Saturday, February 28, 2009

Take NOTHING for Granted

Yesterday, I broke one of the Cardinal Rules of Teaching: "Never read something out loud that you have not examined ahead of time."

It's just that the students were so excited about their projects and were all but hopping on one foot for me to read them out loud. Except for that one student who is always hopping on one foot because he has emergencies. But I digress.

You see, for homework on Thursday night, my first graders use their spelling words in sentences as practice for Friday's test. I let them do this in whatever form or fashion that keeps their attention. I purposely keep the assignment open-ended because I've found that my students can be far more creative then I am if given the opportunity.

So, every Friday morning they show up with spelling masterpieces. We meet on the carpet and I reveal all the clever work, often to spontaneous applause. First graders are nothing if not supportive of original (for a six year old) ideas.

B has used her words in a word search. E has written her sentences on a six foot piece of paper rolled into a scroll. J used foam letters to spell his sentences. Once, C even used a special ink that could only be seen seen when a blue light (which he supplied) was shone on it. Ohhhh! Ahhhh! Everyone is making a mental list of the great projects they will produce next Friday.

So, I get to R's project. It is a thick book with many staples for the binding. It is apparent he has worked long and hard on it. He is sitting at my feet fairly humming with anticipation, smiling broadly. I read the title, "The Story of X". X is R's arch nemesis. This should have tipped me off, but R's innocent enthusiasm has won me over.

I begin reading. Outloud. The pictures are detailed. The writing is full of spelling list words. The teacher in me is thinking, "What's the connection with X?" Maybe they are not sworn enemies after all.

Until I get to the last page. I glance at the illustration, and for all the world it looks like a stick figure X with a mug in his hand. A mug that is dripping suds. Like beer suds. I slam the book closed. Danger, Will Robinson!

Do you know the definition of a nanosecond? It is the period between the time I closed the book and the time it took for R to jump up. And crow triumphantly, "THAT'S THE ONLY TRUE PART. X SIPS HIS DAD'S BEER WHENEVER HE WANTS TO!"

The next nanosecond? X jumps up and says, "YEAH! WHENEVER I WANT TO!"

I give a brief "We should not drink beer in first grade. We cannot drink until we are 21. I am OLD and I do not drink." (Yes. I said all those words out loud with my mouth.)

And then I said whatever any sane first grade teacher would say in this circumstance.


Where I observed the new BFFs in my class: R and X. Probably working on their spelling words. Or not.

I think they are about to overthrow the Kingdom of First Grade. I'm glad Spring Break is coming soon.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

American "I" dol

I may have mentioned a time or twenty that I teach first graders. I remember taking a child development class in college that taught children at this age can be very self-centered. They could be in a huge stadium full of people and actually believe every single person is looking right at them. Enjoying their interpretive dances and applauding their stream of consciousness type songs. The problems sometime come when you have a roomful of children believing this at the same time.

So, occasionally I have to gently explain how the world works to a six year old who howls, "I DIDN'T GET A PAPER YET!" I tilt my head, smile, and in my best teacher chirp say, "What a coincidence! Neither has anyone else in this class!" Harsh world alert: First grade can be a time for learning you are not the axis that the world spins upon.

Tatianna, of Tuesday's American Idol elimination night? She has also apparently not discovered this fact. Maybe because I did not teach first grade in Puerto Rico. Yet.

She was one of nine eliminated. One of nine. Yet the cameras stayed glued to her face as she cried and cried...and cried, oblivious to the fact that there were others who had had their dreams shattered as well. I noticed that none of the other eliminated 8 wanted to hug her while the show's credits rolled. One former contestant went up and put a tentative finger on the emotional singer's shoulder. That was about all the support her self-centered display garnered.

Some of the first lessons we learn in grade one are to get along, share, do your best and forgive. Watching Tatiana's little fit on Idol? I'm thinking those lessons weren't learned by our girl yet. Maybe because I did not teach first grade in Puerto Rico. Yet.

Because obviously, Tatianna does not play well with others.

Wonder if she runs with scissors, too?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Parental Phrase Primer

I no longer have teenagers in my family. Truth be told? They are now legally age.

But those teenaged years? Well, they owe me. A lot.

I have discovered the perfect way to extract payment over the years.
Parents: Listen Up!

Kids seem to think that there is some mystical screen across the universe that prevents parents from hearing Their Music. I learned to seek Their Music out and carefully memorize a few phrases at regular intervals. And then, I drop these foreign words into conversation with my kids.

Let the "Moooooom, Stop It!" begin!

"I'm jiggy wid it." Still not exactly sure exactly what that means, but I know it sets them into near seizure each time I say it. So I say it in their presence. Often.

"My man, Fiddy." Who this man is, I have no idea.(Apparently, he invented another million dollar word for my plan: "bling". Like Lil Wayne's teeth. But I digress.) Anytime I mention "Fiddy", my kids roll up like pillbugs. Writhing in agony. Covering their ears. This one is the Secret Weapon, parents.

"Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got, I'm still Jenny from the block." The stars aligned when I learned this phrase: my son was actually dating a girl named Jenny. I mean, could I ask for better material? The real Jenny? She loved it. We're still tight. My son? I think the song could have brought an early end to the relationship. He, apparently,wasn't jiggy wid it.

Currently, the young son has a new girlfriend. Seems to be getting serious. He's going to meet The Parents this weekend.

"If you like it then you should have put a ring on it."

I think I may even be able to pull off a few of the moves from the video. (Oh,oh,oh. Oh, oh, oh.)

Can't wait.

It takes so little to entertain me these days.

My man, Fiddy, would be proud.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Summer Camp..coming soon to an area near you!

When I was 11 years old, I sold enough Campfire Girl candy to earn a free trip to day camp one summer. I remember that it was hot (hello! summer in Texas!) with no air conditioned buildings. We had archery class OUTSIDE, we made things out of leather, we learned first aid skills and at some point roasted s'mores. In the hot August sun. And a good time was had by all.

Fast forward a few/several decades. Today's Austin paper has the summer camps being offered. (And you better sign up now because they are Filling Fast in February, apparently.)

Your choices?

  • Bits, Bytes and Bots: Computer Adventures
  • Camp Sub Zero (Held at the Ice Skating Rink)
  • Rock Camp USA (Form a band! Pick you own materials! Rehearse like pros! Record a CD! Play live at Antone's! Get a DVD of your concert!)
  • Baseball camp at the Dell Diamond (our triple A farm team field)
  • Author Your Life: Literary Publishing Company for creative writing
  • Science Camp: rocket building, robotics, aerodynamics, crime scene forensics...
  • Grow Your Money: Entrepreneur Camp
  • Sea Camp: The greatest Adventure this side of the Ocean Floor
  • Austin School of Film: video and sound editing, digital film making, video game design...
  • Magic Camp: juggling, puppets, magic
I could not make this stuff up.
This is not your Mother's Summer Camp.

Hidden among these high tech ads were the camps I remember. (Heck, some of them ARE the same camps from those decade(s) ago. Hello, Camp Doublecreek!):
  • Crafts, Bible stories, swimming and field trips
  • Archery, crafts, hiking
  • Farm animals, swimming, horses

I am sad that they sound lame compared to the EXCITING! CAMPS! listed above.

When my children were little, we lived in a small town outside of Waco. The town timed it so that no church had VBS (Vacation Bible School for those who are used to attending Magic/Ice Skating/Computer/Film Making camps) at the same time. The Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians and Episcopalians all worked together to offer VBS on different weeks, and everyone was welcome. You could literally have your child in VBS all summer from 9am to noon. Theology was not a problem: everyone served red Kool-aid and assorted Popsicles. They built things out of Popsicle sticks (probably saved from past VBS summers), glued macaroni on it, and spray painted it gold. I still have those beautiful handmade jewelry boxes.

I know I walk a fine line in critiquing those high tech camps. But just yesterday, I held a parent conference and was told of a first grader who was involved in 3 different sports at one time. I remember the days I was handed those schedules for practices when my children were little. It was like "Here is your life for the next three months". I always let the coach know we did not do Sunday practices, and unfinished homework would also cancel practices from our end. And the coaches supported those decisions.

I cannot even imagine trying to juggle 3 different sports at one time. For a six year old. I know those camps are EXCITING! and STIMULATING! and EDUCATIONAL! But, you know what? So is discovering polywogs at the creek. And walks to the duck pond to feed the old bread to the ducklings. Time spent laying on the grass watching and naming clouds.

I hope that when parents are scheduling the summer, they remember to schedule in some down time. Some "let's-get-good-and-bored-so-we-have-to-make-up-our-own-fun" time.

I teach first graders who are constantly asking me "WHAT DO I DO NOW??" Well, I don't pull out my tapshoes and entertain them. In fact, I'm fond of saying, "I'm not your cruise director. You may free read, free write or free draw when you are done. You decide." The students love the choices. I have untold resources for reading, writing and drawing in my room and their imaginations run wild during the free time. Some of their best work is created during Free Time.

Free time. May sound old-fashioned, but it's free. And in today's economy? Priceless.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Home Alone

This weekend, my husband went to Fort Worth to visit his daughter. H is in graduate school at TCU to be a chaplain. She was just accepted for an internship at a Children's Hospital in Dallas. After 6 years of higher education, the end is in sight!

If you are surrounded by children (yours or other people's, like my 19 best friends in my first grade class) all day, you know the need for complete and total, uninterrupted silence at times. I think my husband takes it personally when I am so excited about alone and quiet time for a few days each year. I assure him: I'm not taking ANYONE'S calls or visits. I just need time to rest, pray and think.

So, what did I think about?

Do you ever get so busy in life that you make yourself notes about things you need to think about LATER? I do. And one post-it note came from a very short article I read a week ago.

This article was about a Miss World named Mariana Bridi, who contracted an infection. To save her life, her hands and feet were amputated. And then days later, she died. As awful as this entire story was, there was a part that was even more horrifying to me: the infection she had, Pseudomonas, was the same one my husband fought for five years.

It was five years of infectious disease center infusions, home health care, hospital procedures and surgeries, hyperbaric oxygen treatments...procedures not for the faint of heart. And in the end, my husband still lost his leg and hip. But I realized for the first time through this article, how close death must have hovered at times.

But he is still here. And well. And brave.

Tuesday night we were given tickets to see the Broadway Across America musical, "Legally Blond." We went (on a school night: living large!) and it felt like maybe, just maybe, life is going back to normal. A new normal, but normal none the less.

So, I did a lot of processing this weekend. Enjoying being home alone. And being grateful that it is only a temporary 'alone'.

Because we have a lot of living to do ahead of us; a lot of years to make up for. And we are so very grateful for this second chapter.

So, I end with the words from a favorite song, "Longer".
(And you can stop the moaning, adult children o' mine!)

Through the years as the fire starts to mellow,
Burning lines in the book of our lives
Though the binding cracks
And the pages start to yellow,
I'll be in love with you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Change of Plans

Today, I was out of school for training. I had planned to blog on that subject because: hello! eating out on a school day is a Big Deal for a teacher

But a bigger deal? Getting out of the workshop a little early. Because that never happens. Ask any teacher who has been to training. Your substitute is being paid for by the district, and they want every second of the allotted training time. You can set your watch by what time the workshop is over. So, early release? This shift in the universe changed some things. I was given a free hour.

So, I'm changing the subject of the blog.

I am nothing if not versatile.

With my extra hour, I decided to check out the mall for a dress. I have three friends who all have daughters getting married in the next three months. I need a multi-purpose/change-with-a-few-accessories dress because many of the same people will be at all three weddings.

Since the training was in a part of town I am rarely in, I decided to try out the mall in that area. It is Austin's original mall opened in the early 70s. I remember the theme song the summer it opened: "The heat's off at Highland Mall." An air conditioned indoor shopping center? Who ever heard of such a thing?

We quickly adapted to this new-fangled way of shopping in 1971. I was in junior high and spent every Friday night for years at the mall with friends. I bought my first albums there (young readers: they were like large DVDs in basic black), had my ears pierced, and my first make-over at Merle Norman. (Loved that green eyeshadow.) I bought my first heels and prom dresses, and years later my wedding dress there. One stop shopping under the big top.

The mall was a thriving place full of shoppers rushing home with their treasures. After a stop at the Food Court, of course. I remember baked spuds, double doozie cookies and pizza by the slice.

So, it was a total surprise today to find out how much this particular mall had changed. Dramatically. Drastically, even. I looked around the first two floors of Dillard's for my dress, thinking if I didn't find what I wanted, I had two more floors to shop. Imagine my surprise to see the escalator on the second floor blocked. Apparently, two floors are no longer open at this four- story Dillard's. And, gentle reader, what was available looked more like a garage sale. Most clothes are 70% off, and judging by the style, some clothes looked like they had come out of storage. Like from 1971 when the store was Joske's, then Foley's before it became Dillard's. There was a quiet desperation in this store with many areas of empty floor and shelf space.

I decided I needed to see what was going on inside the mall. Not such a good idea if you like to keep sweet dreams and precious memories intact. I made it down about 25 yards and just turned back around. Only about 1 in 3 stores is still open. Many that are open hold Mom and Pop operations--not national chains. All vying for the 10 shoppers milling about in the cavernous empty spaces.

The years have not been kind to my old friend, this mall. No one had told me this sad news. And as I've mentioned this to a few friends, they've been as surprised as I was. Apparently none of us have visited in years. We inadvertently had been part of the problem. Because no shoppers equals no sales equals bye-bye favorite Petite Sophisticate store.

What happens to old malls that are no longer viable and vibrant? Of the three anchor stores, one is shuttered and two are little more than unintentional clearance outlets. I think in this economy, our mall has reached its tipping point. And that makes me a little sad. I don't like change very much. Does anyone?

Well. Maybe just those teachers in training who were sprung early.