. I figured setting them up in the terrariums we had made could take awhile.

Once we were in the classroom, we circled up on the rug. I had the kids quickly go around and say something they learned on our trip. Then I said I had news to share, told them I was expecting, that I would miss some time but not a full year, I didn’t know the gender, and no, they couldn’t pick the name. Then I asked for questions. Most were to repeat that no, I would not let them pick the name. No, not the middle name either. One boy asked if he could say a comment. When I said yes, he replied, “This was a really weird transition from talking about the field trip.”

I smiled. “It sure was. Now head to your tables. I’m going to hand you a paper plate with worms on it.”




Moo Contests

Kids are weird. This is one of those truisms that holds the world together. The sun is bright. Night follows day. Kids are weird.

In my class, the latest weirdness is moo contests. What is a moo contest? It is exactly what it sounds like.

Two kids get on all fours and face each other. On the count of three (often counted by an enthusiastic third child crouched beside the competitors banging a small fist on the floor for each count, like some kind of tiny boxing ref), the kids begin mooing. The goal is to moo the longest. The winner is lauded with cheers, hugs, and pats on the back, at least until they are challenged by the next moo-er.

This has led to interesting conversations about lung capacity, volume in relation to duration of the moo, cow behavior, and sound waves. Sometimes more scientific thinking happens during the odd times like this that happens during actual science.


Hormones Are Not an Excuse

Being a sixth grade teacher is weird in so many ways. The one that I’m reflecting on today is the fact that I deal with a group of people who need my help because they lost a tooth, and need my help because they have their period. It’s a strange sense of vertigo to realize that these two milestones that literally mark the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood happen simultaneously, often to the same person.

And as I write this I’m realizing that as strange as it is for me, it’s even more poignant for them. So I guess I should say that being a sixth grader is weird. Again, in so many ways!

Last year we had them watch THE MOVIE, as they all call it. All about puberty and changes and all that fun stuff. This year we went over it in even more depth, with even more overly scientific terms, and cartoon images that were even more graphic and detailed. Plus the added bonus of discussing conception and fertilization. Last year was a one day lesson. This year’s spanned four days. A colleague referred to the curriculum as “Girl parts, boy parts, how they go together.”

Last year I felt so proud of myself for getting through it without too much awkwardness or discomfort on my part. Last year was nothing. After this year, I don’t think anything will ever make me feel uncomfortable again. Until you’ve showed a detailed model of sperm fertilizing an egg to a group of 11 and 12 year old girls, you haven’t really lived. Some people go sky diving to get a rush. This is a lot cheaper.

(My favorite part of this was when one girl yelled “Woo, that worm is the winner!” when the first one reached the egg.)

One thing that came up a lot in our long, ongoing, and incredibly detailed discussions was that for a lot of the questions (Why do we get acne? Why do we have crushes? What determines when puberty starts? Why do you get emotional around your period?) the answer was ‘Hormones’.

Yesterday I met with a student about her behavior on the bus. For the past few weeks, she’s been having some ongoing issues with another student. She freely admitted she hadn’t been as nice as she could have been. “Ok, I’ve been mean to her.” I asked her why.

She was reluctant to give the reason for the original argument, but did let me know this bit of info: “Well, I got my period today.” I waited for her to explain more. I stared at her. She stared back at me. “Ok, but this has been going on for a few weeks, right?” I asked. “Yeah, well, my period!” She said happily. More staring.

“I’m confused how you getting your period today made you mean to her three weeks ago.” “Well, hormones, you know.” She informed me knowingly.

Sixth grade, everybody.

Field Trips: An Analysis

During a recent conversation about field trips with a colleague, we were reviewing the more challenging aspects of bringing groups of small children anywhere. She pointed out that the worst part can be well-meaning people (quite often parents) who say “You must love these days off!” or something along those lines.


This is not a day off. This is not even close. It occurs to me that most people don’t really understand what these forays into the outside world with your small friends can be like. So here is some insight!

All field trips can be divided into certain categories:

Museums, a.k.a. ‘Narrow corridors filled with priceless and fragile things you can’t touch’

Nature a.k.a. ‘Wide expanses of land that are easy to disappear in and full of things you are allergic to or should not touch, but will. Also, it’s going to rain.’

Historical Sites a.k.a. ‘Downtown areas with close proximity to two lanes of traffic and overly friendly strangers’

When you have two dozen impulsive little people in your care, you can’t help but view these trips based on the dangers they pose.

My very first field trip as a classroom teacher was 3 days after I had my wisdom teeth out. It was my first day not on heavy duty painkillers. I was woozy and sore, but luckily the terrifying and near crippling knowledge that I was in charge of other people’s children and that I was the adult kept me on a good adrenaline buzz. As we boarded the bus to go, one student stopped at told me, “I like the color of your face bruises.” I’ve come a long way since then, but field trips are still exhausting!

Last week, we went to a museum attached to a university (narrow corridors filled with priceless and fragile things you can’t touch). Here is a brief run down of that trip.

The kids had a blast, which is great. Usually, about 20% of the fun is due to the purpose of the trip. Those bones were cool! I love dinosaurs! I learned about Native Americans!

30% of field trip fun is the bus ride. Yes, they ride the bus everyday, but not with everyone in the class! And the teacher! And she totally wants to hear you sing every pop song of the past five years off-key and at the top of your lungs!

Kids on a bus are like popcorn. They cannot stay seated. They either pop up to see what the person in front of them is doing, or lean across the aisle, or slide bonelessly under their seat across the grossest floor imaginable to grab the feet of the person in front of them. I’m tall enough so that if I sit up VERY straight and crane my neck, I can see them if they pop up. So the whole ride is me saying various names followed by “In the seat! Sit down! Legs in! Sit up! Turn around.” My neck stays sore for days.

Between the singing, yelling across aisles, and hysterical shrieking hyena laughter, it gets very loud. I have an app on my phone that registers decibal levels and compares them to comparable sounds. On our most recent field trip, we got as loud as a running blender!

Some field trip locations are almost 2 hours away. It’s a magical ride.

Bus rides aren’t the only fun thing! 10% of field trip fun happens en route from point a to point b once in or at the location. Stairs with railings you can lean over, aiming your body from the waist up at the ground 3 floors below (while you’re teacher has a heart attack and hauls you back by your pants)! Escalators that you can dangle your baggy clothing on, and run up while it goes down! Elevators that are older than the combined age of the entire class! Even better if they are tiny, squeaky, and rickety! If you find out your teacher has mild claustrophobia, this is an AWESOME time to have a dance party and sway your hips side to side to crash into her.

Once in the museum, the real fun begins. Now, I pride myself on being very aware of gender bias. I treat all my students equally, and I try to break down stereotypes- just try telling someone they throw like a girl in my classroom. However, when in a museum, most kids will break down along gender lines and play two very distinct games as they tour the exhibits. And therein lies 40% of the field trip fun.

For girls, the game is “Find the Cutest Thing.” I’m sorry, I meant “Oh my goddd, it’s the cutest thing Ev-EERRRRRR.” Paintings with horses in them. Dioramas of tiny people in tiny clothes. Hummingbirds. Tigers. (I don’t think they quite got that the latter two were taxidermied.) “Look at THIS! ohmygod so furry. So colorful. FEATHERS!” They are not normally like this.

For the boys, each visit to a museum becomes an intense game of “Spot the Penis.” On a statue! Naked people in a diorama! Taxidermied animals! Whale skeletons! (They aren’t right 100% of the time.) The game is played like this. See something, point at it while snorting and giggling and huffing. Elbow your friend. Whisper. Stare at your teacher with giant eyes and yell “Nothing!” before she even asks you a question.

Usually I tactfully pretend I haven’t heard them or seen whatever they happen to be looking at. The group I had with me on this trip was particularly good at spotting everything even remotely phallic, and freaking out about it. After a couple hours, I was getting a little tired of it.

So when we stopped in front of a giant Native American carving and they did the ‘hee-hee-look-at-it!’ shuffle for the 78th time, I snapped, “Yes it’s a penis!”

Then turned around to see three alarmed looking undergraduates staring at me.

Luckily, my students had my back. From behind me, one little guy logically pointed out “Well, it is, you know.”


Best ever excuse to be late to a meeting!

Yesterday I had a meeting during my lunch break. It can be VERY hard to get to things on time when there are a thousand things to do in such a short amount of free time. I managed to correct and file some student work, prep for the next lesson, and email a parent before it was time to head downstairs.

As I raced down the hall, I was happy to realize I would be on time!

Then I saw it. A curled up, giant, dead centipede off to the side near the wall.

5 minutes later, when I rushed into the meeting, I got to say the following:

“Sorry I’m late! I had to stop and scoop up a dead centipede, bring it back to my room, put it under the microscope, and leave a note for the kids telling them to look at it.”

For science!

It’s alive! Fun with in-class creatures

We set up terrariums in my class. See my last post for the thrilling explanation of how we found the critters we put in it! The terrariums are part of a science kit we purchased to teach soil. We’re technically supposed to order the dirt and the organisms that go in the terrariums. That seemed crazy to some of us, though. In a country where some schools can’t afford books, I would feel really guilty spending money on dirt.

So we used the abundance of nature outside our back door, and made some great little mini environments!

This morning every kid was plastered to their groups terrarium, looking at pill bugs, salamander heads poking out from the soil, and slug slime. It was awesome.

During this time, we noticed some clusters of small, yellow eggs in some of the terrariums. Then in more of them. They were not there when I got in at 7:30, but they were there by 10! Even after researching them, I have no idea what they are.

One little girl had found a spider in the hall she wanted to add to her terrarium. She showed me, and I noted the the poor thing was half squished and missing some legs. She assured me it was fine, so we added it to the pile. It shriveled in on itself and appeared very dead.

Half an hour later, we were drawing pictures of the terrariums, when the girls in dead spider group started shrieking, “It’s moving! It’s alive! It isn’t dead!” I chalked this up to wishful thinking.


“It’s laying eggs! It’s having babies! It isn’t eggs, it’s having baby spiders!” I still thought they were exaggerating, until my assistant glanced in and then looked at me with a look of pure horror. I ran over, and sure enough, hundreds of baby spiders were crawling out of the corpse of the dead spider. Awesome.

This is one of the times when I think teachers deserve Oscars.

In my very arachnophobic head I’m screaming Kill it! Kill them all! Aaaahhhh!” But I didn’t want to pass on my fear, or set a precedent that killing is ok.

So I blurted out something about the babies deserving to be born in freedom, and decided we should set them free! I asked my poor assistant to bring the girls out to free the monstrous babies. I practically shoved them out of the room, yelling at one to get a spoon to scoop them and go, go NOW!”

Then I defused a situation in which another group hypothesized that if they killed their spider, it would have babies!

The spider group came back in, gleeful smile on the girls face, resigned horror on my assistants. By the time they got out, all the little horrors had disappeared into the grass and soil of the terrariums.

After a frantic, hushed conversation about the likelihood of a spider invasion, it was decided that we would thoroughly “mist” the offending terrarium. Most of the insects we had needed moisture, so we frequently sprayed it. And if this was akin to the great flood instead of a light rain, well, we don’t want the salamanders to dry out, do we?

Spider girls, a.k.a. spider invasion source number 1, seemed sad that we had misted their terrarium,  a.k.a. spider invasion ground zero, into a lake. After it was pointed out that the slug DEFINITELY looked happier, they seemed ok.

All was well until the end of the day, when I noticed that all the tiny mystery eggs had now vanished. Next year I’m paying for sterile dirt.

Salamanders! Nosebleeds! Shoe throwing! and some math: A Day in the Life of a Teacher

One thing that’s so great about my job is that there is always a variety of things to keep it interesting.

One thing that’s so hard about my job is that there is always a variety of things to keep it overwhelming.

Here is a summary of what I did today, a day that was overall fairly normal in terms of day to day routine.

7 am- Leave the house. Hit awful traffic.

7:35 Arrive too late to have breakfast. Luckily there is still enough time to feed the fish, turn the compost box, mist the grass growing in the terrariums, and write the daily schedule.

8-9 Parent teacher conferences! Half an hour of showing assessments, talking about social skills, and trying to express how much I love the child in question while still bringing up the fact that he or she is struggling with math/having trouble reading/singing during work times/licking their peers/stealing and hoarding pencils/ making elaborate weapons out of staples. Also during this time that I got a call letting me know they needed my assistant to sub for another class, so no help until after lunch!

9-9:20 Morning work! a.k.a. wrangling kids who would really rather talk about the weekend that do silent reading.

9:20-10 School wide assembly. Extra long today, to honor our volunteers. Who we admittedly could not do half of what we do without, but who also took up all the available chairs, leaving me to sit on the cafeteria floor with my kids, hiking my sweatshirt high enough to make sure my butt was covered, until my lower body went numb.

10-10:20 Math! Except, there was a scheduling issue, so the kids who normally went out for math got sent back. So we practiced our multiplication facts, as loudly and with the most ridiculous voices possible. Is there any other way?

10:20-10:40 Taking advantage of having my whole class and not having my assistant, we worked on the project we are doing for our assistant, who is leaving us to be a full time teacher next year. We are writing advice to her for her next class. This includes such gems as “Play capture the flag” “Don’t be mean” “Play capture the flag all the time” “Don’t teach math unless you have to” and “Play capture the flag.” It is also during this time that I eat a small piece of pizza that is supposed to be my lunch, frantically shoving it in my face behind my desk so no one sees.

10:40-11 Morning recess. One child was sad, so as a deal to get her to stop hug/squeezing me until my organs shifted, I went on the swings with her. We swung as high as we could, during which time I came to the conclusion that either we purchased new, smaller swings than we had when I first taught here, or my butt is bigger than it was when I was 22. Then someone got a nosebleed and threatened to wipe it on someone else. And another student put a wood chip in his nose. These are separate children, I must add.

11-11:15 Language arts. Read aloud at 11:15, where my assistant came back. Except she didn’t come back, she just checked in because the class she was subbing for was at gym. Then there was an announcement for the crisis team, the teachers who are trained to deal with students who become very emotional or out of control. Due to a combination of peer pressure and an inability to think clearly, I am on this team. So I handed the book to my assistant (who, please remember, is not technically with my class yet and still responsible for 25 other kids), asked her to finish reading, and figured I’d be back asap.

11:15-11:45 I wasn’t back. Instead I followed my colleagues around the playground after a little boy who just did NOT want to be in school anymore and was having none of our calm talks. I understood the feeling. I also wanted to stand up on the top of the slide and throw my shoes.

11:45-12:15 Lunch! Normally a break, at least in the sense that I can get things done. Today, a few students were coming in to play computer games with me. This was because I accidentally let it be known that some students stay after to play video games as a reward for good behavior. All hell broke loose, and I allotted all my remaining lunch slots to playing with other kids. So I scarfed down my second piece of pizza as I played Gum Drop Pop 3. At one point, one little girl suddenly stood up and started singing “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors. She sang about half the song in a fairly authentic Jim Morrison voice before losing intrest. She had no idea who The Doors were when I asked her, or where she heard the song.

12:15-12:40 Forage in the staff room for extra food. Find some sort of pastry of dubious age out on the counter, take most of it. Go around collecting containers, spoons, and other tools that we can use to collect bugs.

12:40-1:30 Outdoor science inquiry! a.k.a., get muddy and dig for bugs. We found ants, slugs, beetles, pill bugs, worms, salamanders, and a million mosquitos. Other highlights include most of us sinking down knee deep into the mud, spiders in hair, another nosebleed and an attempt to clean it with wet rotting leaves, hysterical tears over salamander ownership, ant bites that hurt more than you’d expect (it’s ok, you’ll be fine, I don’t think it hurts enough to cry that mu-OH MY GOD! It bit me, too! Holy lkajfgadfnngrrrr that hurts! Wow. Wow!), lessons on why rotting logs don’t make good jousting sticks, and a panic attack when I thought I lost a kid but it turned out he was just lying down in ferns on his belly.

1:30-1:45 Tick check, mud cleaning, putting our new friends in their new terrarium homes, reminders to walk away from the terrariums and wash our hands, cleaning out our containers, reminders to walk AWAY from the terrariums, picking up utensils and reminders to GO WASH YOUR HANDS RIGHT NOW I’M NOT KIDDING RIGHT NOW!

1:45- 2:25 Gym class. Usually my break time, except I scheduled another conference, because I am insane. Another round of assessment showing and reassuring about how great said kid is despite (or because) of their quirks. Albeit a sweatier, more mosquito bitten round. And a muddier one, which I did not realize until I FINALLY got to go to the bathroom and noticed in the mirror that there was mud all over my arms and on my neck.

2:30-2:45 Snack, and a therapy session/science lesson about why salamanders lose their tails when you pick them up, and how yes, that was very sad that you thought it was a baby salamander and then it turned out you were just holding a tail. Also, please don’t put your hands back in the terrariums, and go wash them again. GO WASH THEM AGAIN NOW AND PUT THE CRACKERS DOWN UNTIL YOU DO!

2:45-3:15 Work in progress, a.k.a. stare at the terrariums, freak out about how slugs look, try to steal salamanders from other terrariums, start turf war over salamanders.

Then jobs, and mail, and clean up, and bus duty, and hugs bye, and schedule for tomorrow, and quick meeting with a specialist, and writing a report, and oh, hey! It’s 5:30 and I could eat a live cow I’m so hungry.

I love my job. But I am so ready for vacation.