Thursday, May 31, 2007
It is pretty official that I will be moving to Saddleback when it opens in January. You wouldn't have known it last week, but I am getting rather excited about it.
The picture at left represents some of the inhabitants of the new school site that are being asked to vacate the premises posthaste and forthwith. While some are slithering off to better digs, a few recalcitrant denizens are digging in for a court fight.
They have the home court advantage because so many of their second cousins are lawyers. This makes it difficult to enforce the order to vacate. You know how lawyers can keep things tied up forever in red tape.
It was suggested today in a Saddleback planning meeting that our new mascot could indeed be the sidewinder. Or the Mojave Green. But something tells me that these are not exactly warm and fuzzy mascots that will endear us to students and parents.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
So I shouldn't have been surprised when she went crazy over "The Secret," buying it in hardcover as well as the audiobook format so she can listen and learn while she drives. I've never felt extremely comfortable with her listening to ANYTHING while she drives, considering she likes two speeds: Fast and FASTER.
So today Mom arrives for a visit and barbecue, announcing that she is "visualizing not needing the hearing aide."
My early years, you must know, were punctuated by my mother barking at me to "speak up" and "stop mumbling" and "I can't hear you!" Little did we know she had bad hearing. We just thought she was annoying.
So she buys the cheapest hearing aide in town and then gripes about it until my sister and I convince her to spring for a better model. She still gripes about it and decides ONLY to put it in if you are worth a listen. OR if she paid "good money" to go to a play or concert. Sometimes, she confides, she doesn't put it in so she doesn't have to listen to boring people.
My sister says that if Mom would stop buying clothes she could get herself a decent hearing aide. "But how will we talk about her when she's in the backseat?" I whine. Some of the funniest car rides in my life have included my sister in the front seat, yelling at Mom, who is only hearing every third word, while I run low-volume running commentary in the front seat. The goal is to get my sister almost to the point of laughing but not popping any veins. Mom catches on if her youngest daughter starts snorting water or blood out of her nose. And you can just guess who gets in trouble.
"You have a point. But you must admit that she has an addiction to new clothes," my sister says. Of course she is right. My sister knows about these things.
So today on the way to my favorite antique store she tells me, "I don't need to put my hearing aide in. I can hear you just fine. I am visualizing not needing it. I can't say I can't hear. That's negative."
"You can hear my just fine because I'm shouting at you, Mom," I say wickedly.
"No you're not. It's not nice to tease your mother."
Then she tells me that "this gal" she knows "doesn't need her glasses anymore." She just 'visualizes' being able to see and she doesn't SAY she can't see something anymore. She just - visualizes. And then she sees.
When we returned home, she launched into a story about my Auntie C - who is a true Psychodelic Relic. Seems Auntie C's dog got into the manure and had to be rushed to the vet. Naturally, the vet, seeing her coming, ran x-rays and "discovered" a bladder stone. So the dog "must have surgery" right away to the tune of $3000.00. Auntie C is a bit overboard on this dog - so the vet factors in visits from Auntie C when budgeting his big-ticket expenses for the month.
I tell Mom I think Auntie C should wait, since the dog isn't showing any symptoms or having any problems. At the very least, she should get a second opinion.
Mom informed me that she and C went to the "good psychic" in Carlsbad and he told her to hold off. He doesn't see anything wrong with the dog. For good measure, Mom and Auntie C swung the pendulum and asked if the dog should have surgery. The pendulum swung no.
So, turning away to hide my smirk and knowing I am going to burn in Hell for this, I say to Mom, "Is she visualizing? Is she visualizing the dog not needing surgery?"
Mom pops up off the couch, eyes wide. "No! I don't think she is. I should tell her!"
In for a dime, in for a dollar, I always say. So I casually add (feeling the flames licking my toes already), "Well, Mom.. how about YOU visualize and get the process going? Visualize the dog without any bladder stones. Visualize clear, clean, smooth, healthy dog bladders."
"I'm going to write that down," Mom says, pulling out her trusty pad and pen. "That's a good idea. Are you sure you haven't read "The Secret?"
After dinner, I walked Mom to her car. "Click it, or ticket," I warned good-naturedly.
She is getting into the car.
"What?" She barks. "Speak up! I can't hear you!"
"CLICK IT OR TICKET MOM!" I yell.
"You don't have to yell. Remember, I am visualizing not needing my hearing aide."
As she whips the car around to leave, she pops her head out the window.
"I have a shield around my car," she says. "I visualize it."
Then she speeds off down the street and takes the corner on 3 wheels, no doubt popping in "The Secret" for her listening pleasure.
I forgot to ask Mom to visualize me 20 pounds lighter.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
I'm not saying that all houses in California are like this, just the post-war cookie cutter tract houses, whose builders determined that basements were morally wrong and hardwood floors simply too expensive. Attics? Good GAWD man, just shoot them full of insulation and be done with it.
I see the renovation shows on HGTV and just gasp with envy - all that hardwood covered up by linoleum and carpet - rediscovered by some zealous and lucky homeowner, who polishes the new treasure to a rich gloss and then yells "neener neener neener" to all the poor saps stuck in tract housing.
Older homes in California have basements and moulding and hardwood floors. But you have to venture near the older communities to find those - and they are nice and cheap. Want an old craftsman in Pasadena? Get ready to write a check in the high six figures. An old Victorian on the outskirts of San Francisco or San Diego or some other San-something community? Don't make me laugh. You can't afford it.
My house was built by a builder with a dream. A dream to make money, quickly, without real effort. Work crews were hired for minimum wage, which would guarantee that no pride in workmanship would ever be present. Walls aren't straight because most of these workers flunked geometry. The roof might leak because the foreman only brought by one case of beer instead of two on the day the roofing tiles were nailed in place. The walls are literally shot with "texture" in order to camouflage the fact that they are not built to the specifications of the previous generation, let alone the guys on This Old House. I think Norm Abram would gnash his teeth if he saw how the corners meet in my family room.
My house looks exactly like every other 2 story house in this development. I mean, exactly. They used the same paint can after B&B Ubiquitous Stucco Surfaces came through in one afternoon and spewed a premix of stucco and coloring to the outside of each house. They had to count up from the end so they knew which house to "do" next.
And here's the good part. There is raised "trim" along the outside of the house that we thought was wood mistakenly covered by stucco in the interest of saving time. Because of course, time is money. I wanted all the stucco removed from the trim because I have this idea that I want my little piece of cookie-cutter suburbia to have "character" and be somewhat unique. Well, there is no wood underneath. I lifted a bit of peeling stucco from the trim by the door to discover to my amazement that it is (ready?)... styrofoam! Yup! Honest to goodness styrofoam that was nailed on or superglued or something to the house and then covered with stucco. This gave the appearance of raised trim.
Do you realize how disconcerting this is? To realize that your HOUSE is covered with the same material used by Dixie plates and disposable coffee cups? That you could literally tear this stuff off your house and recycle it as a floatation device? (Which makes me wonder - if we had a flood, would the house float?)
And it gets better. The stuff doesn't just come off when you whack at it. It comes off in bits and pieces that fly all over hell and gone when loosened from the house. It has been glued down with some space-age substance. AND.. you can't just nail down a wood board to replace it. Nosiree! They have to be glued down because the surface of the house will not, under any circumstances, accept nails or bolts or anything remotely similar.
I would love to discover something unique and wonderful about this house, I truly would. A hardwood floor, a hidden passageway, a subterranean wine cellar - how fun would THAT be? Instead, I am doomed to find old beer cans and bits of stucco when I dig in the yard.
Maybe I can recycle the styrofoam.
Friday, May 25, 2007
But first, we have to discuss why this is such a big deal that Humphrey ended up in a river instead of out in the open sea where he belonged.
So, we were discussing what we knew about whales prior to actually reading the story. Most of the kids have little background knowledge about oceans and the animals in them.
Alex raised his hand and announced that he could eat a whale. Without missing a beat, I replied, "No, you can't" and called on another student.
But Alex will not be so easily trifled with - he folded his arms and said, "Yes! I can!"
Before I could reply, Genevieve folded her arms indignantly and said to Alex, "No, Alex, you can't eat a whale."
Alex whirled around to face Genevieve and argue that yes, he could indeed eat a whale.
Genevieve, who has clearly had enough of Alex for this school year and next, shook her head. Her eyes were wide and she leaned forward for emphasis.
"Alex! You cannot eat a whale!"
Alex, equally convinced now that surely he CAN eat whale, shot back, "Yes. I can!"
Genevieve huffed out her breath and rolled her big brown eyes enough to simulate a seizure.
"Alex. Listen. You. Can. NOT. eat. a. whale. It. is. too. BIG!!"
Alex shook his head wearily.
"Yes, I can. I cut it in half!"
The only thing slower that the release of matching state funds for the building of a school is the relocation of a Mojave Ground Squirrel, who lived there first, hired lawyers, and gave the district a run for the state's money.
When we actually got a date for opening - this last September, which came and went, the pundits laughed that low-laugh chuckle of the all-knowing and repeated, "It'll never open."
Then came declining enrollment.
I think that's the elephant in the livingroom right now. It's a fact rarely discussed and when it is mentioned, it is done so in whispered tones with furtive glances. "Don't we have declining enrollment? Why are we opening a school with declining enrollment? Doesn't the Board say we have no money? How can we open a school if we don't have any money?"
But what do we know. What do the crossed-armed pundits know, really? We are only teachers. We have trouble with the copy machine. We forget to dial 9 first and we aren't allowed to laminate things.
Will there be a cafeteria? No. How about a library? No. An office? Don't think so. How about a playground? Will tricycles ride on dirt? Will there be water in the classrooms? And how do I know any of these things? Secondhand, thirdhand - from the pundits.
If we were opening a charter school and planning things from the ground up, I would be excited. I would feel a part of something. But so far, the meetings to plan have been opened only to "invited" attendees and I don't make the short list.
I drove by the new school site today and noticed that a bus driveway has been graded. It is a semi-circular thing that looks like 2 buses will fit in it at the same time, end to end. I guess one could squeeze in 3 buses if one hangs out onto the road, or if all the buses are short buses. But really - is it wise to go work in a school that is only serviced by "short" buses?
I volunteered to go to the new school out of respect and consideration for 2 of my colleagues, who really did not want to go. My 3rd colleague is retiring, so I assumed her replacement would go - with me. I found out today that only one teacher from our site has to go - so naturally I asked if I could stay - since the replacement teacher should go.
I was told no - I have to go. Staffing issues make it impossible for the 'replacement teacher' to go.
I am starting to commiserate with that ground squirrel. I wonder if he got any relocation expenses.
Friday, May 18, 2007
I thought the kids would enjoy using Vano starch to affix sunshine-colored tissue paper squares to the manila paper, creating a "bright blessed day." This page is supposed to remind you of sunshine. I had reds, oranges, and yellows - all cut up into squares and ready to be "painted on" to the paper.
To my surprise, the kids were less than enthusiastic about this project. Painting they like - gluing down construction paper - they like. This they approached with fear and trepidation, unsure of what they were supposed to do.
"Just paint the starch over the tissue paper," I said cheerfully, demonstrating on Aracely's paper. "Look what happens when you layer the colors - red over the yellow - what do you get?"
The small group at the table didn't answer. They just peered at Aracely's paper suspiciously and then slowly began gathering bits of tissue paper and stirring the paintbrush around in the cup of starch.
"What is this stuff?" asked Tony, wrinkling his nose. "It stinks."
"It's starch," I replied. "People use it for ironing shirts - to make the collars nice and stiff and for getting rid of wrinkles."
I doubt that any of them had any idea what I was talking about so I had to decide whether it was worth it to launch into a teaching point about starched clothing to kids who will probably never iron a shirt in their lives.
"Is it like glue?" asked Tony, looking up from the starch.
"Yes. It's like glue," I said, taking the path of least resistance. They all nodded with resignation and some satisfaction. Glue, they like. The more of it, the better, in fact.
"Okay." Tony wasn't sure, obviously, but he began carefully placing tissue on his paper and cautiously using the starch, with his nose wrinkled and his face set in a grimace.
"Teacher - like this?" asked Oswaldo, pointing to a lone piece of yellow tissue, held to the paper by a tiny drop of starch.
"Cover the whole thing with the brush, Oswaldo, like this," I said, demonstrating again how to brush the starch over the tissue paper.
None of the small group seemed to like this activity at all and one by one they attempted to leave after placing several pieces of tissue on the paper. None of their papers matched what I envisioned - a colorful array of sun colors that would match bright and beautiful sunshine, making anybody looking at it smile at the whimsy and delight that absolutely MUST accompany a picture like this.
"I done, Teacher, " announced Abraham, getting up from the table. He had applied exactly 3 pieces of tissue to his paper, one of each shade of orange available.
"No, Abraham, like this - " and once again I demonstrated how to add more sheets and to layer the colors and make the paper yell, "SUNshine!"
He reluctantly sat back down.
I started helping Nancy and Oswaldo by putting little piles of tissue by the papers.
"No, Abraham, not like that!" Aracely huffed, stopping the reluctant artist from pouring starch over a small volcano of tissue he had piled on his paper in frustration.
I couldn't believe it. So I let them have it - my best teacher spiel.
"Guys, this is ART! You are supposed to love art! This is your chance to experience color and texture and create something beautiful! You act like this is drudgery!"
"Drudgery," repeats Nancy, who is learning English and always repeats new words to herself when she hears them.
"Yes, Nancy. Y'all are acting like this is pure drudgery."
I bent over to retrieve some fallen tissue pieces and look up in time to see Aracely smacking piles of tissue over her paper after having "dipped" them in the starch. The conglomeration stuck to her hands and when she discovered this, she leaned over to put her hand in Gisela's face, giggling wildly.
Gisela naturally protested and drew back.
"Aracely, what are you doing?" I asked, reaching for her hands in order to peel off some of the tissue.
Nancy sighed. "Drudgery."
"What, Nancy?" I asked, looking and feeling a bit perplexed.
"Yeah. Drudgery. She doing drudgery."
"Teacher," she said seriously, "my sister had to go to the doctor's."
"Really," I replied distractedly, trying to locate enough paint for an upcoming project. "What's the matter with her?"
I must point out that some member of Alexandra's family is always going to "the doctor's." They must have an open account or at least a standing appointment.
"Her foot got swellen up."
"Well... I certainly hope everything is okay," I said, reaching back into the cupboard for brushes.
"Yeah," said Alex with a shrug, "she's still alive."
Sunday, May 13, 2007
1. My cat Otis got very ill this morning and I had to rush him to the vet. Went online to ensure the catfood we bought in good faith was still not on the recall list. Fancy Feast is okey dokey. Otis is hiding under the bed. He is caterwauling in pain and is reluctant to get into his cat carrier. I have to move the night stands out of the way and remove the mattress and box springs out of the way in order to retrieve this very distressed cat. Did the designer of these cat carriers actually ever get a cat INTO one? No idea.
2. On the way to the vet, cell phone wouldn't turn on, despite being fully charged yesterday. Completely dead. Stupid cell phone. Otis is caterwauling in the back seat.
3. Returned home to go online to retrieve student midterms and some other stuff I wanted to do. No internet service. This is annoying. I have places to go and things to see on the internet. No internet service. Turn off computer, disconnect the wiring, wait 15 seconds, reconnect the wiring, turn on the computer. No internet service.
3.a. Call stupid cable company and go through the hoops with some gal who acted as if I disturbed her Free Cell game. She concludes, after 35 minutes, that the problem is with Norton Internet Security and to call them. I ask why Norton would be messing with me after I paid them all this money to protect me from bad internet things. She has no idea.
3.b. Spend the next 50 minutes on the phone with some dude in India who puts me through the paces drop-kicking Norton and trying to find the problem. Concludes the problem in is NOT Norton and to stupid cable company back. I ask him why the gal at the cable company would tell me the problem was with Norton when obviously it wasn't. Was she guessing? He has no idea.
4. Call Stupid Cable Company and go through Phone He11, only to get a recorded message telling me that "my area" is experiencing internet problems but not to worry cuz they are ON IT so "hang up." They also apologized for inconvenience. Inconvenience? I lose 90 minutes on a precious day off and they call that an INCONVENIENCE? Obviously they have no idea.
5. Decide to go upstairs and watch DVD from Netflix. Looking forward to this, in fact. Cannot get TV/DVD player to talk to each other. D cannot get DVD/TV set to talk to one another. Can't watch movie. It has worked before. Why won't it work now? No idea.
6. Go run errands and discover Shell gasoline card is expired. No new cards received. Call Shell and go through Phone He11 only to discover that no real live person is there anyway and must call back tomorrow. Why would Shell forget to send me cards? I have been with them for 20 years and always pay my bill - sometimes in advance! Nobody can tell me anything but my guess is they would have no idea.
7. Find out that trusty HP Printer is being replaced by newfangled huge-looking copier/fax/photo printer/dishwasher/telescope thingy that skeers the he11 outta me. Can't print anything cuz I know I will hit the wrong button. There are so many. I was perfectly happy with the trusty HP Printer. But Dan loves gadgetry and thinks this is a terrific Mother's Day gift. You get the idea.
8. Call to find out Otis has run up a $1000 vet bill with a stupid pancreas infection. Leave it to Otis. Just wish he'd eaten the cell phone, peed on the DVD player, and buried the new printer thingy. Why is Otis so sick, I ask. What happened to my kitty? They're running more tests, the office gal assures me. She really has no idea.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
This morning, as I perused the paper, I realized that I could write a "memorial" or "tribute" to dad and have it run the anniversary of his death. This would be fitting and since he had so many friends and coworkers over the years, such a memorial might we well-read.
So - I called the L.A. Times to inquire about the cost of such an endeavor. I should have known this wasn't cheap when ObitLady asked me if I was sitting down.
"$9.00 a line," she said, no doubt biting a bullet when she said it.
"Well, how many words in a line," I asked, thinking that a line could be really really long or really really short. ObitLady didn't miss a beat because I bet she has this conversation all day long.
"28 characters is a line, and that includes punctuation and spaces."
"A line isn't sold by the word?" I ask incredulously.
"Well, no..." she says, patienting tittering at my ignorance. "Some people use really big words."
"I tend to use really big words. I LIKE really big words. They are more expressive that really little words."
"Well," ObitLady says with glee, "YOU will be spending a lot more money than people who use little words." She is clearly pleased by this.
"But shouldn't we reward the educated and erudite use of language in this world?" I ask, hoping she'll offer me a discount based on my successful navigation of high school and college English.
"Well, of course. Obits with longer words are certainly more interesting to read," she says, "But the cost of running one in the Times is still $9.00 a line."
"Okay. Well, what about a picture? Can we run a picture?" I ask, tapping my bright purple crayola market on the counter, hoping she will tell me that YES, pictures may be included at no extra charge.
"Are you sitting down?" she asks.
"That much, huh?" I ask, getting a bit deflated.
"Yes. Tell me you are sitting down," ObitLady says with what I consider too much enthusiasm.
"I'm not sitting. But give me a second to lean on something."
She chuckles. Apparently I amuse her.
"Okay. It's $850.00 MINIMUM. And I mean MINIMUM."
"$850 to run a picture?" I ask. I DID hear her the first time but clarification is a good defense to use when you are bowled over by something. $850 to run the picture I have in mind bowls me over. Forget running TWO pictures.
"Yikes. Okay. $850 for the picture, MINIMUM, and $9.00 a line. Yer killin' me here."
She chuckles again. No doubt she will repeat this conversation.
"In a manner of speaking, yes," she replies. "I suppose so."
"You do this in order to keep yourself in business," I say, in my most accusatory tone.
"Job security. Yes. Definitely."
We discuss deadlines and I tell her that if I unearth some buried treasure today I MIGHT eMail her a fittingly worded and erudite memorial essay about my father and MAYBE, just maybe, if I use the next paycheck from my 2nd job, I will sacrifice it to run the picture and keep HER family clothed and fed another week. Or two.
She thanks me profusely.
I am thinking this post here would cost me about $3000.00.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
I take the time to model for the kids how to do a Jackson Pollack and splatter the white paint all over the black paper so that it looks like the night sky. I use words like 'constellation' and 'orion' and 'nebulas' and the kids just can't WAIT to get their hands on that paintbrush.
I have learned through experience it is best to stand back (way back) before they let loose. And they splatter. They splatter white paint all over the place - the grass, the sidewalk, their friends, their clothing, and often - their paper and their friend's paper.
Most of the children do not want to stop. The fact that the night sky is just perfect matters not at all. The experience is the thing. After all, how often does anyone REALLY get a chance to splatter paint? Gleefully? Gloriously? All over the place with wild abandon?
Most of them are good listeners and will stop when I say something about how marvelous their night sky has turned out and when I say something about the glitter on the table in the classroom, well - they pick up their masterpiece and head inside.
But some children simply can't stop. It is almost a physical need. They never get to do this kind of stuff.
I was ready to wrap the activity up for the day but Clemente was just not wanting to stop splattering. His paper looked quite good and I told him so. But he wanted more.
I poked my head inside the room to check on the glitterers - because a little glitter is never enough. MORE glitter is much better. This is a Kindergarten Rule. More is Better.
I glance back at Clemente to see him sitting down on the paint splattered grass. He has both paint brushes now and is wildly splattering all over what was once a nice little green patch of lawn. The paint in the cup is long gone but no matter - Clemente is clearly lost in the moment, sitting on the grass, eyes half closed, wildly pummeling two paintbrushes up and down and all around.
And along comes Stupid Question #2 for the day.
"Clemente," I ask with as much calm and patience as I can - after all, his blue jeans are now looking mysteriously, uh - splattered. His shoes, shirt, hands, legs, and arms - splattered. He looks like a professional house painter after a long day of vaulted ceilings.
"Clemente, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Clemente stops and looks at me as one might view a much adored but truly unhinged elderly relative. His jaw slightly drops and he looks truly, truly, sorry for me.
"Drumming," he replies, before going back to the task at hand.
"Of course you are," I say, "OF COURSE you are!"
How silly of me.
Kareli is an amazing little girl for many reasons - she is adorably sweet, impossibly cute, incredibly intelligent, and all of the sudden, within the last 10 minutes, she started speaking English - in full phrases. Last week she still said a word here and there and did a lot of mimicry - but today she told me a simple story about seeing a rabbit - in comprehensible English.
As a new English learner, she puts that question mark tilt at the end of all her spoken sentences - unless she is chirping out her usual "OKAY Teacher" when I give a direction. "I can use the pencil? I can go bathroom? I can eat snack?" Lots of oral question marks there. So not so surprising that she loves them in print.
As a teacher, I ask a lot of questions, so Kareli and I are really hitting it off here. She is one of the kids I will grieve for when she boards the bus the last day of school.
Most of my questions are good ones and Kareli is quick with the positive reinforcement. All answers are given with an emphatic, total-body response, complete with a smile that illuminates even the most mundane of tasks. And just to drive the point home, Kareli always adds, with emphasis, "OKAY Teacher!"
But not all of my questions are good. Sometimes I ask the questions that the New Teachers Handbook will always warn you against, in big bold letters. They are questions with no real response that will ever make any sense. The kids usually know this and are quick with the Stink Eye - unless they are feeling magnanimous and then you are treated to the "Teacher, Teacher Teacher," look, complete with a look of almost total disbelief and slow but meaningful head-shaking.
I had dismissed the kids to their tables for group time. There was something for everybody to do and places to go when you were finished. There was a math activity, two writing centers, and an art table today. I also had some chalkboards on the rug for the copying of sight words. Things were moving like a well-oiled machine and I was very proud of myself.
But then I noticed the stack of hardcover books in the library. The same stack that had been painstakingly refiled that very morning by one of my middle school helpers. This stack was dangerously high and sitting on the little yellow table in the library. This could only mean one thing: Torrean was not at a table doing his work. He was in the library "stacking pizza." Stacking pizza is one of his favorite activities. It makes him happy to carry the books around and "sell" them as pizza to classmates.
If I've asked him once I have asked him a thousand times this year: "Torrean, where are you supposed to be?" Has he been to the math table with me? No. Has he been to Lupita's table for writing? No. Has he completed the art project that I was certain would just flip his skirt up and knock his socks off? No. Did he stop by the round table to sequence number cards with Jenny the 7th Grader? No! He has completed none of these tasks and he has slipped his leash and he is in the library stacking pizza.
"Torrean. Please return to Jenny's table."
My attention is now elsewhere - I am attempting to teach addition using dot cubes and lots of painstaking counting. After all. I AM the teacher. Several kids are all counting dots at different paces and in different places and it sounds like an accounting convention.
But 30 seconds later I look up to see Torrean digging math manipulatives out of a bucket on the shelf next to my table.
"Torrean - " I say with complete patience but just a hint of annoyance in my voice. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Torrean fiddles with several math chips that are now resting in his hand and looks at me as one might look at a demented but much beloved relative. The look on his face is serious and relates to me the supreme importance of his task.
"I have to pay for the pizza," he tells me, before bounding back across the room to the library in order to make his deliveries.
I look down at the table because Kareli has finished counting all her dots and writing all her equations and calculating all her sums. Her first and last name are on the top of the paper and she is delightedly adding little question marks to all of her math problems - 2+3=5? 4+3=7? 9+1=10? 3+3=6?
"Of course you do," I respond, half under my breath, trying to retain my composure while Kareli adds a question mark to her last name.
"OKAY Teacher!" she announces, thrusting the paper into my hand as she bounces across the room to the library to procure a pizza.
I rediscovered this today during our Morning Meeting.
I happen to think our Morning Meeting is very important because I do lots of really engaging, thoughtful, and significant things during this time. When I actually document what I do, I find I hit many areas of the curriculum - all at once! This is an issue of pride, really. Talk about instructional efficacy and bang for the buck!
Just in our attendance tallying alone, I expose the kids to statistics, data sets, probability, number sense, number recognition, concepts about the relationships between numbers, one to one correspondence - and the list can and often does go on. We use math language and we pattern. We sequence. We chant months of the year and days of the week - differently enough to keep it fresh, but often enough to set the skill - and I use music too! Talk about engaging the brain!
So imagine my surprise and chagrin when I discovered that my very graphic and colorful attendance display was being ignored in favor of something on the carpet just in front of Ethan's criss-crossed legs. It was small and black and moving. Ethan took notice which meant that Carlos and Michael, his minions, took notice too. Out of the corner of my eye I see three heads bent over, studiously watching the floor. I quietly asked the boys to "leave it alone" and worked frantically to regain their attention and the attention of the 8 children in their immediate vicinity.
But alas. This was not to be.
"It's a bug!" announces Michael with much enthusiasm and consternation. The response from the rest of the class would have you believing they all lived in a bug-free world, seeing as how interesting and exciting this small bug suddenly became
I work very hard to model Ghandi-like appreciation for all living things - including my students on most occasions. So, I put on a most serenely happy teacher face, picked up Brenda's name card, and walked over to where the whole class was gathering, or attempting to gather, by Ethan's feet.
"Okay, up we go," I say, and scoop the small black bug onto the name tag.
Alex was flabbergasted. "You're using BRENDA's NAME! BRENDA! TEACHER is using YOUR NAME TO GET THE BUG!"
Much discussion erupts as to the propriety of this so I announce, "Oh, wow! It's a beetle! A little black beetle!"
I then open the back door to release the bug, but it doesn't want to go. So, of course, I have to walk out to the grass and most of the class has to trail behind me because the releasing of a tiny black beetle from Brenda's name tag is the highlight of their morning. Forget data, probability, and statistics. Forget the forging of dentrites and neurons into a firm cognitive foundation for careers in medicine, astronomy, and accounting.
Then we have to traipse back inside, with several boys staying behind to see where the beetle ended up, locking the location into their sights for further exploration and, perhaps, destruction.
It took another minute to get them all re-settled and back into the very important Morning Meeting mode, where I finish the attendance math issues with a flourish and much fanfare before moving on to the flag salute, the patriotic song, the selection of our daily helpers and then, finally, to the calendar.
I work very hard with the Calendar lesson - trying to help the children see patterns and cycles and to understand their places in time. We discuss the pattern, which has 3 parts but uses an A-B-B-C format - different from the more familiar A-B-C pattern of last month. We snap, clap, clap, and tap this pattern and then stand up for body movements that I hope will reinforce it.
We move on to the sequencing aspect - I have sneakily removed some of the date tags so we can "discover" the problem and then correctly replace the missing tags - using the pattern and numbers as a guide.
But they are not paying attention because Alex has discovered an insect in front of him. He has splayed his legs around the thing and stares at it, transfixed. His eyes are wide with wonder when he looks up.
"TEACHER! THERE'S a FLY!"
Several of his nearest neighbors scramble over each other to get a good look.
Torrean screeches and then announces breathlessly, "OH MY GAWD! OH MY GAWD! It's a fly!"
"Just leave it alone, Alex," I say, using my best Teacher voice. "Let's check out this calendar pattern now and make sure it is correct."
More children squeeze in behind Alex and around him; he guards his treasure with his legs and leans forward to encircle his arms around the creature.
"GUYS! I am talking about algebraic thinking here! This is important! You need algebra for college!"
My pleas go unheeded. I cannot compete with a fly.
I step through the jumble of arms and legs and order everyone to stand back and let the poor thing go.
"It can't go teacher," Alex announces.
"Yes, Alex - it has to go. It isn't fair to keep it locked up in here."
Alex doesn't budge and Torrean has his arms around Alex's shoulders. Several girls are leaning under Alex's outstretched arms for a better look.
I order the kids to get back and for Alex to sit up.
What I see is not even what you can call a fly. It probably USED to a be fly, in a former incarnation. This looks like it got blown out of the back of the vacuum cleaner. It is missing a wing and a chunk of it's body.
It's not even a full fly!
I make an exasperated noise.
Alex looks up at me with the utmost seriousness and says calmly, "I think it's dead, Teacher."
Yes. It is. Not only is it dead, it is in parts. Pieces.
I can understand, somewhat, competing with a live beetle. But a mangled, disintegrated, one-winged, very-dead fly?
My self-esteem is in tatters.
Monday, May 07, 2007
This afternoon, one of the older boys, Daniel, is supposed to mow the lawn. Grampa asked him to do it after muttering a few expletives and then driving away with a huge scowl on his face.
Daniel began the process of mowing the lawn after much revving of the motor and cursing at the younger boy, Nick, to get the "____" out of the way.
Nick, of course, is one of those really, really, really annoying little kids with a high pitched caterwaul that serves as his speaking voice. His favorite word begins with "f" and he uses it liberally. As I teacher, I can appreciate the way he can use the word as a noun, an adjective, and a verb.
Daniel mows with the A.D.H.D. method. He mows a couple rows and then shuts of the motor to yell at Nick. This isn't pleasant, since Daniel's voice has only recently changed and he often hits a sour note.
After another couple of rows, he shuts off the mower in order to go sit on a motorcycle that has recently turned up in this family's toy-strewn and junk-packed garage. The noise from his constant revving is only slightly more annoying than the caterwauling of Nick who pleads for a ride. Daniel replies by taking off and riding down the street, popping wheelings and making as much noise as humanly possible on a motorcycle. Then he drives it back into the garage to yell "_____ no!" at Nick who curses a blue streak when his newest and latest demand to ride the motorcycle is turned down.
Daniel again begins mowing. He stops to empty the bag, which is probably 1/3 of the way full of clippings, since he's only mowed about 12 square feet of lawn.
Grampa drives up, still scowling, to see that the lawn isn't mowed and more yelling and expletives are exchanged. Nick then delights is informing Grampa that Daniel rode the motorcycle "down the street and back" and Daniel responds by loudly suggesting the Nick go and do something anatomically impossible to himself.
Grampa rolls the motorcycle into the back yard and then retreats back into the house, yelling at Daniel to finish mowing the "_____ ______ lawn." Daniel, of course, responds by screeching "I am! I AM!" He added something vaguely vulgar under his breath, but I was too far away, sitting in my own house, to appreciate what he said.
Then the oldest son saunters out of the house and asks where the "____" the motorcycle is and a fresh round of demands for a ride erupts from Nick, who is busy riding his bicycle back and forth across the driveway and over the lawn area that Daniel is once again mowing.
Daniel shuts off the mower and proceeds to call Nick a "little _______ ________ jerk" and chases him off the grass while the oldest boy, Anthony, proceeds to trot out the motorcycle, start it up, and rev the motor about 30 times.
I can only begin to tell you how pleasing this was - Daniel screaming at Nick, Nick screaming for a chance to ride the motorcycle, and Anthony revving the bike as many times as he possibly can without actually taking off. When he finally does pop a wheelie and proceed down the driveway, it is with Nick giving chase on his bicycle and Daniel calling Anthony a "______ face" for riding the motorycle at all.
Grampa comes out just as Anthony pulls the motorcycle back into the garage and Daniel stops the lawnmower to make sure that the old guy KNOWS that Anthony has ridden the bike down the street. Grampa, I am assuming, has figured this out because everyone within a 2 block radius knows that someone was riding the bike up and down the street.
A little while later, Grampa takes off again in his car while the mower sits in the middle of the lawn and Anthony begins incessantly bouncing a basketball - which he whizzes over Nick's head as the younger boy demands an opportunity to shoot the ball. As he pulls out of the driveway, Grampa yells at Daniel to start trimming the "______ lawn." Daniel replies "OKAY! ______ ______ _______!"
Grampa returns and pulls a gas can out of the trunk of his car. He has been gone for ten minutes. The older boys are now bouncing the basketball off Nick and his bicycle. Nick, of course, is none to quiet about this abuse. He must, of course, loudly inform Grampa of that his brothers are using him for target practice. He produces a few tears for full effect.
Grampa hands the gas can to Daniel and tells him to finish the "_____ ______ mowing". I am presuming that the lawnmower was out of gas.
When Grampa goes inside the house, Anthony takes the gas can, fills up the motorcycle while Daniel screeches at him to knock it the _______ off" because he needs the gas to mow the "______ _______ lawn."
Anthony takes off on the motorcycle. Nick grabs the basketball. Daniel rolls the lawnmower into the garage and steals the basketball from Nick.
I wonder what they're having for their "____ _____" dinner.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
The first time we went it was spring and the wildflowers were in bloom. The meandering trails, which went this way and that, went all over the place and up to the ridge overlooking Leona Valley on one side, the aqueduct on the other. The wildflowers were gorgeous and I recall my breath literally being taken away as we climbed over each hill and found another batch of bright purples, blues, yellows, and oranges.
The city, I learned, received some kind of grant to develop these trails, complete with trail markers and resting benches. The area had been somewhat wild before that, with trails created by bicyclists, hikers, and the occasional dirt bike. The area had been a recreational area for years - and city residents were promised it was a preserved woodland. This was actually a selling point in the Rancho Vista area - miles of hiking and biking trails just minutes from home.
I spent many Sundays and occasional Saturdays hiking these various trails, getting to know which routes took how long and which burned more calories and which had fewer cyclists. There were families on these trails too and many people let their dogs off-leash for some real canine fun - the natural romp, without the 'steenkin' leashes.'
There were many times I quickly releashed the dogs when a group of hikers were approaching from the other side - and they did the same for me when my little pack approached their big dogs, who were often busy having the time of their lives. People were like that on the Joshua Ranch Trail - polite, friendly, and courteous. It was much-needed time off. It was relaxation. It was fun.
And then the unthinkable happened: A local developer erected a No Tresspassing Sign at the Highland High School entrance of the trail. How could this be? First, the high school's natural wetland was drained because the school needed more parking lots, and now our trail was endangered?
Most of us couldn't believe it. This was insane! So we did the most logical thing.
We ignored the sign and just kept hiking and biking - cursing the developer and wondering just how many acres of our woodland was being taken for profit.
Inquiries to the city yielded thoughtfully composed responses that assured us that the trail blockage was only temporary and that the trail would be restored and available again soon. This hasn't happened. One wonders what the city's definition of "soon" might be.
And then - a bigger sign. A billboard that threatened anybody bold enough to venture onto what was supposed to be public land with prosecution for trespassing . The implications were dire. You half expected some camoflauged gunman to step off the trail about 25 steps in - to shoo you away with a shot to the ankles just for trying.
I wrote to the city again. Again I was reassured that the trail would be reopened shortly and the sign was merely a matter of protection from liability - because heavy machinery and bulldozers don't mix.
Not wanting to be a scofflaw, I retreated from the trail, withered with disappointment until, several months later, I saw several hikers coming off the back side of the Joshua Hills Trail, which leads to the aqueduct where it crosses Godde Hills Road. I was so excited, thinking the trail was open again.
The dogs and I geared up one Saturday afternoon and hit the trail from the back side. We came upon one resting bench and then another, and then another. This was a section I had made it to only a couple times from the other end. It was very invigorating.
Up and over, up and over, I followed the trail. Exactly one hour from the trailhead I came upon the most devastating scene: Acres and acres of grading, which had cut the trail off at the knees. I could see where it picked up again, but it would mean walking across the graded disaster that the developer had wrought - clearly 'tresspassing.' No more wildflowers. No access to the rest of the trail. Just homesite after homesite after homesite, scraped hillsides, and perfectly graded cookie cutter "lots."
Again, I eMailed the city to ask about the trail and this time I was told that the city was asking everybody to please stay off the trail because they weren't sure "where the development ends and city property begins." HUH?
And just how did one of the richest families in the valley get to buy what was supposed to be preserved woodland for recreational use by local families? I am not ignorant. I know sweetheart deals are made all the time between corporations and city governments. But that doesn't make it any less appalling. And how could the city accept grant money to develop the trails, only to make them practically useless within a few short years?
Take a gander at what this developer has built over in Lancaster. His name is actually on the entrance of the tract. He went so far as to have bronze medalions, with his name on them, inlaid into the walk ways of the ricky-ticky cookie cutter houses he built. And the funny thing? The medalions are all crooked. Pride in workmanship, there.
So now he will build mini-mansions on these lots and sell them for over a million dollars each, I suppose. The new happy homeowners can feel good about keeping the riff-raff out while they put forth money to sow wildflower seeds and other landscape plants - in a haphazard way, of course, so that it looks perfectly natural. And they'll have that view all for themselves because they bought and paid for it - on the backs of all the people who loved it first.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I really had to think about it because many of my students, despite my constant prodding and reminding, have a terrible time with basic listening skills. There are daily problems in the classroom because of this and I am usually the picture of patience and good teaching - giving them many experiences and opportunities to practice these skills as they develop. But often I consider it an uphill battle - so many of these kids are just shouted at and spoken to in soundbites - they have never been TAUGHT how to listen, to follow directions, to be respectful and obedient.
I resorted to calmly threatening to take the much-anticipated trip away from those who don't follow directions - because it is a matter of safety. The result of this found many of my 'good' kids sitting on the rug or at the table, terrified of doing anything wrong - and I really dislike having to control behavior through fear and intimidation. It just isn't natural in an early childhood setting. I want them to learn how to behave and control their own behavior because it is the right thing to do - but I am often the Lone Ranger in this endeavor because their parents simply do not follow through at home.
As a student and a parent, I hated punishments that affected the whole class when only a few miscreants were really making bad choices - and others were following along because peers tend to be so much more influential than a teacher, at times.
So, I decided to take them after excluding two who I genuinely worried would get eaten by a mountain lion or fall over a cliff or something. They may not have "with it" parents but the loss of these kids would definitely be noticed, tempting as it is to let "natural consequences" be what they may.
The first indication that something is really awry in the lives of most of these kids came on the ride to the freeway. They went ballistic over big trucks, a quarry, a trash truck, another quarry, a cement processing plant, a cement mixer, a row of backhoes, and the California Aqueduct.
Torrean, who was sitting next to me the whole trip, exemplified the excitement of the group when he hollered at the top of his lungs, "OH MY GAWD! A TRASH TRUCK! LOOK GUYS! A TRASH TRUCK! THE TRASH MAN!"
At each of Torry's announcements, the group would go suitably crazy with lots of 'oohs' and 'aaaahs' and cries of delight.
The school is less than 20 minutes from the California Aqueduct - a man-made sluice of water with plenty of mention in California history and the annals of marvelous engineering, a feat made possible by the brilliant mind of William Mullholland. But that means little when, as a child, you've apparently never seen it, much less driven OVER it.
"WATER! OH MY GAWD! WATER!" Torry would announce and the group would respond in kind - as if they spent their whole young lives having never seen a lot of water all in one place and all at one time. Of course, Lake Los Angeles, the little desert community where they live, is actually a dry lake bed. So I guess this makes sense - somewhat.
So this field trip was indeed eductional, but not in the ways I expected. The freeway itself was cause for great excitement - especially when we came head to head with a big truck and they could actually SEE the driver. It is my sincere hope that these drivers appreciated all the waving and shouting that their mere presence on the road inspired in my students. I was quietly annoyed at the drivers who didn't acknowledge the kids or bother to wave. What is wrong with people?
When we exited the freeway and pulled onto the winding mountain road that leads to the nature center, we passed a buffalo ranch. I honestly think a trip to this place would have been better for the kids in hindsight. Suffice to say they've never seen buffalo before.
The nature center is a typical county park, complete with portable bathrooms and these caused unending excitement and delight. Opening and closing the doors, whether or not anybody was actually IN one of them, was great fun. They ALL had to go to the bathroom, of course. Since only three were available, this took quite awhile. Several students refused to actually 'go' once they got inside. The smell and the unending pit was more than they could take.
Our bathroom journey took so long that the other classes got to the actual nature center before we did, so our only choice was a hike. This was fine with me, since I am a hiker and the kids have heard about my hikes all year. In fact, I was downright pleased to be able to take my students on a hike. I have been trying to figure out all year how to have a hike on a Saturday without actually making it into a class trip and alerting the insurance nazi in the district office.
Ethan's dad, one of our chaperones, said he'd been on this trail up Manzanita Mountain before and that it is a good one. I realized later that Ethan's dad regularly takes his kids out into the world so of course this hike "is a good one." But for kids who never see the great outdoors and only know about "hiking" from the pinecones and acorns I bring back to the classroom, this little adventure wasn't "a good one."
So, off we go, the kids running ahead of me with huge excitement. Ethan's group of about 6 boys were off and running, with Ethan shouting encouragement like some cross country coach. The rest of them hung back with me, reticent but hopeful. But after about two minutes, reality struck and many of them began hanging back, fearful.
Yes, they cried. They cried because we kept walking UPHILL. They cried because they had to scamper over rocks and actually SCALE this mountain trail. They became terrified when the trail narrowed and they had to KEEP CLIMBING. They cried when we reached the water tower - because they didn't know what it was and this monolithic structure frightened them. Being out of breath frightened them.
Since most of the kids were doing fine and loving the hike, I decided to keep going, thinking the ones affixed to my legs, arms, and backpack would begin to see that nothing bad was going to happen and calm down. One or two did but the second a big rock came into view or they couldn't see ahead to where the group following Ethan's dad was, they cried some more. Gena was certain that Ethan and his friends were "lost" and no amount of reassurance on my part regarding the competency of Ethan's father ameliorated her fears. They were out of sight, so - they were lost and in terrible danger.
Gena's mom was behind me the whole way and I will be gentle and say that poor Gena's mom hasn't had any exercise in a long time. So she, Gena, and Gisela were a ways behind my little clingy group and she was having her own issues just getting the two girls up and over the same rocks and ledges that were terrifying my little group.
I finally decided, after 20 minutes of this, to turn the group around and head down to the picnic area to feed them. With food in their mouths, I reasoned, they would forget this crying nonsense and be ready to go see the animals. I put it mildly to say that Ethan's group was a bit put out by this sudden end to their adventure. I was none too pleased myself. But making the cryers continue when they were obviously so upset seemed to border on child abuse for me. So, we turned around, despite the cries of protest from the group that, Gena was pleased to see, did not vanish and was not lost.
Well, what goes UPhill must go DOWNhill and the cryers quickly recognized this. I managed to get them back down the trail by alternately carrying the crying kids and holding onto their hands and elbows - lifting them up and over and down any and all ledges - which were built into the trail to aid a hiker - but these kids viewed as certain life and death obstacles they had to overcome.
The highlight of the trip was the picnic area - which came equipped with a score of mature oak trees and a foot or more of fallen leaves - they rolled in the leaves for quite awhile after eating, screaming and jumping and running. Obviously, many leaves in one place at one time is an anomoly. Several came to tattle that others had "put leaves in their hair." It was all I could do to keep a straight face.
After seeing the animals, we walked the Ecology Trail, a much gentler version of the earlier hike. No matter. While some of the original cryers were calmer, many continued to affix themselves to my arms and legs and backpack - unimpressed by the flora and fauna along the the little trail. Survival was the only thing on their mind. Blue-bellied lizard? Forget it. Hummingbird Garden? So what. Some flowering plant with an awesome set of prickly seed pods? Fine - but when are we leaving?
Yes, this trip was educational. For the kids, it was an adventure in the big, wide, and scary world. For me, it was the eye-opening realization that what my kids lack does not just revolve around oral language and literacy experiences. They lack life experiences.
And this makes me profoundly sad.