Saturday, May 09, 2009

James and the Giant Tooth~

On Thursday, James had me at my wits' end. Knowing how short my wits are lately, he alone has the capability of finding them, nudging them, and stomping on them with his high-top black Converse tennis shoes. (The ones he takes off. In class.)

James joined my class last month. He has never been in school before and lacks all the social graces and academic finesse one would expect of a kindergartener at this time of year.

James has the patience of a gnat and the processing skills of .... let's see. I need a good analogy here. Suffice to say that James does not readily process ANYTHING YOU SAY to him in a timely fashion. Unless the response you give him involves dropping everything to replace a lost shoe, tie an errant lace, or be at his beck and call, he simply doesn't "hear" it.

James has cerebral palsy on his right side. Instead of fitting him with a shoe that will properly support his turned in foot, his mother laces up a pair of black
Converse high tops, which James promptly messes with and removes several times a day. Replacing this shoe involves unlacing the whole damn thing and shoving his poor twisted foot deep into the bowels of it, and praying that your efforts will result in the shoe remaining ON for the rest of the day.

When the shoe comes off or, in most cases, is removed by James, he will caterwaul and carry on in a fashion designed to send even the most patient of saints towards
the fava beans and nice chianti.


This is repeated until the other children have covered their ears and dived under tables for safety. This, I presume, is the result of my careful Earthquake training.
When they add "stop, drop, and roll," I will be officially ready for retirement.

You can reassure James that you will "get to this shoe" as soon as you are damned good and ready, but all he processes is the word "shoe," coupled with a tone of voice that communicates to him that you are not ABOUT to stop what you are doing to spend 5 solid minutes replacing a shoe THAT HE TOOK OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE.

So, on Monday, James lost his first tooth. It was quite the experience for him. It was emotional, full of blood, and demands that I call an ambulance. I put the tooth into a little tooth necklace and convinced him to put the whole thing into his backpack for safekeeping.

On Thursday, James lost another tooth. I repeated the procedure with the tooth necklace but this time, James insisted on keeping it around his neck.

After many admonitions to leave his tooth alone,and NOT OPEN THE LITTLE TOOTH CONTAINER I CAREFULLY TAPED SHUT AND PUT AROUND HIS NECK WITH A CAREFUL LITTLE SQUARE KNOT, James interruped a beautiful rendering of "The Whales," by Cynthia Rylant.

Y'all KNOW how I feel about Cynthia Rylant. The kids were DEAD QUIET for once and actually enthralled by this book.It was - it was - dare I say it? A teaching MOMENT! They were in the palm of my hand and Rylant's carefully chosen words, complete with "feathers in a sky...." and "the rose being lost on them."

And what does James the now-front-toothless wonder do? HE starts SCREAMING AT ME.

"TEACHER! I can't find my tooth!"

And does he say it once and let it go so we can try to solve the problem!? NO! He begins that James-Caterwaul, repetively screaming it while I lower the book and say
something profound about James and his MOST OUTSTANDING LISTENING SKILLS.

Moment? Rylant Moment? HUH? (nnnnyeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrr! pffft!)

Did we find the lost tooth? Yes - it was next to the block pile. Everybody in class was on their hands and knees, searching for the lost tooth. You can imagine how quiet and peaceful it was in kindergarten right then. They found paper clips, some loose staples, and an old sticker, too.

Did James use the tooth, safely encased back into his tooth necklace, as a castanet during the rest of the reading? Why, YES, he did! (How did you know?)

And what did I find after the kids left that day?

1. An open plastic tooth container, empty of tooth.

2. A lime green plastic strand of filament, used to fasten
tooth containers into necklaces and tied around little...
NECKS. (grit teeth when you say that word. NECKS.)

3. A bit o' tape, affixed to outside of James's cubby.

4. The tail end of one of my wits.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Recalcitrant Door~

On Friday, the kids and I noticed that we couldn't properly close the back door that leads into the classroom from the playground. All attempts to pull it shut resulted in the door swinging right back out. This caused quite the uproar since a recalcitrant door is not within the realm of usual kindergarten experiences. So, the kids practically dogpiled each other to get at the door and properly close it. After all, if I can't close the door, they reason, surely one of them can!

I redirected them and eventually we got down to the brass tacks of reading The Teeny Tiny Woman for the 17th time this week. Shouting "GIVE ME MY BONE!" quickly took their minds off the door that would not properly close.

Later that afternoon, after Julie and I put away the tricycles, we entered my classroom using the recalcitrant door.

"Your door won't close," said Julie.

"I know," I replied. "It started acting up today."

She examined the door from the outside and then from the inside before pronouncing that if the door won't close, the alarm can't be set, and this could be a huge problem.

We bent over to examine the door frame and the metal plate that holds the prongs that come from the doorknob.

"Look," said Julie, wiggling the plate, "this is loose." She began using her keys in an attempt to tighten the loose screws.

"Maybe we should get a screwdriver," I suggested. But Julie was successful with her door key. Since all jobs require just the right tool, she carefully tightened the loose screws.

Alas, having a screw loose wasn't the recalcitrant door's problem. It still wouldn't close. As before, it immediately popped back open when we pulled it shut.

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmm," I answered.

We looked closely at all the scrapes, holes, and gouges up and down the door frame. It is an old door frame, so these imperfections are to be expected. There are probably marks on that door frame that go back to the 1950s. They are practically vintage.

"Check this out," I said, running my fingers along two particularly nasty looking horizontal gouges along the frame, adjacent to the metal plate Julie repaired.

"Wow!" answered Julie, running her own fingers in the grooves. "This looks like somebody tried to break in!"

"Oh my gosh! Yeah, it does," I replied, quickly looking around the room.

"Is anything missing?" Julie asked, looking alarmed. We looked at each other. This was not good.

"I don't think so, but who knows," I replied, turning my attention to the door itself. I began pushing on those protruding things that match the metal plate and are supposed to fit inside it when you close the door. They bounced back, which was a good thing. They were in working order.

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmmm," I answered.

We pulled the door shut again and watched to see if we could get the metal door prongs into the hole in the metal doorplate.

"Oh, look," said Julie, "that's where the gouges come from."

It was clear that years of vigorously being pulled shut caused the gouges on the side of the door frame, two violent-looking parallel indentations. No attempted break-in, after all.

We gazed up - to the top of the door, noting that the door didn't shut up there either.

"Is Gary here?" Julie asked, referring to our trusty custodian who can fix just about anything.

"I don't think so," I said. "I think he's gone home for the day."

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmm," I answered.

"Well," I said, after a pause. "I better tell Laura about this. She won't be able to alarm the building. She may have to call Gary and have him come back in."

"On a Friday night?" asked Julie. "Will he do that?"

"Yeah," I said with certainty, as if I knew for sure. "He will. He's a good guy."

"Okay," said Julie, walking towards her own classroom. "We tried. At least we tried."

"Yeah. We tried," I said, heading for the front door to find Laura, our night custodian. She is usually easy to spot since she pushes around a cart the size of a Fiat, loaded with buckets and mops and other large cleaning objects.

I located Laura across the Quad, in front of the first grade rooms. "Hey Laura," I called, "I need to let you know something!"

Laura emerged from one of the classrooms, holding a cleaning rag and looking at me inquisitively. Since I usually don't track her down to tell her important things, her curiosity was aroused.

"My classroom door won't close. Julie and I tried and tried. I just want you to know in case there is trouble with the alarm tonight."

"Which door is it?" asked Laura, heading for her cart.

"The back door," I reported.

I described in detail for Laura the problem of the recalcitrant door. She nodded, the grabbed a broom. We walked back towards my classroom. I wondered about the broom and worried that she might bang it on something to make the door close.

"Julie and I thought maybe somebody tried to break in," I said breathlessly, "But we realized it was just marks from the door lock thingy - hitting the doorframe. Then, Julie fixed the loose door plate with her room key," I added. "We really tried to fix this and not bother you," I said with pride and enthusiasm.

Laura said nothing.

"Since Gary isn't here, I thought it best to let you know," I said, as we entered my classroom from the front door. "We don't want any alarm trouble tonight. Do you think we need to call him? Or can somebody from maintenance come over?"

Laura didn't say anything. She approached the door and pushed it open, then looked down at the door jamb, where the door meets the threshhold. There was a rock, sitting right against the threshhold, effectively blocking the closure of the door.

Laura expertly wielded her broom and swept away the offending object. Then she pulled the door closed. It stayed that way.

My embarrassment was complete. To her credit, Laura only smiled, and opened the door again to sweep away some sand, pebbles, and chalk dust.

"Oh GAWD Laura... I am so sorry," I mumbled, unable to look her in the eye.

Julie came over and stood next to me. "Did you fix it?" she asked Laura. "What was wrong with it?"

Laura said nothing. She just smiled and finished her sweeping, then grinned at me and left the room.

"It was a rock. A boulder, really," I said, shuffling my feet and feeling quite stupid.

"A rock?" asked Julie. "Just a rock?"


"Hmmm," said Julie, turning around to leave.

"Yeah," I replied. "Hmmm."

Friday, May 01, 2009

James and the Lost Tooth

Today, James came to school with a look of consternation on his face. Something was up and I knew that in due time, I would hear all about it.

Sure enough, as soon as we started our Morning Meeting and began a lively discussion about our brand-new month of May, James blurted out, "TEACHER! My tooth is loose!"

The kids quickly abandoned the brand-new month of May and gathered around to peer inside James's mouth.

"Wiggle it," commanded Jovana.

"Yeah - wiggle it!" said Clinton.

I asked James if I could see his tooth and, sure enough, it was quite loose.

"Wow, James!" I said, "a loose tooth! How cool is that?"

I redirected the students and we were able to continue work on our calendar. We began a discussion of upcoming events and the number of days left in school. James continued to wiggle his tooth.

We began singing about the months of the year and then James interrupted us with a huge caterwaul and proclaimed that his tooth was BLOODY. He showed everybody two of his fingers, fresh from the inside of his mouth, glistening with wet spitty blood.

"Yes, James," I said calmly, "teeth will bleed when they are very loose." I asked the children to share out how many of them had lost teeth and how many had experienced blood. They all agreed that losing teeth was a bloody affair.

James was not convinced and stared at his fingers. I got him a tissue and told him he could use it to staunch the blood flow.

"Wipe your fingers, James," I said, trying once again to regain the students' attention and take notice of our brand new month and to begin counting down the days left in school.

"Teacher!" demanded James. "It's still bleeding!"

"Yes, James," I said, "it will do that for awhile. Just wiggle it and it will come out."

He looked alarmed. "YOU DO IT," he said, standing up.

"You want ME to pull out your tooth, James?" I asked.

James nodded very seriously.

"Are you sure?" I said, "maybe your mom will want to do this."

"No. YOU do it," said James.

The kids, sensing an event of great importance, gathered around and demanded that James open his mouth for consultation. There were many "ooohs" and "aaaahs" as the kids determined that YES, indeed, James had a loose tooth and TEACHER should definitely pull it out. Several of the students began telling old war stories about their own tooth-loss experiences. James's eyes widened a bit.

I pulled out a fresh tissue and asked James if he was sure. He nodded gravely. I approached his mouth with my tissued hand and he promptly leaned backward with alarm in his eyes.

"James," I said patiently, "if you want me to pull it out, I have to grab a hold of it."

He looked thoughtful, eyes still wide with concern, and then opened his mouth.

"Okay," he said.

I approached again. "Will it hurt?" he asked plaintively.

"Yes. A little bit." I put my thumb and forefinger together and indicated a space of about half a centimeter. "It will hurt this much."

James considered again and decided to go for it.

I used the tissue and expertly grasped the tooth and gave it a good yank. Out popped the tooth and the kids clammered around to get a good look.

"He's BLEEDING," yelled Carlos.

"Yeah, Teacher! He's bleeding!" shouted Justin and Manuel.

I instructed James to put the tissue in his mouth while I dug up a little tooth container. I snapped the container closed after depositing the tooth, then made James a necklace to carry around the lost tooth. I admonished him to be careful with it and warned him against losing it.

James sat on the rug in stunned silence and we slowly got back to normal.

A few minutes later, as we were taking attendance, James announced to the class that he was still bleeding.

"It will bleed for awhile, James," I said, continuing with my lesson.

About a minute passed. Suddenly, James looked up at me with total impatience.

"Is ANYBODY going to call an AMBULANCE?"

Floating Bananas

Today I gave the kids a huge jug of water and asked them to explore sinking and floating. They tried various things like paper clips, popsicle sticks, marbles, cotton balls, crayons, rubber bands, and pencils. After awhile, I sat down with a group of them and asked them if they thought my apple would float.

No, they all said, it will sink. To their amazement, the apple floated. I asked if anybody had an orange. Isaias dug around in his backpack and came up with an orange - which promptly sank.

"I have grapes," said Madison with excitement, and ran to get exactly two. Both of them sank and much discussion erupted about grapes and oranges and apples.

"Does anybody have a banana?" I asked. For a split second, nobody responded and then Aaliyah piped up, "Teacher! I have a banana!"

"You do?" I asked, "Well, go get it!"

Aaliyah stood there smiling like a deer in the headlights.

"Aaliyah," I prompted, "go get the banana! Is it in backpack or the snack bucket?"

Aaliyah paused and then shook her head.

"No, Teacher," she said, "It's at my house!"