Monthly Archives: March 2008

Happy Birthday little bear

I was going to use this blog to bitch about the fact that instead of lounging on a beach while a pool boy brings me planter’s punch, I get to spend mine strapped into a dental chair having my three remaining wisdom teeth pulled because contrary to popular belief, my mouth just isn’t big enough to house them all without causing me a decent amount of pain as my top two grind into my jawbone.

I know, I know, it seems like I just diatribed about it, but believe me, I could go on for paragraphs about the horrid experience I had when the first one came out, the rotten luck of spending my spring break recovering or the overwhelming fear I have of getting them out tomorrow.

However, before I got on to write, I checked my email. Since it is spring break, I’ve only checked it twice today, which is down from about 50 times during the course of a work day. Waiting for me was an email from my dad. I knew it was going to come at some point today. I kicked things off this morning after my son went down for his nap by asking him how he was doing, even though I knew the answer. Today is not a good day in my family.

Today should have been filled with birthday presents, drinks, a cake and a few jokes about getting older. I should have been playing with my nieces or nephews. Or maybe asking if he was ever going to get a real job. Today my little brother should have turned 30.

The last birthday we celebrated together though, was his third.

I don’t talk about my brother much. Until today I think I’ve written about him even less. Nobody in my family talks about him much. I couldn’t even tell you what he died from. All I know is that we were eating cheeseburgers in the car one minute and the next he was choking on something. Only I’m not really sure he had anything to choke on. He just couldn’t breathe. We rushed him to the doctor and I remember I rode in the car with my mom while my step-dad rode in the ambulance. At the time I didn’t think anything about it, but when I look back, it’s kind of odd that my mom chose to stay with me and not her son. I don’t think she realized her baby was dying. A neighbor came to the hospital and took me home. I woke up to my mother trying to pick me up. I asked about my brother and in this flat, almost unrecognizable voice, she answered, “he’s dead.” I was in first grade, but I had no idea what those words meant.

The next few days were a blur. I only have snippets. Lots of crying. A flight back to Indiana. A huge room with a small box at the front. Wanting to sit with my dad, but my mom clinging to me with every ounce of strength she had left. My father sobbing. My mother wailing. Someone gave me a doll dressed like Alice in Wonderland. Her hair tasted salty. I kept sucking on it. Finally getting to see my dad at the VFW hall and my grandmother in the kitchen there telling a bunch of old women what to do. She and my aunt wouldn’t stop moving or talking to people about food. All the adults moving around in a fog and me, off in a corner. Going back to school in my red velvet dress and no one talking to me. Then people talking to me like nothing had happened.

Every year since I was old enough to really think about it, I’ve spent today remembering. When I lived with my dad, the two of us would drive to the cemetary to lay flowers and small toys on his grave. I don’t usually get up there for his birthday anymore since it happens during the school year. Instead my dad and I trade phone calls or emails. Every Christmas though we make it to the cemetary together. We bring flowers and huddle together no matter how deep the snow or how bitter the cold. My husband and step-mom stay inside the car. Or like this year, at home with the baby while my dad and I go alone. This is our ritual. Our rememberence.

Up until now I haven’t really felt his grief. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve grieved. But I’ve grieved as a sister. I’ve spent my time remembering the little boy who let me put barettes in his hair and call him Justine. The little boy who let me transport my Barbies in his Tonka trucks. The little boy I played hide and seek with. The little boy who was the only other person in the entire world who understood my pain when my parents split. The little boy who crawled into my bed and cried with me when we had to say goodbye to Daddy.

Last year I talked to my dad, but I was still under the odd euphoria that comes from having a new baby and not sleeping. It wasn’t until this year, two days after my son turned 13 months, that I began to understand the real pain my father must feel each year knowing that he’ll never wake up and see his little boy’s face again. I never realized it until today, but that’s what sends me into my son’s room every night before I go to bed, I have to make sure he’s still breathing. It’s the reason I keep the baby monitor on, even though he’s on the other side of a rather thin wall. I know what it is like to lose a brother without any warning and for no reason. And every year I see my father’s pain. Now that I have a child of my own, I have an inkling of what he is going through. The mere thought of losing my son is enough to panic me. My poor father. If it still stings me this much after 28 years, I know this day has to rip him apart.

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A plague on all your cell phones

Cell phones have become a plague on the modern high school.

I love my cell phone as much as the next person, but I realize there is a time and a place to use it. During the middle of a school day, while I’m supposed to be teaching is obviously not the time to be checking my voicemail, calling my mother or texting my friends about our weekend plans. My students do not seem to understand this.

Like most schools, we have a cell phone policy. It’s sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. We don’t ban them from the building. As long as they are totally out of sight, we pretend the kids don’t have them. If they ring/beep/burst into song during class, we take them. If kids have them out during passing periods either to text or to “check the time” as they always claim, we take them. Even if they are wearing them visably on their person, we take them. It doesn’t seem like a hard concept to follow. The cell phone is on silent mode and put away during the hours of 8-3. Up until the moment the bell rings in the morning and the second it rings after school, they can open up their phones and start chatting.

I’m not sure if it is the specific school I teach at or if teens have just gotten cell phone crazy, but in my 10 years of teaching (man I’m getting old), I have never had a problem with kids and phones until I took this job three years ago. Even my annoying little monkeys in Florida who could barely read, were thrilled to curse anyone out and generally gave me the perfect argument for infantacide, didn’t spend this much time glued to their phones.

The first year I took this job, the consequence for having a cell phone out was to have it confiscated and turned in to an administrator. At the end of the day the kid had to go pick it up. After their third offense or so, they got a detention. I think I took half a dozen phones that year. My second year at this job, the office started getting a bit overwhelmed with phones so they stepped things up. Student phones still got handed over to administrators, but parents had to come in person to pick their kid’s phone up. The second offense resulted in a parental pick up and a detention. I problably took a dozen phones that year. This year started off the same, however, by the second semester, the phones were accumulating at such an amazing rate (the 9th-10th grade VP had a dozen before lunch) that they had to step it up again. Now, any kid with their phone out results in an immediate detention as well as the phone being taken away. The second time it is a Saturday school and their parent has to retrieve the phone. The third time it’s a suspension.

This may sound fairly rigid to those outside the teaching world, but it is ridiculous that the kids can’t separate themselves from a tiny piece of technology. Not to mention the fact that they are a HUGE distraction. Instead of doing their work, kids text each other (and as all the news reports will tell you, they use them to cheat on tests as well). Heck, instead of talking to each other while they sit together they text. Their cell phone has replaced simple human contact.

In the past month, I have taken at least half a dozen phones. The worst part is that instead of just handing them over, most of the kids want to argue. And not just an “aw, please don’t take it” kind of arguing. Half the time it’s lame excuses like checking the time (when they have a watch on). The other half of the time it’s nasty, beligerent, name callling kind of arguing. In the last week I’ve had one kid lie to me about having a phone (which I clearly saw), then curse at me (“how the fuck you gonna take my phone”), walk away from me when I told him to wait so I could write up his discipline form and finally when I told him to come back over to me, he had the nerve to inform me I could say please. WHAT????

Yesterday I tried to take a phone from a girl who refused to hand it over. She told me I had no right, put it in her bag and walked away from me. This was after I explained to her she was trading a detention for a phone for a Saturday school for insubordination. Her response? “I’ll just have my mama call and get me out of it like she always does.” She ended up in the VP’s office with a call to her mom and the Saturday school. She swears she won’t serve it and the VP told her that’s fine, he’d just suspend her instead.

Suspension…over a cell phone. Anyone else see a problem? All she had to do was hand it over. Or better yet, not have it out in the first place. According to her discipline record, this is the third time her phone has been taken away this year. You’d think she’d learn.

I’m not sure there is a solution to the cell phone issue. I realize cell phones weren’t really popular when I was in school, but if I had gotten a detention for messing with mine during the day, my father would have yanked it from me, taken my car and probably grounded me. I can’t even begin to imagine what he’d have done if I’d gotten suspended over one. Then again, I never would have cursed at a teacher or refused to hand something over. And, he wouldn’t have been calling me on the cell phone to risk me getting in trouble.

Despite knowing their kids are sitting in class, it is astounding the number of parents who either text or call their kids.

And teachers get the blame for failling educational standards.

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An Easter thought

My dear friend Eee and I spent a good portion of my son’s first year of life comparing babies to cats. Although this may sound a bit cruel or degrading, we meant it all with the affection. Eee, after all, really loves cats.*

This is not going to be a list of all the reasons cats and babies are similar (although the list is surprisingly long and very accurate). Rather, in honor of Easter and one of the most prevalent Easter treats, I’m going to instead compare babies to Peeps.**

1) They’re sweet, though almost always a bit sticky.

2) You can give them a little squeeze if they’re yours, but not if they are a stranger’s.

3) They’re a known cause of stubborn belly overhang.

4) It can be hard to stop at one, but after two or three, the mere thought of having another may make you queasy.

5) They will both explode in the microwave.

Ok, so the last one I’ve only actually tried with a Peep and would not only not try with my own baby, but do not recommend anyone else try it either. The mess will be far worse than the Peep makes.

Happy Easter!

*Think every image of crazy cat lady you’ve ever seen in the media, but still young, cute and mostly sane.

**This list is not even kind of mine (except for #5). I lifted it right out of Parenting magazine, which I also did not buy for myself, but lifted from a friend of mine. At least I give credit where credit is due. And that’s to Deborah Skoinik.

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The insult of the day

After years of listening to me complain about my students being rude, disrespectful and a whole host of other words I’d never call them to their faces, a dear friend sent me this article. Although it is out of the U.K., it speaks to a growing problem here in the states as well. As it turns out, we are also to blame for it.

I’m speaking, of course, of the prevelance of the word “gay” in the modern teenager’s every day vocabulary. Although three of the top 11 insults listed are fairly specific to the U.K., it is of particular interest that seven of the 11 are all terms for homosexuals and all but two of them speak to sexuality. What exactly does this say about society?

After reading this article, I put my extra sensitive teacher radar on. Today alone I heard my students say the word gay five different times.* Not once was it in reference to a specific person. Homework was gay. My rules were gay. Julius Caesar was gay (the play, not the man himself). Even a student losing his book was gay (not the student, but the fact he couldn’t find his book). Each time I gave my famous reply, “no, in fact, your ______ is not homosexual,” to which the student rolled his eyes and said, “You know what I mean.” Yes, sadly, I do know what he means. I can’t help but wonder if he really does.

Gay has, without a doubt, replaced the concept of being lame or uncool in the modern high school classroom (and middle and elementary for that matter). I don’t think I’ve heard the words lame or uncool come out of any student’s mouth this entire year. It’s always gay. No matter how I rail against it, talk to them (or their parents) or threaten detention, the word is like a cancer, it spreads with no sign of yielding. It has become such a routine part of their vocabulary that they really do not even give it a second thought. They don’t consider it a slur, nor a word that falls under the “obscene language” policy of our school. I’ve actually had kids try to argue that they cannot get in trouble for using the word because it’s not “a bad word.”

Of course every kid I yell at for using it, swears he (or she, although my girls don’t use it nearly as often) isn’t making fun of anyone sexuality. Even when I point it out to them, they do not get the connection that they are taking a word used to describe a homosexual and equivocating it to being unacceptable. While they may not be blatant in their homophobia, they do not acknowledge the mere association with the lifestyle and their disdain for an activity/thing/person as a subtle form of bigotry.

When they want to be intentionally cruel and put one of their classmates down, they don’t use gay, they use “fag.” This is the word that gets them in real trouble in my class, because they mean to abase their classmates and move from being casually derisive to actually being malicious and prejudice.

Although I would like to punish each child in my classroom who uses the word gay as an insult, I would be able to paper my walls with detention slips. It amazes me that even my “good kids” who come from well-educated families who appear very open and tolerant let the word slip from time to time.

I’m not sure how to combat this problem. As the article suggests, in time gay will no doubt go out of vogue. I know that when I first started teaching 10 years ago, I rarely heard it. In ten more years I’m sure the kids will have moved on to a newer, fresher insult. I can’t help but wonder though if this current trend of turning someone’s sexual preference into the daily insult will continue. In 10 years will fag replace gay? What if it is something even worse? I shudder to think about it.

*I didn’t hear any of the other words on the list used once.

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I am a grant writing masta!

I’m getting a new digital camera!

Ok, so that’s not entirely true. The newspaper staff I advise is getting a new camera. There’s a good chance I won’t even get to use it. Especially since my kids will no doubt be fighting over who gets to use the new camera and who gets stuck with our crappy old ones. I’m guessing the photo editor will win out, although she’s not exactly a great photographer, or editor for that matter. She probably could be if she spent more time at school. But that’s another matter entirely.

I’m particularly excited about this camera because we don’t even have to spend any of our meager fundraising money to get it. Instead, we can save that to attend a journalism day at the local college and maybe this summer I’ll actually get to send an editor or two to journalism camp (geekier than say basketball camp, but not quite as geeky as band camp–fewer hook-ups from what I hear too…band kids are geeky and slutty). The new camera is courtesy of a local non-profit educational foundation and my amazing ability to make our situation sound absolutely pathetic.

It wasn’t much of an exaggeration. At one point we had four cameras. One of them was a fairly top-of-the-line digital camera with all kinds of amazing features. The pictures that camera took were amazing! Unfortunately when I left on maternity leave, it decided it needed a new home too. I have no idea if one of my staff members absconded with it, or if they left it in the computer lab and someone else decided to take it with them, but when I came back it was gone and no one seemed to have a clue as to where it’d gone. There were several accusations and a few muttered words, but sadly, no camera.

So we started this year with three cameras. One of them is at least five years old. It was a hand me down from our old yearbook teacher when the yearbook company gave her a brand new Canon Rebel. On today’s market, I would probably have to pay someone to take it off my hands. Even head shots come off fuzzy if the photographer’s hand shakes slightly. One of my kids tried to take track pictures. I had five lovely blurs of color and five head shots that look a bit like a painting by Dali.

The other two cameras are identical. They were refurbished and given to me by one of the tech guys. They are just about small enough to fit in my pocket and about as useful as my camera phone which also fits in my pocket. I should say one of them fits in my pocket. The other one is in several different pieces now. A student left it under the bleachers after a basketball game and when they were closed up, it went smash. Sigh….

So I wrote a grant for a nice, new, shiny camera that will actually take sports pictures and pictures in low light and low and behold, I got it. I’d forgotten today was the day the grants were awarded. Luckily one of my co-workers (who also put in for a grant but was denied) called to see if I’d gotten mine. The email was waiting and I couldn’t help smiling when I saw the congrats.* Now I get a new camera and get to go to a snazy banquet for a free dinner where I will be recognized for my sheer awesomeness!

Until this year I’d never written a grant proposal. My first two tries have been a success. Not only am I getting a new camera, but last week several boxes arrived containing all sorts of fun word games to help my students with vocabulary enrichment. I didn’t think I’d actually get those books. I filled the application out mostly for the practice. A friend had gotten a grant to help with her arts program, so I figured maybe someone might want to help with some fun language activities. Turns out, someone did. I now have two different word games, Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, story starters, Wordukus and rebus’ waiting for my students to try out and have fun with.

The cool thing about the second grant is that it’s part of a large network any teacher can submit to. It’s called Donors Choose and the websites helps people interested in donating to educational causes find projects they are interested in. You can search for schools in your area or just search for projects in a specific area (literature, science, math, art). You can even fund curricular projects (like mine) or extra-curricular (like the really super, amazingly nice camera we could never possibly afford that I have $50 donated to so far–hint, hint). You can fund all or part of a project. When you donate and the project gets funded, the teacher recieves the materials and then sends back thank yous from his/her class as well as pictures of the kids actually using the materials. It’s really a pretty nifty concept.

Right now I’m feeling pretty darn happy about my job as a teacher. Sure, I don’t get any money out of it, nor materials I can really play with, but my kids get a better education because of a little extra effort on my part. My newspaper kids are going to be so excited! This is the kind of thing that makes the long hours, student complaining and general apathy I deal with some days all worth it.

*I felt a little bad about this as she was sad she didn’t get her grant

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Friendship in a Ziploc bag

Today I finally got to do more than just mush my bag.

I added flour, sugar and milk. Then I mushed it. It was exciting.

On Friday our home ec teacher sent out an email offering friendship bread starters. Although I had no idea what it was exactly, lately I’ve been a rather intrepid cook, so I figured what the heck, I’ll try it. The next morning she sent a student in with a giant Ziploc bag full of what looked like yellow cake batter and a piece of paper with instructions.

The instructions are simple enough. I spent the first four days mushing the bag. I know it sounds really ridiculous, but when it arrived first period and I started mushing, it alleviated the stress I’d already acquired from the overly long commute. I offered it to one of my students who also seemed to be getting off on the wrong foot, and although she turned me down, she did laugh and tell me I crack her up. I told her we all need more things to mush in our lives.

For the next three days, I mushed, but only a little bit. I was warned not to over mush. Once a day and only for a minute or so.

Today I got to add ingredients to the mysterious starter and mush again. Tomorrow I go back to mushing. At least for the next four days. Then, I get to create my own starters and add lots of ingredients to the remaining mush. I am promised a concoction of Amish cinnamon bread that is supposed to be delicious. I have to admit I’m a little wary. Anything I add milk to and then let sit on my counter with only the slightest bit of mushing seems like it has the distinct possibility to cause major food poisoning. Then again, despite the fact that they are primitive as can be, the Amish seem to do alright. At least I haven’t heard of any mass deaths due to friendship bread ingestion. It would be a very misleading name if I did.

Amazingly enough, my husband knew exactly what the slop in the bag was. I held it up and cautioned him not to throw it out. I was worried he’d mistake it for garbage (and rightfully so, it’s wierd liquid in a baggy). Before I could even explain, he said, “oh, are you making friendship bread.” I was astounded. Not that he knew of its existance really. My husband is a surprisingly intelligent guy (and I don’t mean that he comes off like he isn’t, it just always surprises me the wierd and interesting things he seems to know…the guy is like Rainman when it comes to identifying any piece of music or animal/plant/fish/bug). Then again, his mother, despite driving me crazy at times, is one hell of a cook. She was a southern stay at home mom who was surrounded by other southern stay at home moms. I’m sure a lot of frienship starter got passed around.

I really hope this bread turns out to have all the cinnamony goodness I’ve been promised. I do love bread of any sort, but bread with ooey-gooey cinnamon takes the cake. I’m also excited that just about the time we finish it off, I’ll have a new batch ready to bake. I’ll also have three other starters to help spread the love. I’ve already promised one to our babysitter as she is always sending me home with homemade goodies she’s baked during the day. The other two I’m not so sure about. I thought about my dear friend Eee, but her phobia of milk is so strong that I doubt she’ll want it after reading this blog.

So, if you know me and want some friendship bread starter, let me know.

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What exactly are we saving?

I am not a fan of daylight savings time.

It’s not just because I’ve gotten lazy from living in an area where the clocks never changed. I can never remember when we are supposed to spring forward or fall back, because I haven’t had to do it since I was 18. Even when people remind me (I got a school wide memo), I still forget. This morning when I was woken up by the coos of my son in the next room, my brain and body both realized it was about 7 am. The clock even showed the time as 7:06, because once again I’d forgotten to change it. I realized my mistake though and in a matter of seconds, I lost an entire hour. Something is not quite right about that.

The laziness factor is not enough to make me hate the switch though. Nor is the fact that the hour I have lost meant my son took his nap late, which meant he ate later, which meant we had to wait to go shopping, which meant I didn’t get the roast in on time, which meant dinner was late, which wouldn’t have mattered, but my son was also super cranky because he wanted to eat and hadn’t taken his second nap. We kept him up so that it would be easier to get him to bed at his usual time. And while he went right down at 7/6pm, it also meant we had an hour of really fussy baby. I have a sneaking suspicion it will also mean we have a baby who rises extra early tomorrow and is in no way shinning when he does it.

My hatred does not even stem from the fact that I know I will not be tired at my usual 10 pm tonight, which means I will stay up late because going to bed early does me no good. I just lay there and get frustrated that I can’t sleep, which I think actually keeps me up later than if I’d just waited to lay down in the first place. Five thirty will come far too early tomorrow and I will no doubt be so tired the road starts to blur. Good thing my husband volunteered to take the baby to the sitter.

While all these things are annoying, the real reason I hate daylight savings time is that it doesn’t seem to actually serve any sort of purpose. I know one of the big benefits is that it’s supposed to save energy and therefore cost us less in the long run. However, I was just listening to the results of a study that found daylight savings time actually costs the citizens of this state several million more than if we’d just stayed on standard time. The only positive daylight savings seemed to offer was that finally the entire state would be on the same time. But no, that didn’t happen. The same portions of the north western part of the state (where all my family reside) which spent half of the year being on the same time as I was and half being an hour behind, are now always an hour behind. WHAT???

I know there are probably several more “practical” reasons for us to be on daylight savings time. At least the governor seems to think so. I grew up on daylight savings time and I thought it was rather stupid and pointless then. After living for years without the hassle, I have to say, I was right.

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