WTF? What’s That For?

July 28th, 2014 No comments

A couple of months ago, I had a birthday. It wasn’t one of those birthdays that people consider BIG, but when you’re my age, I guess just making it to your next birthday is a big deal. Birthdays remind you that you’re still alive…at least for a little while longer.

Anyway, with this birthday, I began thinking back to my school years…which by the way, ended about a million years ago—at least according to the middle schoolers. As I closed my eyes, images started tumbling through my mind—things kids today would never understand—things even new teachers wouldn’t understand. For years, technology stood still…and then, within the last few years it exploded. Nothing is the same, not the way we access and share information, the way we read books, or even the way a toilet flushes…up for number 1 and down for number 2…or better yet, the thinking toilet. “I’ll just figure out when you’re done with your business and flush for you. Who cares if you’re not done and your butt gets a swirly?” I don’t have to climb stairs or walk down a long hallway at the airport, and I don’t even have to type messages on my phone. (Siri and I are tight.) Heck, my car even tells when if I’m going to ram into something when I back up. It also tells me to take my hands off the wheel when I want to park. (Even my car’s figured out that I need “old people” help.)

So, with that being said, I thought I would share with my middle schoolers what school was like when I was a student. Their responses were priceless. I laughed…and then I cried. I didn’t realize how old I had gotten!

Here are real student responses for WTF…What’s that for?

Filmstrip projectors: “What? Seriously, the pictures didn’t move? What good is that? It’s like staring at a bunch of photos. And you had to turn the crank yourself? Wow! I bet that sucked!”

Reel to Reel Tape Recorder: “Whoa! Don’t tell me you had to carry that thing around when you wanted to record something. Are you serious? How stupid is that? You could hurt yourself!”

Paper Lunch Tickets: “No way! You had to carry a small piece of paper with you to lunch every day, and they would punch out a number so you could eat? How would you ever keep track of such a small thing? What moron came up with that idea?”

Dittos: “What do you mean they smelled good? Paper doesn’t smell! Why would you smell paper, anyway?”

Desks with lids: “Are you kidding me? The top of the desk lifted up? How stupid is that? Every time you wanted to take something out, you’d open the lid and all your crap would fall on the floor. That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of.”

Bomb Drills: “Wait! You mean to tell me that you practiced getting on the floor and sitting under your desk in case a nuclear bomb hit the school? OMG! Which government official came up with that brilliant plan? You’re a goner one way or another! What a waste of time!”

Dick and Jane Books: (I read them a section of a book.) “Really? That’s what kids read back then. ‘Come, Spot, come!’ That’s about as interesting as reading the outside of a toilet paper wrapper.”

Paste: “You’re telling me it came in a jar and you spread it on your picture with a STICK? And you loved the smell and some kids even ate it? Gross! Just gross!”

Butter: “What are you talking about? They scooped potatoes on your plate and then used an ice cream scoop full of melted butter and dumped it on top of the potatoes? That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.”

And the list went on and on: opaque projectors, overhead projectors, reel to reel film projectors, fat crayons, etc… They couldn’t see how anything about how my school life was even remotely connected to theirs. They viewed my school experience as boring and archaic.

“Well,” I stated, “the thing is, when you have kids, and you tell them about your experiences in school, they will think what you had and did was stupid, too. They’ll say things like ‘What do you mean you hid your phone in your Ugg Boots?’ or ‘You had a what? A Smartboard…and it ONLY did what?’“

They couldn’t let it go. “No way, we live in the age of technology. We’re on the cutting edge. The stuff we have won’t be outdated for like 40 years or so.”

“Exactly,” I spouted. “I was 13 years old 40 years ago…and those were the things we had. So, when you’ve been out of school for 30 to 40 years, your children will say the same things. WTF? What’s that for? They’ll think that everything about your life was outdated and boring—not to mention, just plain stupid.”

Silence followed. Then one little boy in the far back corner said, “Geesh, Mrs. P, did you have to walk to school…uphill…both ways? Did you have to cut your own stick to dunk in little jars of ink? Did you have twelve kids who rode in a car without seatbelts, sitting on top of one another? Did you get a nickel once every two weeks for your allowance? ‘Cause that’s what my great grandpa said his life was like…so maybe you didn’t really have it so bad!” A few students snickered!

I stood there in deep thought. Maybe not. I guess we all see how different our lives were than the current generation. With advances in technology, that is the way is will always be. Younger people will claim their life is so much better…or maybe not. Maybe simpler was better. I mean, I don’t want to go back to pounding my clothes with a rock at the edge of a stream or force my brother to wear tinfoil on the top of his head while holding the antenna just so I can watch the Partridge Family, but I would like the back-up camera on my car to stop caking-over with mud on rainy days. And I’d really like Diane, the voice on my navigation, to quit mispronouncing my last name.

And so, even though the kids made me feel old…really old, I have come to believe that the Beetles knew what they were talking about when they sang, “Oo-bla-dee, oo-bla-da, life goes on, oh, la-la-la-la, life goes on.” Life will go on; things will change, and I will continue to ask my son stupid questions about technology…like, “The little cup holder on the side of my computer is stuck. Can you come over and get it out for me?” And he will tell me the same thing for the hundredth time, “Mom, it’s not a drink holder. It’s a disc drive.”

Oo-bla-dee! Oo-bla-da!

Fat/Phat Teacher,

Mary

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We’ve All Become Little Cliff Clavins

April 24th, 2014 No comments

If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s or you’re a Netflicks’ junkie, you probably know Cliff Clavin. Cliffy, a regular on the popular TV sitcom Cheers, always bellied up to the bar, grabbed a beer, and began spouting worthless tidbits of information. He’d cast out info about land-formations, animals, and what we’d return as if we were reincarnated. (I’d like to come back skinny and beautiful, but since life’s not fair, I’d probably return with six toes and a third… Well, we’ll just leave it at that.) Anyway, no matter how hard poor Cliffy tried to connect with the other patrons at the bar, he was always ridiculed for his uncanny ability to spout “crap”. No one ever considered how much research or reading he had to do in order to know and retain all of that useless information.

Well, Cheers ended over twenty years ago…back when most households owned an outdated set of encyclopedias and had to leave their house to go to the library to check out an actual book. Today, life is entirely different. The invention of the smartphone and tablet has turned us all into little walking and talking Cliff Clavins—with or without the beer. If we don’t know something, we look it up on the spot. Eight seconds and a few thumb taps and we have the answers to the world’s most trivial questions. We can even discover that the lyrics to songs we have sung incorrectly for years are not what we thought.

Proof from my husband:

Beatles—Get Back: “Jo Jo was a man who thought he was a woman.”

Bee Gees—More Than a Woman: “Norman’s a woman! Norman’s a woman to me.”

Madonna—Like a Virgin: “Like a virgin…touched for the forty-first time.”

Donna Summer—Hot Stuff: “Looking for some pasta, baby this evening. I want some pasta, baby tonight!”

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band–Blinded by the light: “Wrapped up like a douche, no more odor in the night.”

He’s sung those lyrics for nearly forty years. Now, however, when he sings stupid 70’s lyrics that seem to make no sense at all (which he does in nearly every song he sings), he says, “Hey, I’m gonna look that up.” But…even seeing the right words doesn’t help—his memory is shot and the next time the song plays on Sirius, he just sings them wrong again. When corrected, he says, “It’s not my fault! The guy who made the song wrote the wrong words!” Just call him Cliffy! He never thinks he’s wrong! But he is.

The smartphone has also benefited me when we play games to pass time in the car; he can no longer create imaginary musical groups called the Bulkheads or the Belch Boys. Nor can he create fake books like his every popular The Count of Monte Crisco (a cookbook written by the banker who created Crisco Shortening). Now, with just a few clicks, I can prove him wrong. (I can prove him wrong without a few clicks, but it’s more fun to rub my phone in his face.)

Okay, so now, let’s shift this same thinking back to our schools. Do we need to teach three-quarters of the information that shows up in a textbook—things like who won each battle of the Civil War or the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks? Do we need to test the capitals of every country or commit to memory how many tablespoons are in half a cup? Come on people…facts are free! Students can find those facts in seconds with a click…click…click! If students understand the big concepts—the sequence of the wars, what causes conflict, what rocks are, etc…—then we have given them knowledge. If we teach them how to learn…not just fill their heads with facts they can find on their own, then we are amazing teachers. Because, seriously, who cares if my husband believes Norman’s a woman or if he’s looking for some pasta this evening? He can look that stuff up himself. The fact is, if he knows how to find the information, then I have taught him how to learn.

So, Mr. Clavin, had Cheers been popular just ten years later, you could have saved a lot of brain space simply by looking things up on your phone. It would have also given you more time to drink beer.

I Make a Better Teacher Than Mother

March 22nd, 2014 No comments

The other night as I was washing dishes, I noticed a line of fifty or so wild turkeys wandering across the middle of the bluff behind my house. A couple times a week or so, they wander back and forth…so I wasn’t surprised when they suddenly appeared. At the end of the line, however, there was a turkey who appeared to have a serious case of undiagnosed ADHD. While all the other turkeys strutted in perfect formation, he ran here and there, plowed into trees, tripped over branches, and poked at the turkeys in front of him. Before long, from somewhere near the front of the flock (rafter…or whatever a bunch of those ugly birds are called), a turkey lifted off the ground and glided back toward the end of the line. She dropped down next to the ADHD turkey, opened her wing and whapped him across the head. He laid on the ground for a couple of seconds before wobbling to his feet. Then, as the larger turkey turned to walk away, the smaller followed—in perfect formation—to join the others.

Now, I say “her” because I would have to guess it was his mother. Mitch, my husband, said it was definitely his wife, as did other friends on Facebook. I suppose it could be, but either way, it got me thinking about the kind of mother I am. I know I am a good teacher, but it appears that I deal with other people’s kids much better than I deal with my own. To prove my point, I will share some of my motherly faux pas over the years and let you decide for yourself.

CASE 1: When Brandon was about five, I was staying with my sister for a few days while I attended a workshop near her. While I was gone, my niece took Brandon to a pet store and bought him two fish that he promptly named Jenny and Eric. The next morning, my mom, who was also visiting, rushed downstairs and whispered to me, “You have to tell Brandon his fish died before he goes upstairs and finds them dead!” I struggled with what to say to him, but nothing came to mind. In the meantime, my mother and sister (a social worker…who would know the perfect thing to say) stationed themselves at the bottom of the stairs to keep Brandon from going up and discovering the demise of his fish. When he came out of the bedroom, I sat him down on the couch. I started the conversation in at least three different ways before I finally blurted out, “So, you know how when you buy something cheap…it doesn’t last? Well, your cheap fish died last night.” He screamed as he raced up the stairs with my mom close on his heels. My sister walked over to me and smacked me across the top of the head. “You don’t say that to a five year old! What kind of a mother are you?” Later that day, we owned a $100 cat…shots, carrier, bowls and all.

CASE 2: When my daughter, Taylor, was two, she was a runner; her escapes could rival those of Houdini. Because of this, whenever we were out and about, I had to keep a very close eye on her. One day, we were at the mall to meet with her birthmother. We’d been there for less than two minutes when Taylor suddenly disappeared. (Seriously, one minute she was there and the next she was gone!) We searched and searched and found her in the middle of a clothing rack in the Disney store talking to a stuffed Tigger. I wasn’t sure if I was more relieved, mad or embarrassed. It’s never a good idea to lose the kid that someone chooses you to raise. Anyway, to keep from losing her again, I connected one of the straps of her overall dress through the strap of my purse.

CASE 3: When Brandon was two and a half, he decided he was done wearing diapers. There was no help or encouragement from me. After that announcement, the only problem we ever encountered was that if he said he had to go to the bathroom—he meant right then! One day, we were in a “help yourself” shoe store trying to buy shoes for him. We had just gotten a pair of shoes on him when he announced, “I have to go!” I told him to hold it for one minute so we could try on the next size. I just get the new shoes tied when I hear “Oh-Oh!” and he lets it go: down his pants and into the shoes. We took the shoes off of him and put them back into the box. We bought the first pair. Ugh! (Note: Couldn’t do it…went back and bought the pee shoes, too!)

CASE 4: I am not an animal person. Don’t get me wrong, I love them…but I love them at other people’s houses instead. Maybe I am too selfish to spend my time cleaning up pet hair. In a weak moment, we agreed to get Taylor a Wheaten Terrier. Riley was as cute as a button, but he was a chronic pee-er. If you looked at him wrong, he would immediately piddle a puddle. Wanting to be good dog owners, we installed an invisible dog fence around the yard. However, as Riley got older, his problem grew and we went from piddling puddles to leaking lakes. One summer day, Taylor and Riley were lying on the floor when there was a knock on the door. Immediately, Riley started to leak. He missed nothing…not Taylor, the carpet, or my feet and shirt as I picked him up to stop his quivering stream. After I dealt with the delivery man and the yellow mess, I took him outside—beyond the invisible fence. There, I put his collar on him and set him down so he couldn’t come back across the line and into the yard. Then, I calmly walked back into the house. He sat and barked at the house, and Taylor sat in the window and cried. After a couple minutes I went out and saved him. But needless to say, it wasn’t long before he went to live on a farm where it didn’t matter where he left his puddles.

CASE 5: When Brandon was very young, he had a million stuffed animals that he lined up on his bed—serving as his congregation as he played church. At “communion time”, knowing his animals couldn’t come to him, he would take a bowl of Cheerios and launch the entirety at his “buddies”—all over the floor and the bed. At first it was cute, but after cleaning up Cheerios every day for nearly two weeks, I finally told him that his buddies had changed their religion and could no longer receive communion. “Who can come to my church, then, Mom?” he whined. I gave him two buddies and said, “Only these two go to your church anymore; so, just hand them each a Cheerio at communion time.”  Really, what mother does that?

Through the years, I have packed suitcases when either of them threatened to run away. I have “stained” clothes I never wanted them to wear again. I “inspected” and had to “remove” several chocolate bars from their Halloween stashes because they looked like they may have been “tampered with”. I have “lost” CDs, movies, or books that I just couldn’t stand to listen to, watch, or read one more time. But the worst thing of all is that I have pretended to listen when I really wasn’t. They say mothers can multitask. Maybe for some things that is true, but that whole listening thing isn’t something that should be multitasked.

Ultimately, I would consider myself a good teacher, maybe even a great one in the eyes of some of my students. I would never do these things to other people’s kids, but I did do them to my own. Does that make me a bad mother or does it mean I am just creative?

Did the fact that the turkey flew back and whapped the other one across the head in order to get him (definitely male) to straighten out, make her a bad mother? I guess I’m not seeing that it does. Maybe I’m wrong. All I can say is that it’s a good thing I am a better teacher than I am a mother. I could be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

 

 

 

 

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24-Hour Emergency Service

January 27th, 2014 No comments

It’s -13 degrees outside with a windchill of something like negative 197. The “No School” call came in yesterday afternoon—the fourth time in the month of January. Tomorrow will likely be the same. BUT…to top it off, our furnace decided to take a vacation Saturday evening. Perfect timing, right?

Well, we did what any 21st Century learner would do—we hit the internet in search of 24-hour emergency service. What we discovered was this: In some cases, 24-hour emergency service in only available Monday through Friday—indicting no emergencies can happen on a weekend. In other cases, if you left your name and phone number, someone would call you at their earliest convenience—we are still waiting on at least four companies to call. Finally, the person who did call back stated that even if he found out what was wrong, he couldn’t fix it until Monday—no parts stores are open. So much for an emergency!

But here’s the real kicker; we knew what part we needed. We had the furnace apart, the part number in-hand, and were ready to make the call. BUT…no one is open for furnace parts on the weekend—again adding to the belief that 24-hour emergencies cannot happen from 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning until 8:00 a.m. Monday.

Okay, it’s now Monday noon and it’s so cold in the house that I just saw a penguin waddle by. We still have no heat. Oh, don’t get me wrong—we have some heat—thanks to a 24-hour big-box store—five small heaters and a gas fireplace. But…we don’t have real heat yet. That will be coming this afternoon when my husband and son finally show up with the part to replace it…now that someone is open and offered to sell it to us.

SOOOO, all this got me thinking—what if education worked this way. What if a child couldn’t email questions, couldn’t download assignments, worksheet, or rubrics, and couldn’t find out when the next test was or a project was due? Granted, I don’t have to go out into the cold to deliver these things to them, but I have done everything I can to make them available to our 21st century learners.

If this had happened 10 years ago, my husband would have paid any amount of money to get it fixed, but that’s not the case today. We live in an era where we can make our own repairs simply by watching a YouTube video. The problem is that we often can’t get what we need because we aren’t certified “repairman”. Times are changing! Everyone should be changing…not just education!

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Where Have You Been?

January 7th, 2014 3 comments

Wow! I didn’t know so many people would miss me. I had lots of messages/comments that I didn’t approve for posting…people saying they wished I would return to Phat Teacher. (Well, actually, I sent most of those messages, but it felt good to see them!) Anyway, I’ve actually been around, but blogging in a different format…which obviously y’all (spending a lot of time with my friend Erinn who recently moved back from Texas!) haven’t been reading as much…so,  I am returning to Phat Teacher and will merge my blogs. (That just doesn’t sound right!)

Keep reading, keep commenting, and I will keep writing. Thanks for the comments and the questions. I typically don’t approve blog posts because most of them are personal, but if you write something that makes me sound better than I am…I’ll approve it! :)

Enjoy!

 

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Teachers’ Hours

January 7th, 2014 No comments

Recently, a non-teacher friend told me that he would like to have teacher hours. I asked him to explain. “Well, you know. You go to work at 7:00 and leave at 3:00.” My fingers started twitching as they moved ever so slightly toward his throat. Then, I smiled through gritted teeth and asked him to explain what made him think that teachers only work between 7 and 3. His answer was simple—”Those are the hours you have kids. The kids walk in…you walk in behind them with your cup of hot coffee, you tell them a bunch of stuff, and then they leave. How hard is that?”

“How hard is that?” I thought. I had a million comments I could have made, but “Yes, officer, I understand my rights” wasn’t one I wanted to choose…and so, I locked my fingers behind my back and walked away.

“How hard is that?” Hmmm! We’ll I’ve give you an earful of how hard that is.

CONSIDER THIS…

SEATING CHARTS

  • Trying to get 36 students into their seat all at one time is sort of like trying to herd cats.
  • Making a seating chart: 9 kids have to sit near the teacher (who, by the way, moves around the room for student engagement purpose…so, therefore, these students must have desks on wheels), 4 more won’t wear their glasses, so need to sit in the front of the room so they can see the board and the projector, 12 students need to be placed in the back or on the outside because they need to “hang” in their seats rather than sit, 2 EBD students and their full-time Para need to sit out of pencil-javelin toss distance, one has a hearing problem and needs to be near the sound system, one child in a wheelchair needs to be able to get in and out of the door quickly, two children need a locale in which they have room to crawl under their desk and roll around on the floor whenever the spirit moves them, 4 are blurters,  1 has Tourette’s (and not the kind where she just makes bird noises), and no one, and I mean no one, is allowed to sit next to Billy–per 35 parent phone calls. PLUS, 22 of your 36 came to you labeled as excessive talkers. If my classroom was the size of a football field, we might be able to make this seating arrangement work.
  • Keeping 36 students, who would rather be almost anywhere else, quiet while someone is talking…not just the teacher, but anyone, ranks right up there with trying to wrestle a greased pig.

 

DESIGNING LESSONS

  • Try to create an engaging lesson plan is which all 36 students are involved and learning—one that hits on every learning style–has difficulties of its own. It must include movement, music, individual work time, group work time, problem solving, vocabulary, spending time outside, and some sort of an art challenge.
  • The lesson must have a hook and some sort of closure—and must start the minute students walk in the door. (Go, Madeline Hunter!)
  • Teaching to auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners is another challenge. In other words, in every lesson I prepare, I must say, show, and allow the kids to experiment with new information. (This is a problem when you are teaching about the atomic bomb!)

 

EMOTIONAL:

  • Above all, you have to be nice—24/7. Teachers are required to grin through puke on their shoes, sneezes in his/her face, squeezing oneself into the middle of a fist fight between two boulder-sized kids (Only three times have I gotten a little too close to a fist…and only once did I actually lay on the floor writhing in a puddle of blood and pain), and having a gun pulled on him/her (Twice now…well, twice in school…that cop incident wasn’t really my fault).
  • Don’t forget to keep them safe–no matter what! Making sure they feel loved, respected, and valued—always! Spence Rogers always tells teachers to focus on the color of their socks if you can’t find anything else good about them.

 

BRAIN RESEARCH:

  • Provide them water…all day long. And remember, what goes in, must come out…so reteach everything they missed while they were touring the inside of a bathroom stall.
  • Play music…200 beats a minute to get their hearts moving and brain activated. Slow, reflective music to suck ‘em back off the ceiling.
  • Provide snacks…because no one can learn on an empty stomach. (I eat all the “almost outdated” snacks—someone has to. It explains the whole Fat/Phat Teacher thing.)
  • Build movement into every lesson so information is logged into both sides of the brain. (Two-Two-Two brains in one!)

 

BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL:

  • Correct papers, make comments, and enter grades into a system that goes out more often than I do.
  • Create those lesson plans that take an army and/or a miracle to pull off.
  • Attend concerts, recitals, sporting events, etc… all in an effort to build relationships with your students.
  • Make parent phone calls and send emails. (Note: Those calls can be sent during your 13.7 minute lunch break—but make them fast. That time is also used to eat your Laughing Cow Cheese and crackers, visit the bathroom, and work with the students who are in your room for lunch detention.)

 

I could go on and on…but I won’t. But just so this friend knows, I don’t have time to go get coffee. Heck, I hardly have time to pee without someone pounding on the staff bathroom door yelling, “Hey, we need you!”

Teaching is not easy. THERE ARE NO TEACHER HOURS. Some nights I work until 10, and then I fall into bed. Other nights I never make it to bed at all; I wake up with computer key indentations pressed into my cheek and 12, 345 pages of the letter L in a word document.

So, my advice to you is this: the next time someone tells you that they wish they had teachers’ hours…you have two choices—however, I wouldn’t pick the assault and battery choice. It’s hard to get a teaching job once that’s on your record. :) Rather, invite them in to observe what you do. Until they see it, they won’t believe it!

The Fat/Phat Teacher,

Mary

P.S.  The most time I ever had in the bathroom without someone pounding on the door was when I got locked in. I pounded on the door for five minutes before anyone realized I needed help. Finally, I heard a student yell, “Hey, someone’s locked in the bathroom! Go get Mrs. P. She’ll know what to do.” I slid  a paper towel under the door on which I had written, “This is Mrs. P. I’m locked in the bathroom.” The paper towel came back with new words scratched into it.  “What should we do?” Obviously, I had not done a very good job of teaching them how to problem solve. It took ten minutes for the custodian to free my from the bathroom, and the only thought that ran through my mind was, “Wow! That was the first paid vacation I’ve ever gotten as a teacher.”

 

 

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Remember When?

September 12th, 2010 No comments

Not too many years ago, I was teaching a group of 5th graders. Every day a handful of them would leave my room debating the latest political events, arguing for or against the Republicans and Democrats who were leading our country. And every day, as they left, I laughed as I thought about the worldliness of our youngsters…and how very different it was from 1970 when I was in 5th grade.

You see, I grew up out in the country. We had one black and white TV with so much snow that only two and a half channels came in. I say “a half”  of a channel because one station would only come in if one of us would hold a wire coat hanger high above our heads, foot pressed against the wall, with our free hand clenched tightly to the antenna wire that dangled from the portable rabbit ears. So, needless to say, we did not watch the news. In order for a show to be worthy of all of that effort, it had to be something good…something like Dragnet or Medical Center or even football…but definitely not the news.

So, the other day, just before the opening day of school, my mind took this journey back to the 1970s…to what we talked about as fifth graders. Believe me, it was not an in-depth conversation, but I will share it with you.

Picture this: It was the the first day of 5th grade in a small town. We sat in a pristine classroom with 24 desks lined up in perfectly formed rows. The teacher, an old lady with thick glasses and dyed jet-black hair sat at her desk, clapping her hands and announcing for everyone to “quickly choose a seat because we don’t have all day.” (Ummm…even a small town 5th grader knew that wasn’t correct. We did have all day.) A friend of mine had chosen a seat behind me, just off to my left. While the teacher with the unnaturally dark hair and the completely natural wrinkles listed off every rule we were to follow and what would happen if we broke them, my friend opened his desk and stuck his head inside. He pulled out his box of 64 Crayola Crayons and pressed them into my arm. “Hey!” he called out in a whisper. “Smell these! Don’t they smell good?”

And that was it…the depth of our fifth grade conversations back in 1970. We didn’t understand politics…nor did we care. We were kids. Our biggest thrill was having a new box of crayons that “smelled” awesome. Life just seemed a lot easier when all you worried about was whether your status depended upon if you were the kid with the 24, 48, or 64 count box of crayons. I wish life was that easy now.

And so remember, life’s simple pleasures don’t have to be a new house or even a new car…a new box of crayons will do.

So, here’s wishing you a ton of simple pleasures this school year…and at least one new box of Crayola Crayons this year.

The Fat/Phat Teacher,

Mary

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Christmas Vacation…and Visions of School Dance In My Head!

December 29th, 2009 1 comment

Today is day number 7 of a 12 day Christmas vacation that is passing entirely too fast! These are the days when I should be able to sleep until noon, sit around in my PJs, and drink hot chocolate by the fire. Well, for some wacked out reason, it’s just not happening.

Since vacation started, I force myself to go to bed later than my usual 10:00 crash. (I get up at 5:00…so going to bed early is a must if the kids want me to be awake during the day.) Then, I read trashy novels that keep my eyes open longer than the journals and other educational “sleep aid” books that line my bedside table. But still, when the light snaps off and I fall into that deep sleep during the first few hours…I dream! Not fun dreams of eating my fill at Old Country Buffet or playing dirty tricks on my friends or even traveling to the moon in those really cool space suits. No, these are stupid dreams, horrifying dreams of kids who never behave, disappear constantly, or just don’t listen. I always wake up in a panic, until I realize that, once again, it was just a dream. Then, with a much effort, I fall back to sleep, but the dream continues. And since I can’t stop them, I always try to add in little evil devices that make them more bearable: cattle prods, electric-shock chairs, tasers, etc… I picture myself standing in the front of the room dressed as a pirate wielding a sword…trying to gain control. I figure, it’s just a dream, so I might as well have it my way. But…it still NEVER works! The kids remain little, uncontrolable monsters!

Have I lost it? Is there a reason that I can’t keep myself focused on vacation instead of school? I have decided the answer to both of those questions is YES! (I have lost it, first of all! Most teachers have.) Secondly, there is a reason that my mind continues to wander back to school. It’s because I care too much! Teachers have a desire to want to do their best…and that one desire…or need, perhaps…brings about fear. Not fear of the kids, but fear of not being great!

So, the way I see it, go ahead…imagine those cattle prods and tasers…and even that long pirate sword, but when the dream is over…remember why you became a teacher, take a deep breath, and go out there and make a difference! There’s bound to be another vacation coming soon.

Mary the Phat/Fat Teacher

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40 Days and 2 Animals of Every Kind…No Wonder They Call It Thanksgiving Vacation

November 19th, 2009 No comments

When Noah hit 40 days in the ark, the storm was over! So gently and lovingly, he opened the ark, and waited for the water to soak into the earth so he could let the animals safely go. For those 40 days, he put up with two animals of every kind: ducks, elephants, lions, snakes, etc… He even put up with two mosquitoes when he could easily have squashed them, but didn’t!  So, how is it that he stayed sane and caring during that entire time? It’s a good thing Noah didn’t have two of every kind of middle-schooler on the ark. I am afraid he may have thrown some of them overboard long before the storm was over.

That being said, we are now slightly past 40 days of school, and I believe it’s time to open the school doors and let the animals run free! (It’s not called THANKSGIVING VACATION for nothing!) For those past 40+ days, we have put up with two of every kind of middle-schooler…some I didn’t even know existed.

I could never be as kind as Noah was – nor as patient and caring. There are those moments when I wonder if I am even still sane. Of course I’m not sane! I go back every single day, don’t I? I returned after two kids attempted a “head-first” race down the banister…forgetting you can’t stop when you reach the end. I returned after they decided that if everyone got H1N1, the school would close…and so spent the next week breathing on every table, door knob, and water faucet. I returned after they collected every piece of gum from under the tables and created a “gum statue” just to show me how much they found. And I returned after they took all of the candy in my “bribe-bucket” and made a trail for me to follow…only to find, at the other end, four eighth grade boys eating their way back to my room. No…I am not sane, and neither are middle-schoolers.

But you know what? I sort of like them, anyway! Recently, I purchased a book called the IMMATURITY ENCYCLOPEDIA! What teacher in their right mind would make that book available to middle-schoolers to read - knowing full-well that they will try everything in the book? Proof, again…I am not sane! But maybe that’s what you need to be a teacher. Maybe you need to be able to see the humor in things that others would find outrageous! Or maybe you just need to be plain old nuts. Either way, I think I’m covered!

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

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Who Thought Teaching Was a Good Idea?

October 22nd, 2009 No comments

Remember back, long before you actually went to college? Back then, you could be anything you wanted to be. Your future was a blank slate. Then, at some point, you made a decision to become a teacher. Why? you now ask yourself? What was it about teaching that made it sounds like a better idea than, say a toy tester or a candy maker? What made it sound like it would be more enticing than a lion tameror even a parole officer? Because as I see it, after 28 years, there are days when I ponder that question. Today being one of them!

I didn’t always want to be a teacher. Truth be told, I NEVER wanted to be a teacher. But it all happened so fast…sort of like when a turtle gets mugged by a couple of snails! I had it in my head that I wanted to go to college, but there was no particular field that really drew me in…until orientation week. 

At the college I attended, Bemidji State University, you had to declare a major before you started Freshman year. I was sitting next to my boy friend, at the time…currently my first husband. I tossed my head back onto the back of the couch…and sighed loudly. “What?” he asked impatiently. “I have to declare a major, and I have no clue what I want to do for the rest of my life.” He ignored me and continued to fill out his paperwork. I slid onto the floor and sighed louder. “What?” he asked more loudly. Rather indignant, I replied, “I just told you! I don’t know what to put down as my major!” Again, he continued to work on his own papers. I launched myself across his lap and looked up at him. “I don’t know what to be when I grow up!” I whined. He pushed me off of his lap and smoothed out his own registration papers – the ones that I had crumpled in my dramatic episode. “Just pick something easy. Be a teacher. They have an easy job.” Still lying on the floor, I sighed again. “Fine. How hard could that be?”

Needless to say, we were both very wrong. But don’t worry…he got his due! As the four years of college passed, he somehow got it into his thick head to switch his major from journalism to education. His reasoning: “Well, now that we’re married…(we got married after Freshman Year)…we could save money by sharing books.” Isn’t that just the best reason you’ve ever heard of for changing your major from something you really loved? Can you say cheap?

Tonight, he was late getting home from school. (He is now an elementary principal.) I called and left a message on his office phone and his cell phone, and I sent a text. About half an hour later, the phone rang. “Still at school. The police just left.” That was all I got, but it didn’t sound like a good day to me. I smiled! Huh! It looked like his bad day trumped my bad day.

Lately, at school, there have been lots of days like that: police, rain soaked carpets, moldy ceiling tiles, kids throwing up, kids absent, etc… It’s always something.

BUT… even with all that yucky stuff, it definitely adds interest to my days. Today, was not the best day for either one of us…but tomorrow might be. You just never know. And that’s what keeps me coming back…day after day for 173 days a year…for 28 years…for 8 more. That and the big, fat teacher paycheck! :)

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

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