Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Ongoing List: Things I Never Thought I Would Say at School~

There are times throughout the school year that I hear myself saying something that, out of context, would sound quite bizarre. I picture the fly on the wall, the secret video camera, the unseen visitor, doing the classic double-take and wishing they had paid closer attention.

I always have students who undress at school. They remove socks, shoes, belts, hats, shirts, and vests. Sometimes I find these things strewn about the room. Usually they are tossed in a corner or left on a chair or table. I have two students this year who remove their shoes and place them in their cubbies.

Sammy removes ONE shoe, then kicks it around the room.

"Sammy," I say, "Put your shoe back on."

He keeps kicking, then happily replies, "I can't."

"Sam, if you can't put your shoe back on, don't take it off," I say, using logic that is beyond him.

"But,I like to take this one off," he says.

We have this conversation regularly. "This one" is the right shoe. Always the right one. Never the left.

Emily and Mari also remove shoes. Occasionally, they will take of their socks but you know Murphy's Law of Socks. Inevitably, one goes missing and the kid goes home with one foot sockless. They swear to God they have NO idea where the other sock went. Days later, I will find it in the blocks or behind the Legos and attempt to return it. At this point, they swear on their mothers' lives that THIS sock does not belong to them. Never seen it before. Ever.

Well-meaning parents put their kids in layers, sending them to school certain that their little learners will be toasty and stylish. If it is a flannel shirt layered over a tee shirt or tank top, I will bet you money the shirt will be flung over something in the classroom and its owner will be reluctant to claim it.

Sara has them all beat. Her mother dresses her in layers too. No sooner does Sara hit the classroom, she begins to disrobe. Off goes the sweatshirt, sweater, or blouse. Then the tee-shirt. When she is happily bouncing around the room in her spaghetti-strapped undershirt, I start shivering.

"Sara, it's 10 degrees outside. Put your clothes back on."

"That's okay," says Sara, clearly not getting the point.

I gather up the strewn clothing: A sleeveless red sweatshirt, a blue and white tee shirt, and a bright pink scarf. I hand them to her.

"Put these back on," I say in my best teacher voice.

"I don't want to," counters Sara.

I clench my teeth and lead her to the bathroom. "Put the clothes back on. Hang the scarf up."

Sara emerges from the bathroom in the same state of undress as when she entered.

"SARA! I am not kidding. Put your shirt and sweatshirt back on."

"Okay," she mutters. I stand there while she dresses.

Eight minutes later I see her bouncing around the room again. In her undershirt.

I point to the bathroom. "Get your shirts back on. I am not kidding."

"I'm HOT!" moans Sara.

The thermostat reads a balmy 66 degrees.

"NOW, Sara."

"Okay," she sighs, trudging off to the bathroom. She emerges completely dressed. I smile and pat her shoulder. She bounces off to find her friends.

Fast forward about a half hour. Sara is nowhere to be seen. A quick scan of the room finds her curled up in a fetal position on my desk chair, in her undershirt, shoeless, sockless, with eyes squeezed shut, just certain that if she doesn't "see" me, I somehow won't see her. Some people will tell you they just LOVE this age!

"Sara," I say slowly. I breathe deeply. I think about safety pins and duct tape. She sheepishly stands up and I hear myself say it. The thing I never thought I would say in class:

"How many times do I have to tell you not to take your clothes off at school?"

Beny and the Bone~

At some point during our writing time today, Beny drew the outline of a dog bone, then cut it out. He carried it around for awhile, very proud of his handiwork.

After recess, we settle down for some reading and I hear barking.

Students begin to approach me because they are certain that I don't hear the same stuff they hear. "Beny is barking," they report. "He's barking at the wall."

Sure enough, I turn around and see Beny, sitting on his haunches, facing the wall, and....barking.

Knowing that this question is going to go on the "Things I Never Thought I Would Say at School," list, I ask, "Beny, why are you barking at the wall?"

Beny doesn't miss a beat. He yips, paws the wall with his hands, then replies, "Because that's where I taped my bone!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Magic Word~

There are two words guaranteed to send a classroom full of kindergarten students into gales of laughter. I am talking about 'horse laughing,' often accompanied by falling over and the clutching of bodies. Ask any teacher of young children and they will agree. These words are "naked" and "underwear." The fact that they all came into the world naked and hopefully WEAR underwear is superflous. The words evoke early childhood hysteria. (The other thing you can do as a teacher to provoke this same reaction is to drop something. But that is not germane to this topic.)

I tend to adore the quirky ones and this child fit the bill. She was later diagnosed autistic, but high functioning. She had a lot of repetitious behavior and often mimicked me to a degree of authenticity that gave me shivers. During large group discussions, she would sit aside from the group and rock back and forth, to keep herself calm. Sometimes a single word would evoke a response and she kept things lively by throwing a monkey wrench into my best laid plans and intentions. I loved this child.

On this particular day, I had a parent volunteer named Lori who knew the girl's mother well. During my lesson, she was taking down a bulletin board. Lori was drinking coffee, but listening with interest to our lesson.

I had been working with the kids on a book called, The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree. It illustrated the changing seasons very well and the children were engaged in a multiple-day project to create a piece of artwork that reflected the change of seasons. We'd drawn the 'winter' tree previously and discussed how the trees were bare - no leaves. This, of course, led to one of my boys (Michael!) declaring that the tree was NAKED and the entire class erupting in gut-wrenching laughter. So on this, the following day, I tried to quickly review the winter tree before introducing the tree in spring. I quickly sketched the winter tree and one of the kids called out that this was the winter tree and another one said that it had no leaves and then....... of course....... somebody (Michael!) loudly declared that this tree was NAKED.

I worked quickly to add leaves to the tree, praying that their attention would stay on the tree and not the fact that the somebody (Michael!) had said the word, NAKED in front of God and everyone. It almost worked.

There were a few little laughs but I was adept and quickly drawing and talking and keeping their attention. But then... my little special girl suddenly stopped rocking and shouted out, spurred on by the word.

"YES! Mommy and daddy... they were in the van... and they were.....NAKED!"

I was shocked and tried to keep working. Marisa loudly declared "that's disgusting" and poor Lori had to bolt from the room because she was choking on coffee and spewing it everywhere. (Seriously. Everywhere.)

The kids collapsed in laughter and I did my best to restore order. Since I was using my "teacher look," most of them (except MICHAEL!) calmed down right away. I continued the lesson and frantically drew leaves on the spring tree. But my special little girl wasn't finished. Apparently, this word had layers of meaning.

"Yes! Mommy and daddy were NAKED! I kept seeing mommy's..........elbows!"

At this point I put down my marker and had to get up. Lori had re-entered the room at this point and was trying to maintain her composure. The kids were slapping their shins and my little special girl was happily rocking back and forth.

Lori and I were locked in a head-to-head embrace while Lori whispered, "Her mother would be so proud."

This of course, got US laughing which got the kids going into Round 2. But I had to step out when Lori continued, ".......kind of makes you wonder what she thinks 'elbows' are......."

The rest of the day is a blur. We must have completed the spring tree at some point and the spewed coffee got cleaned up and I couldn't look my little girl's mother in the face for several days after that.

I bolted to the other side of the room when my girl was dropped off my her mother. I wanted to shout, "THE VAN? Are you kidding me? You couldn't WAIT?" The VAN?"

But I didn't. I just laugh about it periodically again and again, especially when I hear the word, "naked."

You wanna know what my dad says?

This story is prompted by the posting on Facebook of a clas picture from kindergarten class that will be graduating from high school next year. I got tagged in the photo and had fun naming all the kids and showing them to my new colleagues. Having your former students "find" you and "friend" you on Facebook, I think, is an honor. It means they remember you in a positive way. (That or they remember you lighting something on fire or sliding across the floor and landing on your butt. But I digress....

I had a principal at the time that I dearly loved. She was an outstanding leader. She respected me, shored me up, and joked around with me - a LOT. As the school year began, I noticed her walking around the outside of my classroom quite a bit during the morning drop-off. After a week or so, she asks me for "the scoop" on the father of one of my students. We both agreed that he was easy on the eyes. Then she peppered me with questions.

"Is he single? Does he have a girlfriend? What's the story?"

This line of questioning meant only one thing. I had to find these things out. I knew he was single because he'd told me he was raising the boy on his own. But I asked around and was told he had a gorgeous girlfriend who made the boy's lunch. It was not easy to tell my boss these things. Being a principal meant long hours and not a lot of time to scope out the local dating scene. I think she had her heart set.

So, a few days after I crushed my wonderful principal's hopes with this news, the boy is sitting with his classmates coloring something. I can't remember what it was, but the activity was part of a larger activity and means for me to begin pulling the kids to me individually in order to accomplish something more meaningful. But, first, I had to pick up scraps of paper off the floor. As I bent to do this, the boy, who was mischevious, articulate, funny, and quite the character, casually asked the boy next to him, "You wanna know what my dad says when he comes home from work?"

I didn't think much of this question since I am predisposed to believe all parents come home and ask relevant, probing, meaningful questions. As I continue to pick up paper, the boy asks his classmate again, "You wanna know what my dad says when he gets home?"

The other boy is rather shy and quiet. He doesn't know my little charmer very well and he refrains from answering. His Air Force father has him believing all kids shouldn't speak unless poked with a cattle prod. I don't think this admonition lasted very long.

Finally, my smiling boy raises his voice just a bit. "You WANNA KNOW WHAT MY DAD SAYS WHEN HE GETS HOME?"

Being one those kids willing to go along and get along, his table partner finally replies, "O.K. What does he say?"

Skipping only one beat as I am picking up the last of the paper scraps on the floor, the boy proudly exclaims: "You wanna have sex!?"

Since the other boy hasn't a clue about what his new friend is telling him, he doesn't say anything. I, however, am choking on the floor and trying to be nonchalant. I look up my little cherub, who is smiling at me quite proudly. I refrain from responding at all.

Instead, I walk to the newly-installed classroom phone and I call the principal.

"What do you want, Lingling?" she says. This is what she calls me. "Lingling" like the Chinese panda. I'm okay with it.

"You want to know what Mr. Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love says, first thing when he gets home?" I ask.

She pauses. "What?"

I am laughing and trying not to draw the attention of the kids. I lower my voice and try not to choke.

"He says... 'You wanna have sex?'"

Dead silence greets me on the other line. This is unusual since my wonderful principal is a talker. Non-stop, yak-yak. We tease her that the "all call" intercom system was installed so she could hear herself talk. She doesn't deny it.

But anyway. After the pause, she says, "Looks like you are going to have to call him."

"Um, NO," I reply. "This is the job of Administration. I have to teach. YOU call him."

She is firm. "No, Lingling... you call him tonight."

I protest but she reminds me that she is in charge and how in the world will I grow and develop if I don't take these risks and meet these challenges?

So after work, I arrive home, dreading the phone call. What do I say? I actually HAVE to use the sex word with a drop-dead good looking guy 10 years younger than me and I have to say it in my own home and not to my husband.

My kids are home so I go into the bedroom and place the call.

Mr. Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love answers the phone.

"Um. Hi. This is Mrs. L. Your boy's teacher."

"Uh oh," he says warily. "What did he do?"

Well. What to say, what to say?

"Um. Well... (I use his name.) You about 'life's little embarrassing moments?'" I ask.

"Yeah...." he answers slowly.

I take a deep breath. "Well. You had one today."