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What Arnold Schwarzenegger and I Have in Common

scene from Kindergarten Copphoto from:  cineplex.com

scene from Kindergarten Cop
photo from: cineplex.com

I used to be scared of Kindergarteners.  I teach gifted students, so this means I have students in K-5 at various times during the week.  But I started my teaching career with 5th graders for 8 years.  Once I began my current position several years ago, I hummed right along – until January rolled around and I started testing Kindergartners for the program.  That is when I realized that my piddly experience with mouthy pre-teens with raging hormones was simple compared to spending an hour with a bunch of 5-year-olds who haven’t quite gotten the handle on their bodily functions yet.  

Over the years, I have grown to accept that absolutely nothing goes the way I planned with my Kinders.  Instead of fighting their unpredictable divergences from my lesson plans, I’ve started joining in on their wild rides, and I’m finding it to be a whole lot of fun.

This year, I have a group of five Kinders, and their conversations are just as entertaining as last year’s batch.  I usually start the class with “Share Time”, so they can get their news out of their system.  They are dying to tell me about their father’s uncle’s nephew’s birthday or the tooth they lost, or the tooth they’re going to lose even though it’s not even loose yet.  But there’s one student who always likes to deliver a different kind of news:

“Okay, who has something to share today?”  5 hands go up.

“So, let’s start with Richard, and we’ll go around the table.”

“I have a soccer game tonight!”

“I do, too,” says Jacob.

“Is that what you wanted to share, Jacob?”  Jacob nods.

“Well, I hope you both have great games!  What about you, Lauren?”

“I have a wiggly tooth.  And I love to draw.”

“Fabulous!  Marie?”

“I went to my father’s cousin’s birthday party yesterday.”

“Oh?  What did you do at the party?”

“Well, we found a cockroach in the garbage can.”

“Hmm, you guys sure do play different games than I did when I was a kid.  Alex, what did you want to share?”

“Wel-l-l-l,” he draws it out with great emphasis,  “I learned that there’s one good thing about cancer.”  Big pause.  Deep breath.  “It’s not contagious.”

Silence.  The soccer players stare at Alex with slightly open mouths, and I try to think of an appropriate response.

“Gosh, Alex.  I never thought about it that way.  That is a silver lining, for sure.  Thanks for pointing that out.”

This is the way it always goes with Alex.  So far, we’ve learned that brains stop growing when you are in your teens, ladybugs chew from side to side instead of up and down, and that leprechauns used to live but now they are extinct.  (We may need to have a small talk about reliable sources on the internet.)  I’m a bit worried about Alex.  Actually, I’m a bit worried about me.  I’m probably going to be teaching this student for the next 5 years and, other than the internet source thing, I think I’ve already maxed out on the actual knowledge I’m going to be able to impart to him.

Yep – teaching 28 5th graders was a whole lot easier.

I am Not Ms. Frizzle, and this is Definitely Not the Magic School Bus

I think we can all agree that the ant posts need to stop.  But I feel that I must follow through on the story.  Following through was one of my New Year’s resolutions this year.  Okay, I admit that is my resolution every year.  And you can probably conclude how well I’ve followed through with that.

Anyway, while a bunch of you are wrestling with a Monster Storm in the northeast, including my NJ relatives (shout out! well, shout out when you get a chance to read this, which probably won’t be for another week or so, and you probably won’t really be putting my blog high on your priorities once you get electricity back, but just in case, I want you to know I’m thinking about you), I have been wrestling with a herd of harvester ants.  I know it’s not exactly the same.  In fact, it’s a pretty lame comparison.

A better comparison would be the figurative wrestling I got to do with my 2nd graders today during The Transfer.  One advantage of teaching Gifted and Talented students is that they are pretty confident most of the time that they know more than you do.  And they are pretty right most of the time.  Usually, I am better about hiding that, but they obviously sensed my feelings of inadequacy as I described the way everything was going to go down this morning.

“We are going to prepare the ant farm, and then I will punch a hole in the side of the bottle and connect it to the ant farm, so the little guys can just naturally make their way to their new home.”

“Why don’t you just put them in?”  “How are they going to know they can go in there?”  “Do you know what you’re doing?”

They clustered around the table as I followed the directions for prepping the ant farm.  The one boy who has the least confidence in my ability to do anything insisted on reading the instructions along with me to make sure I did it right.

Then it was time to stab a hole in the Vitamin Zero bottle.  This is one of the steps I hadn’t completely thought through – having only a blunt pair of scissors with which to perform this delicate operation.  I closed my eyes as I jabbed the scissors, picturing an accidentally monstrous puncture and zillions of harvester ants crawling on top and over each other to escape.

To my surprise, I was successful in creating the minute hole that was my goal, and I quickly inserted a plastic tube that had come with the ant farm into the tiny aperture.

“It’s too high!  The ants can’t get in that!”

“It’s too slippery!  They’ll never get over to the ant farm.”

“You should put it lower.”

“Let me do it.”

Of course, they were right.  It was too high, and the tube was sloped ridiculously.  The few ants that acrobatically flung themselves into the tube were only able to crawl up about two inches before unceremoniously sliding back down.

I told the students that they needed to be patient, and to let the ants problem-solve.

About 10 minutes later, I snapped 2/3 of the tube off, and lowered the hole – quickly duct taping Hole #1 in case of deserters.

The students grumblingly accepted this compromise, still not satisfied with the slow progress of the ants.  But they were gratified to see that a few of the ants were able to cross the tube to the new homestead.

By the time the kids returned to their homerooms, some of the more adventurous ants had obviously communicated that the coast was clear to their pals, and an assembly line had begun with the apparent objective of carrying the entirety of their 2-day-old home over to the new one.  I promised the students I would take pictures every day of the ants’ progress, until 2nd grade returns next Monday.  Boy Who Doubts Me tried to convince me that I should e-mail the pics each night to him; I’m surprised he did not demand that I set up a live webcam so that he can assure himself that I don’t destroy the whole habitat with my ineptitude during the next 7 days.

For Blogging Purposes, the entire event was somewhat anti-climactic.  But that’s okay with me.  And, if you ever need to grab the attention of a group of 8-year-olds for an extended period of time, I can promise you that an ant farm will do the trick.  In between their critiques of my less-than-satisfactory approach to ant herding, the students observed a lot about the ants, themselves, that elicited fascinated exclamations.

Too bad I didn’t have my cheetah duct tape on hand…

Attempt #2.  Yes, that’s the shorter tube.  Yes, it was initially 3 times longer.  Yes, I’m an idiot.

Our first pioneering ant discovers the food stockpile.

What Did You Think Teachers Do In Their Spare Time?

So, just when I thought that my life had become devoid of any mirth, I ran across this on an educational website:

(Sorry, it’s so small.  That’s the only way it would show in totality using this blog theme.  Click on it if you are having trouble reading it.)

I think what completely sent me over the edge was the offer to host a custom pubic event for my colleagues.

I just started working at a new school this year.  I don’t think I know my colleagues well enough to send out invitations to that kind of event.

I’m glad I took a screen shot, because the evidence was gone today.  I’d like to know how that conversation went down at the Education Sector…

Now I can’t even look at this without giggling.
photo credit: superkimbo via photopin cc

Maybe They Will Invite Me Back to do My Sarah Palin Impression

“It is hard to take responsibility for your own transitioning.  What I’m trying to say is – I’m becoming a serial killer.”

~Tina Fey in “The Nerdist” podcast with Chris Hardwick

I always knew Tina and I have a lot in common.  I mean, there she was, enjoying great success entertaining an audience on Saturday Night Live, and she decided to leave.  Here I am, enjoying great success entertaining a class full of students, and I decide to leave.  The similarities are uncanny.

And then, I hear her saying that she is going to become a serial killer – which is exactly what I’ve been contemplating! What are the odds?!!!

The sad truth is that I would be a failure at serial killing, primarily because I do not like to kill even the spiders that crawl in our house.  Heck, even the snake that curled up at the bottom of the stairs in our hallway got a free pass from me.

What does appeal to me about being a serial killer at the moment is the part where you are able to become emotionally detached.  As I pack up my belongings to move to a new school, I am trying hard to exclusively think of the process and not the people I am leaving.  The people I’ve worked with for 13 years.  The kids who I’ve known since they were in Kindergarten.  Whose siblings I’ve known since they were in Kindergarten.  The darn picture one of them drew of me that hangs on my wall, a picture that portrays me as unwrinkled, skinny, and frizzy-hair free.  STOP THINKING ABOUT THOSE THINGS, I tell myself.

I try to think harder about the a/c that never works in my classroom, the mysterious person who, for the past three years, has weekly torn part of my bulletin board border off in the hallway, and the horrible cell phone reception that forces me to step out into the middle of the playground in order to ever make a call during my planning time.

If I were to become a serial killer, the bulletin board ripper offer would definitely be the first target. (I’m sure there is a Jack the Ripper joke in there somewhere.  I’ll ask my bud, Tina, next time I talk to her…)

I have no earthly idea what the context of of this photo is, but it’s better than the other stuff that came up under my search criteria.                                                                                                    photo credit: tlossen via photo pin cc

 

The Teachings of Mrs. Cap’n Firepants

 

One of my students wrote this on my dry erase board, and it made me feel –  well, dead.  I mean, I don’t know anyone alive who has “teachings”.  The only people I can think of that have teachings are  Buddha, Confucius and Socrates.  And, while that “s” at the end of the word “teaching” appears to give my time spent in the classroom an extra sort of  dignity that I never knew it had, I would like to state, uncategorically, that I am not dead.

Oh wait, I think the Dalai Lama has “teachings”, and he’s not dead.  And Yoda.  Who technically isn’t dead when you think about  it…

Since I do have aspirations to join the Order of the Temple of the Jedi, my “teachings” may be similar to Yoda’s.  But, I like to think I’ve put my own spin on them.

Size matters not a lot:  Every year, my 5th graders watch an A&E video that lists the top 100 people of the last millennium.  Because there are a few artists in the list, I always preface the video by reminding the students that sometimes artists portrayed the human body unclothed, and that I expect the students to handle this maturely when it appears on the screen.  This lecture worked fine when we were watching the video on the tiny t.v. in the corner of my classroom.  When we transitioned from that to a big screen and projector, though, I don’t think anyone was more surprised than me when the full-frontal closeup of the statue of David by Michelangelo made its appearance on our 4′ x6′ screen.  To their credit, the kids did not start snickering and guffawing until I tripped over my own feet racing to find the remote.

Do or do not… there is no try but at least give it a try: O.K.  Yoda was so wrong here.  You have got to try.  If I told my kids what Yoda said, their response would be, “Thanks.  I think I’ll choose ‘Do Not’.”  Maybe that works when you are training Jedi Knights who weren’t raised on Earth, but on this planet trying is pretty much the only thing we can do.

Grave danger you are in. Impatient you are I am:  I probably can’t take credit for this one because it’s some weird phenomenon that works with all kids.  If you start counting really loud after you’ve asked them to do something, they suddenly rush to finish it.  You don’t have to give any kind of consequence or even tell them a final number.  They apparently have been programmed to think the world will blow up if they don’t complete their task.

You must unlearn what you have learned when your teacher accidentally showed you a bigger than life-size David statue on the screen:  I wish I could unlearn that, too.

Control, control, you must learn control where is my remote control?:  Not just a problem when really well-endowed sculptures suddenly appear on the classroom screen, Remote Control Loss happens to me on a daily basis.  Partly because I have so many to keep track of:  projector, document camera, iPod player, etc…  I’m not really sure what my students learned from this, other than the fact that it was easy to convince me they had turned in an assignment, and I just “must have lost it” – most likely in the same place where I set the remote(s).  I’ve decided that, next year, I will just velcro them to my face.  (The remotes, not the assignments, and certainly not the students)

So, there you have it, all of my wisdom in one handy, printable blog post.  If I decide to come up with any more gems, I will make sure you are the first to know.  If I’m not dead, of course.

Everything I Know About Marriage I Learned From Two First Graders

I learn a lot from my gifted students.  For example, according to my Kindergartners, the participants on Toddlers and Tiaras are way different on stage than off.  And, according to my third graders, Ellen DeGeneres is a girl, not a boy, and her deal with J.C. Penney caused a “thing” much debated on Facebook.

It’s almost the end of the year, but it’s never too late to get educated.  So, I should not have been surprised by the edification I received from my first graders today on the topic of marriage.

As some of you know, I will be teaching Gifted and Talented students at a new school next year.  So, today, I introduced my current students to the woman who will be teaching them next year instead of me.  She is:  very nice, very pretty, one of my best friends, and just happens to be married to my current principal who, for the purpose of this blog, we shall call POTUS (Principal of The Unbelievablyawesomest School).

I took Mrs. POTUS to the classroom of three of my 1st grade students.  As soon as we opened the door, one of them shouted, “Hello, Mrs. POTUS!”

When the three came out into the hall, Mrs. POTUS, smiling, said, “How did you know that I am married to Mr. POTUS?”

And my student, obviously using the powers of deduction that he learned from me, said, “Because you kind of look like him!”

Well, this was funny to me for several reasons – the obvious one being, of course, that people look like their pets, not their spouses – but the main one being that Mrs. POTUS, other than sharing the attributes of most humans, looks absolutely nothing like Mr. POTUS.

The same student, a few minutes later (after we explained that Mr. and Mrs. POTUS were not blood relatives and that, other than in the Appalachian Mountains, married people do not necessarily resemble each other) started to ask Mrs. POTUS a question, and then immediately forgot it.

Mrs. POTUS said, “That’s okay.  If you think of it later, you can just tell Mr. POTUS, and he can tell me.”

To which another one of my logical students said, “Do you and Mr. POTUS talk sometimes?” in apparent wonderment at such a concept.  I’m not sure if this was more along the lines of the “Do you and Justin Bieber talk sometimes?” kind of astonishment, or the “Are a husband and wife allowed to talk to each other?” confusion that often happens when children watch too many episodes of Wife Swappers.

So, from these two students, I now know:  that married people should look alike (which makes me better suited to enter a union with my wrinkled bulldog than with my dear husband, Cap’n Firepants), that married people only talk on rare occasions – and that it’s good I am moving to a new school next year because I’ve certainly accomplished a heckuva lot at this one.

 

Wanted: 6-Year-Old Language Tutor

Clearly Google Discriminates Against People Who Speak Kindergarten

I don’t speak Kindergarten.

I have been testing and teaching Gifted and Talented students in elementary school for 13 years.  Every January, when Kinder testing rolls around, I try a new communication strategy. And every year, I fail miserably.

My first couple of years, after I had been teaching 5th grade for 8 years, I cut myself some slack.  Even after one little girl burst into tears after I asked them to write their names on their papers.  Even after one little boy silently peed in his pants during the test because he somehow missed my request for anyone who needed a bathroom break.

I figured it would take me a little time to learn the Kindergarten dialect.

Last year, one of the parents told me that her child thought the entire time I was testing her that I was testing her for Speech.  Another parent mentioned that her child thought I was the Principal.

So, this year, I thought I would try to do a better job of explaining what I do and why I’ve taken them from their class for a little while.

I told them that I teach the Gifted and Talented class. I asked them if they knew what that meant.  They didn’t even move their heads, just stared at me bug-eyed, waiting for me to pull out some comical sock puppets like the counselor or to break out into a song from Dora the Explorer like – well, I don’t really know who would do that, but they seemed to expect some kind of entertainment.

I told them that I teach kids who like to do extra thinking.  I said that we sometimes do thinking games in my class and we learn different ways to use our brains.

“Gifted and Talented means that you like to try to solve problems and that when something is hard you try to figure it out.  Gifted and Talented is a class for students who like to think of new ideas.  I like teaching Gifted and Talented because we get to do different types of puzzles and games.  Sometimes, we invent things, too.  I’ve been teaching Gifted and Talented for 13 years, and I love it.”

Silence.  Well, not exactly.  One child was busy trying to roll his pencil off of the desk and catch it.  Another was obsessed with the fact that his shoelace wasn’t tied, and mumbling progressively louder to try to get my attention.  One of the girls was digging inside her empty, borrowed desk looking for her pencil, which was on the floor beneath her chair.

“So, who remembers what I teach?”

Five hands went up.  I nodded at one of the boys who seemed to be paying close attention during my speech.

“Kids.  You teach kids.”

Yeah.  I try.

Winter Flip-Flops

Don’t judge me.   I mean, I know I judged all of you, but try to accept my very sincere apology and be the bigger man – or woman.  It took me a little while to catch on to things, but I made it.  So, give me break, please.

 

Here’s the thing.  As a teacher for twenty years, I have witnessed a lot of students passing through those elementary school doors.  And it has become pretty apparent that the kids are usually a reflection of one or both parents.  I think most of you could probably agree with me on that.  However, I think that I have finally realized that some kids might not be crystal clear mirror type reflections, but more like throw a boulder in the water and see what you can discern from the ripples kind of reflections.

 

It used to seem so easy.  A kid comes to school on a thirty degree day wearing flip-flops and shorts, and you think, “Gosh, either that parent doesn’t give a darn about that kid, or they just don’t have the money to get a brand new wardrobe.”  You hear about a kid taking drugs in school and you think, “Wow, I guess their parents aren’t keeping very close tabs on them.”

 

Well, think those things no more.  Or, at least, try to add a few more thoughts to mix.  Try this one on for size regarding the flip-flop matter:  “Gosh, that poor parent must have had a tough morning getting their kid to put on a long-sleeved shirt, and given up after the hour long tantrum, thinking its better to send my child to school on time than to even consider the child abusive methods necessary for getting a pair of jeans and some tennis shoes on him.  So what if it’s thirty degrees outside; he won’t be outside at school anyway.”

 

Or, here is another scenario that may not have crossed your mind, “Wow, that poor parent spent all of her time teaching her child to say no to drugs, but neglected to suggest that her daughter should not accept the offer of a white substance in a plastic bag purported to be salt during her lunchtime in the school cafeteria in school.”

 

Yeah, bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?  Neither did I.

 

I have decided that the older I get, the less I know.  What happened to that certainty that guided my days when I was younger?  The black and white world of absolutes has dissolved into an amazingly vibrant, ridiculously titillating globe of line crossing, line erasing, and line redrawing.

 

How can we judge until we can imagine?  It is so simple to see what is wrong, but much more difficult to determine who to blame.  Before you decide that he, she, or I am a bad parent, try walking in my shoes for a little bit.  Or, wait a moment, make that flip-flops.  And it better be thirty degrees at the warmest when you start your journey.

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