Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Scenes From an Insane Asylum

If you are a parent with school aged children in the United States, you might want to proceed with caution.  I swear that I am making none of this up. None of it. Not one word.

I’m not even exaggerating.

The following description of test days in an upper middle class suburban school district may make you panic and hyperventilate about your children and those who are in charge of their welfare during the school day.

On the other hand, the following description might make you decide that you absolutely MUST opt your children out of any further standardized testing in the future. In that case, I salute you, I thank you, and I promise you that you are doing the right thing.

Scene 1.  Teachers have been trained in maintaining security during the standardized testing days. We have been told that once we receive our giant tupperware box of testing materials, and have signed our names on the papers, we must NOT leave the boxes unattended for any reason.   This means that if we have to go to the bathroom before the testing starts, but after we have received our tupperware boxes, we have to take the boxes with us.   Yep.  We pee with the tupperware box full of high security tests at our feet.

Scene 2.   All of the kids are seated and ready.  Each has been given an official #2 pencil.  They wait expectantly, and nervously, for the testing to begin.  I hand out all of the test booklets, all of the answer sheets, all of the bright pink Math Reference Sheets, all of the rulers.  Because this is the second day of the math tests, I expected every ruler to still be inside every test booklet.  I had carefully placed them there the day before, and then I’d sealed up the giant Tupperware Box and returned it to the office.  I forgot that when I got to the office, I had to recount every item, as did the school secretary, and we both signed a sheet with the numbers recorded.  I forgot that we both had to do the same procedure again this morning.


I was short two approved rulers. Now, I have to explain to you that the state of Massachusetts, in a fit of fiscal psychosis, buys and distributes hundreds of thousands of these EXACT same rulers every year.  My classroom is packed with them. However, the security rules of the test specify that we must use THIS year’s ruler.

I was faced with a dilemma.  I picked up one of this year’s rulers in my right hand, and one of last year’s in my left.  I frowned a bit.  Exactly, exactly the same clear plastic little ruler.  “I don’t think that inches have changed in a year”, quipped one of my boys.  I handed out two rule-breaking-but-indistinguishable last year’s rulers, and we began the test.

Scene 3.  The testing in the classroom is complete.  We have collected every test booklet, every answer booklet, every approved math reference sheet, every approved ruler.  We are supposed to pack up the giant tupperware box (can we just refer to it now as the GTB?) and carry it ourselves back to the school office, where it can be placed securely under lock and key.  However, one student is taking the test in a special education classroom, as specified in his IEP.  HIS official test administrator has his test booklet, his answer booklet, his approved reference sheet and his ruler.  She has to bring it back to the classroom (along with the student, but no one seems too concerned with that part).  Until we have this final test form, we can’t return the box to the office.  We wait.

Scene 4.  Given that the classroom full of antsy kids has now finished the testing, we’d like to go outside on this beautiful spring day.  But we are not allowed to remove any of the testing materials from the building. We are not allowed to leave the GTB unattended in the classroom.  We are not allowed to return it to the office without one of its tests.  We try to learn some science instead of going out to play.


Scene 5.  I have a meeting to attend about one of my students.  They have all gone off to lunch, but my one student who is still testing with the special educator has not returned.  I cannot leave the GTB.  I hoist it up and haul it with me to my meeting, where it will sit on the floor for an extra hour.

In the meantime, of course, the special ed teacher has collected the finished test from her student, and is searching the building for me.  She can’t leave the test on my desk, nor can she return it to the office.  She MUST hand it to me. She goes to the office to find me, and has to interrupt my meeting in order to hand me the test, which I then insert into the TGB.

Scene 6.  Like any teaching in the world, I have become an expert at bladder control.  But the meeting finally ends, and I rush off to the ladies room.  Where I am confronted with the hilarious sight of three clear tupperware boxes filled with testing materials.  All in a row on the floor of the bathroom as their owners get some relief.

Please tell me, someone, anyone, how in hell this craziness is really going to “improve student outcomes”?

I feel like I spent a week in One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest.


A day in the life

It started with a delivery from “Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.”  A bright green bag filled with peat moss and 500 lively red worms.

I gathered my 23 ten year olds around me, and opened the big pink compost box in our classroom.  “See,” I told them, pointing with my trowel. “These apple cores are sitting on top of the soil.  That isn’t going to allow them to be composted.”  This comment was greeted by a cloud of fruit flies, zooming up from the box. I tried to brush them away from my face, and ended up getting compost in my left eye.  Blinking furiously, (well, winking furiously, to be more accurate), I explained the need to always cover our fruit and veggie parts with soil before closing the box.  But before I could finish, the giant knot of worms that was lying on the soil in front of me decided to react to the bright lights of the classroom.

The result was a huge wriggling mass of desperate worms, climbing and writhing over each other  in a panicked attempt to dig into the damp black soil beneath them.

Cries of “EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW!”  and “Awesome!!!” filled the air, and the idea of teaching anything for the next twenty minutes was immediately abandoned.

As the day went on, things only got more interesting.  I was fighting a creeping case of laryngitis, and was trying hard to preserve my voice. This proved to be harder than usual, given the fact that we had six tanks of guppies, snails, elodea and daphnia sitting under the grow lights on our counter. One of the fish went belly up, and was floating around in his tank.

And there we went again.

“EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW!”  and “Awesome!!!” in equal measure. Followed by “You’re gross!” “You’re a wimp!” and “Get him out of there!” and “Let’s see if the other fish eat him!”

I croaked and squeaked and finally restored order.  And flushed the dead guy down the drain.

The day went on, with the usual math lessons, recess, reading, spelling and lunch.  Finally it was time for our end of the day meeting.

“Can I turn over the compost?”, one little boy asked.  “No”, I told him. “We got everything all covered up nicely.”   He squirmed a little bit. “Well, yeah,” he said, looking up at me with big blue eyes. “But we sorta dug up the worms a while ago.  You know,” he shrugged, “We wanted to see them all squirm around again.”

I sighed. “Sure.  Go bury the worms and the apple cores.”  He looked at his buddy, who had hopped up to help him.

“This is the best day ever!” my worm loving young friend enthused. “Dead fish and a huge pile of worm poop!”


My life is one endless string of highbrow events.

How to tell if you’re having a bad day.

There’s nothing like the lift that I get when one of my colleagues is having a worse day than mine.  I mean, it isn’t that I want my friends to be miserable. Its just that I like it when they show me that my problems aren’t quite as huge as I thought they were.

Take today, for example.

My class is a really great group.  They are! They’re just very, very energetic. As in, they have enough kinetic energy to power Hong Kong for a week.  Being in a room with them for an hour is like being buried alive in a giant pit of Mexican jumping beans.

This has been a particularly challenging week, because one of my most hyperactive little guys (who was taken off of all medications last June), is heading for Disney World tomorrow morning.  You can only imagine what it looked like when I tried to teach him anything.  During our writing block, he bounced out of his seat at least fourteen times in ten minutes. To get a drink, to pick up a dropped pen, to ask me a question, to grab a snack, to throw away the wrapper, to get a drink, to sharpen his pencil, to get a drink, to get another snack, to put the snack back when I barked at him, to get a bandaid for his sore finger, to get a drink, to sign out for the bathroom after having had so many drinks………

In math, he filled a big red cup with water and proceeded to hide from me by sticking his entire face into the cup, at one point blowing bubbles into the cup and giggling maniacally as I tried to refocus him on adding decimals.

Don’t even ask me about science, when the fish had to be netted and added to the tank along with a pipette filled with algae. Suffice it to say, I did some pretty quick googling to find out how dangerous it can be to get algae in your eye.

So I was feeling pretty worn out and beaten down by the time I got to lunch time today.  I walked the kids to the cafeteria, got them settled, then slowly headed back to my classroom, my shoulders rounded with fatigue.

On my way back to my room, I ran into my young colleague, a first year teacher who is the same age as my sons. Her big blue eyes were wide with wonder, and her dimples were showing as she grinned. “Wait till I tell you about my morning!”, she called.  I thought back on the three hours of “Whack-a-mole” I had played all morning, thinking that she couldn’t possibly be having a rough a day as I was.

Then she raised her arm, showing me a curled fist.  “Take a look at this!”, she said, opening her hand.  On her opened palm, I saw an inch of curled, golden hair, clearly cut off by a sharp pair of scissors.  “It’s hair”, I said, dumbly.  That’s about how tired I was feeling; all I could do was to identify the substance in her hand. “Yep”, she said. “Its MY hair.”

I blinked.  “Why is your hair falling out?”  My exhausted brain was trying to make sense of what she was telling me.  “Well”, she said, “It didn’t fall out.  It was cut.”  She went on to tell me her story.

She had been working with one student on the math lesson for the day.  Suddenly she saw that several hands were raised, the kids were whispering. “What is it?”, she asked the kids. “There is hair on the floor!”  My colleague, frowned at them.  “Just leave it”, she said, turning back to her student. “No, no!”, the kids called.  “You have to see this!”  So my young friend looked down and saw the golden lock of hair on the floor. She quickly scooped it up.  It looked mighty familiar, in color and texture.

This young woman is a natural teacher, smart and organized, with great instincts.  “OK!”, she barked, holding the curl of hair in her fingers. “Every blond kid, stand up!”  She went from head to head, looking for the match, but none were quite right.

At that moment, one of the girls in the class nodded her head wisely.  “Yup”, she said firmly, “That is definitely your hair.”

She had no idea which of her impulsive little munchkins suddenly decided to lop off a piece of her long hair.  She decided to just let that question go, and got everyone back into the math lesson.

When she told me the story later, I immediately felt better about my own day.

Now that’s how you know you are having a bad day in the classroom; when you look down and see a big ol’ chunk of your hair lying dead on the floor, you know its time for the weekend.

Its another “do over”

This is why I love to teach.

Every year is a “do over”.  The mistakes of last year are gone. The slate is clean, the pencils are sharp, the bulletin board paper is unscathed.

I can look back on last year, and every year before it, and I can see how much I have grown as a teacher, as an adult, as a Mom, as a human.

I love this back to school tension.

But it makes me sad, too.

I envy those Moms who are setting out the new backpacks and new sneakers.  The ones who bought juice boxes and Goldfish crackers and string cheese.  I envy them the slightly clinging embraces of their children this week, as they contemplate the time apart.

I miss those first days of school as a Mommy, I do.  I miss the rush and the bustle and the last big dinner before we all head back into the fray.

If I cast my mind back even farther, I miss the days when my sister Liz and I would carefully hang up our new wool skirts and our new fall colored sweaters, ready for the next morning. I miss the feeling of seeing my friends again after the horrible long stretch of summer days without them.

I am lucky. I am a teacher.  I don’t have to miss those clean new notebooks and those shiny new pens. I have them! I don’t have to miss the night-before butterflies or the headache that invariably comes with the confusion of the very first day.

I find myself perched with tingling anticipation this year.  I miss the start of the year for my own little ones, but I am so incredibly eager to find myself surrounded once again by all the energy and optimism and laughter of a new batch of kids who I can happily call “mine” for the next nine months.

Happy First Day of School, to all the kids, Moms, Dads and teachers out there!

First day nerves

Oh, my God.

What should I wear?

I have a nice new purple dress, summery and embroidered.  Maybe I should wear that? But I look sort of fat in it. And its kind of hippyish.  And sort of old ladyish.

But its so pretty!

And I have my new Etsy purple earrings.

OK. Purple dress it is.

What should I bring for snack? I don’t want to eat a banana, because no one in the world can look non-monkylike while eating a banana.

Maybe an apple? I can’t bring nuts; two kids are allergic. And no cookies, for sure! I want to set the tone, let them know that we are trying to be healthy.  OK. An apple. Or some fresh carrots.  Not those stupid little nubbins of slimy orange things they call “Baby carrots”.  Nope.  Some fresh, crisp, farm stand, pulled-right-out-of-the-ground carrots.

And what should we do in our first morning meeting?  I want it to be fun, but organized. I don’t want it to feel like its too chaotic. I want it to be engaging.  No singing; that would be so. lame.   No goofy games with hand holding.

Dude, this is fifth grade. We need to be very cool.

Word games are always fun, but I do have one student who doesn’t speak any English at all.

So maybe no word games.

Maybe….a cooperative game? Lava challenge?  Human Knot?


I gotta admit.

I’m nervous!

It’s almost the first day of school.

What if the kids don’t like me? What if they think I’m kind of lame and old and stupid?  What if they won’t do what I say?


It’s almost the first day of school.

Trust me. It isn’t only the kids who are nervous.

Happy New Year, to every teacher and student in the world!  Have a good one!

Kids today

I’ve been a teacher for about 25 years now.

That’s long enough for my first round of students to have become the parents of my latest round of students.

And the funny thing is, for all of those twenty five years, I have heard adults bemoaning the terrible shortcomings of “kids today”.

I have heard adults insisting that “kids today” are selfish.  They are undisciplined. They are demanding and whiny and defiant.

I’ve heard it all.

But the funny thing is, as a teacher who has actually spent the last twenty plus years in the company of real flesh-and-blood kids, I completely disagree.  For the past twenty five years, I have found children to be funny, sweet, unrepentantly honest, thoughtful and vulnerable.

And they really haven’t changed in all these years.

Let me give you a great example.

I am teaching two half day, weeklong summer camp classes this week. I have two groups of children, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Each is a collection of kids between that ages of 8 and 14.  None of them know each other. The kids have signed up for a summer camp called ‘Drama, Start to Finish’.  We have created, written, produced and will perform a short play.  All in five half days.

In case you think this is an easy task, try to imagine yourself guiding children along a story line that includes Darth Vader, Barbie, Miley Cyrus and Harry Potter.  And then imagine yourself helping kids to write and act out a logical but funny story that includes all of them.


So we are now halfway through our week, and both my morning and afternoon plays are beginning to take shape. Neither one is completely lucid (Darth Vader bakes a pie and Barbie and Harry Potter steal it away? The children of Goldilocks, Snow White & Dopey, Sleeping Beauty & the Prince and Red Riding Hood have to fight of the child of Hades to save the world?).   There are costumes, props and very rudimentary sets.

All of this is pretty cool, and fairly impressive.  But none of it is the part that has me feeling so hopeful.

Here is what makes me feel so proud and so humble.

My morning class consists of 9 children, aged 8 through 14.  None of them knew each other on Monday.  Two have significant learning disabilities, and one has a cognitive delay.  They came together knowing nothing about each other, but willing to take on the risk of performing together.   My afternoon class consists of one anxious and slightly awkward Caucasian boy and four Chinese children who are either acquaintances or siblings.  None of them has any experience with theater, and all were signed up by eager parents.

Both classes could easily have been disasters.

Neither one is.

What I have seen for the past three days are groups of kids who are open, kind, welcoming and warm.  I have seen socially savvy teenaged girls working calmly with hyperactive eight year old boys. I have seen older kids talking earnestly with younger ones about books, movies, games and music.  I have seen distracted little ones being gently refocused by older, more settled friends.

I have worked with thirteen children who don’t know me at all, who don’t go to my school and have to reason to think that they might ever be in my class.  They didn’t have to be nice to me.  But they were.

Now I don’t think that every child today is a perfect child.  I teach in a public school. I know better.

All I’m saying is that over the course of twenty five years, I can say with certainty that kids have not gotten worse. They are not crazier, angrier, more out of control, more inattentive or less intelligent.  They are kids.

And over the course of twenty five years, I haven’t found parents to be more demanding, less respectful, more overbearing or crazier than they were before.

Here is what I think:

Kids are all growing at different rates.  They all mean well, but they are as insecure as the rest of us. They do their best to please us, but they can sometimes get upset or frustrated or scared.  They are kids.  They are not perfect.

And parents all over really truly love their kids, in a way that no teacher ever can.  They want to protect those kids and do right by them, and be the best parents that they can manage to be.  They all mean well, but they are as insecure as the rest of us. They do their best to please us, but they can sometimes get upset or frustrated or scared.  They are young moms and dads. They are not perfect.

I think that anyone who thinks that “kids today” are worse than kids twenty or forty or ninety years ago is someone who doesn’t spend time in the company of real live kids.



Revisiting the Empty Nest

Ah, June.

The smell of flowers, the sound of birds in the trees.  The warmth, the sunshine, the late sunsets and barbecues and flip-flops.

I love June in the classroom, because the damn tests are over and we can learn the way we love to learn. We read and debate and look things up on the internet. We play math games, and write poetry and stories just for fun.  We write and perform a play.

I love June in the classroom because we all feel the approaching end of our time together, and we are more tender with each other.  The morning hugs are a little bit tighter, the afternoon good byes tend to linger.  Everyone has a “sharing” at morning meeting, and everyone wants to tell me just one more little story.  I love June because we finally all realize how lucky we are to have had our little community to sustain us all year.

But I hate June in the classroom, because we are all simply out of academic energy.  We don’t really want to keep reviewing our math facts.  We’re tired of the Civil War.  We just want to play outside, and we wish we could play like we do at home; without all those rules about safety and friendship and how to be inclusive.

And I hate June in the classroom because we are all acutely aware of the approaching end of our time together, and we are more prickly with each other. Some of us are tired of tolerating each other’s quirks.  Some of us now look at each other almost as siblings, and we squabble as if we were related.

And some of us are playing, “You can’t fire me, I quit.” Those are the kids who begin to act out in June, pushing the rest of us away, trying to make the impeding separation easier.

I’ve seen these reactions before!  Pull me closer while pushing me away.

I see it every June in my classroom.

I saw it three times in my home, as each of my children prepared to move away to college.

Every June I find myself once again eager to get to the end, but dreading the fact that “my” kids will be leaving me. Every June I revisit the experience of the Empty Nest.

June in a fifth grade classroom.

“You can’t fire me; I quit.”

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