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.


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.


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.


“Mistake” versus “Choice”

August 6, 2009

I’ve had it with the euphemism world out there. Specifically, the one world where people believe the words “a series of bad choices” can be intermingled, intermangled, and interchanged with the words “stupid mistake”. Let me explain.

Here, in my relatively “safe” local suburb, a police officer was recently arrested for riding his motorcycle at 149 mph down a country road. Yes, that number IS correct: 149 MPH!

First, I can’t stand motorcycles. And don’t even bother to respond to this post if you own one and want to tell me how wonderful they are — I will never be convinced. They are dangerous to ride and even more dangerous to have to drive anywhere near. I can never see the bike until it’s within smacking distance. Sorry — but all the safety training in the world won’t guarantee you will come out of a 25-foot skid over asphalt unscathed if you choose to ride your motorcycle wearing only flip flops, shorts and a wife-beater shirt. For people who choose to do that, thank you for your willingness to “thin the herd” of stupid people.

But this rant isn’t about motorcycles. It’s about what happens when people are caught doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing, and the excuses that stream from their mouths once they are standing before their local judge.

In the case of High-Speed Willy, his only comment to the judge was: “I made a mistake.” And this is where my head exploded.

A couple years ago, the principal of my children’s middle school was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI or DUI for some). It was 2:00 am, he was going the wrong way down a one-way street, and when asked for his driver’s license, he handed the arresting officer his Blockbuster card. Yea, he’s REALLLY coherent. He blew twice the legal limit on the Breathalyzer.

Of course this made the local news — TV, newspaper, etc. His name was everywhere along with the name of the middle school my kids attend.

While I am not opposed to adults getting their “drink on”, I am vehemently opposed to drinking and driving and was very irate by this principal’s words to the press: “I made a mistake.” No, a mistake is accidentally dropping your cell phone in a river while fishing, or accidentally leaving a wallet filled with money on a table in a high school weight room after you’ve left for the night. (Both of which have occurred to family members of mine).

What these two morons (the police officer and the principal) did were make bad CHOICES. The police officer didn’t accidentally stomp his foot down on the gas pedal and clutch, causing an unexpected acceleration — for which he kept it down (again, by mistake?) for an extended period of time. He didn’t suddenly find himself  “swerving” on the road, around cars that mysteriously “appeared” beside him.The principal didn’t “accidentally” walk into a bar, unknowingly order shot after shot of alcohol (or beer, whatever the case may be), unwillingly open his mouth, surprisingly pour it down his throat hour after hour, then get back into his car and inadvertently drive off into the night.

The drunken principal’s situation hits closer to home with me. Not because it’s the school where my kids go, or the fact that I am a teacher. No, it hits home with me because of what happened two days before he was busted for DUI. My son was caught goofing around during a fire drill, and was given a “Saturday school” for this. The principal pulled my son into his office, said “Because of your CHOICE to screw around during school, you can come to Saturday school.” And when the principal called me to tell me what he had done, I agreed with the principal’s use of the term “choice”. My son earned that extra day in school for the poor choice he made.

But, when the principal was busted for DUI, what do you imagine was the consequence for his behavior? Jail time? Personally, I would have loved to see him serve 3 days in jail. But, of course that didn’t happen. Instead, the school district gave him 10 days, suspended leave, with pay. WITH PAY.

Sorry, but that is not a “consequence” for a school principal — that’s a freaping vacation! How am I, as a responsible parent, expected to teach my son and daughter about “consequences” when the adult leaders aren’t taking responsibility for THEIR own actions?And THIS chaps my hide.

Fortunately, the students were smart enough to recognize the actions of the principal were abhorrent. Conversely, the principal lost all respect from his student body immediately after the incident. None of the students were able to resist a good “So I threw a spit wad at Suzy, so what? At least I didn’t get busted for drinking and driving and gave the cop my Blockbuster card!” As disrespectful as that sounds, you cannot argue the logic behind that.

For the police officer, I believe his career is officially over. The local city government has issued a statement concerning the officer’s conduct and how it is detrimental to the overall “perception” of the police force.

There is some wonderful irony to both of the stories above:

The officer’s story is an ironic metaphor for motorcycle riding. He threw himself under the bus, and came out in a world of hurt.

The principal was demoted to the rank of “assistant principal” and is now responsible for disciplining disruptive, behaviorally challenged, high school students.

All because of the “mistakes” they claim to have made. Yea, right.


Here We Go Again: The Sense of Entitlement

August 4, 2009

Okay, another rant just presented itself.  The following link is an article about…well, you just have to read it.

Suffice it to say, THIS is the result of a woman who has been told her whole life (mostly by her parents, I bet) that the world OWES her everything she ever wanted. In this situation, the COLLEGE she attended owes her a job, or it should be forced to give back the $72,000 she spent in tuition.

Unfreapin’ real. Again, I blame her parents. If they  had done their job, then this girl wouldn’t be having such a temper tantrum.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/08/03/new.york.jobless.graduate/index.html


Conversations with My Muse: Knowing My Audience

July 30, 2009

Ya know, chickie…people are starting to worry about you.

How so?

You’re having daily conversations with a nonexistent person.

Nonexistent? Who’s that?

Me.

But, you’re becoming very real to me.

In what ways?

Well, I know more about you than I did back in, say, June.

I didn’t really exist in June.

Just because I didn’t acknowledge your presence, doesn’t mean you didn’t exist.

Hmmm..feeling very existential today, I see.

Kind of. I’m trying to get away from always writing about writing.

You growing tired of our conversations?

Not at all. I think they’ve been extremely valuable to me.

Then why the sudden desire to wander off topic?

It’s not a wandering, so much as a stroll into other wooded areas.

Come again?

I’m thinking about hiring you for something else other than just writing.

But, I’m a professional muse. Assisting others with writing is, well, that’s my job.

But didn’t you also mention you’re considering going back to school to become a therapist?

I did. Are you on the verge of some mental crisis I should know about?

Not at all — LOL! I just thought you’d be a good person to talk with about “other” things, not just writing.

What kinds of “other” things? That’s a pretty wide topic area there.

Just “other” things. Relationships, general thoughts, creativity, suppressed rage..

Whoaaa, somethings are better left to the professionals. That last part about suppressed rage — I don’t even want to go there.

I was only kidding. I threw that out there just to see if you were paying attention.

I took my morning medication. I’m very sharply focused right now. Knife’s-edge focus.

Ha ha ha! Reminds me of someone…

Who?

My dog. Have I ever told you about how focused he is around food?

Yes, he is a beagle, after all…

Of course it helps to have a mom who will feed him yum yums on a consistent basis.

Yea, yea — you wrote something about that: “Who Owns Whom?” — that’s a typical snapshot of your relationship, huh?

Pretty much. I’ve often told people that if he and hubby fell through the ice at the same time, I’d rescue my dog first, wipe him off, warm him up, feed him, then go back for my hubby.

How does your hubby feel about playing second fiddle to a canine?

He understands. He has learned to accept this.

You aren’t really serious about that, are you? Your dog comes before your husband?

LOL — well, the dog does love me unconditionally..

Are we back to a “therapist-patient” thing here? I hope not, cuz I can’t be sworn to confidentiality issues. Not when we’re sitting here chatting like this.

I understand. Naw, I’m wise enough to know when things are for public display, and when I need to keep my mind’s trap shut.

You screwed up the other day, though.

Oh boy, did I. I had to fix that real quick.

All’s right again?

Yep. For now. I guess it’s all relative.

How so?

Certain things need to remain unspoken, or at least unwritten.

Why some and not others?

Well, I’m not saying I can’t share them with you. I just need to be extra aware of who does and does not get to read them. I must be aware of my audience at all times.

Speaking of which — congrats on the blog stats!

Ya, how about that? Over 1,000 hits in less than a month. Someone must be enjoying my words.

I agree — you’re a very good writer, you know. I’ve barely had to assist you in this process. Some folks struggle for days over a single letter. Not you — you seem to get things down quickly, do some minor edits, then voila — another blog post.

Yes, I find my initial thoughts and words are what I really want to say. If I start messing with them too much, I lose the original message.

I get that.

And my voice — I think I’ve finally discovered what kind of voice I have.

And that would be?

Casual, informal, friendly. I prefer this style to anything else.

Even a good rant?

Well, I have my off days too.

Don’t we all? But, overall — how are you feeling about the quality of your writing?

It seems to be improving on a daily basis. Oh! Did I tell you a friend of mine asked me to read and write a professional review of his new book?

Really??? Wow, that’s a real feather in your cap.

Sure is — that shows he trusts my judgment and my writing skills.

Definitely.

But, of course I had to find an error in the book.

Occupational hazard, isn’t it?

Tell me about it. I’ve often referred to myself as “Princess Grammatica, Keeper of the Red Pen”

That’s a good one! Do you proofread much?

I work part time as a freelancer. Low pay, but I love it. Looking to expand my opportunities.

How come?

It really forces me to focus. I look at every little thing on the page, searching for an error like a rescue dog in an avalanche.

Hm..

What’s wrong?

I’m not a big fan of the end process of writing — you know, the editing/proofreading/rewriting thing. I like the input, not output.

I get that. Not all folks do. I love all stages of writing — from brainstorming until publication. It’s “my thing”.

Well you certainly do come with an arm’s length of credentials.

It’s in the damn DNA, I say.

So, back to this issue of “therapy” writing..

What about it?

I suppose if you need to bend my ear about something that’s bothering you, and it’s unrelated to writing, I guess I’d be amenable to that.

You would?

Yes, so long as we remember whose sitting in the audience, reading our stuff.

I agree, totally.

Well, then — it’s a done deal. Look for some of those musings to materialize from time to time.

Will do.

I guess I better go check my email. I’m waiting to hear how that speech in Darfur went.

How did that turn out, presentation wise?

Oh, that was very intense. She did all she could to keep from breaking down. I had to stand beside her and hold her shoulders, she was shaking so much.

Do you think the speech worked?

The government officials looked pretty stoic — hard to read them. Not sure what will come about as a result.

All you can do is just give us our words, the rest is up to us.

So true.

Okay, gonna go get some lunch and get on with my day.

Hugs?

Sure, why not?

Later, chickie.