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.