Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Parties

In honor of today being the school day that most elementary schools had Halloween parties, I'd like to state for the record:

Halloween is the worst day of the year for elementary school teachers. 

I'm sure there are some highly energetic, dedicated, fun-loving teachers who love this day best but I was never one of them.  It's a day full of sugar, anticipation of sugar, secret candy being snuck  into school, costume malfunctions, kids who don't get the memo that costumes are not to be worn until AFTER lunch, over-involved parents showing up way too early, uninvolved parents forgetting to come, religious parents pulling their kids out of school, teachers who dress in wildly inappropriate outfits*, and general chaos.

The next worst days (in order) in the elementary school calendar, from the teacher's perspective, are:

2. Valentine's Day (sugar, sugar, and exclusion)
3. St. Patrick's Day (pinching?  Really?)
4. the day before Christmas vacation.

My favorite thing about the costume parades we had every year though was the kid - usually the meanest kid in the class - who would come in some theme pajamas: Ninja Turtles, Spiderman, whatever.  There's nothing that softens up a mean kid's image like seeing him in his little kid pajamas.

Not my favorite: little girls in sexy cheerleader or harem girl costumes.  Yuck.

*We had one (male) teacher who dressed up as an extremely risque woman two years in a row.  Lots of (fake) cleavage.  Very inappropriate for a second/third grade teacher.  Of course, he was arrested the following year for child molestation.

Two years ago: Proposition 8 (funny how that's not over yet)

Three years ago: Dropout Factories

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why We Need Better Nutritional Education

From a parent to her child: "Drink your orange soda before you eat your dessert.  It's good for you.  It's fruit."

A student talking to me: "Teacher, did you put sugar on these carrots?   They sweet!  Vegetables ain't posta be sweet.  I ain't never had carrots before!"

A student to a teacher eating salad: "Teacher, is that white people food?"

One year ago: De Facto Segregation

Four years ago: One of Those Days

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This is What I'm Talking About

This is something from one of my favorite bloggers. He is a disability rights activist and does some pretty incredible work.  It's pretty incredible how many people he has affected, and mostly people who are not "valued" by many people in society.  Yet someone actually said to him that it's too bad he has no children, nothing to send into the future.


Aren't all these kids ours?  Shouldn't they be?

So I'm not repeating myself too badly, you can read about MY kids here, here, and here.

I really do believe that we would ALL -- parents, children, and childless adults -- be better off if we thought of them more as OUR children.  And loved them all like they were our children.

Three years ago: Book Clubs

Four years ago: Homeless People is City Wildlife

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I am good at entertaining children.  Very good. Possibly gifted.

The key to keeping children entertained is to let them entertain themselves.  All you have to do is get them excited about something.  Today it was a measuring tape.  It fell out of my purse and the kids (I was volunteering in my Little Sister's classroom) and the kids pounced on it.  They started measuring their hair, their feet, the tables, and even their teeth.  Their accuracy left something to be desired, but their enthusiasm was incredible.

When waiting around for field trips, I've developed this skill.  One of my favorite techniques is to ask who has ever broken a bone.  Or who has a cool scar.  All of a sudden, you have every child in the vicinity falling all over themselves to tell stories, and you have 20 minutes of entertainment.  Or ask about a pet.  You'll hear "Oh!  Oh!  Teacher, my uncle's cousin's girlfriend had a cat and one time?  Um, my cousin?  She has a dog and it's little but we had to take it back to the pound because it bit my friend."

And it will all be part of the same train of thought. 

One year ago: Sick Puppy

Three years ago: Field Trip to the Zoo (watch out for dangerous chipmunks!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Learned that People in Africa Wear Clothes

How big do you think Africa is?  As big as the United States?  As big as China?  Check this out - if you are like most Americans, you have grossly underestimated it your whole life. 

Africa has a slightly larger area as the United States, China, India, Japan, the UK, Spain, Mexico, Peru, France, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, Italy, Nepal, Greece, and Bangladesh, all put together.  There are over 50 countries in Africa (depends slightly on who you're talking to because of some disputed territory).  Somewhere around 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa.  African is not a language. 

If you were surprised by any of those facts, you're not alone. I worked at a school that was about 50% black (African-American is a tricky term as not all black people are African-American, and, as I'm about to explain, many of the kids I know don't want "African" to be a word having anything to do with them.)  At this school, calling someone a "Black African" was an incredibly hurtful insult, right up there with "buttsniff."  Yes, really.

I was always a little disturbed by this, so I asked a friend of mine who is from Africa to come talk to the kids.  This friend's mother is Ethiopian and went to high school in Kenya.  She is a beautiful professional woman and was exactly what the kids needed to crush their stereotypes.  After talking to the kids, she asked them what they had learned about Africa.  Among the answers were:

  • I learned that not everyone from Africa has dreadlocks
  • I learned that African is not a language
  • I learned that you can be African even if you're light-skinded
  • I learned that people in Africa wear clothes
I was glad that they learned all that.  It's a start.

Two years ago: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Three years ago: Questions about Subbing

Four years ago: Silly Spelling Lists

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day

In honor of Columbus day, here's a story from 2006:

The same girl asked me once about Columbus. The conversation went something like this, and I have to say, I was very proud of her for the critical thinking skills she displayed.

Student: Why do we call them Indians when India is a different country?

Me: [some crap I can't remember about how Columbus got lost and thought he was going to India, so he called them Indians because he was assuming he was in India]

Student: [stares at me incredulously] They got named the wrong thing because he got LOST? [thinks for a minute] And where does he get off naming them anyway? Who said the white guy could name them??

Three years ago: A Story from "Lamar"

Four years ago: Email Wisdom

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Blue Paper

I used the last of the blue paper today.  The blue paper was donated in my second year of teaching, in a rather spectacular manner.

By my second year of teaching, I was already exhausted.  I was trying to learn how to teach third grade, dealing with an administrator whose favorite line was "I can have your job, you know!" trying to figure out how to deal with standardized tests, and much, much more.  When I got to part of the curriculum that required the kids to cut and paste and my request for scissors and glue was met by the person in charge of supplies rolling her eyes and saying "We don't have those," in a manner that clearly suggested I was clueless to how schools worked, something in me snapped.  This was the beginning of me begging for help.

I'll write another post at some point about how I may have shamelessly begged every one of my friends and acquaintances to volunteer in the classroom.  I started by begging for supplies.  

After quickly exhausting my resources of friends who had extra supplies (yes, this was back in the day when some schools actually HAD supplies and my friends may have let me "borrow" some of them), I turned to craigslist.  I put up a post on the "items wanted" section saying that I was at an underprivileged school and that we desperately needed supplies, listing which supplies would be helpful.  I got a handful of people who had a few pair of scissors or some scratch paper or just good hearts and encouragement.  I also got two emails which stood out.

One was from someone who was remarkably angry.  The writer of the email, who never used his or her name, stated - with a lot of exclamation marks - that privileged do-gooder teachers need to come to the realization that there is no amount of glue or scissors in the world that can help these children in their education and that simply providing the children with glue and scissors instead of a quality education was only hurting them and who did I think I was anyway?

The other was a little more helpful.  It was from a man named "Koke" (pronounced like the soda) who wanted to know if I wanted some paper.  Of course I wanted some paper.  He said he had a lot and he'd bring it in his pickup if that was OK.

The man had PAPER.

He drove an beat-up, not particularly small, pickup truck.  He was a big guy, in late middle-age, wearing overalls.  I think the story was that he owned a storage facility and someone had left all this paper and he wanted it to go to good use.  The truck was overflowing with paper.  There was probably a paper train all the way down the freeway.  Fortunately, at that point, I lived in a house with a garage, because the paper probably took up almost half of the garage.  There was white paper, salmon-colored paper, and light blue paper.  Some was 11x17, some was 11x14, and some was standard printer paper.  There were boxes and boxes of paper.  We loaded it all into the garage and I couldn't stop staring because there was SO MUCH PAPER.    The salmon and blue paper was pretty faded for the most part, but all the white paper was in good shape.  There were a few boxes of really nice thick light blue paper - almost cardstock - that was glossy on one side.

I loaded up as many boxes as would fit in my car and brought them to school.  I think I put a sign out for the other teachers saying that I had a lot of paper and to please get some.  People would come by, thinking I'd give them half a ream, and I'd give them 7 or 8 reams.  They kept asking if it was really OK for them to take it, because we were all used to hoarding supplies.  I kept bringing more paper from home until everyone had enough.

The problem was that I still had a garage full of paper.  Handing it out to the almost 40 teachers at my school hadn't really made a dent in it.  I brought as much to school as would fit in my classroom and had paper stacked in every empty space, on ever bookshelf, and in the filing cabinets.  I never used the copy machine paper anymore because it was always running out.  I just brought my own.  The kids liked having worksheets and homework on light blue and salmon-colored paper.  They loved the blue glossy paper and used it for painting, drawing, and home art projects.

For the next 6 years, whenever we had standardized tests, an administrator would come to me and ask if I still had some of that extra scratch paper and I'd supply the whole school with paper for the math section.  I gave stacks of it to kids who liked to draw, first in my class, and then - as word spread - to kids all over the school, who I didn't even know.  I gave it away on Freecycle to other teachers at other schools.  I moved boxes of that paper from one classroom to another and from one house to another to the house I'm in now.  My dad had a few choice words about having to move almost a whole truckload of paper when he helped me move in my third year of teaching.  (Also, the library books.  He wasn't thrilled about having to move about 10 books from the public library but I hadn't read them yet and I was staying in the same city, so I didn't want to return them!)  That paper was like the loaves and the fishes.  Or the Hanukkah oil.  It just didn't run out.

When I finished teaching, I still had a stack of blue paper that was probably equal to 5 or 6 reams, but was all in one stack of loose paper.  I've been using it as printer paper and then scratch printer paper, when one side was used.  Today I used the last piece, nine years after Koke brought that truckload to my house.  I have an editing project printed on the blue paper, and now that I've edited it and made the changes on the computer, it's time to get rid of it.  It's a little silly, but there's a part of me that wants to keep that one last piece of the blue paper.

Two years ago: Central America Pictures (I sure would like to be back there now!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Apple Picking

I recently went apple picking with some friends and my Little Sister.  It was an extremely eye-opening experience to go to an apple orchard with a little girl from the inner city.

She didn't know that apples grew on trees.  When I told her, she looked at me like I was trying to pull a fast one on her.  When she finally saw that I was serious, she asked me if any other fruit grew on trees.  Each one was a whole new revelation for her.  She told me that she had been sure that apples grew on the ground.

We played a little game when we were driving.  You go through the alphabet: "My name is Annie and I like to eat apples."  She got F.  "My name is Flamantha."  Flamantha?  Yes, Flamantha.  The girl is creative.

One year ago (one of my favorite posts): The Gecko's Vacation

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sick Days

I would like to hear from other teachers on this one.  I've written on this before, about trying to "discipline" and correct teachers using guilt, my story about being very very sick at the end of my last school year, my co-worker's experience taking time off when her mother-in-law died tragically, and when I tried to teach on crutches.  Here's my question: Is this unique to the district I used to work in or is this an inherent problem for people who work with children?

A related question: WHY?  It's extremely unprofessional.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone has family emergencies.  Unless someone is abusing the system, I really don't understand the guilt that seems to be induced so quickly by administrators.

Four years ago: More Interesting Past Tenses

Three years ago: Thing Number 75 I Don't Miss About Teaching

One year ago: The Parent Factor

Friday, October 01, 2010

Revisiting Thoughts on Subbing

I miss teaching in the classroom.  I don't miss subbing.  This is what it was like:

Three years ago: Thoughts on Subbing