Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Which I Revolt

I'm secretly a quasi-granola cruncher.  I'm very, very paranoid about my food sources and their environmental impact, I recycle as much as I can, and I even use Lunchskins in place of plastic baggies (I don't know why they have cuter designs at Abe's Market than they do at their official site, but they're worth the money.  I love them!).  So I am usually on board with environmental issues.


I am so not in favor of the lightbulb replacement initiative that is looming over us.  I do not want to use the stupid compact fluorescent light bulbs.  The bulbs are physically ugly, but that isn't what really bothers me. The light that comes from these bulbs is awful.  Awful!  I feel like I'm in a clinical lab.  Or that I'm cast with a greenish ghoulish tint.  It is very cold and uninviting.  Lighting is very important to me.  I want lighting that is warm and soft.  I don't want to feel like I'm living in a Wal-Mart Super Center all the time.  I also really dislike how they can take time to warm up.

Also, how much money do you want to bet that years down the road, the government will say "Oops, heh heh, so the lightbulb thing was a bad idea because of pollution.  We're going to go back to a more simple time and use the light bulbs that God intended us to use!"  What are we going to use for small lamps, night lights, and other odd light sources?

I've already been very bothered by the Christmas light evolution.  The LED lights are so cold, and I see a miniscule flicker in them.  Putting up those lights is just wrong, I tell you.  Wrong!

Since this is being forced upon me, I guess I will have to become a light bulb and Christmas light hoarder.  I don't plan to sell them.  I plan to be like in the book The City of Ember, sitting in my basement enjoying the last few precious light bulbs left on the planet.  In reality, it's more likely that they will find me, buried up to my ears in light bulbs in my shed.  And when they tell me "Non-Mommy, you have a hoarding problem and need help" I will cry "But the light!  The light out there is so cold!  Let me have my precious light bulbs!"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Special, Indeed!

Working in a public school certainly presents teachers with many challenges.  You have an odd assortment of students with many needs, and it can be fun, challenging, and down right frustrating to try and meet the needs of everyone.

I think that when people outside of the educational world hear about working with children with special needs, they don't understand what they can really be like.  A special needs child may be simply learning disabled in a particular area and need more support, or they could be someone with behavior issues such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, or other diagnoses such as Autism or Cerebral Palsy.  In one classroom, I might have a child that I need to read a test to, a child that I have to cut apart and highlight assignment parts in color, and a child that throws furniture.  It's all in a day's work.

What you don't hear is how special a special needs child can be, and how fun they are.  They may be in their own world, but often times they have fantastic personalities and you just can't help but love them.

This year, I have an autistic child that I love.  I'll call him Zach.  Zach is classically autistic.  He is extremely bothered by the slightest routine change and needs constant reassurance (and advanced warning of schedule changes).  He flaps his hands.  He is extremely repetitive in his thoughts and actions.  He has a very hard time making eye contact with you.  But Zach is very special!  I LOVE this kid.  He has the greatest personality!  It makes me so sad to think that people are unkind to children with special needs, because even in their own world, they have the greatest sense of humor and have something special about them.

At the beginning of the school year, Zach asked me to draw him a British flag.  In fact, he asked me, oh, EVERY 30 SECONDS or so.  Finally I had a moment, so I agreed to do it.  If you didn't know, the British flag is sort of a combination of the St. George's flag:

and the Scottish flag:


So I begin by drawing the easiest part of the flag, the red cross in the middle.  Zach doesn't remember that the flag has red in the middle, so he thinks that I'm drawing it incorrectly.  He immediately grabs both sides of his head and begins shrieking "Oh, no, you're doing it wrong.  This is terrible, terrible, terrible.  Oh no, it's wrong.  It's wrong.  Oh, what are we going to do?  It's supposed to be white in the middle.  Oh no no no no no."

I try to reassure Zach that it will all look normal when I keep drawing, but the more I add to the picture, the more he freaks out.  He starts rocking and says "Oh, this is terrible.  Terrible.  It's all wrong.  What are we going to do?  You owe me a million dollars.  You owe me a million dollars.  This is terrible, terrible!"

At this point, I am drawing as FAST as I can, wishing I had a picture of the UK flag to show him.  At the time, my internet wasn't working in my classroom, so I frantically email my sister.  She works on a computer, so I type her an email telling her that Zach was having a cow and could she email me, quickly, a picture of the British flag?  I didn't think Zach could read at the time (this was very early on in the school year) and I hear him yell behind me "HAVING A COW?  I'M NOT HAVING A COW!!"

So I continue drawing, and he continues pulling his hair out that he has such a dumb teacher, when my sister swoops in and saves the day with a picture of the flag.  I open it up, tell Zach the moaner to look at it, and all he says is, "Oh."

After a moment he says "Heh heh.  I was just teasing you."  And he slinks away.

I know that, to him, at that moment, the flag was a very big deal.  But I found the situation to be hilarious.

Since then, Zach has made himself my own personal body guard and he walks around not protecting me, but telling everyone that he is my body guard.  On Fridays, his schedule changes and he doesn't like it.  Beginning at about 8:10 a.m., he asks me "Is it 1:25 yet?" and continues to ask me that about every 3.4 seconds until 1:25, despite having a clock, classmates that tell him the time, and a schedule right in front of him.

Yesterday was beautiful outside, so I took my students out for extra recess.  Zach asked me if I wanted to go on a root hunt with him (looking for tree roots).  So I faithfully wandered around the playground looking for tree roots and shouting "Oh wow, Zach, that is a big one!"  At one point, I hid behind a tree and jumped out to scare him.  I then ran away with Zach chasing me, laughing his head off.  He was so happy.

He's special, all right.  And I wouldn't want him any other way.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pencil Me In

I have a major, major problem in my life and I have no idea what to do about solving it.  You're going to think I'm crazy, but...my problem is...PENCILS.

Pencils are single-handedly wreaking havoc on my sanity.  This has always been a small issue, but now that my job has me working with younger children, it's a problem that is taking over my life!

Now, for those of you not working in a classroom environment, this will probably not make much sense.  But, you know, in a classroom, you use pencils frequently.  When you have 20-30 children that each need at least one sharpen a day, it ends up taking a lot of time out of the day.  Pencils break.  It's part of life.  But I swear, my students aren't just using them, they are eating them.  They are building log cabins out of them.  They are doing some serious magic on them.  So what happens is that I have children who are at the pencil sharpener all day long, NOT doing work.  Or they are at their desk, not doing work because their pencil broke.  Or they insist, dramatically, that someone STOLE their pencil.  News flash:  NO ONE STEALS PENCILS.  They are always in your desk.  Always.

I'm teaching a much younger grade than I am accustomed to.  It's been a huge, huge adjustment for me.  Before the school year began, I worried about many things - how do I teach kids how to read?  What do I do during science?  How do I discipline younger children?  I never dreamed that what I should have been worrying about was dealing with pencils.

Throughout my teaching career, I have noticed a few interesting "rules" about the pencil situation, even with older kids.

Rule 1:  Electric Pencil Sharpeners Can Be Your Best Friend/Worst Enemy.  Electric pencil sharpeners tend to make the pencils much sharper without "eating" as much of the pencil.  They are, however, noisy.  Take this, for example:

"Class, I'd like you to [WHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.]  Billy!  Please sharpen your pencil when I'm finished.  Thank you.  Anyway, as I was saying [WHHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR].  BILLY!"

"Boys and girls, during the test you need to show respect to your classmates by remaining very quiet.  People need quiet so they are able to concentrate.  You may now begin."  [WHHRRRRRRRRRRR]

One great solution, one which I use, is to unplug the electric pencil sharpener after a certain time so that the children physically can't use it after the morning.  However, this will become an issue later down the list in the rules.

Rule 2:  Children Will Put Things that Do Not Belong in an Electric Sharpener in Said Sharpener.  Certain colored pencils, crayons, oddly shaped pencils, or the rubber peel off pencils that book fairs are so fond of selling do not go in a sharpener!  It will break the very expensive sharpener that you will purchase.  And despite telling the kids this over and over and over, Billy will still shove something weird in the sharpener and ruin it.

Rule 3:  Wall Mount Sharpeners Eat Entire Pencils.  Kids will stand there forever, sharpening, sharpening, sharpening.  The pencil isn't yet sharp, so they keep going, and sharpen an entire pencil.  Grr.  Kids also stick things in these.  They can also be very hard to turn, and you have small children giving themselves a hernia simply because they want a point on their pencil!

Rule 4:  Handheld Sharpeners are a Tool of the Devil.  In case you hadn't noticed, Billy is ADD.  And Billy LOVES his pencil sharpener.  He will play with it all day long.  He will dump out the shavings in his desk and then flip them at Susie.  He will accuse others of stealing his sharpener.  And, he will drop it on the floor approximately 10 times a day.

Rule 5:  Mechanical Pencils Require a Love/Hate Relationship.  I once purchased my entire class four mechanical pencils each, in an effort to curb the sharpening situation.  Personally, I love them using mechanical pencils.  Their handwriting is neater, they don't deal with sharpening it, and my ears don't bleed from constant WHHRRRRRRRRing.  But.  The children, especially Billy, also love pencil sharpeners.  They can take the eraser out of the top of it, pour out the lead, and rub it on the desk.  Or try to write using just a thin little piece of graphite.  Or, they can take apart the pencil, playing with the spring and shooting it at other people.

Rule 6:  There is Such a Thing as Too Many Pencils.  You might be saying, huh?  But you're complaining that they say they don't have a pencil!  Well, some kids come in with 72 pencils.  And they use them to build sculptures.  They spend all their time sharpening them.  They break them in half and chew on them.  Help!

Rule 7:  Pencil Organization Doesn't Seem to Help.  I have tried community pencils, where all the pencils go into one pot.  This kind of grosses me out from a germ standpoint, but it also doesn't really help.  You can tell them to trade a broken pencil for a new one, but they don't really do it.  You can write their names on all their pencils (which I do!) and they still accuse their neighbor of stealing all their pencils.  You can tape flowers to pencils so they don't get lost, but they still do.  You can tape spoons to the pencils so they don't get lost, but they use them as miniature catapults.  You can attach a pencil to their desk, but they will play with it, not sharpen it, etc.  You can create a necklace for the child to wear the pencil around their neck, but they will hate it and complain, and it seems like a dangerous area to wear a pencil.

Rule 8:  Boys are OBSESSED with the mini pencil.  This is something that I truly don't understand, and want to.  Boys will sharpen their pencils down to teeny, tiny, itty, bitty stubs.  So small they can't really write with it.  And then they'll stick it in a sharpener, not get it back out, and break it.  Seriously.  What is the male fixation with a small pencil?  Is there something I need to know?

This is where you come in.  These younger children, well, at least the boys in my class are incapable of maintaining a writing utensil.  What should I do to ensure that they have enough to get through the day, but not cause a distraction?  I need help!!!  If I hear one more time that someone stole their pencil/they don't have any pencils/the lead fell out/their pencil won't sharpen/etc, my brain is going to leak out of my ears.  HELP!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Suffering from SPA

Working in an environment that is 99.9999% female means many things.  This list includes catty fights, tears on a regular basis, more cutesy crap than you can shake a stick at and...parties.  Not just any party.  These parties are money makers.  I'm talking about

Pampered Chef


Home Interiors


Mary Kay

Beauty Control


Lia Sophia

Miche Bags

Thirty One bags



Celebrating Home

Longaberger baskets

parties.  The list could go on and on.  These are all things that I have been invited to/guilted into/suckered into throughout my teaching career.  And perhaps I'm just a little bit cynical, but when I get an invite to one of these things, I inwardly (and perhaps outwardly as well) groan.  There seems to be an unwritten rule.  If you get invited to one of these things, you have to buy something.  I don't get it!  I must have missed that 11th commandment "Thou shalt support thy fellow coworkers by purchasing cheap faddy crap whenever presented with the opportunity."  And like a dutiful person, I do it.

The thing is, I have enough Pampered Chef orange peelers to tunnel my way to China.  I don't want a bag that has interchangeable sides.  I think expensive baskets are a waste and frankly, most of the Scentsy stuff stinks.

Now, however, I'm feeling the pressure.  I know someone that works for a jewelry company and she wants me to have a party.  My mother and sister think I should have a party.  I am completely immobilized, however.  I am suffering from a severe case of SPA - Severe Party Anxiety.  Don't get me wrong.  I love a good party!  I enjoy having people over!  But in my mind, if I do this party, one of two disastrous things will happen:  1)  people will groan and resent having to buy something and not like me and/or 2) no one will come and I'll feel like a loser.  I feel their pain!

If I really do this, I want to beg people to come.  I want to lure them to my party with promises that the food will not suck, the party won't be filled with awkward silences as people race to fill out an order form and get the heck out of there, and it won't be lame.  They don't have to buy anything!  They just have to show up to boost my poor self-esteem.

Men should really throw these kinds of parties.  They miss out on all the fun.  Imagine the possibilities!

Screwdrivers with interchangeable handles

Wickless candles that smell manly

Storage containers for the garage that are ridiculously overpriced

Skincare products for men only

Anyone want to come to a jewelry party?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Went to St. Louis...

...and all I got were lousy bruises!

I was in St. Louis this weekend to meet my most favorite people in the entire world.  It was so good to see them, and I was sad we had such a short time to be together.  Leaving them was hard!  But all I have to do is look at my bruised arm and knees and I will have fond memories of them.  Why?

Because they took me to the most amazing place ever, the City Museum in St. Louis.  Now, you might be thinking "A museum?  Yawn."  Oh no, my friends.  This is no museum.  It's a giant, giant playground for adults.  An artist purchased an old shoe factory and using reclaimed industrial parts like airplanes, fire engines, rebar, engine parts, etc. created a monstrous structure to play in.  Sure, it has lots for children, and they love it, but it's totally designed for adults, too.  The former shoe factory is filled with tiny tunnels and holes that you crawl through.  You have no idea where they are leading you, and you have no idea if you'll ever find your way back.

They turned the former shoe chutes into slides that will lead you all over the 10+ story building. 

Everything in the area, including the rope swings, tree houses and skate park, is made of industrial leftovers.  The bathroom walls are made out of restaurant baking pans.

 There are caves throughout the building.  They smell damp, and are dark and scary.  Perfect for spelunkers. 

I found myself crawling on my hands and knees, scooting on my butt, climbing, and seriously wondering if I was ever going to make it out.  At one point, my friend was trying to wedge himself through a tiny hole and yelled back that my other friend and I were not going to fit - it wasn't boob friendly.  And then he had to seriously work to get back out of the hole.

It also has a ten story tall slide.  You can get there in more than one way, but I preferred the stairs.

It was when I was walking through this wet grate, very high in the air, in the dark that I remembered that I currently have NO health insurance and...um...was this a very good idea?  Also, Non-Mommy, do NOT look down.

It is open until 1 a.m.  After 10 p.m. they turn off the lights and you can explore the entire factory using flashlights and glow sticks.  They also have a bar for those interested. 

Despite my bruised knees, very sore muscles, and sweat soaked clothing, I had a great time.  This is really an incredible place to visit.  You could be there all day long and never see anything.  It's truly huge.  It is well, well worth a visit - even if you have to drive a day to do it.  It is extremely child friendly, extremely adult friendly, and a great work out.  Don't believe me?  Go read reviews online.

If you go, I strongly recommend that you wear pants that you don't mind getting dirty in.  You will literally be pulling yourself up, climbing, shimmying, scooting, etc.  You need good shoes with good traction.  Be prepared to sweat a lot.  Knee pads are a great idea.  But I promise, you will love this place if you are active!

City Museum of St. Louis

Monday, September 5, 2011

Abiite Nemine Salutato

Life is good.  I'm not enjoying the new age group that I work with as much as my preteens, but they are cute and nice (just understand that my entire world at this time is kids picking their scabs and tattling on each other for things like So and So having a Starburst in their pocket).  I LOVE the people I am working with, the entire feel of the building I am working in is so totally the opposite of the Nazi regime that I was working with.  I am very, very blessed.

So, don't take this next part as a sign that I'm all down and out.  I'm not.  But I have to spill some stuff, and you are all the ones that I dump on.  Poor YOU!

Something very sad has happened.  A dear child that I know passed away.   Her name was Krystle. Krystle was a junior in high school last year.  She worked in my classroom every day.  She was a very positive, bright girl.   She would help me with small tasks, work with the kids, and just visit with me. Sometimes she annoyed me a bit because she wanted to talk more than anything, but you know, she's a typical high schooler.  She came to work in my room because her track coach, who I am friends with, connected us.

Now, sorry men, but like a typical man, the coach neglected to tell me some things.  Krystle had to be gone for a little while, but she had done some traveling, so I didn't think about it.  She never mentioned anything else.  Coach Dumbasaboxofrocks didn't say anything.

One day, she came to my room and she looked very pale.  I even mentioned this to my friend the dumb coach.  Did he mention anything critical that I should know at that time?  Noooooo.

At the end of the school year, she came to see me just to visit.  She really hugged me and I remember thinking that she was looking at me oddly, but I just assumed it was because she knew that I was moving away and would miss her senior year.

About a month ago, I got a mass email with her name as the subject line.  I opened it, and it started "As you know, Krystle _________ has been battling cancer and is struggling."  I could have fallen over.  I had NO idea.

I immediately called Coach Dumbasaboxofrocks and was like "Um, HELLO?!??!?! She has cancer?????"  He was like "Oh, I thought you knew."  I was like "COACH!! Are you kidding me??"  So he told me that Krystle had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 15.  At the end of April/early May she began having abdominal pain.  The ovarian cancer was back, but it was also everywhere.  She'd been going through treatment when she was gone from school.

A few nights ago, Coach called me back.  Krystle passed away this past week.  I'm so relieved that her suffering is over, but I was upset all night long.  It will never be easy to accept the death of any human, especially one so young.  But irrationally, I was so upset because I had no idea she was sick.  I don't know how I didn't know, but I didn't.  I'm so upset that she was going through this without any support from me.  And my head KNOWS that she would have told me if she had wanted me to know.  My head KNOWS that she probably could tell that I didn't know and was relieved to come to my room each day and not be treated differently.  But my heart is so heavy that she came to me at the end of May, knowing she was going to die, and I didn't even acknowledge what she was going through.  I'm sick about it.

It was my honor to be a part of her last year of life, and that she knew I loved her and enjoyed being around her not just because of her cancer.  There was no pity.  It also speaks very highly of her that she didn't tell me, and still worked hard to live life as normally, and fully as possible.

I've been on the verge of tears all weekend. This is also bringing up some major emotion tied to my father's death.  I miss him terribly.  We had to watch a movie about the importance of father's in the home and school, and I was on the verge of losing it.

I can't believe I never knew she was dying.  My heart is very, very heavy.


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