And Forgive Us Our Trespasses

June 26, 2015

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Hubby and I used to have an on-going joke about the Lord’s Prayer. We would snicker and/or poke each other when the debts or trespasses thing went by in the middle. Because we’re very reverent people, clearly. Actually it was because we had two different churchy-upbringings, and we disagreed about whether the line is “forgive us our debts” or “forgive us our trespasses”. It is trespasses. Sounds way cooler. God would agree. 

We don’t do this much anymore, because we don’t go to church anymore. More about that at a later date.

Because I spent the last post judging other people for the petty and annoying crap they do, #judgementalbiotch, I will now list (some of) my postable transgressions. Rest assured there are many, many more. You are not learning about them.

  • The skin on the outside (and inside) of my nose gets dry and itchy. I totally pick. Deal with it.
  • When I am in a meeting or grad class and I am supposed to be working or taking notes on a laptop, at least half the time I’m not really working or taking notes. #Facebook
  • I speed. Like, always.
  • I am still (I think?) supposed to eat a very low sodium diet, and I totally cheat when I feel like it. #heartcrap
  • I make fun of what other people name their children. Sometimes. Just the dumb names, though. Yours are beautiful.
  • I make fun of children. Although they are still better than many adults.
  • That “red wine is good for you” thing is my new favorite medical tidbit, and “special occasions”, where I am allowed to consume various other alcohols happen so often that they can’t possibly be that special.
  • Screw singing the ABC’s; often I wash my hands for only like 5 seconds and dry them on my hair. (Wetting it down discourages the frizz.)
  • I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be drinking so much coffee. But nobody wants to see how that story ends, so I conveniently forget to ask about that every time I see my doctor.
  • I swear a lot.
  • I know that I should keep cash in my wallet for the collection for this, and the collection for that, but I never manage to keep cash in my wallet.
  • I yell at my kids for their messy rooms, but mine generally has crap all over the floor.
  • The 5 second rule applies around friends and family, but around strangers, I pretend like I’d throw it away no matter what, for germs & stuff’s sake. But if nobody is around…eh.
  • For social reasons, I pretend to care about a lot of stuff that I actually don’t. But I believe that’s called “Being an Adult”, so again…eh.
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June

June 15, 2015

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Every day they come in and act like monkies.

They smell. Haven’t we had the deodorant talk yet? 

They wear inappropriate shoes – we told them to wear sneakers from here on out, darn it! Mostly little girls in pretty sandals.

They ignore us and do what they want; talking, goofing around. Then they tattle on each other. They skip out on homework. Aren’t we done with homework yet?

They get fresh. They get hot and lazy, and participation sucks. Get up. Off the floor. Now. 

They act like they’ve forgotten all the rules we’ve carefully enforced all year.

They act like they’re already on Summer Vacation.

*****

Every day we come in and act like zombies. Who wants to go on a Dunkin Donuts/Wawa run? 

We wear flip flops. Isn’t that against teacher dress code? Oh well.

We text each other how many days we have left. We text each other lunch orders and inside jokes. We text in class and in the hall.

We can’t believe it when there’s not an assembly or end-of-year festivity to take up class time, today. Aren’t we done with class time yet?

SGOs, APRs, PDPs; we turn nothing in by the due-date. We don’t even start them by the due date. That was due when? 

We get hot and crabby and bitch about stuff. We act like it’s an imposition that we’re still here.

We act like we’re already on Summer Vacation.

*****

Personally, in the last two weeks since hubby isn’t home and the pool is open, I generally have the girls in suits and wine or beer on the pool bar by 5PM. Today I also ate a hotdog, leftover from a weekend pool party. With mustard. Yes, in the pool. What? Just cause know how to live…

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How is it not already Summer Vacation?

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$%@# my students say about cardiomyopathy

February 28, 2015

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So I’ve had the surprisingly enjoyable task of  explaining the whole “Where Was Mrs. D” thing to my students. I basically told them 5 things:

1.  I was really sick and I didn’t know it. Always tell your parents and go to the doctor when you feel like you can’t breathe right.

2. My heart doesn’t pump very well right now. (My phrase for this is “wussy heart syndrome”. They eat that up.)  It might get better and it might not, but either way there’s no reason to think I won’t be ok. I am tough.

3. I have to take medicines that  will hopefully help my heart get stronger. But, they make me very tired sometimes, and dizzy. If anyone ever faints, we do NOT touch them. We find the nearest adult to help. This is not likely to happen to me at all, so relax.

4. I have to wear a special undershirt that has little circle things in it to check how my heart beats, day and night. It’s connected by a wire to this box I’m wearing like a purse. If my heart stops pumping right (“wusses out”), the special shirt will zap me with electricity so my heart will work again. The black box might ‘ding’ sometimes when the shirt isn’t working right. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

5. This is not something that is likely to happen to you, or anybody else you love.

This has been a nice time to sit down and just talk to my 500+ kiddos. Their concern has been real and their questions and responses have been a little too real.

But hey, if you can’t laugh at cardiomyopathy, what can you laugh at, right?

So these are questions and responses I have gotten from my 5 – 11 year old students when I explain the above list to them. I started writing them down to share, because I love these little nutjobs.  My responses are italicized.

“Will your heart tell you when it’s fixed?” No, they will take pictures again, but that would be cool.

“Do they let you keep the pictures?” I doubt it but if it’s good I’ll frame it.

“My grandpop had a heart attack because he ate too much red food. Did you do that?” You mean did I eat too much red meat? No, I –  “No! Meat is brown.”

“Did it hurt when you died?” Um…No. I’m good.

“Will it hurt if it zaps you?” No. I would have probably fainted by then. “But it will zap us if we’re touching you?” Possibly, but you’re not going to touch me or anyone who has fainted, you just get an adult. “Will it reach out and like lightening, and zap us?” NO. You’re picturing Return of the Jedi.

“Can you use the box to save somebody else’s life? Like the school’s one? [Defibrillator]” Yes, I’m going to be the new super hero, Defibrillator Woman. Zap zap. Just kidding. But cool question.

“What are you gonna do if you can’t go swimming in the summer!?!?!?!” I will most likely be done wearing this, one way or another, by summer. Hopefully. Otherwise, I will cry.

“Um…it [the box] blinked red. Are you OK?” That just means it’s on. I’m good.

“What would happen if ALL the adults in the school fainted at the same time?” I’d say we would leave (extremely unlikely, quiet student) in charge.

“So, like, you can’t take it off? Are you not gonna shower?! For months?!!” Um… I take it off to shower. EW.

“What happens if you faint in the shower with the shirt thing off?” Well this is getting personal. It’s not likely that I’ll faint at all. But I guess then it would turn into taking a bath.

“What happens if you faint when you’re going to the bathroom?” Well that would be bad, but wouldn’t I have worse problems, at the time?

“What happens if you drop it [the monitor box] in the toilet?” Thanks, now I’m going to worry about that, too.

BUT the winner is:

“Did you know that the hospital is where they take babies out of your tush?” Yes. Yes I did.

 

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The Arts as an Antidote to Testing

February 25, 2015

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If it’s quiet in here, I’m doing it wrong.

I am sitting on the chilly windowsill with my legs dangling, kicking the bookcase below. The sound in my room is such that my clunky boots can’t be heard hitting the shelves right below me. Another teacher walks in – she may have knocked, who knows – and her eyes go wide. To be fair, the scene looks a bit chaotic if you’re used to seeing children at desks with books. I enjoy her facial expression, she puts some paper or another on my desk, and mouths to me “How do you not go crazy with all this noise?”

I clown pantomime that I can’t hear her.

Every few minutes one of the kids motions to me to come across the room and hear his group play something they just thought up. I remind them to make sure it’s written down in some way. Every few minutes a quieter kid looks up surreptitiously and scans the room to see where I am, just to make sure I’m not upset about all this sound. Then they go back to their playing. I swear several of them have the smirk of a 10 year old who thinks he’s getting away with something.

Because they are. Like I said, they’re at school, and they’re playing. 

****

Character Ed. is not dead.

While driving to school last Thursday, I decided that I am guilty of expecting too much of my students academically, because of residual idealism left over from my well-meaning but ridiculous Elementary Music Education classes. Worse, I’ve been expecting too little of them in the way of character.

Yes, my oldest students should know the difference between various types of keyboard percussion, the theory behind pitch and acoustics, and be able to read and write basic rhythmic and melodic notation.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, they should be able to play these instruments in a way that does no damage and respects others’ right to hear themselves think. They should regulate their own progress on a task and keep their time limit in mind. They should collaborate with a partner without much conflict. They should listen attentively and show respect when other people play for them. They should help clean up and store the instruments in a way that maintains order in the room and allows every student to use them for years to come. In short, there are many opportunities in a music room – or band room, or art room, or gym –  for kids to play, and practice how to not be a little jerk

****

Opting out of control.

So we know we fail as teachers the moment we get into the habit of doing a lesson the same way just because that’s the way we’ve always done it. If your tried-and-true lesson is working, every child is engaged, the curriculum is covered completely, and every need of every child in your classroom is met – then wake the Hell up because you’re dreaming.

I teach a modified Orff (basically, xylophones) unit every winter, mainly because it’s fun and a less-boring thing to come back to after Christmas break. We learn songs, talk about the pentatonic (5-note) scale, and do lots of echoing of the teacher and each other. I look forward to these classes. However, I’m pretty psychotic about you playing my instruments the right way. Don’t break it, and get the best sound. Watch it. We play together. Show me bicycle grip. Do we pick up the mallets when we rotate???! (Confession: As a college freshman, what I wanted to be when I grew up was a high school band director. I may have some marching band issues to resolve.) I hate to admit it, but there is definitely a right and wrong way to do stuff, in my xylophone lessons.

In light of the increasing structure in children’s lives, I’m attempting to take a small step in the opposite direction.  One 5th grade class happens to be ahead of the other sections, because of my recent health fun and absence from school. So, I’m throwing out the structured Orff lessons and letting them loose. To sum it up, they’re getting free play time with anything they want in the Music room, the end goal being to compose some kind of music and write it down in some way. I’m giving them whatever instruments I have, a couple guidelines that are mostly about safety and stuff-music-teachers-say, and 40 minutes. Yes, the curriculum objectives are now completely changed from what is written in my lesson plans, in doing this. Ask me if I care. 

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Music is a more loosey-goosey subject, to begin with. There are protocols in other subject areas, pre-written lesson plans for everything. There is a curriculum, and we will test the daylights out of them on it, yearly. Twice a year, actually. Thank you, PARCC. It’s all nicely planned and controlled. However, because of the above-mentioned health fun, I am reminded lately that CONTROL IS AN ILLUSION.

*****

The arts as an antidote to testing.

During those 40 minutes I get a little glance from several kids that says “wait, you’re really ok with this?”  several times.  It’s not that big a deal, but they’re uneasy with it.  We have set out to do something with instruments before; play the rhythms, demonstrate this understanding or that, compositions with prescribed forms.  I still get looks from other teachers who wander in then, too. It’s still loud.

This time the class could write/do/play whatever. Some of them added lyrics or flourish-y dance moves, because they’re freakin’ adorable. Week 2 of this will include some kind of standard notation, because blah blah blah, curriculum. Also, these kids are very sharp and can bridge the gap between iconic and symbolic notation like they’re jumping over a puddle. I gave them no rules about notation – whatever, as long as they could look at it next week and still play it, it was cool. This is not revolutionary, just busy, musical chaos that totally looked like I was doing nothing in the way of teaching. However, the kids are responsible for their own progress. They knew that they have the privilege of playing these instruments so they only play them correctly. They were self-regulating, and writing some very cool little songs. I was pretty impressed with what happened when I let go.

This was my favorite so far:

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Also, a shout-out for my two manly men, M&M, who think they have invented music notation for jocks: “Basket-ball” is a short-short-long, or eighth-eighth-quarter pattern, “Football” is long-long is probably going to be half notes, all on bucket drums.

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And they sounded pretty good, too.

This thing where we give kids stuff to play with and say “go” is the basis the wonderful curriculum in my 5 year old’s Pre-K class. Somewhere after that it gets tossed. Because their lives now include lessons in how to take tests, that playtime really needs found again.  A child’s work is play.

I love this:

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In our attempt to be taken seriously as an area of academics, have we taken the play out of playing music?  We have our own standardized testing and huge curriculum binders, too. But the arts, and the tragically disappearing recess and Gym class, are sometimes all our kids have left in the way of play at school.

 So, for my part, here’s what I’m going to do about all this: My goal, in light of the ever-increasing need to structure and test, is going to be to make sure there is more actual PLAYING in my class.  When you walk in (sign in at the office first), you may think they’ve taken over and I’m tied to a chair somewhere. Don’t worry, they know there’s a filing cabinet of worksheets they could be doing instead. That usually keeps them in line. Wa ha ha. 

I’m looking forward to this. And, probably, to going deaf before my time. Because holy crap are they loud.

 

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Under New (Behavior) Management?

November 15, 2014

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So, I let the elder offspring give this letter to her teacher:

teacherletter (2)

Parents, teachers, and friends, I need you to tell me what you think of that move.

Here’s the background:

I have the feeling that my kid has been put in the ‘rough’ class several times now, probably because she can fend for herself academically and assertively.  Talking to parents whose children are in other classes in my daughter’s grade has confirmed it: They’re having a lot more fun. There’s always a ‘rough’ class. How do you know if your kid has landed there this year? Count the rings under her teacher’s eyes. 

But it’s a teacher conflict too. We all have a story about that teacher, who seemed miserable and possibly scared the #$%@ out of us in grade school. Mine had a foot-shaped hole in the tile floor where it was rumored she had screamed and stomped her foot so hard that it Broke. The. Floor. She supposedly left it that way as a grim reminder to future students that things could get UGLY. 

The elder offspring’s 2nd grade teacher has decided that whole-class punishment is her classroom management tactic. Several times now, all the kids have missed recess as punishment for bad behavior. Yes, like when we were in school. Although for me, that was the 80’s and I don’t remember much of this happening. 

Although I (empty) threaten individual students with this consequence sometimes (actually quite effective), I disagree with this policy on several levels:

1. Though occasionally necessary, regularly punishing the whole group is unfair and bad for morale.

2. These are 7 year-olds. They need recess. If you make the mistake of keeping 7 year-olds from running outside and being crazy, you might as well feed Gremlins after midnight, because that’s what you’re gonna get. 

5

Cute before you make a giant mistake. Just like 2nd graders. It will be a loooong afternoon.

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Leave my 2nd grader alone, Arne Duncan

October 30, 2014

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This quote and stunning portrait of Secretary Duncan popped up on social media last week. It’s from his speech during a 2009 visit to a Brooklyn elementary school. It is, of course, taken out of context here.  But that just means it’ll fit right in with every other quote on the internet, ever. Here’s a post about Mr. Duncan addressing the “educational crisis” in this speech.

He seems to be claiming that you can tell where kids will end up, higher education-wise, because of how they’re testing in second grade. Reading this on a friend’s wall, I actually said aloud,  “You leave my second grader ALONE, Arne!”  Yes, that’s a tad dramatic, but Arne is a fun name to say aloud.

Though well-meaning, this is some serious oversimplification, and rhetoric to sell the need to test small children.  I teach K-5 and let me tell you: By second grade, a couple of them haven’t even really mastered holding a #2 pencil yet, let alone having one help decide their future.  In second grade, they’re about 8 years old. Meaning that every bit of their little life has occurred in a shorter time than Seinfeld was on the air. Just let that sink in.

No, Arne, we should not.  I mean, I can totally pick out the future trophy wives by the time they’re leaving 5th grade, but that’s as cynical as I’ll allow myself to get as a teacher.

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7 Tips for Back-To-School Success

September 1, 2014

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We are a two-teacher household, and we do not “work” in the summer. We keep busy with summer rehearsals for school-year ensembles, curriculum writing, prepping classrooms for the next school year, I’m taking courses towards my Master’s, blah blah blah…Oh yeah and we do have the kids. So yes, “It must be nice to have all summer off.” You know what? It truly is.  It’s reparative and rejuvenating.  Without summer, most teachers would burn out twice as fast, do half as good a job with their students, and quit. Everybody knows that, right? Good. 

In teacher world, the last week of summer means one thing: DO ALL THE THINGS.  It’s an understandably huge checklist of Must Do This Before September, so as to delay the inevitable transformation into a tired, crazy person once the year starts throwing its punches.

Being an immature and slightly irresponsible person (my husband patiently calls it “spontaneous”), I get a different urge that last week: Go places and do fun stuff, because life is for the living and the tired crazy person thing is gonna happen anyway.  It’s like Jekyll and Hyde for educators.  We rode the train and ate and drank in Philly, went to playgrounds, went out, had friends over, swam, slept in, did absolutely nothing, went on a pirate ship

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(Did you think I was kidding? This is my new mental happy place to go to when in-service meetings run long…)

So here we have this, From Parent Further, Back-to-School: A Parent’s Checklist. Isn’t it great?

“One month before school starts, do this…Three weeks before school starts, do this….”  Yeah. “Great”, as in, “Haaaaa, I laughed so hard, that was ‘great’!”

I have my own special check list for you, guaranteed to bring you back-to-school happiness. Feel free to print and post on the fridge for your own convenience, as we return to school this week in New Jersey. If you’re already back… my condolences.

  • Children who watch a maximum of 2 hours of TV and eat a balanced diet including 5-7 fruits and vegetables a day do better in school. Encourage your child to sit near one of those kids.

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