Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Power

My kids ask me questions all day long. Most of them are related to what we're doing, some are just WAY out there and I wonder where the hell they come from. Some are obvious, some I can figure out with some logic, and some just stump me. (You may recall an earlier post about a question: "If one triplet dies, are the remaining two now known as twins?" I still don't know the answer to that one.

Today I got another stumper.

We've been reviewing literary genres. (Sidenote: How old were you when you learned the word "genre?" I probably didn't learn that word until college. The average first grader now uses that word. I kid you not.) Of course there are the 2 broad categories: fiction and non-fiction, but then you can break down each one into sub-categories such as historical fiction, fantasy, folk tales, biographies, informational, etc. I know you know all this. I just feel the need to make sure everyone's on the same page.

One of my boys is reading a book about Bionicles. Bionicles are a creation of the Lego company. They look like aliens and each one has its own defensive and offensive properties. That's all I can tell you. (Follow the link, nerds, to learn more). So the book my kid is reading is a book describing each character in a certain "class" of Bionicle beasts, the Rahi (it's all very complex). So my kid asks me, "Ms. M, this book is informational, so it's non-fiction, but it's about characters that don't exist, so it's fantasy, too. What genre is it?"

Now I have no problem admitting when I don't know something. In fact, I hate it when people pass off their guesses as fact because they don't want to appear to not know everything in the entire world.

"Uhhhh..." was my first response.

"Let me see the book" was my second response.

"To be honest, I'm not sure" was my third response.

My fourth and best response: "If we HAD to stick the 'the rules,' we would probably classify it as fantasy, but since we're creative people, let's make up our own genre. What do you think?"

After some discussion, we came up with "informational fiction." He seemed genuinely intrigued at the idea that things could be flexible, that we, as readers, hell, as people, could do crazy things like make up a genre! If we can create a genre, what else can we do???

Isn't it that kind of thinking that creates new and wonderful ideas? I mean, how powerful for a child to be able to create something like that, cuz when you think about it, children are pretty powerless in their everyday lives: they are told how and when to do absolutely EVERYTHING.

I think I opened a mind today.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You Get What You Ask For

Today I walked into the lunchroom to eat lunch with my kids, like I always do. A few of my kids were already seated as they brought their own lunches. The rest were in the lunch line waiting to be served prison, er, school food.

I sat down in my usual spot next to one of the girls. She was busy smashing up her ziplock bag of pringles with her juice box.

Me: What are you doing?

Her: Smashing my chips into tiny little pieces.

Duh. I asked an obvious question and got an obvious answer.

She ate the rest of her lunch while reading a book. Meanwhile, the now-crushed Pringles were still sitting there in the bag. I couldn't take it anymore:

Me: Why did you crush your chips with your juice box?

Her: So there would seem like there was more of them! Can I go get a spoon?

Yes, she then ate the crushed chips with a spoon. ( :

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Q and A Jitters

Today we had musicians visit our classroom. They were part of an orchestra we heard play yesterday. Did I blog about that? I can't even remember. They say it's the pregnancy. I hope so, cuz my forgetfulness is getting to be a real problem. Seriously. In fact, let me go off on a tangent and tell a little story about this:

Saturday night I had a dream in which I was very forgetful. The whole dream was about me trying to find something, finding it, and then forgetting what I did with it. It was exhausting. Sunday morning, I told my husband, "I'm so forgetful, I'm having dreams in which I'm forgetful!" and proceeded to tell him about my dream. Later on that same day, probably not even 5 hours later, I piped up, "God, I'm so forgetful lately. I even had a dream last night in which I was forgetful." He about peed in his pants. I forgot that I had told him. Pathetic.

Aaaaanyway...back to the musicians. When my kids are open to Q and A sessions that do not involve me doing the Q'ing or A'ing, I get a little nervous. This is because some of my kids ask the stupidest questions imagineable. No, not all of them. In fact, the first two kids picked to ask questions asked very intelligent questions. The third...not so much. The short musical session taught them about how music moved to the "New World" in the 1700s since there were no recording devices. A flutist (flautist?) and violinist gave the talk and played samples of music from the time. Here are their questions:

Student 1: Shit, I can't remember her question. (Told you).

Student 2: "Back in the 1700s, would they have been playing a metal flute? Wouldn't it have been made out of wood?" (I was so proud!)

Student 3: "Do you know where I can get an African knife?"

Uh, WHAT? Hello???? We are talking about music here! Yes, there was some mention about music slaves sang, but NOTHING about knives. wtf???

Thank god they cut off the questions after that, because after one kid goes off-topic, it's like a free-for-all.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Time for Glasses?

We went on a field trip today to the University of Chicago to hear the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. It was a great performance geared toward children to help them understand classical music a bit better, important because this is probably the one time a year they get to hear it. So I'm sitting in the audience with my kids, next to this one particularly chatty girl who says just about anything that pops into her head.

At one point in the performance, some additional musicians come out for a certain piece, including a pianist. This guy was an older over-weight gentleman who resembled Richard Attenborough.
The talkative girl next to me excitedly yells out, "Ms. M!!! Is that Bill Clinton????" Then she squints and says disappointedly, "Oh, no, it's not."
Sorry, Bill.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

True Dat

Wow, my rate of posting has really slowed down. Maybe it's because I'm so tiiiiiiired all the time! And busy. The 2nd quarter ends today and the end of the quarter is always a crazy time. At least there's no school tomorrow (for the kids anyway). Hopefully I can get some work done!

Actually, this is not likely as we have to spend the first half of the day at another school for a completely unorganized Professional Development (PD) session. The reason I know it's gonna be a mess is because a couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to do presentation at this thing. However, I received NO information about it. Nobody was able to tell me anything about it, such as what the topic was, who my audience was, how long it was supposed to be, etc. FINALLY, I got an email yesterday answering all my questions. Yesterday. The presentation was supposed to be tomorrow. Yeah, I pulled out. There's no way I'm going to prepare something in one day. Fuck that.

Something funny that happened today to lighten the mood:

One of my kids, who is the oldest child in her family said to me, "Ms. M, after you have your baby, you shouldn't have anymore." Another one of my kids who is also the oldest child piped in, "True dat! True dat!" Well, at least I thought it was funny.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Name Game

Being pregnant, I realize that in 23 or so weeks, my husband and I will be responsible for naming our child. This is big. This is something that will affect their future in infinite ways. It will effect how others view my child as well as how they view themselves. Therefore, I pay super-close attention to people's names; I read baby-name books, visit baby-name websites, read all the credits from movies, etc.

Working in a school, I have access to hundreds and hundreds of names. Great resource, right? Actually, no. 99.8% of our student population is black, so the name pool available to me is not typical of our society. It is typical of the African-American society, of which I am not part.

Don't get me wrong, some names of my students are "typical" American names, such as Leslie, Matthew, Lee, Daniel, and Lauren. These are, in fact, a little too mainstream for me. I'm trying to go for something a little less run-of-the-mill.

There are the names at the other end of the spectrum: names that are typically only African-American, like DeAngelo, Antoine, Terell, Jamel, Aquinetta, Lashawna, etc. I have to rule these out, too. Not that they're terrible names, but I am having a white baby after all.

Then there are names that crack me up. It's not that they are ugly names or anything, but they are NOUNS and sound funny as names to me. These are names that I have heard this year alone. Some are in my class, some are just in my school: Mystery, Destiny, Heaven, Mahogany, and Symphony.

A couple of months ago, this was an announcement on our P.A. system. I swear: "Mystery and Destiny, please report to the main office." I couldn't help but laugh out loud. I just sounded so...existential.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Walk When You Can...

I think I've posted before about how I must say "stop running" or "walk" at least 458 times a day. When you work in a building with 700-some students and none of them (except for moody and lethargic 8th graders) seem to be able to walk anywhere, you start to sound like a broken record.

Not only do the kids run anywhere they possibly can, they twirl, hop, skip, or slide...y'know, to mix it up.

Today my kids had art. Due to lack of space, art is in the classroom. The art teacher comes to us with a cart of supplies. So most of the time I am in the room during art class. I work quietly at my desk while the kids work not-so-quietly at their desks. (It's amazing what I'm able to tune out.)

I was working at my desk and happened to look up to see one of my students slide out of his chair, crouch on the floor, look around as if he's on a secret mission, and then POUNCE toward the garbage can in a Spider Man fashion. He made it in one leap! Once at the garbage can, he crouched again and repeated the whole thing back to his desk. Then he slid back onto his chair and continued doing his art project as if lunging across the room to throw something away was the most normal thing in the world.

I didn't say a word. Just giggled to myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

All I have to say about today is that it should AT LEAST be Wednesday.

Something I forgot to mention about the lazy-ass computer teacher from yesterday:
When she was done "teaching" (in this case meaning "doing absolutely NOTHING) my class, she just walked out. Not one word to tell me she was leaving. Good thing I looked up from the paperwork I was doing to catch her rounding the corner out of my room or I would have never known she'd left and that the period was over. Grrrrrr!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Computers in the Classroom

Okay, I'm going to do my best to stay calm while writing this.

Every day when I enter the building, I check "the board." "The board" is a white dry-erase board in the office where daily announcements are posted for teachers. It usually includes information about who has morning duty, classes that are canceled, or meetings we might have that day.

Today it said, "Ms. B's computer classes will be held in the classroom." Okay, I thought. I'll get some work together in case there's a sub or something. Then I saw Ms. B with my own eyes, so I figured that since she was here, I wouldn't have to get anything together for the kids to do during her time. Can you see where this is going? (For your own information, the computer lab was being used for some kind of technology event).

At 9:45 (she was supposed to be there at 9:40, btw), Ms. B comes in my classroom. I instruct my kids to put away their vocabulary, clear their desks, fold their hands, and wait for instructions from Ms. B. A dialogue begins:

Ms. B: Oh, I don't have any work for them to do. You're supposed to have that.

Me: I was not aware of this.

Ms. B: I see you've never had computers in the classroom before.

I'm sorry, BUT ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME???? If you can't come up with something meaningful for them to do, can't you even put together a word-search of computer-related terms. At the very least run off something for them to color?! I mean really!

So my kids got independent reading or writing time for the next 40 minutes. They were happy (they're nerdy like that...I LOVE it!). Hell, it's more educational than what they do when they're actually in computer class.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fun with Fonts

Yesterday was the deadline for my students to hand in their Young Authors books. Young Authors is a writing competition for which students have to compose an original informational, narrative, or poetry book, "bind" it, and hand it in. I then read all of them (from my class only, thank god), pick the best one, and enter it into the schoolwide competition. Then 3 are chosen from there and sent on to the citywide competition, and so on.

While we worked on the books in class, I assigned the bulk of the work to be completed over winter break. We simply do not have enough time to devote to such a big writing project in school. (I feel very sad writing that). About 3 weeks before winter break, I assembled a packet explaining exactly what had to be done, how the book was to be bound, how it was going to be judged, etc. The only thing I failed to mention in the packet was...

the font that was to be used if one was going to type their book.

Big mistake. If you don't tell a nine-year old to use Times New Roman or something plain like that, you end up with a paper written in fonts that blogger won't even let me cut and paste into here, like the one that looks like old English or the one that looks "scary," like there's blood dripping from it. While those are fun to use, have you ever tried to read an 8-page paper written in fancy script with all its loopty-loops? It's not fun. One of my kids got smart and chose a font that uses all caps so he didn't have to worry about capitalizing proper nouns or the beginnings of sentences. (Extra credit for cleverness?).

So another lesson learned. Fonts will from now on be limited to what my kids call "the boring ones."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Being Happy

Was the word "gay" always so funny? I mean, when my kids hear the word "gay" as in "happy," they just think it's the funniest thing in the world.

While reading aloud to them, I read the word g-word and half of them could barely contain themselves. The more mature students (a.k.a. girls) just rolled their eyes and whispered to the gigglers, "'Gay' means happy, idiot!" I just kept reading and eventually the chuckling died down.

I wonder when the word ceased being funny for me. Or was it funny at all? I can't remember. I think I was part of the "more mature" eye-rolling team.

I do remember, however, when I would use the word in this capacity: "That is SO gay!" That wasn't that that long ago and I remember thinking, "Hey, I actually know gay people now, so that probably isn't cool." I stopped.

I also try not to say that things are "retarded," but that one slips out every so often. Hmmm...I guess I should try not to say that things are "lame," either. Geez, maybe I just should talk anymore! Don't worry, I promise not to become one of those uptight, ultra-PC people.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Damn Snooze Button

Saturday night I didn't go to sleep until about 1:00. I got up around 9:00 and was dog-tired. I figured, okay, this is good. I'll be tired enough to fall asleep early tonight since I have to wake up early tomorrow (Monday). Sounds good on paper, right? Wrong!

I could not fall asleep last night. While I didn't look at the clock to see what time it was, I laid in bed a good hour and a half before I actually fell asleep. I'm thinking it was around midnight. Grrrr.

This morning, I woke up 1 minute before my alarm went off. This happens frequently. I actually felt quite refreshed, but for some stupid reason, I hit snooze to get an extra 9 minutes in bed. When the alarm rang again, I was no longer feeling well-rested! I felt like I needed another 2 hours. How is this possible? How can 9 extra minutes of sleep make you more tired? A riddle of the universe.

Damn you, snooze button, damn you! Because I know tomorrow I will hit you again.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Return of the Past

It happened. I was at Jiffy Lube yesterday getting my oil changed (duh) when the woman ringing me up asked me if I used to work at X X school. Immediately I went into observation mode. I studied her eyes, her voice, anything that might give me a clue as to who this person is. I got nothing. (I give myself some slack though. I worked at that school from 1997-1999).

I told her yes, I did work at that school. She replied with, "You were my fourth grade teacher!" I asked her her name and it did sound familiar. I got home and looked at my file of class pictures (yes, I kept them all) and there she was. 1998-1999. Which makes her 19 or 20 years old right now. She looks exactly the same. Okay, taller, but mostly the same.

As I look at these 2 years of pictures from this first school I ever taught at, I'm surprised at 2 things: how well I remember some students and how little I remember other students.

I remember Lauren because she once wrote on her desk that I'm a bitch.
I remember Jihad because he was the first person who observed Ramadan that I'd ever met.
I remember Mark because he was a pain in my ass for an entire year.
I remember Shirley because she was brilliant and could have probably handled 8th grade work.
I remember Adrienne because she witnessed her mom being murdered (true story).
I remember Stanley because his mom was mentally ill and he was pretty much neglected.

If I think about it hard enough, I remember something about every single student. I may not be able to identify each one on sight, but each one of them is in my memory somewhere when I see their picture.

I guess that's why I kept them all.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I am So Screwed

School starts again on Monday and I am SO SCREWED! I am barely dragging my ass out of bed every morning at 9:30, and I mean dragging. I am seriously prying my eyes open with, uh, some kind of prying tool (?) and pulling myself up even though my body is screaming for more sleep. Then I walk around like a zombie for the first 30 min. of being "awake." What the hell am I going to do on Monday when I have to wake up at 6:15?

What's weird is that until yesterday, I was getting up without any problem. I would get up at 8:30 or 9:00 and feel refreshed and ready-to-go (even though I had nowhere I needed to be). But all of a sudden, yesterday morning I felt like I was hit by a truck.

Hmmmm...maybe it's the pregnancy, but why now? Why does this happen a handful of days before I have to go back to work?

Like I said, I am SO SCREWED. I'll let you know what happens on Monday.