Thursday, September 24, 2009

Haute Cuisine

Apparently, federally funded food is not as lousy as I thought it was.

Whilst strolling through the cafeteria on my way back from my prep, I spied Harold, a first grader who spent all of Kindergarten eating. His pencils, his erasers, his crayons, everyone else's pencils and erasers and crayons, his belt, his books, various other things which do not bear repeating at the dinner hour, you name it, it went in to his mouth. He also has a pronounced helium voice (sort of like Froggy in those old "Our Gang" shows), and he would randomly get up and take a jog out the classroom door and down the hall to visit other classrooms.

But, since last year, Harold's come a long way. I saw him sitting nicely today eating actual food at the lunch table. I admit it, since he is not my student, I am free to be under the spell of his cuteness. I meandered over to see what was on Harold's mind these days. It went like this:

Teacher: Heyyyy Harold, how's it going?

Harold: Fiiiiiiiiiiiine!

Teacher: What's for lunch?

Harold: Fish sticks!

Teacher: Oh yeah? Are they good?

Harold: (sly grin and narrowed eyes) They're better than YOU are!

Guess I know where I am on Harold's totem pole.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

Another day on which I feel obligated to get down on my knees and thank whomever you like to worship that my administrators are competent, caring people. It is so rare that a teacher is able to say that, I think. I certainly was NOT able to say that about my last school.

For everyone's reference, when writing here I refer to my Principal as Florence (short for Florence Nightingale) and my Assistant Principal as Clara (short for, you guessed it, Clara Barton). They are, no joke, angels of mercy. Things run smoothly at my school. There are no screaming matches in the lobby between the principal and parents. We don't arrive for a PD day and wonder what we're supposed to do. We get our class lists for next year in June, not on the first day of school in September. We have a testing calendar and know when everything is happening. We don't get told to "do something happy," for September 11th. We get help with students who are totally disrupting the classroom - whether they are just upset and need a break or violent and dangerous to the other children. It's not "good luck with that," it's "I'm on my way, hang on till I get there." And then in sixty seconds, they ACTUALLY SHOW UP.

You think I'm kidding, don't you. I'm not. Just as a for instance, last year I had the beginning ESL first grade class - 20 of my 25 spoke little or no English. One little girl, we'll call her Shrieky, arrived from foreign parts three days before school started. Never having been to school before, she was convinced her parents had brought her there and left her for good. Then she got hot, as it was still summer. Well, what does one do in a tiny remote village when one gets hot? Yes, you guessed it, I looked up from a group of children I was helping with an art project to see a little pair of yellow underpants whizzing by. Her dress was draped over the back of her chair. She and her underpants were on their way to the bathroom.

When she tripped in the cafeteria that afternoon, she started to cry. She cried all day. She cried, screamed, and swiped at the tears and snot running down her face. She cried at the nurse's office. She cried in the classroom. Remember that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story where the little girl washes away on a sea of her own tears? We came close. I sang her songs, I let her sit next to me in the listening area, I soothed her with the three words I knew in her language, all to no avail. Down came the AP, out went Shrieky. Nothing - NOTHING - disturbs instruction. Every single time she started to get weepy, someone took her out.

It's my third year at this school, and I still occasionally feel like Alice in Wonderland. I'll gladly stay down the rabbit hole.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Columbia the Gem of the Ocean (2007)

Today I gave a Social Studies quiz. Perhaps a mistake on a Monday. Perhaps a mistake any day. I did send a review sheet home, but there seems to have been a mixup somewhere along the way.

For the record, here are the true facts of history (answers all given on the same student's quiz...s/he of course, shall remain nameless to protect the uh...well, to protect everyone).

1. Who was the first President of the United States?

Apron Hand Chicken

2. Who was the sixteenth President of the United States?

Apron Hand Chicken

3. Who is the current President of the United States?

Apron Hand Chicken

4. Who is the Governor of New York State?

Apron Hand Chicken

5. What are the five boroughs of New York City?

New York, Florida, China, Africa, and North American Idol

Possibly this individual needs a review and a make-up quiz. Possibly that would be a useless endeavor. Points if you can post who Apron Hand Chicken is supposed to be.

Dear Sir (2007)

Okay, so the Criminals are working on writing persuasive letters. They were told that a persuasive letter must have a goal and must include at least three reasons why the writer should obtain his goal.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is one of the finer examples, written to the Criminal's brother, whose nickname is Macho:

Dear Macho:

My name is John Perez* and I am your brother.

I would like you to stop farting in my bedroom.

I would like you to stop farting in my bedroom because it smells awful. Also, you always get in trouble for it. And finally, when you do it, I always have to go and get the Febreze.


John Perez

Well, I think it deserves an A.

*name changed to protect the innocent

Charlotte WHAT? (2005)

So today we finished reading aloud Charlotte's Web. The Criminals have been glued to the rug every morning for our chapter and had begun begging for another chapter in the afternoon, so on the final day I obliged with the last TWO chapters in the afternoon. For days, we've been reading and talking and asking questions like, "Miss Victoria, what's manure? Miss Victoria, what's a fair? What's a barn swallow? How come the little girl takes care of the pig? She live on a farm? What that broken egg smell like, poo? Ha ha Miss Victoria that so funny!" Insert twenty little helium laughs here. In the chapter where, "the geese cheered," every two seconds, the Criminals cheered too.

Today though, you pretty much could've heard a pin drop, except when they were yelling "MISS VICTORIA WHAT'S A MAGNUM OPUS???" before I could get to Wilbur asking the same question. Charlotte explains everything just like Miss Victoria does, except she doesn't yell "STOP SHOUTING!" first.

And then they began to look suspicious when Charlotte seemed to be tired a LOT lately. And then Wilbur and Templeton packed up the egg sac and went home without Charlotte. And then, just as E. B. White says in the book...Charlotte died.

You would've thought I had killed these childrens' own mothers. Hot glares, shaking fingers, "Noooo no no bad Miss Victoria!" And Miss Victoria, wiping her own tears, said, "Well, it was Charlotte's time. But let's see what happens next."

And, God was in His heaven, all was right with the world: The baby spiders began to appear. After the first set, there was cautious applause. Then louder after the next, and when all 514 arrived, a thunderous ovation. The thunderous ovation continued intermittently until the very last sentence of the book.

Mr. White, I hope you were listening. In case you missed it, Stuart Little starts tomorrow.

Elephant Walk

The Circus, mind you, is more than three hours long. No one has an easy time sitting for that long - but especially not a bunch of six year olds. So when it got to be 1:00, and they were really starting to fidget and whine, my Assistant Principal mercifully informed me that the buses were waiting. It was time to go, even though the show wasn't over yet. The elephants had just entered the ring.

The elephants were standing on little tubs as we filed past them, lifting one foot up into the air, balancing on each other's backs, waving feet at the audience, and I figured the Criminals would really like that. They were, however, only mildly interested.Then, just as we all were completely ringside, the biggest elephant dropped the, uh, ball. A huge, enormous, gigantic, incredibly impressive ball of poop.

My class "star'd with wild surmise, silent upon a peak in"...well, not Darien. The Bronx. Then in unison they raised their arms above their heads and yelled:


And we, like Lewis and Clark, proceeded on, satisfied that there could be no more exciting finale to our day at the Circus.

Or the Evil Clowns will Eat Me (2005)

So yesterday the Criminals and I went to the UniverSOUL Circus. I will gloss over the fact that my school sent us to a Christian event (I kept waiting for the ringmaster to ask me to "give a shout out to" my synagogue...but he didn't. wonder why?), and concentrate on the Criminals' reactions to their first circus. Nary a one had been before, so they kept shaking their little fingers at me and saying "Noooooooo, Miss Victoria!" when I told them there'd be people flying through the air. They were pretty damned impressed with Miss Victoria when everything she said turned out to be true.

This year I've got Bradlee. He's six. He doesn't talk. Ever - well, almost ever. Bradlee has what's called selective mutism. He wouldn't talk to his Kindergarten teacher or classmates last year, he won't talk to any of the administrators or lunch ladies or guidance counselors or social workers. He will, however, talk to me. I'm not sure why - maybe because I'm okay with him if he doesn't want to talk? Every once in a while he comes over and grabs me around the knees and yells "PENCIL!" or "DOGGIE!" That means he wants the doggie book he likes. But usually, he's silent.

However, yesterday at the circus, Bradlee suddenly became positively loquacious. We got off the bus, we lined up, he took his place at the front of the line (of COURSE he's the smallest one in my class), he took one look at the circus advertisements outside the tent, glared up at me and yelled:

"I HATE CLOWNS!!!!!!!!"

There were, of course, about twenty five people from the circus standing around. They all looked at me like it was MY fault the boy has perfectly good sense!

So I mildly said, "you DO?"


So then, of course, everyone else in my class (they all love Bradlee) felt the necessity to support him in his vehemence. They were all pretty surprised that he talked, but they were damned if they were going to let him stand alone.


Teacher: (quietly to class) okay okay everyone, come on let's stay in line and go sit down


Teacher (watching all the circus employees glare) okay okay but look! They have lions and popcorn and funnel cake too!

Criminals: Oh! Okay! But CLOWNS ARE DUMB! least they didn't refuse to go to their seats. Next time: The Tale of the Elephant Poop.

Ding Dong TOK, Nag is Dead! (2005)

This week I read the Criminals Rudyard Kipling's great short story, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. If you don't know the story, it's about a little mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi who kills two cobras named Nag and Nagaina in order to save the family with whom he lives.The story is so brilliantly written that it's a pleasure to read to any child, even children with a very limited vocabulary and little frame of reference for this kind of material. They were glued to the carpet each time I read, chewing their nails as Rikki caroled his war-cry, "Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchahhh!" and they begged to finish the story today.

But I had to go to a meeting in the morning, and they all complained vociferously. "Miss Victoria! We need to read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi! Where are you GOING?" I said I was sorry, but they were very grumpy about the whole thing. I said I'd read to them after lunch if they didn't keep up the grumpy bad manners. They all very quickly smiled politely and said yes certainly they would be delighted to bide until after lunch and did I need help with that door on my way out?

After lunch we settled down to continue the story, but it's a short time between lunch and their specials time when Ms. Meehan comes to teach theatre arts (and Miss Victoria gets a break). Just as Miss Victoria and Rikki reached the veranda where Nagaina was holding the whole family hostage and getting ready to bite Teddy, the little boy, and Miss Victoria and Rikki snarled, "Turn around, Nagaina! Turn and fight!"...Ms. Meehan walked into the room.

"AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH!" cried the Criminals, to a man, Charlie Brown come to life. Miss Victoria smiled sweetly, closed the book, and said, "We'll finish the story after Ms. Meehan is gone," and put the book down. With many dark looks, the Criminals shuffled to their desks to be entertained with Little Rabbit Foo-foo and the like (Ms. Meehan has not heard of the story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, therefore she is rendered useless to my brood).

I came back to shouts of, "Miss Victoria! Can we finish the story now?!?!" and settled down to read the end. Nagaina and the one egg she had left met their end, Rikki emerged triumphant from the snake hole, and Darzee the bird sang his chant of triumph. Everyone clapped wildly, and we sat down to color a picture of a mongoose to end our week. What a ride.

School Days, School Days...(2005)

It's the sixth day of school, and Miss Victoria has - fortunately or unfortunately - gotten a reputation for being "good with" the "difficult children." Thus, every single one of them ended up in her band of Criminals this year. I have the nine year old first grader, the little boy whose Mom was addicted to crack when she was pregnant with him, the child who did not utter a word last year in Kindergarten, and the one - we'll call her Towanda - who sings at the top of her lungs for a few hours every day and hisses at me (a la cat, not a la snake) when I tell her she has to follow the rules. Towanda likes me though, and yesterday she leaned on me while we were practicing standing in line to go to the bathroom (we hadn't actually MADE it to the bathroom yet, and it was a dicey game trying to gauge how long I could make the Criminal element practice before it collectively wet its pants). Anyway, she leaned on me and muttered, "Aaaannnnnh, what's up, Doc?" I told her I had no carrots and she should show me excellent standing up straight.

Anyway, there we all are, and Miss Victoria says, "Okay, WITHOUT TALKING, everyone stand up....nope, sit down, you started to talk....WITHOUT TALKING...everyone stand up....sit down again, you started to talk....etc...etc..."

I kid you not. Eight times, we stood, got in line, started to punch each other and yell, and sat down. Four times we walked out into the hallway, started to jump, run, and yell, came back, and sat down. We were very very pissed off at Miss Victoria. We were half an hour late to lunch. But we got there. Quietly.

Towanda, however, wasn't having a good day. She sang more than her allotted three hours, put up her dukes when I told her to sit down, and finally - after we had practiced standing up to get on line for the afternoon bathroom break about thirty times (to no avail: we had to sit down again thirty times), she sat and refused to stand up again.

I got everyone else out into the hall just as the science teacher arrived - he took them to the bathroom, and I went in to deal with Towanda. Towanda was banging her head against the desk and looking annoyed (not surprising - I'd be annoyed if my head hurt that much). She yelled, "I'M TRYING REALLY HARD...BUT I MADE A DISGRACE."

Well that did it for me. Someone who is five years old and can use the word "disgrace" in a sentence gets my full attention. So I sat her down and we had a Talk. I told her a secret. I told her I liked her. She found that interesting. She found it so interesting that she was able to walk out and join the line and go successfully to the bathroom.

Yep, I like Towanda.

Her Name was Annabelle Lee (2005)

Okay so, remember Annabelle, the girl who's fast with the scissors? She is SO happy she has a job. She tells me so every day. On Wednesday, she told me so by launching herself at me on the stairs, clinging to me and screaming "I LOVE YOU MISS VICTORIA!" as I stumbled and crashed down four steps. I felt something in my foot go CRACK, and lay there, dazed, while the security officer helped me up and all the other Criminals looked appalled and hissed "ANNABELLE!!!"

She stood there all alone, bottom lip quivering, tears welling in her eyes, and she said, "Miss Victoria, it was an ACCIDENT!" Even though I was ready to kill her from the pain, I couldn't yell at her. I said, "I know Annabelle. Next time be more careful," and we went on to go outside and home for the day (thank GOD).

So that night after a trip to the emergency room when the pain got pretty bad, I came home with Vicodin and a broken toe.

Next morning, we all sit down on the rug and I say, "Guess WHAT? Miss Victoria broke her toe! It's all purple and green and blue!"

Criminals: Ooooooo can we SEE IT?

Teacher: Well no, I don't want to take my shoe off right now.

Hazel: Well where is it?

Teacher:'s on my foot. Your toes are on your feet, you guys know that.(Criminals look confused)

Indira: But you said it was BROKEN!

Teacher: Oh. Right. It broke, but it didn't break OFF.(Criminals look disappointed)

Indira: (sighing) Oh.

Next time I'll see if I can actually LOSE a body part. This, it seems, was the excitement they were looking for.

Get A Job (2005)

So after lunch today, everybody was walking nicely two-by-two in line discussing the beef patties and how they'd rather have PB&J, and we get back to our room to see that Miss Victoria has changed the Jobs Chart.

A Job Chart, for those uninitiated amongst you, is a hanging thing with pockets (more generally known, imagine our shock, as a pocket chart) and cards with little pictures of cartoon children emptying the trash and feeding the pets (various and sundry well-fed mice who live in the radiators not included). If you are particularly well-behaved and responsible, you get to have a job. EVERYONE wants a job. I can't make up enough jobs to go around. One individual in particular, we'll call her Annabelle, REALLY wants a job. Problem is, Annabelle is like the Holy Roman Empire in the responsibility and behaving area: neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

Every day Annabelle yells, "MISS VICTORIA I WANT A JOB PLEASE C'N I HAVE A JOB I REALLY WANT A JOB," as she careens through the room grabbing crayons and coloring on the nearest person. The other day I had to explain to Marcel's parents why his eyebrows looked funny. He and Annabelle had decided to try cutting them with the "safety" scissors (safety scissors - that's a laugh). Annabelle is, to say the the most child-friendly way..., a very tactile learner.

So today she sees that she is, yet again, not on the Job Chart. She yells, "MISS VICTORIA I WANT A JOB PLEASE C'N I HAVE A JOB I REALLY WANT A JOB," and once again I gently explain to her why she can't have a job.She loses it.She throws herself on the floor, sobbing and screaming, "I WOULD WORK SO HARD ON MY JOB PLEASE LET ME HAVE A JOB PLEASE MISS VICTORIA PLEASE."

I say soothingly, "Okay, okay, stop crying...we WILL find you a job."So there I am frantically trying to come up with something she can do without actually being responsible for anything in the classroom or being allowed to roam freely near, well, anything.

Suddenly, I have it. I go to my personal cabinet, open it, and extract my hairbrush.

Teacher: Okay Annabelle, here is your job. You are responsible for making sure Miss Victoria's hair ALWAYS looks PERFECT.

Stunned silence.

Big round eyes.


Awed stare.

Annabelle: I'm gonna DO YOUR HAIR????

Teacher: That's right, for five minutes every day before Ms. G comes to teach Character Education, you make sure Miss Victoria's hair looks good.

Big breath, puffed up chest, squared shoulders.

Annabelle: Okay, Miss Victoria, I'll do it!

Boy, am I gonna look like a diva, or what?

Owl Correspondence (2003)

So I'm doing a unit on non-fiction with the criminals, and we're talking about an article on owls from a magazine called "Your Big Backyard"

Now, in case you didn't know, owls swallow their prey/food whole and regurgitate all the parts they can't digest in a small pellet (my Mom's question..."So owls never poop?"...good thing the first grade didn't think of that).

Well, I laid that on the first grade, and there was a stunned and awed silence. Then:

Cynthia: Miss Victoria....owls throw up every DAY?

Teacher:'s not exactly throwing up...

Class: Yes it is!!! Owls throw up all the time!

Then it got even more interesting - the science cluster teacher at my school actually owns an owl pellet. She brought it in for them to look at last period, and I couldn't get them to go home. Excited cries of "eeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuuuwwwwwwww!!!" reigned supreme, and forget coming to get your homework folder while you were examining a little leftover beak and feet from the bird the owl had caught.

So I finally got them packed up and into their big puffy coats, hats, scarves, the end of the day I look like I'm leading an army of miniature Sta-Puff Marshmallow Men through the hall...and I take them outside to meet up with their parents.Cynthia goes running up to her mother and shouts, "MOM! DID YOU KNOW OWLS THROW UP ALL THE TIME???"

Her mother looks at me like, "Um, what are you teaching my kid?"

I smile weakly, say "Have a nice weekend," and get my ass outta there.

The Ants Go Marching (2003)

So I'm trying to get the Criminals settled down for reading today, and I notice Luis' math tool kit sitting open on his desk, his empty pencil basket beside it. Each child in my room has a basket to himself for his bits and bobs, or there is unrest amongst the natives on the subject of pencil ownership. However, I digress. Thinking that the tool kit full of plastic pennies, dice, cards (this is a first grade math tool kit, not a gambler's tool kit) will shortly be all over the floor, I pick up the bag and attempt to place it inside the (almost) empty basket. The other three children at the table simultaneously scream:


Teacher: What's the problem?

Table 4: (pointing to basket) Look!

Whereupon I notice a small ant making its way slowly across the floor of the basket. I look at the group, waiting for an explanation. I get it.

Destiny: It's his pet.

Teacher: Luis has a pet ant?

Destiny: Uhhuh for like two DAYS Miss Victoria

Teacher: I see. He's going to die if he doesn't get something to eat.

Penelope: (rolling eyes) Miss Victoria, it's a SHE.

Destiny: She's a princess.

Teacher: Oh. Well she's going to die if she doesn't get something to eat.

Penelope: (rolling eyes) Her NAME is Sabrina.

Javier: Do you have anything to feed her?

Teacher: How about if we put her up in the plant and she eats from there?

Penelope: She doesn't like leaves.

Teacher: Well I'm sure there are other things to eat in there, and then Luis could use his basket for his pencils.

Involved miniature parties: OKAY!

God help me if I didn't find myself hauling out my stepladder to climb up and dump this damn ant into the philodendron so he...excuse me, HER ROYAL FREAKING HIGHNESS, could get a decent meal. The Criminals all milled around the bottom of the stepladder, much like ants themselves, anxiously watching to make sure I deposited her safely into her new home.

Children: "Did she make it? Is she okay?"

Teacher: Yes, she's fine. Luis, can you put your tool kit in your basket please?

Luis: I can now.

It's a WHAT? (2004)

For those of you who do NOT have children in the NYC public schools, this week was the dreaded ELA test for third and fourth graders. ELA is eduspeak for English Language Arts.Thus, the school had to be QUIET....QUIET DAMMIT!!!! And thus, off went the first grade to field trips for two days straight. The Criminals thought they had died and gone to heaven...and by the way Miss Victoria could they eat their snacks on the bus?

I will gloss over the fact that for the whole rest of the year the asswipe principal can't get her shit together and insist on teaching children the necessity for quiet. No discipline at the top means no discipline at the bottom. Or, as my teacher friend says, "Shit Floweth Downward." Hence the reason we have to actually be sent out of the building to make it tolerable for the testing grades.

Moving right along, on our first day we went to the Children's Science Center in Queens. After a public address announcement which went something like (exactly like) this, "ALL TEACHERS ON THE SECOND FLOOR NOT TESTING, THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING. LEAVE THE FLOOR IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE JUDGED INSUBORDINATE." Pleasant workplace atmosphere, no?

We sat in the auditorium for an hour waiting for the buses. You can imagine how well that went over with 20 antsy first graders. Anyway, we did finally get on the road after Miss Victoria personally fastened 21 individuals into their seatbelts. She left her own off in hopes that she could take the easy way out and die in a bus crash.

Below, a sampling of our "noticings." <-- another eduspeak word:

MISS VICTORIA LOOK A TRUCK! yes I see the truck.

MISS VICTORIA LOOK A DOG! yes I see the dog

MISS VICTORIA LOOK THE OCEAN! well, actually the Harlem River

MISS VICTORIA LOOK LOTS OF CARS! yes, trust me, I see the traffic jam on the Deegan in which we are about to take part.

So after Miss Victoria had gotten whiplash looking at everything, she got up to give a running commentary on the flora, fauna, and local sights. Everyone was pretty agreeable and listened without yelling...too much.We then arrived at the Science Center, which, in case you didn't know, is basically a big indoor playground for science with no structure whatsoever. It took threatening no more field trips EVER to get the Criminals to stay together.

Everyone SAID he wanted to see the first demonstration lecture. "Are you SURE?" said Miss Victoria, "it's a dissection." "YES!" shouted the Criminal Element, "LET'S GO!"

"Do you even know what a dissection is?"

"LET'S GO LET'S GO MISS VICTORIA!!!!" (much tugging and pulling towards benches in front of table with some cool instruments and a big light and some whizzy optical illusion stuff on it).


Guy comes out. Guy sits down. Guy opens cabinet under table. Guy nonchalantly whips out bucket of eyeballs.

Criminals scream "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Guy grins at Miss Victoria. Miss Victoria smiles and nods thinking "yeah you go ahead, Guy, you think that's all they're gonna do?"



Miss Victoria smiles serenely.

We got through about another five minutes, all the way, in fact, to the iris, before Miss Victoria took pity, yelled "CAPTAIN!" and got her chicks into line. We went upstairs to check out the Science of Sports exhibit, which the Criminals also enjoyed. They also enjoyed the library, the space exhibit, and the lunch. Then they enjoyed marching to the bus. Then they enjoyed sitting on the bus for 20 minutes waiting for the stupid idiot teacher who coordinates the field trip to get off her ass and on to the bus (I had to go yell at her - she was chatting with the security guards indoors while we waited for her). They enjoyed it when one of the Criminals thought it would be a good idea to start up a rousing rendition of "Kiss your Brain!" - a song Miss Victoria sings with them every morning. Then they all fell asleep. Except for Miss Victoria. Miss Victoria, no joke, called her Mommy. Miss Victoria needed to hear that it would be all right as soon as Miss Victoria got home to soak in a tub full of Calgon.

It was. At least until 8:30 the next morning when it was time for our trip to THE POLAR EXPRESS. Miss Victoria can't recall what happened on that trip - at least not until she's had a weekend to recover.

Follow the Drinking Gourd (2003)

So it's been a tough month with the Criminals. After last week’s series of lessons on a book called Follow the Drinking Gourd to introduce the concept of slavery to the first grade, I was faced this week with attempting to figure out if the group could see where I was going when I started off the week with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s small poetic masterpiece called “Sympathy.” I know that at the end of this unit on African American poets, I want the children to understand the progression of the black experience in America. What I didn’t know, however, could fill several pages. I didn’t know if I had the talent to teach it well enough for the class to understand. I didn’t know if the children were even able to understand at this age. And I certainly didn’t know how to tell if they understood.

So we sat on the rug on Monday morning and reviewed some vocabulary words they might not know. I didn’t say a word about last week’s book. I didn’t tell them anything about Dunbar other than his name. I explained that I didn’t have a book with pictures today, said that we might think about doing our own illustrations and making a book, pointed out those key unknown words, and launched into a reading of the last stanza of the poem.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore--

When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a plea he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a prayer that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings!

I finished reading, and Diana’s hand shot up. I called on her, sighing inwardly as I waited for her inevitable request to go to the bathroom.

“Miss Victoria, that’s like Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

Teacher sat, nodding dumbly for a few moments in stunned silence, then said shakily, “Yes….yes Diana…I think you’re right, I think it is like Follow the Drinking Gourd.” I watched almost the entire rest of the class nod in agreement with Diana. If I had had my wits about me, I would have immediately assessed further by simply asking, “Why?” I didn’t think of that until a few hours later. The next day, we headed back to the rug for a second look at the poem. I reviewed vocabulary and re-read the text, the class starting to chime in on the more familiar lines. I got to ask what I had slipped up on the day before. “Diana said something very interesting yesterday, she said this poem reminded her of Follow the Drinking Gourd, and some of you said you thought so too. Why do you think that?”

Hands waved in the air. “The slaves wanted to be free just like the bird wants to be free.”

“They didn’t want to die in a cage neither.”

“Their hearts was hurting like the bird’s heart was broken.”

I picked up a piece of paper I had been holding in my plan book and read aloud to them. “Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872. His parents were Matilda and Joshua Dunbar, escaped slaves.”

“Ooooooooh!” said the class as I turned the page around and showed them his picture.“Why did he feel sympathy for the bird?”“He knew, Miss Victoria, he knew how the bird felt in that cage!” Beyond my wildest dreams, they understood. We brainstormed a list of the different illustrations we could make for our book, and the class clamored to have the first turn at the painting table during our center time. One student wanted to paint the bird in the cage, another a man in a cage. One wanted to paint praying hands and a cross, one a solitary wing with a bruised side.

The government (what did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine) wants me to prove that I'm a good teacher via portfolios of student work. Produce, produce, produce. I don’t know if it’s possible to prove with a piece of paper what happened in my room this week. How do you get down on paper, as a teacher, “This week the first grade explored the existence of symbolic meaning in literature and tackled the concept of the pain and suffering of one as an example for the ages?” Assess THAT, President Bush.

God Bless Us, Every One. (2003)

Well we had ourselves quite a time, I tell you, the Criminals and I.

We entered our classroom on the morning before Christmas break to find a mountain of presents had mysteriously appeared overnight, along with festive decorations which included a lot of glitter and shiny things. In case you have forgotten being six, nothing competes with glitter and shiny things. When you are six, you also don't notice the dark circles under Miss Victoria's eyes which appear when she stays until 7:00 PM sneakily decorating the room after all the criminals have gone home at 5:00. Good thing, because if you did notice, Miss Victoria's game would be up.This wonderland of presents produced the very satisfactory reaction of curtailing too much misbehavior because of over-excitement all day. What if you did something bad at the last hour and Santa Claus swooped in to retrieve his gifts? You can bet your ass Miss Victoria wondered that aloud...very aloud.

We did some reading, did some math, watched the Peanuts' Christmas and The Lion King, had some doritos and soda (oh yes indeed, it was a banner day, even the caffeine and sugar didn't make them lose it) and then we were told to get our coats and go quietly to the rug to receive our packages. You can also bet your ass we were extremely quiet.

Teacher: Now I don't know what's in these packages, so don't ask me. The Elves dropped them off while I wasn't here, so I couldn't ask them. However they left instructions that NO ONE is to open his package until CHRISTMAS DAY. Except for Muhammad. He's allowed because his holiday is already happening.

Criminals: (glaring at Muhammad)

Muhammad: (grins at everyone) ha!

Teacher: Here we go. (distributes packages to a silent, awestruck audience)

Darriel: I bet this is a book.

Kelsey: (urgent whisper) Darriel! You are not supposed to guess!

Teacher: Okay everyone got his stuff? Let's line up to go home.

Class walks quietly to the door. Class walks quietly through the halls. Class goes outside to see parents waiting.

Class:EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEMOMMYMOMMYMOMMYDADDYMOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (turns, runs back to throw arms around Miss Victoria) Merry Christmas, Miss Victoria!

Teacher: (to self) Happy Holidays, and someone get me a drink.

A Criminals' Christmas Carol (2003)

So earlier this week one of my criminals, a serious academic named Jessica who looks like she should be in a Renaissance painting of a Spanish Infanta, informed me that, "Santa Claus isn't real." The rest of the class looked shocked and appalled, and Miss Victoria went right along with that. Miss Victoria is of the opinion that her children are growing up too fast, and she will use any method necessary to insure they get just a little bit more time in the land of childhood.

"Don't be ridiculous! Of course he's real!"

Class looked slightly relieved.

I figured I'd better back it up with some actual proof, so my entire Thursday afternoon was devoted to creating, if I may toot my own horn, a masterpiece epistle with the aid of red construction paper, silver and gold pens, and silver and gold glitter. The text was as follows:

Dear Class X-XXX (room number):

We have a very important message from Santa Claus. He has too many presents to carry. He has to leave some with Miss Victoria. You must come to school on Tuesday to get yours.
Signed,The Elves

Santa Claus written entirely in gold glitter, The Elves in silver glitter. I completed the package with a tiny red and green felt bootie, stuck together with my trusty hot glue gun.

Now, Miss Victoria is no dope, and neither are the Criminals. I couldn't just stick the thing up on the door and expect them to believe that the Elves had been by to drop off the mail. No no. I had to let one of the school aides in on the plan. At the end of our math lesson, while the door was closed, the note came sliding under the door. I said sternly, "Yusmery! Pick up your things! Don't leave paper on the floor!" and pointed to the note. She picked it up and said, "No! Me no leave this here!" (she's an ELL student, still has Spanish sentence construction). I took it from her and read it silently, ran to the door and opened the door - Lo! how a bootie e'er blooming - picked it up and shut the door with a bang. Everyone stopped and looked up. "Oh my goodness, sit down, Miss Victoria has to read this to you immediately!" I sounded so serious that they all scrambled to their seats.

I read the note, and as I get to the words, "Santa Claus" a gasp runs through the audience, er, I mean class. They are hanging off their seats, glued to my every word, and then as I finish I turn the note around and they see the glitter and etc. They are almost fainting at this point, but when I say, "and look, the elf was in such a hurry, he left his shoe," they are finished. They rush me, climbing over me with cries of, "Let me see! Read it again! Show us the shoe!"The shoe is snatched from my hands and smelled intensely. The cry goes round - "Eeeewwww I smell elf feet!" It is passed from hand to hand, all declaring the same result - the smell of elf feet is present. Javier runs to the door, opens it, looks out, slams it shut, leans against it and yells, "Miss Victoria! I saw the elf!"

Gone is any sign of a non-believer. Jessica is smelling elf feet with the rest of them. I get them calmed down enough to line up and go to the bathroom, and Luis comes back from the boys' room to report, "Miss Victoria, I saw an elf in the bathroom!" I didn't ask what the elf was doing.
We then sat down for our afternoon journal session. Imagine my shock when every single story is about an elf showing up in our classroom. I pinned the bootie up on the bulletin board, "in case the elf comes back for it," and will replace it with a bag of red and green hershey kisses on Monday morning.

Oddly enough, the last thing I heard every child say to his parent as he was picked up from school was...

"I have to come to school on Tuesday!!"

Hey Rocky...(2003)

So I'm standing with my criminals today waiting for their parents to come and get them, and Penelope (she's five, her birthday is not till December) runs up and complains.

"Miss Victoria, that squirrel told me I am stupid!"

I said (naturally) "How do you know?"

She stated quite simply..."I speak squirrel."

And I thought I was good because I could speak some Russian and Czech. How will I know when a squirrel is insulting me?

Mind Your Manners (2003)

So today the entire first grade at my school (nine classes) went on a field trip to see "Jack Frost," which was about the lamest piece of crap I have ever seen in my life. Picture those horrible shows we've all done for education and outreach, only with talentless "professionals" in their mid-thirties as the "kids" from Brooklyn. It was like a bad joke - the Jew and the Muslim and the Catholic dancing around on stage singing about how wonderful the holidays are and isn't it nice to be multicultural (sha la la).

Now, before we left, Miss Victoria and the Criminals had a Very Serious Talk about How We Behave at the Theater. Never ever ever going on another field trip ever ever ever again was mentioned. Twice. A lot of nodding and "Yes, Miss Victoria," dutifully intoned.Directly before we went IN to the theater, it went something like this:

Miss Victoria: Our mouths are...

Criminals: CLOSED!

Miss Victoria: Our ears are...

Criminals: OPENED!

and in we went.

I was never ever ever so proud of them as I was today. They did not talk. They did not kick the seats in front of them. They did not pull each others' hair. They sat and politely watched this piece of drivel as if they were Little Lord Fauntleroy and Polly Anna. The children around them screamed and walked around in the aisles and loudly said "I WANNA GO HOOOOOMMMME!!!" and my babies looked up at me with wide eyes and nodded silently: THEY knew the score.

Then our bus never came to pick us up. They stood out in the cold (the bus field was nowhere near a building) and waited for this asshole to show up for half an hour and did not act up. They squished four classes to a bus and quietly rode home. They ate their lunch and cleaned up after themselves.

We sat down to do some journaling.I told them I wanted to hear what they thought about "Jack Frost." They were to write down their thoughts about it, remembering not to worry if they couldn't spell a word - just circle it and keep writing, we'd come back to edit later. "Pencils up....GO!" and away they went.

So then we're sitting on the rug with our rough drafts, getting ready to edit them so we can write our final versions on the paper shaped like a snowman, and we're working out all those words we circled. "Show. Shhh shhhh...who remembers what those two letters are that make that sound?" "Oh yeah! S H!"I don't spell words for them. We work it out together, we check our First Grade Fast Words Wall, we look in our word bags. But then, Darriel raises his hand, looking tentative. All my kids are so polite really. They think it's bad manners to say something stinks. He says..."Miss Victoria? do you spell...(pause)...boring?"

I snort and say..."B-O-R-I-N-G!"

Every head in the class bends over its paper and starts writing. Does this group have good taste, or what?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Talk of the Town (2003)

So the other day I was sitting on the rug with the criminals, reading them K.Y. Craft's gorgeously illustrated version of "Cinderella," when I hear a scream from the back of the rug."MISS VICTORIA, MISS VICTORIA!!!!!" Everyone is pointing at Brian, who is holding his bloody tooth up to me with an expression on his face which pricelessly illustrates his thoughts ("WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!"). The blood causes minor mayhem, but I dispatch him to the nurse with a friend, stick his tooth in my pocket until I can dig out a plastic baggie, and sit down to continue the story.

On a whim, I hold the book and ask the class, "Is the Tooth Fairy the same as the Fairy Godmother?"

You would have thought I had asked if chocolate ice cream was the same as vanilla. The looks of scorn! The disbelief!

Class: NO!

Me: No? Well, how are they different?

Kelsey: The Tooth Fairy could only give you money! (whereas the Fairy Godmother has got stuff like ballgowns and coaches to hand out)

Me: Well, but they both can do magic, right?

Class: Yes!

Me: Are they both ladies?

Class: (pausing to look sorrowfully at dumb Miss Victoria) Yes!

Me: Well are there boy fairies? (spare me, they don't get double entendre)

Class: (pausing to look sorrowfully at dumb Miss Victoria) No!

Me: Well what are boys if they can do magic?

Darriel: (soberly) a doctor....(he thinks a minute)...or a witch.

Me: Well...but how is a witch different from a fairy?

Destiny: (pausing to look sorrowfully at dumb Miss Victoria) A witch have a broom, and a fairy don't!

Glad we got that sorted out. Boy was I confused.

Happy New Year

And with a new school year underway in tandem with 5770 Rosh Hashanah, the voice...or er...voices...inside my head are all becoming more insistent. They're all droning in monotone...victoria...start a those stories online...everyone's been telling you to do it.

So, here I am - teaching second grade in, for purposes of identification, a Very Large City - all ready to expose the sordid underbelly of the profession. We could start with the individual, for instance, who brought a live starfish to school last week and secreted it in his desk. By the next day, of course, it was a very dead starfish. There was, shall we say, a noxious aroma pervading the hallway. Note to self: more lessons on Ocean Life.

Some of these stories are from my first year of teaching (always an "interesting" time), some from later years. The already-written ones are posted here randomly. Everything else will be more cohesive.

Obviously, it's Sunday night - prime procrastination time. However, since I've already produced the assignment sheet of spelling words for this week and made lunches for the week for both myself and the junior member of my household (a long-suffering seventh grader who occasionally has reason to regret being the child of a teacher), I feel secure that I can finish everything else before bedtime. I'm probably gravely mistaken. Good thing first period Monday morning is my prep. This way I can post a few of those old stories and not leave this post as a lonely first entry.

Happy reading, Happy New Year.