Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

School Daze

Yes. Yes I realize it's been um, a while, since I posted. Normally I would resume posting on about the first day of school (look at my cute bulletin boards! check out the cool stuff the principal bought for me!), but the thing is, I switched horses midstream. There I was happily trotting along in second grade when suddenly the music teacher retired and...well...can one really resist a "pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease you'd be so good at it," from one's principal? Maybe you can, dear Reader, but I can't.

So now I teach K-5 music. Let's make this clear. I have 635 students. I am teaching four grades I've never taught before. I'm teaching a subject I've never taught before. I'm using equipment I've never used before. I am a complete and utter lunatic. It's almost like being a first year teacher all over again, minus the frightening ability to turn a classroom into total chaos in ten seconds flat. At least I've mastered that part.

So far the little ones are doing a lot of dancing to the beat..or, you know, to their inner drummer. If I can somehow manage to get (and post) video of the kindergarten rendition of "Mamma Mia," rest assured you will get to see it. Because EVERYBODY should see the kindergarten dancing to "Mamma Mia."

The middle grades are learning the notes of the staff. Slowly. Also "Allouette," because I figured any song about a small bird getting ripped to pieces by a chef would be popular with the second through fourth grades. I was right.

THe fifth grade thinks it has stumbled into a nightmare. I'm making them learn a much-abbreviated version of (Oberlin grads anyone?) Music History 101 with Professor Susskin. Today O mitissima, next week Ce fut en mai...and Justin Bieber. Look everyone! Look where those songs about far off love come from! Also, could you all stop saying "Justin Beaver?"

They're good sports though, some of it they find interesting (slaughter, dungeons, unfortunate forced marriages), and the rest they're willing to put up with.

Next time: Thoughts on our new chorus.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

And What is so Rare

(originally posted June 1, 2010)

Yes, I know it's been (cough) a while since I posted. Blame my boyfriend, he's way more fascinating than anyone has a right to be. Also, he lives in Oklahoma, so we have to make...uh...hay...while the sun shines. Anyone with a lead on a philosophy assistant visiting professor position in or around New York, you know where to find me.

But, hallelujah, today is the first of June. JUNE JUNE JUNE! Today is the day I traditionally begin reading Charlotte's Web. And I did. Mercifully MOST of my Criminals remembered my injunction: DO NOT USE THE WORD MOVIE IN CONNECTION WITH ANYTHING WE READ. EVER. I detest hearing "Miss Clara! I saw the movie of that!" Most of them don't understand me when I yell "NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS MOVIE," but some do. Of course, the ones who do wouldn't do that in the first place. The eternal paradox.

As I write, there are 20 (19 1/2!) days left of this school year. The natives are restless. I'm keeping them in line with the old no-California-Pizza-Kitchen maneuver. Talk and die...or at least miss the field trip, which to a 7 year old is LIKE dying.

This time of year, teachers everywhere are looking their minds' eyes they're planting basil and tomatoes, reading trashy novels, sleeping late, baking things, cooking things, staring at the ceiling, going to the county fair. It's the only thing that keeps them from jumping out a window, because in reality they're keeping 30 seven year olds itching to be free from killing each other, jumping in the garbage can, having a food fight, running with get the point.

And what is so rare as a day in June!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ballet Basics

Hm, field trip to see the ballet of "Cinderella" today. Nice sets and costumes, adequate dancing, and...

A lady with serious Locust Valley Lockjaw who felt it necessary to explain the plot of Cinderella to a bunch of early elementary children. Um. Anyone not know this story? Oh good, so let's dispense with the synopsis - especially the unfortunate use of the phrase "gossamer wings", 'cause very few 4-7 year olds understand it.

What they DID understand was that this is the story of Cinderella without any words. On with the show. Children are not as stupid as some people think they are.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Dusty

Ah, the day we come back from Spring Break.

The weather is warm (some days it's really warm....89 degree high anyone?), the days are getting longer, and the countdown to the end of the year begins (before Spring Break the numbers are too depressing). The kids are more relaxed than they were when we left, and so are the teachers. Also some of us are in a kind of chocolate covered matzoh-induced trance. Cough. And, well, let's face it, chocolate Easter bunnies too. We're very ecumenical here at The Down Staircase.

This year, though, was unusual. The day before the break, Miss Clara was informed that her ENTIRE CLASSROOM had to be stripped bare. All bulletin boards taken down, all materials removed from the shelves. Every. Single. Thing. The art teacher very kindly offered to store this load of stuff in her office over the holiday. The fifth grade teachers kindly - nay eagerly - sent some Spring Fever Crazy students out of their classrooms to help tote.

Why, you ask? Well, the good news is: because my classroom got a new tile floor. And before I proceed to kvetch, may I say it is an absolutely GORGEOUS floor. It's swimming pool blue. Not necessarily something I would install in my living room (although a Kindergartener once told me, "I like your house," whilst gazing at the class artwork), but just right for an early childhood classroom. And uh, truth be told, I might (who are we kidding, definitely would) install it in my kitchen. Cheery blue! Pretty yellow! How chic, how French!

But I digress.

So when I got back this morning, I walked in to my room and kinda screamed and clutched at my chest. The furniture had all been moved out. The asbestos abatement team had abated (welcome to 2010!). The tile guys had laid the new floor....and left a shroud of tile dust over every. single. surface. Bookshelves, sink area, windowsills...not to mention all the furniture had been moved back the middle of the room. It looked like my classroom looks in August when I return from summer vacation and the wonderful custodians have waxed my floor. Except way dirtier.

Now, at least two of the four people who read this blog know that I am, shall we say, slightly OCD-ish about my classroom's cleanliness and order. There was not a rat's chance in hell that I was going to simply put everything back on the dust-laden shelves. No, this called for the Green Scrubbie of Doom and the Windex. And while we were at it, the tile men had disconnected all the computers and pulled the tables out from the wall...perfect opportunity to scrub the grime off the tables and Windex all the filthy cords and cables! And boy howdy were they FILTHY. Like Times Square in the 70's filthy. Legendary filth.

And hey! since they had taken every single piece of flotsam and jetsam out of the room (if you are a teacher you will know the sinking feeling feeling when you walk into a classroom that's new to you but not to the other nine packrats teachers...who had it before you) and then piled it back in the middle, today was the perfect opportunity to THROW OUT THE JUNK!

Once small glitch. There were 25 seven year olds who needed to learn something. Oh yeah. Oops.

So we sorta had um, an "easy" day back. We wrote in our journals about vacation, we read our independent reading books, we did a few desultory pages of math, we stared out the window at the bright sunshine and butterflies. Well - THEY did. Miss Clara cleaned like a maniac and made a pile roughly the size of Mount Rushmore in the hallway. And apologized profusely to the custodian who was going to have to throw it all out. But seriously. A set of encyclopedias from 1973? Why? Materials from teachers who retired ten years ago? Good bye! Old textbooks with pictures of Ronald Reagan as "our current President" covered in mouse droppings (the books, not Ronald Reagan)? Good riddance (the books and Ronald Reagan).

So now I just have to figure out when I will put BACK all the bulletin boards and teaching charts. I guess everyone's just going to have to be patient for a few days.

I hate being patient.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The History of the English Language

By this point, we know that this year there are some seriously bright lights in amongst the Criminals. One of them, Nashat we'll call her, came to me with her new American Girl book on Friday morning. Pointing to the pictures in the non-fictional history section in the back, she demanded, "Miss Victoria, what's this, the Great Depression, what's that mean?"

So, short explanation, knowing it wouldn't end there.

"What's a soup line?"

short explanation

"What's this, why do they call it a Hooverville?"

short explanation

"Well if they knew he would do that, why did they elect him?"

short explanation

"Well who fixed it?"

short explanation.


"Miss Victoria...where do words come from?"

Astounded pause. "You do words get in to the English language?"

"Yes...there are so many of them!"

"Well...Nashat...the story of English is a very long one, I'm not even sure how I would tell it to you."

"Well...could you tell it to us today instead of reading Socks?"

So I sat there for a little bit with my mouth hanging open. I mean really. Second grade. This is a question for a high school sociology or English class. Or history class. Or, well, you know, someone who teaches high school.

And then, my stupid brain started whispering to could get a map of the world before the creation of the English could show them how it happened...just the top reading group...come know they'd be fascinated by this spellbinding story....

Sigh. Yeah. Pleiostocene we come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Forsooth and Verily

Today I told the Criminals about the Ides of March and read them the Soothsayer's bit from Julius Caesar. They then proceeded to go around all day wiggling their fingers creepily at everyone and moaning "Bewaaaaaaaaaaaare the Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiides of Maaaaaaaaaaaaaarch."

The lunch lady was quite taken aback.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas Toast

See what I said down there about Adam and Eve in the science classroom? Take a look, folks. Tenure protects me from having to teach this without a counter-argument. Texas teachers just missed being forced to say that the Civil Rights Movement created "unrealistic expectations of equality." Um. Expecting everyone to be treated equally is unrealistic? Only if you're a really hopeful bigot.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Broken Link

And just who told my student's parents they could move to a different neighborhood in the middle of the school year??

Look folks, get it straight. When you give me your kid in September, he is MINE until June. Then I give him his report card with his little handwritten note telling him why I'm proud of him and pointing out what kind of progress he made this year. THEN you get to have him back. You are not allowed to leave in February.

Okay, they are, but it drives me NUTS. What if Mohammed's new teacher doesn't see he's brilliant? What if she's still reading stupid picture books when WE are reading novels (remember Bunnicula, anyone)? What if she doesn't have any interest in building up Judeo-Muslim relations by asking questions about HIS religion and saying what's the same from HER religion?? Gah.

The snow day (yay!) today meant no real "last day" for Mohammed (boo!). His mother picked him up in the midst of the storm yesterday and asked me to come and have tea with her family after they settled in the new house. I'll go to tea, but I'll spend most of it quizzing him on his new classroom. And listen here, if I deem it unacceptable, I'm telling them they have to move back.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's HOW Many?

This week I had an evening doctor's appointment, and as it was a late day at school I had to drive straight there (much further East on my Island) from school. This meant no time to stop and make dinner.

Now, slowly but surely I'm returning to my Oberlin Granola Crunchy roots. I stopped buying produce that isn't organic..then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Fast Food Nation and stopped buying meat except from the small organic case at the local supermarket (because uh, EW). Then I did some reading about bovine growth hormones and whoops! Milk and cheese and butter too. And then, one day last summer I was driving through the idyllic farm country of the area surrounding our little cottage on the lake and saw a small plane swooping over a field of wheat....spraying....some...was that water? Oh wait. That' my BREAD. And my convenient pizza dough bought at the supermarket...guess I'm getting that bread machine out and buying organic flour...and covered with organic mozzarella and...wait why am I buying organic mozzarella and making homemade pizza dough if I'm just going to pair it with Ragu? Oh look, they have organic tomato sauce too.

Well you get my point. Locavore, organivore, whatever. But everyone has emergency days when he didn't think ahead and bring a sandwich. So, yeah, I drove through McDonalds in a hurry. And I thought, "Okay, get the Happy Meal, that's for kids, it won't be nearly as bad as a grown up value meal."

Oh, Miss foolish mortal.

So I eat this tiny hockey puck ammonia filled cheeseburger and the miniature bag of pressed dehydrated potato french fries and drink my Diet Chemicals and go to my appointment and pick up the kid at my Mom's and return home, exhausted and...hungry. Big surprise, that (WARNING...WARNING...WARNING... TEACHER ABOUT TO USE A SWEAR WORD) crap didn't fill me up at all. Well hey, I only had a Happy Meal! Go look it up on Weight Watchers, you've probably got enough points out of the 29 you get every day to have a nice piece of whole grain toast and a little organic peanut butter and a glass of skim milk!

Go ahead, ask me how many.

Fourteen. FOURTEEN POINTS. Half the daily calorie intake of a 38 year old woman, and not a particularly skinny one either.

And they're marketing this meal. TO MY CRIMINALS. Give me five minutes in the same room with them.

But technically, it's none of my business. How do I write letters home to parents saying PLEASE DON'T FEED YOUR CHILDREN THIS TRASH THREE OR FOUR TIMES A WEEK AND DON'T BELIEVE THE UTTER BOLLOCKS THAT REPLACING THE FRIES WITH APPLES MAKES IT HEALTHY? It's fast, it's cheap, it's tasty, it's convenient. And it's creating second graders almost as tall as I am, weighing what a fifth grader should weigh.

Maybe some of the parents read my blog? I can always hope.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Portable Paradise

Any day that starts off with a flat tire can't be totally heavenly, but when I finally DID get to school today, a fabulous gift awaited me.

Now, it is no secret that I am a gargantuan geek. Unless you're new here. I get all excited about visits to Staples. I squeal when I get my hands on the key to the (tiny) supply closet and can stock up on boxes of crayons. And this little gem sent me into paroxysms of delighted geekdom. It was a new listening center.

New listening center? How could this be so exciting, you say? Two words: Wireless. Headphones. The thing is, all two of you who read this blog are scratching your heads going, "Um, so?" Only another elementary school teacher is going to get the beauty of the wireless feature. Because other elementary school teachers know the torture of those damned headset wires (think phone cords) curlicueing around each other just to drive you mad. Every day a hopeless tangle greets you before center time. NO MORE I SAY. And....AND! It came with a new machine too - WITH A DOUBLE CASSETTE. One group listens to Ralph S. Mouse, stops the tape and leaves it for next time. Another group listens to The Courage of Sarah Noble, stops the tape and leaves IT for next time. Two groups are listening to Ramona the Brave, they note the track they stop on, and next time skip to their track. TADAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Oh joy oh rapture unforseen. My bliss knows no bounds.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stand With Haiti

This charity is run by Dr. Paul Farmer, a dedicated champion of public health issues in Haiti. See the website for how to donate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Well-Rounded Education

So, one of my boys came in yesterday morning, and it happened to be his turn to share during Morning Meeting. He decided to tell about how much fun he had doing yoga with his mom. Now, if you knew....DeShawn, we'll call him....the idea of him doing yoga with his mom would make you look fairly like a surprised walrus. Mouth hanging open and everything. Then again, DeShawn's mom is no dope, so maybe she decided to let him expend a little energy by working on his inner peace. Or something.

So the rest of the class is all "What's yoga?" Well groovy, Miss Victoria knows that! She hopped up and demonstrated Down Dog. Then everyone else really needed to try it. 24 little butts up in the air. They all stood up and grinned and started to squeal, so Miss Victoria said, "Hey, hold it everyone! Now you've got to salute your teacher, that's what you do at the end of doing yoga!" I skipped the whole Divine Spark thing - they're seven. So I just tented my hands and bowed and said, " you do it." And they all bowed back and chorused, "Namaste! MISS VICTORIA CAN WE DO SOME MORE OF THAT?!?!?!" Hey, Miss Victoria is all for anything that relaxes the Criminals.

Thus, for our Morning Meeting today (the activity portion), I printed out the poses, we spread out and got all ready to learn the Sun Salutation. We're looking like a whole lotta Twister and not too much spiritual uplift, but whatever, we're having a good time. We finish up back in Mountain pose, and Miss Victoria drops her hands and starts yammering about the morning message. Everyone starts to jump up and down and squeak. Miss Victoria stops and says, "What, what is it?"

And the whole class simultaneously tents its hands, bows, and twenty four little helium voices pipe, "Namaste, Miss Victoria! YOU FORGOT!!!!!!!"

Clue for the uninitiated: They were way more excited that I forgot something than they were that they remembered. Such is life when one is supposed to be all-knowing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We Shall Overcome

Monday is Introduce New Scholastic Magazine Center day. This morning I held up the magazine for this week, and the entire class cried "Ooooooo!!!" and pointed and cheered. Then they shouted and chattered and offered up their knowledge:

"He changed the world!"

"He wanted peace!"

"He said little black boys and little white girls could play together!"

And that was BEFORE we read the magazine. Happens every year - the littlest ones are the most profoundly affected by this unit. They totally get a man with a sense of fair and unfair, right and wrong.

Mr. King, we shall overcome. Your legacy lives on.

Brains AND Brawn

Hm, I got the latest Scholastic catalogue today, and it's a conglomeration of "favorite authors." Their publicity shots line the front of the catalogue.

Is it at all twisted that I think Kevin Henkes, author of some of my favorite read-alouds (Wemberly Worried, Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum) is um....well...HAWT? Seriously. Remember the architect in Mystic Pizza? Yum. Kinda like him.

Don't tell the Criminals.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just Say No

To sewing handpuppets for the middle school health project. It makes you think of disturbing things to do with vintage buttons. Here are the two interventionist friends of the junkie (yet to be sewn because apparently we do not own a green sock of the correct shade...yes Virginia, you will go out and buy a pair of socks in order to lose one on purpose...because that's a twelve year old):

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The End of a Long Day

So the Criminals and I are reading Stuart Little. For some reason, geniuses though they ALL are of course (stop laughing and pointing, I know perfectly well no one believes that), they can't seem to grasp that "Little" is Stuart's last name. They keep raising their hands and piping, "Miss Victoria, only Stuart's little, how come Mr. White calls them ALL little??" I explain. Again. And we move on. Until tomorrow. And the same question. Oh well, it happens.

Anyway, that's so not the point. The POINT is that I came here to be all gaga over the shrimp "fried" rice I made tonight. I looked at the stuff in the restaurant and thought...yanno...I could do this better. With ingredients that don't make me wonder what I'm eating (we are big fans of organic anything and everything at Teach's house). And, lo and behold, I could!