Unicorns, plungers and hearing loss

My student looked at me after lunch one day and said, “I ate half a unicorn.”  I gave her a funny look and realized she was either being silly or really had eaten half of Scotland’s national animal. 

“You know what? My old lady ears just heard you say you ate half a Unicorn.”

“Yeah Mrs. Quirky,” she said sardonically, “I ate half a Unicorn.”


It didn’t occur to me until recently that with undue stress the last two months of teaching school, working my second job (then in the last two weeks of school as a shift lead) and teaching an art class two hours on a Monday night had made some of my sensory issues go haywire.  Mostly my hearing.

One of the nights I was scheduled to work at my shift lead job, I was helping at the cash registers in the back of pharmacy.  One of my bosses was asking someone, anyone, to show this young couple to plumbing.  I looked right at her with gusto and said, “I can do that!”  Essentially I was all over it, I have worked the front end for almost two years now and know where our household sections reside.

I promptly exited through the pharmacy door, confident, with myself puffed up and greeted the young couple.  As we were walking down the back aisle I said to them, “We have two different sections for plumbing, we have this aisle which is our basic plumbing where the plungers are.”  The woman looked at me with a half smile on her face.  Her boyfriend was kind of looking around and definitely not at me.  What was probably a few seconds seemed like forever.  I couldn’t figure out what I had done or said that was this awkwardly funny or uncomfortable for them.

“This is a joke, right?” she said.

I furrowed my eyebrows, looked at her and gave her an expression fit for a detective trying to solve a mystery. At this point I didn’t know what to say.  What felt like an eternity to arrange my thoughts was a matter of nano seconds before she finally said with a smile, “We’re looking for Plan B.” (Birth Control)

I raised my eyebrows.

“OH!”

Immediately I deflated in confidence, un-puffed myself, hung my head in embarrassment and said, “Right this way!”

We made our way three aisles down. The e-n-t-i-r-e  way I was explaining how my hearing loss had played a roll in this nonsense.  Obviously I wouldn’t be this insensitive with this situation. Luckily they were the kind of couple that could take a joke (even though it was unintended) and they were able to laugh it off.  Myself on the other hand, have never been more embarrassed and will now forever double check what my ears hear.  

What is something embarrassing you thought you have heard? How did you handle the situation?

Witty Commentary vs. Kindergarten Tactics 

Some of the kids I work with are still learning social skills and appropriate ways to frame a question. One student in particular will just look at the teacher I work with or myself and just say one word and expect us to know the rest of what she is thinking.
  The other day as we were covering the year 1929 in History class she looked at me and said, “Great Depression?” I’m trying to break her of this habit so I use a bit of humor when trying to do so.

 I looked at her across the study table and said, “I have been a little down, thank you for noticing…”

 She looked at me, rolled her eyes, quietly smiled and reframed her question.

 Later we were learning about the Dust Bowl and the effect it had on the economy. Another student asked me a question which I replied also with what I believed to be witty commentary pertaining to the subject. She too rolled her eyes.  

 Because the students have had enough of my historical observations they have all come to give me the same look my mother gives me when she has had enough silliness. So they have started retaliating.

  
 They retaliate in the way they best know how, pithy jabs at my appearance. A couple of weeks ago I needed to get my bangs trimmed. This is a task I took on myself. Usually when I do so only hairstylists tend to notice the imperfection in the cut. As soon as the teacher I work with and I greeted the students in the morning for school, one student blurted out, “OH MY GOD! THOSE BANGS!” She really didn’t need to comment, she already said everything with her face before her exclamatory outburst. Rest assured I had a comeback.

 “Since my hands are usually full I can’t wave to people, so I cut my bangs to do the waving for me.” A collective eye roll happened from a few students this time.

 Later in the day we were covering Norse Mythology for our English lesson. The teacher and I started bantering back and forth when the students and I suggested “Thors-day” we should do something. Then I quickly quipped, “But we have to keep it on the ‘Loki’ (low-key)”.

 “OH MY GOD! THATS HOW WE KNOW SHE’S A NERD!” yelled the normally quiet student in the back.

  
 Another time the students collectively started to egg the teacher on about how they deserved a treat for being so good and earning good grades for the week. He looked at me and said, “I think they might deserves something for that, don’t you?”

 “Yes, they do…”

 I started a slow clap.

 The entire class turned their eyes toward me. One girl sitting next to my desk defiantly shouted, “NOOOOOOOOO! NO. NOOOO.” Little did I know I was about to get my comeuppance from her.

 This same student was standing behind me in line as we were leaving from choir. I felt something on my elbow followed by the student saying, “You have old lady elbows.” I quickly jerked my arm away.

 “Leave my old lady elbows alone!”

 “But they’re so wrinkly!” she said with a giggle.

 This time I had nothing to retaliate with.  

 Earlier in the year the student I first mentioned who only asks one worded questions was working on a different history project. She was a brand new student in the class and as we were all talking somehow one of the boys made a comment on how I used to be a kick-boxer and boxer. As I was leaned over helping her with her work she poked my arm and said, “Then how come your arms are so squishy?” I think this might have been when it all started with my commentary.  

 As I’m writing this an epiphany occurred. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of eye-rolls and Kindergarten tactics. Kindergarten tactics beget historical and literary one-liner jokes and puns. One-liner jokes and puns beget eye-rolls and Kindergarten tactics. Honestly though, it is a cycle I prefer to be stuck in and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

What cycles have you been stuck in? Did you ever want out?

Oh boogers…

As you all know last year I embarked on the journey of teaching.  Last year it was substitute teaching, this year I’m a paraprofessional.

When you’re a substitute you only see little vignettes of what the students are like.  I imagine it is the same from their perspective seeing as one 6 year old student would frequently say,” Mrs…what’s your name?” everytime I saw him at his school.

Some students would say funny things like, “You look like that girl from Scooby-Doo”.

“I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.”

To which the student said, “It’s a good thing, that is like saying I look like a Barbie doll.”
image

(Yes, because we all know Velma from Scooby Doo looks like a tall blonde runway model who has it all figured out.)

Some students have even gone as far to say they are allergic to my shirt because it has flowers on it. Needless to say, there are some funny conversations that are way too long to post on here.  All the surface conversations I had as a substitute teacher with students were just vague glimpses into who the kids were and their first impressions of me.  Now that I am a paraprofessional, not only do I get to know the students in more than just a 3 hour period, but they also get to know my core essence, my humor.

A few weeks ago a new student surprised me.  You see, I help out in the classroom and teach/coach 9th grade Algebra and American History.  We were at our normal table and I was getting to know this student while they were working on their History vocabulary for that week.  Suddenly she looked at me and said, “You look like one of those people that gets in their car and just rocks out and sings along with the music.”  Dumbfounded, I didn’t know how she knew I dance and sing in my car like James Corden and Jennifer Hudson.
image

Mouth agape I said, “Yes, how did you know?”  The student just shrugged their shoulders and went back to work.

A few weeks later the student remembered the conversation.  Now she felt more comfortable in front of everyone, including the on-site math teacher.  Before the teacher could launch into his curriculum the student shouted out, “Mrs. Quirky rocks out in her car.”  The teacher kind of gave the student a funny look.  When the student didn’t get the reaction they wanted they added, “she also picks her nose.”

He said, “Well, I’m sure even if she does pick her nose she doesn’t do it in public.”

“No, she has a booger on each (fore) finger and dances with them in the air!”

image

I was still in shock from how the student knew that I car-danced, but how she knew about the boogers I will never know.

How has someone you just met surprised you with something about yourself that  you’ve never thought to tell anyone?

Knope to dope

When you live next to a drug user (dealer) there are several things which can happen to you as a neighbor. You can start to get anxious, paranoid and stir crazy. You start to wonder why you feel the way you do. You start thinking you’re a little bit nuts and maybe a bit of a hypochondriac.

leslie-knope-hurtsThen one day, a semi-familiar smell seeps into the well-sealed bathroom. That’s when it hits you; you’ve been inhaling foreign substances for months, making you this way.  This is why the scent is familiar but stronger. The odor had been constant, faint, much like background music in an elevator. Then one day it was like getting into an elevator and the sound was turned all the way up and you had no way out.

Donna 1In the few short seconds after waking up the first day of Spring Break, letting it sink in why we’ve been sleeping at odd intervals, we packed up the cats and left. We temporarily stayed with my parents while I detoxed, shook and waited for my innards to quit writhing while every ounce of the toxins worked their way out of my body.

50640-Parks-and-Recreation-Andy-Wipi-WhvnLiving next to a dealer can make you realize the life you were not meant for. Living next to a dealer can make you realize you deserve better. In essence, you need to be like Donna and Tom from Parks and Recreation and “Treat yo’ self”.

Donna6

In this entry, yes I am passively complaining about our neighbor, but I want to focus on the positive things about this.

Donna2It helped me realize my depression was manageable. I’ve since been getting help, and have been doing so without the use of medication but rather through meditation and prayer.

Because of this situation I no longer feel this way!

Because of this situation I no longer feel this way!

It helped us to realize how miserable we were in our poorly lit basement apartment.

Donna1

It made us get out of the apartment and search for something better.

It helped us to stand our ground.

lesliestickIt helped us to learn how to not be intimidated by someone forcing their issues onto you.

It made my husband and I realize how much we are loved by family and friends alike and how much they support us.

leslie-knope-textmeIt gave me clarity and helped me realize all our other problems in life were manageable.

Donna3

It made me get myself in gear to sell my student portfolio art on Etsy. (If you would like to peruse/purchase just click on this sentence!)

It helped me appreciate what I do for a living more so than before.

It made me realize how important teaching students respect, kindness and integrity are and how it affects everyone.

Integrity matters.

Integrity matters.

It made me appreciate my students more.

AnneIf you are ever having a problem or an issue, go in to any grade school classroom. Chances are those students will be happy to see you, and if they give you a hard time, they are teaching you how to live in the present and go with the flow. They taught me how to deal and “let it go”.

Dear readers, I apologize for not having been on here in a while. With this entry, surely you understand. Our trek to our jobs is a little longer now, but we are safer for it. Because of the treks, the day job, the night classes and everything in-between it makes it a little more challenging to write blog entries. Thank you for those of you who have stuck with me through thick and thin.

Leslie PrioritiesWhat neighbor problem have you had where you’ve learned something from the situation?

Pigpen

There is always that one quintessential smelly kid in class.  As a substitute teacher, you don’t figure out who these kids are until you’ve visited their classroom on numerous occasions.

main-pigpen

There is always the accidental case where a kid has been raising his hand while you have a million other kids needing your attention; because they’ve accidentally glued their hands together, have a shoelace undone or something else.  By the time you’ve managed to get the kid with glue hands to tie the shoes of the other and you’ve made it around to the well mannered child with his hand up, you realize you’ve accidentally miscalculated his need when you enter the musty cloud of, “I gotta go, I gotta go!”
shoelaces
However in an older classroom it’s different.  I’ve forgotten how smelly young boys typically are and how they just let it loose.  In my household growing up I didn’t have siblings, so if I did something I had to fess up to it.  Sometimes I did so proudly.  In school however, it was always a different story.  In school it had to be kept secret.

This year is the year I said I would own up to things and be honest.  Here it is readers, I am confessing something to you that happened in 4th grade. This will help explain why I have such an affinity for this smelly child I encountered recently.

In 4th grade as in most small burgeoning schools, we were escorted to Physical Education class in an empty tiny gym.  It was so new that there was not enough equipment to absorb sound.  On this unfortunate day, after we had done our beginning calisthenics, we were instructed to do timed sit-ups with a partner holding our feet.  My partner was a boy.  You can already imagine why this was awkward for me.  When the teacher officially started her stop-watch, I decided to do as many sit-ups as fast as I could.  For whatever reason, back in the day, I felt I always had something to prove.  Then, I was treated to a humbling.  After about 5 to 10 sit-ups something had wrangled loose from deep inside my stomach and came out between my feet…with the boy holding them.  The sad thing is, it didn’t happen just once. No matter how hard I tried, every sit up resulted in a resounding fog horn sound which then echoed off the floor and bounced off the walls.

As we all know, flatulence in awkward situations is funny.  In this particular instance, the entire class was cracking up making it hard for them to accomplish their timed sit-ups.  I had never been so embarrassed. (Until that point at least.)  To this day, I don’t know if any of my classmates were sure it was me.

Now that you know this about me, it will be easy to understand why as a teacher I felt so badly for this kid in my class but proud of him at the same time.

I was busy working with another student when I saw this young boy whiz by the desks trying to get to the front of the room to work on math.  Next thing I knew, one boy walked by in the same spot. “AaaAgGgH!” he screamed.

Then another boy walked by, “OH GOD!”
Then another, “Oh MAN!”

The first boy is trying to stifle his laughter, and the other three boys held their arms up to their noses, laughing, trying to block what was in the air.  Raising the teacher’s suspicion, she looked over trying to hide her smile.  “What is going on over there?”

The first boy replied, “Well, I farted and then the others walked into it one after the other. You might want to get the Lysol out.”  I was proud because instead of trying to hide it, or act like it didn’t happen, he owned up to it.  Granted, it’s gross, but at least he didn’t let the ire stack up between all the boys in class leaving them to wonder who really dealt it.

pig-pen-smelly-kid-peanuts-charlie-brownHave you ever been a Pigpen?  

The Seussical Substitute

Two weeks ago I gained a deeper understanding of the book, “Cat in the Hat”.

Georgia Portrait (4th Grader)

A student’s rendering of my likeness. (The quickly scrawled bird was my doing.)

It all started when I walked into a 4th grade classroom, comfortable, cozy and ready to teach.  When I walked down to the gym to escort the students to the classroom, they looked curious and as if they were about to have fun.  (Somehow I think my glasses give them that impression.)

The main thing I try to get across to students, is learning can be fun, it doesn’t have to be this dreaded thing you are forced to be carted to 5 days of the week.  The more fun you have learning, chances are the more you will remember.  We started the morning working on prepositional phrases.  This is something we went over at University recently , and people in their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s are still struggling to understand prepositional phrases.  Because kids at this age generally try so hard at this, they feel they should understand and “get” everything in the first try.  I emphasized that we were still studying this at my age and then they began to ease up on being so hard on themselves.

Once they realized they could be calm and themselves around me, they started peeling back their guarded layers.  One student showed me their writing book.  In it she had written a book about a Monster school, complete with Banana pudding pranks and more.  As I read it, a smile couldn’t be kept from creeping across my face.  When I told her I really enjoyed both of her stories, it was as if she finally gained acceptance of her creativity and an acknowledgement of her originality.  She nodded with a satisfied smile.

Before they had to take a break to go to their other classes, one student quickly asked me to draw a Garfield on the board.  Within seconds I had drawn the head of the beloved feline character.  By the time I turned around, instead of it being the original boy who had asked for the drawing, it was the entire class gathered around the board to see how it was done.

I was in a class with kindred spirits.  Many were budding writers, cartoonists and illustrators. All of them with original unique ideas on how to do things.  These students were struggling because they were being forced to be in a box when they were capable of doing so much more.  Were their drawings perfect?  Were their stories completely free of grammatical errors?  No.  They finally understood everything takes work and time to make it perfect, they just wanted someone to let them know they were on the path of getting there.

cat in the hat person

The boy who had asked for the Garfield on the board drew his own version when he came back and it was amazing. A few other students, once they saw how it was done, started experimenting and trying their own hand at drawing Garfield.

From my own experience and from the students’ experience, by accomplishing one thing and being good at it, the simple joy from this one act can make you feel capable of doing anything of intellectual value.

I had to dismiss them for lunch, and went to eat my own in the teacher’s lounge.  All of the teachers there were wonderful, amazing and incredibly nurturing.  You could tell they cared about the students and their job by how they painstakingly painted and decorated their place of lunchtime respite.  Because I’d never taught there before, I was nervous and after devouring a sandwich, I went to pick up the kids.

I was early.

As I stood there at the door, one of my students was sitting with kids from other classes, when suddenly one of the children he was sitting with shouted, “Hey you should come sub for our class sometime!”  I told him I would love to if given the opportunity.

When we finally came back from lunch we started to work on math skills.  When I was younger and their age, math was a struggle for me.  It has been ever since Kindergarten.  It doesn’t mean I’m not smart, it just means it was something I had to work at more so than most students.  Knowing that this class was full of kindred souls, it was going to be a challenging subject for them.  Since I’m the ripe age of 35, it’s obvious I’ve had much practice in getting multiplication painstakingly down pat.  The students who were having issues I gave individual attention to, occasionally breaking to do a problem on the board when more than one student had difficulty with a particular problem.

Then came the class clown.  She had been acting up all day.  Mind you, it wasn’t in a bad way.  She is the kind of student who is very bright, and excels at most subjects except for one, Math.  All day she would finish her work and then instigate other side projects she had going on like a fake raffle she had put together or purposely asking random questions to throw students off their game.

In the morning when she first started acting up, I knew her name by the seating chart.  She was impressed that “the sub” knew her name.  Then she asked if she could instead be called by her middle name which she liked better.  I told her if she behaved the rest of the day that I would comply.  She tried, she really did try to be a good student.  However her intelligence got the better of her as she became bored easily.

When we got to math however, she raised her hand asking for help.  With her head down on the palm of her hand, she calmly stated, “I don’t get it”.  I felt horrible for her because I knew exactly what she was experiencing.  I had been on my knees trying to sit at desk level while showing her how to work the numbers right to left.  She was silent but you could tell something was really getting to her.  She went to an empty table, and brought a chair over for me to sit on while helping her.  She then said, “I think you have gum on your shoe by the way.”  Quickly I looked at my shoes and realized there was a indeed something there but it wasn’t gum.  I looked at her and said, “It’s a raisin. I think it might have come from my house.” Smiling at her she smiled back and as we tried to go over the math problems. Her eyes started watering. Within seconds it wasn’t hard to notice it was more than just “allergies”. I asked her if she was alright.  She was putting on a brave face trying to be strong and said, “I’m fine, I don’t know why I’m getting teary eyed, this just happens sometimes.”  Thinking it was her frustration with math I then calmly said, “You know what, it’s O.K. Math was really frustrating for me when I was your age too.  It can be a frustrating subject.”

It didn’t become clear until much later what was going on.  As we packed up to get ready to go home, the class clown drew the opening picture of this blog entry.  Everyone had been dismissed to their bus while the class clown remained behind with a few other students to be picked up by their parents.

“We’re going to miss you.”

It was then I realized the reason for the tears.  The class clown realized earlier our fun had to end.  We wouldn’t be getting to see each other on Monday.  They were not my students to teach and tend to every Monday through Friday until May.  I was not their teacher to show them it is okay to be unique, a little offbeat and to make mistakes because that is how you learn.  The moment was settling into all of us.

I walked them to their parents’ cars and the gymnasium.  Knowing I had reached and helped them as much as they helped me, cementing my purpose in this life, it was a long drive home.

“That is it, that is that”, and I was gone with the tip of my hat.

The Cat in the Hat

Amendment 3…a big no no!

As most of you know I’m studying to be a an English teacher for middle school and junior high students.  Those of you who live in Missouri, please vote “NO” on Amendment 3 coming up in the election on Tuesday.  Here is why, standardized testing.MO

The amendment proposes there be standardized testing with the success of the students’ scores determining whether or not someone like me gets to keep their job.  Many of you know how I feel about my job as a substitute.  I love my job.  By this time next fall, I hope to be teaching English in the local school systems while earning a Master’s degree.

The problem with Amendment 3 is it rests the responsibility of the teachers’ jobs on the shoulders of the youth.  Many might see this as a positive.  If the teacher is doing what they should, the students in turn should test well, right?  Wrong.

I was discussing with my mother the problem with this.  Everyone learns differently.  There are eight ways of learning.  If we reduce ourselves statewide to a number on a test, then we are only teaching the students to learn what we tell them and regurgitate.

I told my mother, I was one of those students who tried hard, studied and made decent grades but when it came to the SAT’s, my mind short circuited and I had to take the test 3 separate times.  I still have problems taking tests, my mind sort of blanks out the important information and I can only remember other things I was taught.  This happened with my first test in English Grammar this semester, I couldn’t remember the 8 morphemes, when ultimately I knew them.

This is what I’m afraid of, students who are like me, who know what they’re doing, who test poorly and suffer from test anxiety, will decide the outcome of many teachers.  It isn’t their fault and they should not be held accountable for an adult’s job when the adult has done everything they can to prepare that student.

There is also the other kind of test taker, the student who doesn’t care.  Sometimes they are the brightest kid in the room, but maybe they haven’t been taught proper etiquette, manners and respect for their elders.  They simply do not care and sometimes will do their worst to spite a teacher.  I have seen it happen.

So that leaves all the other students in-between.  Some students may or may not study and will do mediocre, some will do fantastic.  I don’t feel it is right for the outcome of anyone’s job to rely on a few select people.

Also by teaching students to only memorize and regurgitate on a standardized test, we aren’t teaching them to be well-rounded.  We aren’t teaching them problem solving skills, logic, and worst of all, we aren’t teaching them to think for themselves.  Will they actually be applying their skills and learning what they need?

Will Science teachers be able to perform experiments in their classes asking them to form a hypothesis and test the outcomes?  Will Math teachers be able to help their students apply theories and practices?  Will English teachers be able to teach their students how to write short stories teaching them about plot, motifs, and character?  Will History teachers be able to teach what is needed or will History be doomed to repeat itself?  What about the arts?  How can an Art teacher and Drama teacher standardize their curriculum when their students are supposed to stand out and have a “voice” of their own?

To put things in perspective, Einstein had trouble communicating and learning in a standardized way. He didn’t fully start speaking until he was 4.  Even when he first applied to university, he excelled in the Sciences and Math but did not pass the requirements needed for History, Languages, and Geography.  If Einstein were alive today would you want his standardized tests to decide the outcome of your career?

Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Branson both dropped out due to frustrations with Dyslexia.  Whoopi reflected on her Dyslexia by saying, “I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb…. They knew I wasn’t lazy, but what was it?”  Thomas Edison’s teachers wrongfully and insultingly told him he was too stupid to learn anything.

I will say it again, everyone learns differently.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We weren’t meant to be good at everything.  By standardizing tests, we will inevitably leave people behind and potentially no one will ever figure out where they shine.

Obviously advancements have been made in the world of teaching, but if we favor Amendment 3, we will no longer find out if we have geniuses, comedians, business tycoons or inventors in our classrooms.Einstein fish

Blog at WordPress.com.