Psychic Income

May 22, 2010

Well, another school year of trying to influence the lives of the 11-13 year old set is about to end. My second year of teaching — first year as a full-time teacher. How do I feel? Exhausted, drained, spent, and surprisingly enough, exhilarated. I just had another of my “psychic income” moments, and this year, my psychic piggy bank is more than half full.

After cruising through life unfulfilled, I decided to go back to school and embrace my DNA. When I was in teaching school, my supervisor said something to me during one of our meetings that really caught me off guard: “You’re going to be an amazing teacher.” I wasn’t sure how to respond without coming across as an egotistical bitch, so I quietly changed the subject. But inside, I was furiously nodding my head and saying “DAMN STRAIGHT I AM — MY MOM IS WATCHING.”

I’m a fourth-generation teacher, and it’s a title I wear proudly. When anyone asks me what I do for a living, I hold my head up high, smile broadly and say: “I am a TEACHER. I teach language arts to MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS.”  I’m always amazed at how many people respond with: “You poor thing, middle school.” I’ll tell you, I’d take hormonal middle-school students over snot-filled, leaky primary students any day. Kids in grades K-5 don’t understand my dark sense of humor. I make them cry (not intentionally, however!)

My first year of teaching, I had to learn how to survive in an environment where I was bullied by grown ups who hadn’t really grown up yet — most of them younger than I am. I not only had to learn how to teach, but learn how to maneuver my way around a school filled with cliquish staff members who banded together to make other people’s lives (usually the ones who aren’t willing to play such immature games like these — i.e., me) miserable.  Fortunately, I quickly won the support of my students, their parents, and a principal — the only three groups of people I really need to impress anyways.

Some might wonder why I stayed at a school where I was bullied by staff. It’s simple — teaching jobs are tough to get, and my co-worker and I are so much alike, we were even dressed exactly the same when I interviewed for the position, as she told me after she insisted to the principal that I get hired immediately or “she’s walking”.  And, since God answered my prayers for a teaching job within 45-minutes of sending it up, I decided I owed Him one in return.

I digress. What I really want to say about teaching is this: “Teaching pays me in ways no amount of money ever could.” Oh sure, if someone offered me a high salary, I certainly wouldn’t thumb my nose at it. But, the money isn’t the issue — it’s the “psychic income” that comes from the relationships I’ve developed with some of my students and their parents.

I had one student last year (and again this year) who couldn’t write a full paragraph for me at the start of the year. His words were all over the page, and he wouldn’t capitalize or punctuate in the right places. Many teachers had him pegged as “odd” or “lazy,” I saw him as brilliant and untethered.

I worked with him all last year, slowly encouraging him to write more and more. When he came back to me this year, his writing exploded off the page. I couldn’t get him to stop writing, even when it was time to switch to reading, or vocabulary, or whatever else I had to teach. His stories had characters, intricate plots, development, structure, creativity! His grammar and punctuation were near perfect. His poetry was filled with the full spectrum of emotions. And most importantly, he worked with me and he thanked me — for being his teacher and showing him the joys of writing and poetry. Ka-chink.

This year, I had two students who made deposits in my piggy bank. One boy, who I suspect has dyslexia (yet undiagnosed), can now write clear sentences most of the time. He stops, takes the time to write carefully, and doesn’t slop his words onto the page anymore. The other boy, who I suspect has Asperger’s (working in a private school, there isn’t a high number of Special Ed students with definitive diagnoses to warrant services), has been struggling to write coherent thoughts all year long. His first writings were totally incomprehensible. I couldn’t even tell what shape the letters were supposed to be, much less what they were trying to say. These were my “project” students — two students I decided needed extra encouragement and help.

The first boy, the one with suspected dyslexia (I’m not an expert, just going on a hunch here), has been a poor speller and writer since kindergarten. So says the Special Ed teacher providing services to him (I use that term “loosely”, because I think he’s just feeding him answers, not assistance). When I saw the boy’s handwriting, I asked if there were anything I could do to help him improve. I was told “That’s the best you’ll ever get out of him. Trust me, I’ve been working with him since kindergarten, and he’s never gotten any better.” Well, of course that was the moment when I decided no teacher was ever going to tell me to give up on a student, so I said “We’ll see..” and grumbled off. A month or so later, it gave me great pleasure to walk up to that teacher, show him a thank you letter written by this student (without a single misspelling or grammatical error) and sneer “Told you, I’d get him to write.” Bitchy of me? Yes. But that teacher deserved to be taken down a notch. Ka-chink.

The other boy, the one suspected of having Asperger’s, continues to struggle with writing. But, something wonderful happened today. I made his mom cry. Why? Because I think she finally has an answer to her son’s situation — I sent her a link about the struggles Asperger’s students have with writing. She read the link and was so overwhelmed at how similar the post sounded to her own son, she started to cry and had to stop reading further until she could get herself back together again. All this time, she had been thinking herself  as crazy, because she knew something was “odd” but couldn’t figure out what.

I have had many moments this year where I heard the coins drop into my piggy bank:

Having an entire class tell you that “You’re the only teacher here who likes us, Mrs. B”

and, when I gave a breath mint to everyone “I LOVE YOU, Mrs. B, you’re the BEST!”

and just recently, “Wow, we’ve never had the chance to read for an entire class period! Can we do that again, Mrs. B?”

Ka-chink! That’s the sound of psychic coins plinking into my piggy bank. And I love that sound.


The Peter Gabriel/Justin Bieber Musical Let Down Hypothesis

April 17, 2010

Today’s pop musicians (read: nearly everything written from 1995 – present) have no talent. Gone are the days of imagery-filled, gut wrenching, make-you-go-wow lyrics. Songs about love and relationships and all things that pertain to it have been dumbed down so far, I am convinced that we’ll begin seeing music hitting the top of the pop charts that was originally written as a second grade assignment in some podunk school out in the cornfields of Nebraska (no offense to Nebraskans, but if I chose Detroit or Chicago, we would be more likely to see dumbed down, obscene, rap lyrics written by angry sixth graders).

To prove my point, I give you the set of lyrics to two songs about love and relationships gone awry:

“Come Talk to Me” — Peter Gabriel, 1992 (written because of his strained relationship with his daughter)

The wretched desert takes its form,
The jackal proud and tight,
In search of you I feel my way,
Through the slowest heaving night
Whatever fear invents,
I swear it makes no sense
I reach out through the border fence
Come down, come talk to me

In the swirling curling storm of desire
Unuttered words hold fast
With reptile tongue, the lightning lashes
Towers built to last
Darkness creeps in like a thief
And offers no relief
Why are you shaking like a leaf?
Come on, come talk to me

Ah please talk to me
Won’t you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me
I did not come to steal
This all is so unreal
Can’t you show me how you feel now
Come on, come talk to me
Come talk to me, come talk to me

The earthly power sucks shadowed milk,
From sleepy tears undone
From nippled skin as smooth as silk,
The bugles blown as one
You lie there with your eyes half closed,
Like there’s no one there at all
There’s a tension pulling on your face
Come on, come talk to me

Won’t you please talk to me
If you’d just talk to me
Unblock this misery
If you’d only talk to me
Don’t you ever change your mind
Now your future’s so defined
And you act so deaf so blind
Come on, come talk to me
Come talk to me, come talk to me

I can imagine the moment
Breaking out through the silence
All the things that we both might say
And the heart it will not be denied
‘Til we’re both on the same damn side
All the barriers blown away

I said please talk to me
Won’t you please come talk to me
Just like it used to be
Come on, come talk to me
I did not come to steal
This all is so unreal
Can you show me how you feel now
Come on, come talk to me
Come talk to me, come talk to me

I said please talk to me
If you’d just talk to me
Unblock this misery
If you’d only talk to me
Don’t you ever change your mind
Now your future’s so defined
And you act so deaf so blind
Come on, come talk to me
Come talk to me, come talk to me

**************************

************************************************

Now for Justin Bieber’s “Baby”: (About teenage love angst)

Ohh wooaah (3x)
You know you love me,I know you care
Just shout whenever, And I’ll be there
You want my love, You want my heart
And we will never ever ever be apart

Are we an item? Girl quit playing
Were just friends, What are you saying
Said theres another, Look right in my eyes

My first love broke my heart for the first time,
And I was like
Baby, baby, baby ohhh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohh
I thought youd always be mine mine

Baby, baby, baby ohh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohh
I thought youd always be mine,mine (oh oh)

For you, I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe, we ain’t together
And I wanna play it cool, But I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And im in pieces, Baby fix me
And just shake me til’ you wake me from this bad dream

Im going down, down, down, dooown
And I just cant believe my first love would be around.

And I’m like
Baby, baby, baby ohh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohh
I thought youd always be mine, mine

Baby, baby, baby ohh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohhh
I thought youd always be mine, mine

Luda
When I was 13, I had my first love,
There was nobody that compared to my baby,
And nobody came between us or could ever come above
She had me goin’ crazy,
Oh I was starstruck,
She woke me up daily,
Don’t need no Starbucks.
She made my heart pound,
And skip a beat when I see her in the street and,
At school on the playground,
But I really wanna see her on the weekend,
She know she got me gazin’,
Cuz she was so amazin’,
And now my heart is breakin’,
But I just keep on sayin’…

Baby, baby, baby ohh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohh
I thought youd always be mine, mine

Baby, baby, baby ohh
Like baby, baby, baby noo
Like baby, baby, baby ohh
I thought youd always be mine, mine

(I’m gone)
Yeah, yeah, yeah (6x)
(Now Im all gone, now im all gone, now im all gone)
Gone, gone, gone,(gone)
I’m gone.

*****************************************************************************

I rest my case with this one. Coming up next — Britney Spears’  “Hit Me Baby One More Time” versus Todd Rundgren’s “Parallel Lines”.


Role Models Come in All Sizes

March 6, 2010

I was fully prepared for the accolades I would receive from teaching. I was well on my way towards patting myself on the back and crowing “What a GREAT teacher you are, Nerd!” while blowing smoke up my own backside. Two years of teaching almost behind me, and so far, everything I’ve done has been met with praise and glory and…blah, blah, blah. Enough of that–here’s the reality of working with children — they are great equalizers when it comes to feelings of self-importance.

Nothing deflates an over-sized ego faster than dealing with the untimely death of a child. No, not my own child — I wouldn’t be writing this post with such reckless flippancy. Besides, if it were my 13- year old child who just succumbed to complications from his 6-year battle with leukemia, I’d be on the way to the nearest psych ward, hoping for a voluntary psychiatric hold.

But today, as I write this, there is a family here who is losing their child to the battle. Most likely, right this very minute they are gathering at his bedside, holding his hands, and praying one last time as a cohesive, family unit. Then, his younger sisters will leave as they see their brother alive for the very last time. And this is what is tearing me apart.

I met this family last year, when I was his teacher. Despite weekly chemo treatments, horrible side effects and general feelings of “ick”, he still managed to earn straight As and complete all his work at home. His parents insisted he maintain as “normal” a life as possible — going to school, doing his homework, taking his tests on schedule, etc., etc. His chemo treatments were always scheduled on Friday, so he’d have the weekend to catch up on homework (between bouts of nausea, I bet).  I could tell where he was in his treatments based upon the amount of red fuzz he had on his head — the less hair, the more dosage of chemo he would have in him. But, never, ever, did he lose ground in my class. His parents insisted upon it, and he made it happen.

He moved onto eighth grade this year, so I lost him as a student. But, his little sister took his place at a desk in my 6th grade room this year. And, much like he was, she never lets her brother’s health situation get in the way of her schooling. Every day she comes to class, ready, eager and willing to participate. She eagerly reads out loud, answers questions about grammar, bops up to be the first person to share her writings — everything that happens in my class room, she embraces enthusiastically and with such focus and attention. All the while knowing when she goes home at the end of the day, her parents will be at the hospital, hoping for a miracle for her older brother.

I’ve always known the world needs positive role models. I get so disgusted when I hear that people with questionable morals and values are being idolized in the press and put on pedestals for the world to “ooh” and “aw” over, when all they’ve really done is just figure out a way to act obnoxious and foolish and get away with it.

They aren’t role models to me. The role models — the ones who deserve to be placed on a pedestal, are the ones like the family I’ve met, who are going to be burying their 13-year old son and brother shortly. Through this horrific battle, they have remained close, strong in their faith and stoic in their deeds.

They are my role models. They have taught me more than I could ever teach them. What a great way to keep my ego in check.

Goodbye, Seth.


Random Thoughts From the Nerd

October 22, 2009

I want to know what dogs are thinking, but not smelling. I don’t want to have to work that hard or experience that much.

Cats are impossible to read. They need an interpreter – perhaps a chinchilla?

I really don’t want to know how swine flu went from swine to human. Or for that matter, how ebola went from monkey to human. Regardless, someone was acting inappropriately in both situations.

Is it possible to freeze electricity?

There HAS to be a speed of dark. I just feel it. I’d be shocked if there weren’t.

Nothing smells better in a house than a batch of snickerdoodles fresh from the oven.

Any word that has “oodle” in it is fun to say.

The best punctuation mark in the world? The umlaut. Not just fun to use, but fun to say. Try it, you’ll agree.

Ask the Amish if they use hybrids. They’ll probably say, “Yes, I own a mule.” Great tie in with biology.

If Edgar Allan Poe were alive today, I would want to be his Facebook friend. Only.

People who think the world cares about them, but we really don’t:

  • Heidi and Spencer Pratt
  • Jon Gosselin
  • Paris Hilton
  • Tila Tequila
  • Balloon boy dad

People who will some day get their asses kicked by an assorted group of fed-up middle class and lower class folks:

  • Same folks

If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t anyone create chocolate covered potato chips? Two PMS problems solved at once.


Puckin’ Nuts

October 18, 2009

I was never a big fan of college or professional sports. My dad and mom preferred the nightly news to the Stanley Cup playoffs, “The Carol Burnett Show” to the Super Bowl. There were no Sunday dinners planned around “game time”, no “football pools at my dad’s work”, not even a sibling or two who participated in school sports. We were the “pseudo-intellectual family of nerds” who would sit around the dining room table playing cut-throat games of Scrabble, “Fictionary”, or Boggle.

I know the exact moment, however, when it all changed. It was my first date with the man who would become my husband. Unlike our family, he was a sports junkie. His two favorite sports were ice hockey and college football – in that particular order. After what has come to be known as our first “hot date” (a story best saved for later), we moseyed over to the Chicago Stadium – home of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks. That night, my future husband would introduce me to the sport of ice hockey. Little did I realize at that time how influential or profound an impact that would have on my adult life.

I didn’t know a thing about the sport – and honestly didn’t really care at the time – I was on a date with a cute guy I was crazy about. I could have spent the evening sipping Coke and eating sliders from White Castle and had been perfectly content. But, as I sat there in the stadium, listening to the crowd’s collective voices bloom as the national anthem was sung, something began to stir inside me. The sound of the crowd was cacophonous – decibels louder than anything I had ever heard. It became obvious something magical was going to occur.

The teams made their way from their locker rooms and out onto the ice to the sound of the crowd’s roar. Glass panels undulated as the fans pounded on them again, and again. The concrete flooring in the stands pulsed to life as the audience stomped their collective feet in thunderous approval.  All because of the six gladiators squaring off at center ice.

The crowd went silent, the organist stopped, and the puck fell. A mad scramble began to gain control of the puck and begin the dance towards the opponents’ goals. Metal blades shredded the fresh, slick, shiny surface of ice – and at each shift of the player’s weight, snow cones sprayed the air and spread like Japanese fans. I watched in awe – and wondered how a fully grown man could shift his well-muscled body and fifteen pounds of protective gear all the while standing on 1/8th an inch of finely sharpened steel, and manipulating a frozen, rubber disk with a long, wooden stick. I was witnessing true athleticism, and it was intoxicating.

When the first fight broke out around the goalie’s net, I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. I wondered, “Isn’t anyone gonna stop this?” but my then-boyfriend leaned over and nudged me knowingly, adding “Eh, the official will stop it when one of ‘em falls down. That’s just part of the sport.”

Hockey continued to permeate my life, making another appearance when our son was eighteen months old. My husband and I, being native Chicagoans, would talk about how we used to remember Chicago winters cold enough to skate outdoors. We shared our favorite skating rinks – the ones where the frozen pond was smooth, instead of rippled by the wind. We talked about “warming houses” and “cold benches” and how the snow would inch its way down our skates, freezing our feet until we could no longer feel them inside our now frozen-solid skate boots. We spoke of lips that turned blue from being exposed to the bitter cold far too long, rosy, wind-nipped cheeks, and how we knew it was time to go home when the floodlights came on.

Shortly after moving to Columbus, Ohio, it just so happened there was an indoor ice rink within a thirty-minute drive from home. Of course, we had to go over and check it out. We bundled our son up, put him in his car seat and headed over to the rink. I remember the smell – fresh paint over concrete walls. It smelled “untouched” and “unspoiled”. Even the cold air smelled appealing. We paid our admission, rented skates – torture devices for those with bad feet – and tucked our son into his first pair of hockey skates. Being eighteen months old, he stood up, toppled over, then burst into gales of tears – screaming, “No! No! No!” loud enough for everyone to hear. Undeterred, my husband picked him up in his arms and lugged him over to the fresh sheet of ice, our son kicking and bucking the entire time.

At first, it was a difficult concept for our son to accept. Hunched over, spine nearly snapping, my husband stood behind our son and inched forward slowly, stopping only to reposition our son’s tiny feet so he wouldn’t collapse under himself.  After what seemed like an hour, they made one complete revolution around the rink and met me back at the starting position. I asked, “How’d it go?” and looked down at our son. He was not impressed. Determined to try again another day, my husband and I left shortly thereafter – all the while telling our son “What a great job you did! We’ll try again another time, okay?” We were going to have a son who played hockey, regardless of what it took.

The light bulb moment came when we purchased our son his first pair of rollerblades. They were cheap, plastic, blue, Little Tykes roller skates that snapped on over his shoes. The Velcro strap held them closed, and they were extendable. Removing the fear of the ice, we would spend hours outside trailing behind him as he shuffled his little feet down the sidewalk outside our house. At first, he would stand stock straight – knees locked out of fear of falling, and move forward in a herky-jerky motion, much like a newborn colt learning to walk shortly after its birth. But soon enough, he began to glide – slowly and surely over the concrete sidewalk, bending his little body while he found his center of balance.

By age three, he was ready to give ice skating another chance. At age four, we signed him up at the local ice rink, purchased his very own hockey skates (size 1, I believe), and let him go. We weren’t aware that, during his skating lessons, he was being “scouted” for the new youth hockey league opening up at that rink. When we signed him up, he was just entering kindergarten. I’ll never forget that first year, because we received a letter from his elementary school physical education teacher talking about the importance of “physical activity” and “major muscle coordination”. The teacher was encouraging us to work with our son on hops, skips and jumps. I can only imagine the look on this teacher’s face when we wrote back that our son was “working on his hand/eye coordination while skating several times a week, manipulating a rubber disk over frozen ice by way of a long, thin, wooden stick.”

We have been personally involved with ice hockey ever since. My husband coached our son from age five until age fourteen – until he was no longer certified to teach that age level. I was the official “team mom”. Rarely did I miss a game – even the ones that would begin at 6 am. I’ve often said there are only two things that would get me up and out of the house at 5 am on a cold winter’s day – a house fire and a hockey game.

That same toddler who was scared to death of the skates, and the ice, is now sixteen and playing for his high school’s hockey team. He eats, breathes and sleeps hockey. Thankfully, we’ve never had to watch him fight another player on the ice, or get bloodied and battered himself. We’ve steeled ourselves against the inevitable – hockey is a sport of blood, sweat and tears. And of course, we still watch the game on television, but we no longer root for the Chicago Blackhawks. We’re Columbus Blue Jackets fans now – we’ve earned that title through honest means.


Conversations with My Muse: Working with Children

August 25, 2009

Oh my gosh, is that Modern Bride magazine you’ve got there?

This? Eh, just a little something I picked up at the local quickie mart.

It’s pretty telling. Got a secret to share?

No, not really…I’m kinda bummed, actually.

What’s up?

Well, I’m just so tired.

Oh, I know how that is. I’m worn out, now that school’s back in session.

You think you have it bad? Try having my job for a day — you’d never be able to handle it!

Yes, but I teach middle school students.

Yea, so what?

So, I teach WRITING to middle school students.

Ohhhhh…

Yes, it’s tough, but I love it.

You like teaching middle schoolers?

Absolutely! It’s a great age, they’re a real hoot.

What’s so fun about hormone issues, bodily odor emissions, growth spurts, acne, sneezing into their hands and wiping it on the desks, blah, blah, blah?

Oh, I can handle all that, I’m a mom. What I love about this age is their enthusiasm — or watching their enthusiasm grow. These kids really can put the pencil to the paper, if I let them.

Wow, you’re actually getting them to enjoy school?

Of course, that’s my job. I’d be a miserable failure otherwise.

True.

You do realize, of course, that I have had  a sizable amount of help with teaching them to become better writers.

Oh? Do you work with another teacher in the same classroom?

No, silly! YOU.

Me? What’d I do?

You have no idea? Honestly?

No. Give me a clue.

Ha, ha, ha!!!

What’s so darn funny?

Notice how the tables have turned! Wasn’t it just a couple weeks ago that I was completely clueless about your job?

Yes, so?

Well, well, well, I guess my muse isn’t as insightful as I thought she was.

Ummm…

Oh my goodness! My Muse is SPEECHLESS! Mark the calendars! Alert the press!

Actually, no. I was thinking about something else.

Lemme guess: shiny objects and sporks, huh?

How’d you know?

Come on, muse! Haven’t we already covered this? You’re so easy to read, you’re transparent.

What do you mean by that?

Transparent — able to see through. I know you know this.

Sorry, but you said “sporks”. I started to hear dolphin squeaks and whistles shortly after that.

Do I need to rewind this conversation then?

Just go back to the “spork” part — I’ll catch up from there.

What is it with you and sporks?

Don’t forget shiny objects.

Of course not.


“Mommy Bloggers”? Where do I sign up?

August 10, 2009

Sweet whistlin’ Geronimo, I can’t believe what I just read over on CNN.com. Here’s the link:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/08/10/mommy.bloggers.ethics/index.html

I’ve heard of “soccer moms”, “hockey moms” (I’m one of these — hello son!), “lipstick wearing hockey moms” and “helicopter parents”, but this one’s a new term (or I’ve just had my head tucked too far down into the sand?) “Mommy Blogger”? What the ???

I’m curious to learn how I can jump onto this gravy train. For a few free gadgets, gimmicks, and greenbacks, I’d gladly rent some of my cyberspace out. Let’s face it, the economy is in the toilet anyways, and since I’m in a profession that pays a whole lot of not much, I’ll take extra cash any way I can, so long as it is still “legally obtained” (meaning: nothing against the law or involves nudity or thoroughly debasing myself in front of others).

I’d like to know how moms who blog get hooked up with PR firms that give them sh– stuff. I’m a mom. I’m right in there with the teen demographic — heck I teach the 11-13 year old age group. My finger is right on top of the pulse of this market.

So, where are all these PR firms, standing in line to give me things? I WANT STUFF NOW!!!!! I DESERVE IT!!!!

See? Told you I know exactly what it is like to live with a thirteen year old.

PS: Unfortunately, due to personal beliefs, I am unable to shill any of the following products:

  • perfumes of any kind
  • cell phone companies
  • AXE deodorant
  • purse/handbags of any label
  • shoes of any label
  • any product that has Hanna Montana/Miley Cyrus on it
  • Ed Hardy apparel
  • Products made with Ghost Chili parts
  • Webkinz
  • Erik Estrada memorabilia
  • Adult Diapers/Hygiene Products
  • Big Lots department stores
  • Foods with weird consistencies
  • Chinchillas (just because they’re too cute).

The rest is pretty much up for grabs, folks!