Sunday, December 6, 2015


Now that Thanksgiving is over, the kids are gearing up for Christmas. Most kids here don’t have satellite, cable, or even over the air antennas, so they don’t have to endure the bombardment of Christmas adds on TV. They get to gear up for Christmas like the pilgrims did or the Amish do. Or how I did. They remind me every morning of how many sleeps they have until Christmas.

Being around the kids at Christmas time always makes me think about my childhood Christmases. I think our Christmases are very similar. Most kids out here don’t live in families that can afford the newest and best toys. Like my Christmases. Christmas is for practical gifts. Underwear. Socks. Mittens. Boots. They don’t go to the mall to see Santa. They don’t dream about getting the biggest Barbie Doll house. Or a new computer. They get a new jacket and boots. They get a new snow-suit. And they love it because that’s what they got. It is always difficult to recognize the kids after Christmas because they are all bundled up in new jackets and you can’t see their faces.
Nunam Iqua, AK

It also reminds me of what I had to watch on TV for the holidays. Charlie Brown Christmas. Nostalgia is the only way I can get through it now. It is god-awful. Rudolph is god-awful. But it was all we had, so we loved it. The kids here are the same. We watch Mr. Bean put the turkey on his head every year. And we laugh like it was the funniest thing on YouTube. (It just might be.)

I am also reminded of the Christmas Eve that I saw what must have been an airplane with a red blinking light and was convinced it was Santa. I guess FAA rules apply to all aircraft. We knew that he would visit our house while Dad had my brothers and me out finishing chores in the barn. When we got back in the house, the stockings were full and presents were under the tree. As a kid, I was surprised how controlled my Mom was after meeting Santa. But she was just nonchalant about the deal. I would have thought she would be all celebrity struck. But no, she just told us to eat dinner. While we looked at the presents and tree. That was always the most difficult meal to finish.

And then there is the after Christmas letdown. After weeks of anticipation, it’s all gone in one day. The decorations just look like the sad, drunk people who won’t leave at the end of the party. Monica always takes them down (the decorations, not the drunks) the day after, much like a crime scene cleanup crew. All reminders of the day are put back in their boxes. I take down the Christmas drawings we hang in our classroom and on our boards in the hall.

So, to sum it up: Christmas has a very exciting build up but a mighty fall. I am glad the kids here don’t have to participate in what Christmas has become, retailers hyping up their wares for revenue. Our kids get to appreciate Christmas for what it is about; them. They are not made to feel envious about what they didn’t get. They get to be thankful for what they got. And that makes a Grinch like me excited about Christmas. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Once again it’s the start of a new school year. This year I have only one new student. My position shifted from 2-4th grade to 3-5th grade. So I have the exact same students as last year, plus one student who moved here over the summer. That means that we are all well acquainted with each other. But I’ve found over the years that it doesn’t matter too much because I seem to have some of the same characters in my class, no matter what school year it is. If you’re a teacher, you may recognize some of these students. Some years you may have slightly different characters, but I keep seeing certain characters in my classroom. At the end of the school year, one of my characters will advance to another classroom, but on the first day of school I can almost hear the voice-over guy say, “Now playing the role of The Hypochondriac will be Johnny Smith”. Marvelous. I was just getting use to the other guy in that role.

I would say they are like Batman villains, but they are not nefarious. At least not in their characters they play in the classroom. And maybe the roles aren’t natural, but they just fill the open role so there will be a well rounded sense of annoyance in the classroom every year. So here we go, here is a list of characters I seem to always find in my class.

The Compulsive Denier.  This kid will deny everything. If ever accused of this he would deny it too, of course. He will deny obvious accusations only to try to change the subject and point his finger at someone else in the classroom, even me.
This one will probably be a politician.

The Negotiator. The negotiator wants to haggle with you over the amount of school work she is assigned or the amount of free time she will be allotted for the day. I’ve spent less time with a border-town blanket salesman then with this student on a single math assignment. They will also try to assess the fairness of each assignment, asking several times if it is necessary and if everybody has to do these.
This one will probably be an attorney.

The Hypochondriac. This character always has something wrong with him. It’s amazing how many headaches this student will get when it comes time to read an article for science. But 30 minutes later, he has miraculously healed enough to play a game of dodgeball during PE. He’ll shrug off a ball blasting him in the face, but whimpers because of eyeball trauma caused by typed words on paper.
This one will probably be an insurance claims adjuster. (When he shows up for work)

The-One-Who-Makes-Weird-Noises-But-You-Don’t-Know-Who’s-Doing-It. (I couldn’t come up with a one word descriptor.) I’ve always had one of these students in my class, but not always making the same sound. I’ve had whistlers, clickers, chirpers, smackers, and knockers. Any sound that can be done incognito will do the trick. They have mastered the ventriloquist’s craft and share it nonchalantly with the whole class. Usually while I’m discussing something the State of Alaska Department of Early Education has deemed important. They can even mimic the look of annoyance like the other kids while making the sound. 
This one will probably work right next to you at whatever job you have. 

The Clinger. This is someone who thinks I’m a piece of gym equipment to be climbed on. This one usually uses ninja style tactics to leap out from obscurity and latch onto my shoulders from behind, hanging on me like a cape. My usual style of persuasion, “Get off of me you weirdo” doesn’t seem to deter the clinger. She just jumps off and plans her next stealth attack.
This one will probably appear on American Ninja Warrior.

The Never-Ending Storyteller. This character loves telling stories but most stories end with, “Oh, I forgot what I was going to say.” Mainly because they got lost in their own convoluted and meandering zig zag. The stories never go anywhere because the direction keeps changing. And never has an end. And it’s hard to stand there and listen because you don’t want to interrupt the child. But at some point you have to just move on. With everyone else’s lives.  
me: Who in here has ever used a telescope?
chronic storyteller: (hand raised high and jazz hand)
me: (looking around room of any other hand)(sits down) Oh alright, would you like to give a brief description?   
cs: One time I was helping my dad look for our dog. He was kind of old
      and had a paw that was fluffy. One time our dog chased a rabbit, I 
      I think it was kind of red colored, and the rabbit jumped through    
      the old fence by the barn. We used to hide my brother’s toys in 
      there when he was being a brat. (pause and a look of confusion) I 
      forgot what I was going to say.
me: That’s alright. I forgot what I asked. Lets take a break.
This one will probably become a blogger.

Again, this is not an exclusive list. You may have experienced different characters in your life. Because we all can agree that these kids grow up to become coworkers of all of us. Hell, we were/are some of these characters ourselves. These characters are in every office, firehouse, submarine, police station, dispatch center, garage, lab, warehouse, church, package delivery service, sports team, etc….. If you’re not sure what character you are, just ask the person playing The Know-It-All at your job site. Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

YouTube Video

Every year I make a video for the class using pictures and videos I take over the school year. I try my hardest to make sure I use pictures and vids where the kids appear to be happy. The pictures with tears and screaming will be saved for my retirement video. 
I am the one who picks out the songs, but I choose songs that are popular with the kids. 

Here is the link.

Friday, May 15, 2015


The last week of the school year is not my favorite week. I’m not saying I’m not looking forward to the break, but the last week kind of scares the shit out of me. There are so many, many, many things that can happen that week, and most of those things do not involve smiles. And this is the last week of the school year for me.

One of the problems is that everybody knows it’s the last week. Teachers are high-fiving like a bunch of 15 year olds who just scored some Olde English. They’re all thinking, “Yeah, last week of school. I am soooo ready for this.”  That’s flawed reasoning right there, because if we realize it, so do the kids. And if they realize it, that means they are also high-fiving, mainly because they are a bunch of 15 year olds who just probably scored some Olde English.  Luckily, I teach the littles, 2-4th grade, who are all high-fiving because they scored some juice boxes. But they too can sense the end of the year, like those weird horses who can tell when an earthquake is about to happen. (I happen to think they’re just lucky.)

This will be a deliberately painful stampede.
To me it feels like a herd of cattle on the verge of a stampede. The students and I are both uneasily eyeing the doorway periodically throughout the day, as if someone’s going to bolt. I know if they stampede, I can’t stop them. I’m worried that something might spook them. And it could be anything, like a bee or the sudden slamming of a door. I usually like to sneak up behind a student and startle them. But not this week. That could cause a chaos I wouldn’t enjoy.  

Maybe they're just planning a take-over.
I also worry about one of the students breaking free; finally snapping from the pressure she’s endured throughout the year. And if she breaks, the rest will follow. I doubt any would look back to see if anyone else was breaking with them. They would be halfway home before I cautiously peeked out from behind the book cabinet. I have fortified a space only I am aware of.

Then there would have to be some sort of explanation to the principal. I have found that on average, a principal will not take a shoulder shrug as an answer to a direct question. In fact, more times than not they seem to hate it. And they love to ask questions. “Why was that kid wearing a bucket on his head?” “Who gave that student a stapler and a tube of super-glue?” These are perfect examples of where a shoulder shrug should suffice. Apparently not. 

After that, parents. 
Me: Mrs. Smith. Yes, I’m calling to inform you that your child has just ran out of the school, evidently with a bunch of other confused and frightened children. 
Mrs. Smith: WTF?
Me: I don’t know. 
Mrs. Smith: Seriously, WTF?
Me: SeriouslyI don’t know.  
A shoulder shrug doesn’t have much of an effect while on the phone.

So while I am holding out hope for this week, I’m also trying to be realistic. I will try to keep the same routine to our day as to not provoke any suspicions. And I will not be wearing my spurs just to be on the safe side.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


I read somewhere that teaching is one part inspiration and two parts perspiration. I would like to add five parts frustration to that equation. Teaching is one of the most frustrating things I have ever done in my life. It’s frustrating on many levels, but I’m going to address the frustration I get when I am unable to transfer the knowledge of some educational concept from me to them. I fully understand that it is my failure most of the time when this occurs. But sometimes I point my trembling finger at the students. Then quietly suffer a mild stroke back at my desk. Sometimes it is not my fault.

This year we took our new standardized tests online. As a test proctor, there are specific procedures on how we are to handle certain situations. Like if a students asks, “Is this the right answer?” As per my
"I'm done with my test and I think you'll be
 pleased with the results."
scripted directions, I respond with, “I may not help you with any part of your test. Please do your best and choose the best response.” I think this is to get them used to dealing with DMV personnel or Comcast customer service reps. That is how I responded. How I wanted to respond was: “Are you fucking kidding me??!! Did you not listen to ONE thing I taught you this year??!!!” But I stand back and watch in horror as the student hovers her cursor over the correct answer for a moment and then goes in the opposite direction and chooses some irrelevant choice. This is not my fault. 

Frustration does not only happen with standardized tests. It appears during a daily assignment. I have a student answer a mathematical equation with the answer “food”. It was not a word problem, but a number sentence. Just numbers. With black ink. On white paper. He was not sure about the correct answer, so he went with food. And he seemed a bit shocked when I pointed out that he was wrong. This could not be my fault.

While speed is important in reading, one of my students equates finishing a reading assignment first to winning a gold medal. He proudly proclaims, “First!!!!” while other students jump at the sudden noise from the back of the room. Usually with these passages, there are four questions to make sure the student has indeed read the passage. I will ask Crazy River (as he requested to be called) if he has actually read the passage. Yes, he assures me. I compliment him on his Evelyn Wood accomplishment and he nods knowingly. I then show him that he has missed all four questions. I explain that a monkey using a crayon probably could have guessed correctly on at least one. He continues to smile while nodding, accepting this critique for praise. Or maybe his is just imagining a monkey doing his work for him. He is ultimately disappointed and pissed off when I send him back to his desk to do it again. This is not my fault at all.

There is another aspect about learning that I have to put the burden of blame on the students. This has to do with listening and choosing not to listen. Now, I know this is an adult issue also, but that can be someone else’s blog. I have gathered medical evidence for the past five years that will prove beyond doubt that my students have the capability to hear words coming out of my mouth. Because of their yearly hearing tests that take place in our school, I have seen the results with my own eyes (aided of course with corrective lenses). THEY CAN HEAR ME. But for reasons known only to them, they make the decision not to. 
I don't know why.
Me: Please turn your work into the blue bin labeled math in the back of        the room. (This is a routine we do daily.)
Student: (blank stare)
Me: Please turn your work into the blue bin labeled math in the back of        the room.
Student: Which bin?
Not. My. Fault. 

I have listed four examples where I don’t feel the need to accept the blame for failures in the classroom. I can list several hundred examples where I am the blame. So I’m not trying to pass off my classroom’s struggles on the kids. Most are my fault. And I reteach, reteach, and reteach until we come to understand our concepts. And that is the students’ success, not mine. But. Sometimes I try my hardest and the results age me unnaturally fast. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015


I’ve read where the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Fine, I guess that would be an unorthodoxed way to go about things. But the person who is doing that does not understand the cycle he has brought onto himself and does not realize he is going crazy. I would submit that the definition of insanity is teaching 4th graders how to divide with remainders. Because as a classroom teacher experiencing that calamity, I felt the harsh punch of insanity hit me in the esophagus. Because the esophagus is where insanity starts. So here is my story of almost becoming crazy and the small people who were driving the train.

It all started simple enough. We had been working on division and the kids were loving it. We were able to add more digits to the dividend. They enjoyed the challenge of larger numbers and were relishing the fact that they were doing hard math and succeeding. Rainbows began forming in the classroom. Students were sharing high fives with unicorns and I looked on, gratified that knowledge had indeed been transferred. Then one day I introduced them to remainders and they all lost their collective shit. 

It wasn’t a slow, gradual loss of all things rational. The explanation of remainders took away all normal functions immediately and they became catatonic lumps of carbon and bacteria sitting in their chairs. Their heads, suddenly too heavy for their neck and shoulders to support, rested on their desks. Their breathing became labored and I could hear sounds coming from their mouths. Not words as much as low moans and whimpering. And the learning stopped. 

My usual approach to instruction is to repeat: louder and slower. This did not work. They only seemed to withdraw more. When I attempted to refine the instruction, (speaking increasingly louder and slower) they still didn’t respond. I was all out of options. I had used all of my tools from my teaching tool kit; which apparently consisted of a megaphone. They didn’t even respond with the usual joy at the sight of my forehead-vein protruding. This was going to take a while.
Whatever. I'll just fart out of my mouth for a while.

We eventually got through this, but it took a lot of pushing, pulling, crying, resisting, scratching, and scowling. It was as if this idea was too complex to accept. But we made it. We used manipulatives, candy, videos, and farting. Everything involves farting with kids.  There was no cheering or rainbows made out of balloons, but the silent sigh of accomplishment when we moved on to the next chapter: sequencing. 

They were relieved because sequencing is not as abstract to them. They can visualize increasing or decreasing their candy intake incrementally. This made sense to them, so once again heads were lifted off the desks. Pencils stayed in their hands and their papers were smooth, not crinkly from being wadded up a few times. They were getting this. Math was fun again and their teacher was able to take his hands out of his pockets, no longer fearful of uncontrollably smashing things. 
This is evil!!!!

Then we began sequencing with both increases and decreases in the same series…..crap.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An open letter to my students.

An open letter to my students. 

Dear My Students,

I realize you are unlikely to respond directly to this letter, given the fact that you don’t have access to my blog. But you will share your concerns daily with me in attempts to sway my favors, so I’m writing this anyway. 

Would the compulsive, atonal whistler please refrain for making that noise? It is very unpleasant. Not only to me but to the others in our class who have the ability to hear sound. I do applaud you on your ventriloquist like ability to do it so nonchalantly that I can’t tell for sure who it is. Plus, your equally amazing ability to deny making noises as to further complicate the distraction. I will find you out.

I would also like to better explain my viewpoint on being treated as a jungle-gym. I DO NOT LIKE IT. Just because my arms are attached to my shoulders is not an invite to begin swinging from them. They are my arms and you are too big. Knock it off.

I would also like to address those of you who are attempting to hone your skills as joke-tellers. For the love of God, keep it concise! The best jokes are the short ones. And have a punchline. That is funny. I, like you, appreciate a joke that contains the words “poop” or “pee”. But it does need to be used appropriately, and there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. I feel responsible in helping you walk that thin, dangerous line while telling a joke. I will show you how to use those words correctly and for laugh value. Just adding the word “poop” at the end of a sentence does not make it funny. Sometimes it just makes it gross.

Now, pertaining to some of you grabbing things off my desk; keep your grubby paws off my stuff. I know that three-legged horse once belonged to you, but you forfeited possession when you began playing with it instead of doing your reading assignment. As always, you will have the  opportunity to get it back after class. And before you ask, my iPhone is not for you to grab either. And it’s in my pocket. 

On a positive side, after only a few lessons, I appreciate your ability to understand the difference between correlation and causation. 
Correlation: You misplace your pencil >>>Somebody is stealing your pencils.
Causation: You find that piece of gum you dropped on the floor yesterday and put it back into your mouth >> >You need to use the bathroom because you now have diarrhea. 

Crazy River, I secretly enjoy when you take your toy jet out of your pocket and start to tell me about it. Then you realize you are not suppose to have toys out during a non-break time. Then you get a panicked look on your face because you know I am going to confiscate it from you. So you quickly put it back into your pocket and pretend that none of this ever happened. You make my day much more enjoyable. 

And all of you. Thank you for being weird and cool. I like being around weird people, and you guys are weird. I’ve never seen any group of people who enjoy sharing their different bodily odors with others. Weird. You like listening to Red Dirt music with me in class. Cool. You think Mr. Bean invented funny. A little weird, but cool. And you like to run around in circles, either in the gym or in the classroom. Very weird. But you make me laugh each and every day. And I need that.

In the end it all washes out. For every time I get annoyed, you repay me with weird coolness twice. And if you do read this, I expect a three-paragraph essay explaining why the narrator feels the way he does. And give examples!! Just kidding. I think we should just watch another Mr. Bean video and keep being weird.

Clay Miller, 
Your Teacher

p.s. Stop picking your nose. I can see you because you are not invisible. Yes, you with your finger in your nose shaking your head ‘no’.