Friday, May 26, 2006

A Truly Good Kid

As a teacher, one of the things that as always been in the back of my mind is the fear that one day I'll open the paper and see one of my former students on the front page. Granted, I would love to see one of them on the front page for doing heroic and wonderful things, but let's be honest...that's usually not the kind of story you see first thing in the morning over your cup of very strong black coffee. The media loves death and destruction (sort of like most seventh graders) and that's what you get.

And unfortunately, that's what I got this morning when I checked the online version of the local paper and read about two teenaged boys who had gone missing last night while swimming in a local creek and were fear drowned.

And since I know where that creek is (right smack in the middle of our school zone) I had this horrible feeling that I'd recognize at least one of the names.

And I did.

It was Philipp.

Philipp isn't going to get a nickname from me because, quite honesty, I couldn't come up with one that truly encompasses all that Philipp was as a kid and a person. And I say was, sadly, because his body was recovered around midnight last night, so Philipp is gone.

And I can't tell you how awful that makes me feel.

Philipp was in my first crop of seventh graders when I started my first year down here. My first year as a real, full-time, seventh grade teacher in my very own room. I had 135 kids that year and out of all of them, Philipp was probably the one that stood out the most. He was funny, extremely funny, and witty and bright although he'd rather play sports and video games than study.

Every day I'd walk my fourth period to lunch and every single day Philipp would jump up and try to touch the ceiling as we walked through the portal to the cafeteria. And every day I would tell him to stop doing that because it was dangerous, and he'd just smile at me and laugh.

We loved to get Philipp to talk because his stories were always interesting and funny. He was actually German and didn't move to the U.S. until he was about ten or so, when his mother married an American soldier. He had wonderful stories about what it was like to go to school in Europe and vacation in places like Spain. The other reason we liked to have him talk was because he spoke with a slight German accent laced with a little touch of Southern (you had to hear this to appreciate it!)

When he was in eighth grade he was having some major problems with his language arts class and I volunteered to tutor him because I had a good relationship with Philipp - don't get me wrong, he could be a handful and drive you up a wall, but he still had a good heart. He was pretty good at math so I'd tutor him in Language Arts and he'd help my seventh graders in math which they just loved because he made it fun.

He was, in short, a kid I would have taken home in a minute and would have been proud to call my own. He was everything you'd want your own kids to be.

I will, truly, miss him.

Bless you Philipp. You touched many hearts.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hollywood Morons

Yesterday I went, along with a bunch of other teacher friends, including Mrs. Reading, Mrs. Math and Mrs. Language, to go see the movie, An American Haunting.

If you haven't seen the movie, and plan on it, and don't want to know something vital about it, stop reading this right now and go do something else.

For those of you who may not have heard, the movie is based (very loosely as we shall see) on a true haunting of the Bell family from Robertson County, Tennessee. And around here, folks take the Bell Witch (or Kate as she's more familiarly known) quite seriously. After all, the true incidents didn't take place too far from here and it's still a big deal to go see the Bell Witch cave and nearly everyone has a family story about Kate and her haunting of John Bell's family in the early 1800's.

So the idea we had was to go see the movie, then head on down to Mrs. Chicken's house, to see some of the Bell Witch sites. Mrs. Chicken, after all, is a life-long resident of the area and has stories beyond stories about local lore. After all, it's not often that Hollywood makes a movie about a local legend.

But Hollywood did make a movie about a local legend.

And then proceeded to totally blow it.

On the surface, the movie is okay. It's dark, it's creepy, and it's pretty scary. However, if you know a lot about the actual Bell Witch story you're going to be very, very disappointed. And we all knew a lot about the actual story.

And none of us had ever heard that the reason the Bell family was haunted was because John Bell raped his daughter Betsey and he was killed by his wife when the ghost told her this.

Or, as Mrs. Chicken said at the end of the movie, "Good Lord, I've lived here all my life and I've never, ever heard such garbage as this."

So Hollywood had to add incest and sex to "jazz up" what is, on its own, a pretty fantastic story. The silly thing is, if they'd actually included a bit more of the real legend that has been recorded in book after book and article after article, they would have had a better movie. After all, this haunting was known to talk and talk and talk (which it doesn't do in the movie outside of a few stray whispers) to anyone and everyone who would come to the Bell House to hear her - including, of all people, Andrew Jackson. Hundreds of people came to hear her and she never disappointed them.

Unlike Hollywood who seems to always disappoint.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One Contented Kitty

It's summer.

And I'm free, sorta.

It seems like I've pretty much scheduled out my summer already. I've got about 5 days of an inservice to go to on water education, then up North to do two weeks of summer camp, and then finals and the end (at freaking last) of my grad school experience, and then back to school.

And in between all that I have to figure out some way to get a zillion and one home remodeling/repair projects done.

But I can sleep in (which, for me, is 6:30 am, considering that I'm up at 4:45 during the school year), take long walks for exercise (which I actually like), read, knit, do sudoku, and hang out with huppy and my adorable felines.

I've had a number of you ask if I plan to continue blogging over the summer and I suppose I will, although, in all honesty, summer is a lot less entertaining! No crazy kids to yabber about, no wack job parents, no insanity. I guess you'll be subject to tales of me and my yardwork.

Go ahead and yawn.

Friday, May 19, 2006


We all survived the last half day of school.

And truth be told, it was kind of fun. Then again, my homeroom this year has been the best group of kids I've had and I enjoy them. Which makes it a lot easier. A whole lot easier. If you can't stand your homeroom being trapped with them for a half day can be pure torture.

By 7:30 they'd raided my game closet and had games of Risk, Monopoly, Stratego and Life going. By 8:15 we had the team head outside to play a mini kickball tournament and returned to the rooms by 10:00 so we could eat junk food, sign yearbooks, and hand out report cards.

I was surprised, to be honest, at all the 8th graders that came by for hugs and signatures in their yearbooks. They are making a big step into high school and it's downright scary for some of them to leave the safety of middle school. They're good kids for the most part so they'll be fine.

By 10:45 the kids had their report cards, had cleaned the room, put up the chairs and were ready for The Principal to release them to their buses. With a cheer they just went pouring into the halls, screaming, yelling, hugging and dashing off to the buses.

And then my favorite part of the last day of school where all the employees and the students who walk home, go outside and wave and yell the buses off as they drive off and their final trek of the year. The buses honk their horns, the kids scream and wave back and it's just something you have to be there to really understand. It's fun. It's really fun when a special kid catches your eye as the bus drives by and waves and smiles at you.

And you know you made a difference.

And that, my friends is why I do this.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Go Fly a Kite

Every year, the last week of school, Mrs. Eagle and I (and this year Mrs. Robin joined us) have the kids make tetrahedron kites. Tetrahedrons, for those of us who don't remember our geometry, are four sided pyramids. You basically make them out of yarn and straws and cover them with tissue paper, stack four of them into a larger pyramid and you have a kite.

So today, the last full day of school and the last day I have the classes outside of my homeroom, was the day that we targeted to finish our kites and, weather and time permitting, we went outside to fly them. Only two periods, second and fourth, managed to get flying time, but part of that was because third and fifth (The Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself) actually had one less day to work on their kites because they had to do "jerk werk" one day as payback for bad behavior. (It is wonderful to have a huge class set of very cool science magazines that you can make the kid read and answer questions in.)

The weather was pefect. Bright blue sky and fluffy clouds and a good breeze. I walked the kids out to the grassy area behind the school and turned them loose. I'm not sure who had more fun, me or them.

So I'm standing there on a slight hill, looking down at the field and at my kids, running around with their kites bobbing in the air. They're running. They're laughing. They are acting like little kids and not the teenagers they're gradually becoming. It was like I was watching the last gasp of childhood before they left me and became teenagers and 8th graders.

And I stood there and realized how much I truly love them all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Getting there....

We're down to the wire folks.

Or, as Mrs. Eagle says, just two and a half days.

I collected and turned in my textbooks - all present and accounted for! (Thank goodness.)

I am trying to keep them busy so they don't a) kill each other or b) I kill them. So, we're making tetrahedron kites out of yarn, straws and tissue paper. These aren't the easiest kites to build, especially if you're from the world of velcro and can't tie knots to save your life, and that's a good thing. It keeps them busy. And keeping them busy is my priority. Because keeping them busy keeps my sanity.

But you've got to make it fun.

And besides, there's no one I've ever met under the age of 16 who can't resist opening a paper-wrapped straw by blowing the paper into the air. So, we open our straws by having the kids shoot the paper into the air all at once. It looks like a blizzard in the room, they scream and laugh, and it's a complete mess.

And I don't care.

It's fun.

And sometimes, you've just got to have fun with your kids.

All Decked Out

So this past Friday was the night of the 8th Grade Dance, sometimes called the 8th Grade Prom by kids who really want to grow up way too fast. It's a reward dance for 8th graders who do not go over 25 discipline points; in other words, pretty much the good kids.

Mrs. Language and I signed up to work the dance because it really is a nice dance - really pretty decorations, cake, punch, the kids get all "P-Diddied Out" (in the words of Mrs. Cool). Besides, it's fun to see how our little 7th graders grow up . Heck, sometimes its hard to even recognize them.

So we went out to supper, got dressed up ourselves (although I still come across as a bit more granola than I wanted, but when the only decent shoes you own are Birkies...) and enjoyed ourselves at the dance. The kids looked wonderful even if they were annoyed that they still had to follow dress code (no spaghetti straps ladies!) .

Metal Kid (one of my favorite students from last year who is a die-hard Iron Maiden fan and who I love to talk music with) came, and brought one of the nicest, and smartest, girls around - probably the only girl we had last year who wasn't boy-obsessed and insane about clothes. It was nice to see them all dressed up and acting a tad bit grown up for 14-year olds.

It was fun. It's also somewhat bittersweet when you realize that you probably won't see many of these kids again unless you run across them in town or if they come visit from High School.

And that, to be truthful, is just a tad sad.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A New World Record!

We had a new student enroll this morning on our team.

With six and a half days of school left.

Kind of silly, huh? Well....turns out Rude Girl was a truancy case in another district and now Dad has custody and enrolled her. Well, actually step-mom enrolled her and couldn't drop her off fast enough.

And we soon found out why.

During homeroom she mouthed off to Mr. Social Studies who later took her aside and suggested that, with six and a half days left, it wouldn't be a bad idea to watch her mouth - the teachers in this building don't tolerate that kind of behavior.

During first period she made quite an impression with her behavior on her related arts teacher.

During second period we took all the kids to the cafeteria so they could sign yearbooks and she had already hooked up with our biggest troublemakers.

During third period she mouthed off to Mrs. Language who, like Mr. Social Studies too her aside and explained that we do things differently here.

In between third and fourth period she tried to start a fight with another student, cursed, then mouthed off to Mrs. Reading.

By fourth period she was in Mr. Enforcer's office, with Deputy Dude watching over her, and Mr. Enforcer was working the referrals that had been written up about her less than stellar behavior.

She was suspended for the rest of the year.

She never made it to my class or Mrs. Math's.

A new record....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Knock Me Over With a Feather

When I first left the corporate world and went back to school (at the ripe old age of 38) to become a teacher, I had two goals in mind. One, to be finished with school by the time I was 40, and two, to make a difference in at least one kid's life each and every year I teach.

So far I've managed to do both. However, sometimes you really aren't too sure which kid it is that you've affected in a positive way until the end of the year. And even then, it sometimes comes as a complete shock.

For example.

Today, after lunch, The Secretary comes into my room with a vase with flowers in it, and a big balloon that reads, "A+ Teacher" on it. It's Teacher Appreciation Week so I figure the PTO is handing these out to all of us. We have an awesome PTO and that's just the kind of thing they would do. I ask The Secretary if it's from the PTO and she says "no, it was just delivered."

Just delivered? What the...?

Well, I knew it wasn't from The Husband...he's a dear but flowers aren't his thing. He'd rather buy me a book (I do have lots of books).

So I look at the envelope that's attached and on the back it reads "You're the Best!!!...Ever!"

This is getting curiouser and curiouser. Who on earth is sending me flowers???

I open the card and it reads, "Thank you for being so nice and good to me even when I didn't deserve it. I miss you!!! Also thank you for being so patient with me. Happy Teacher Appreciation Day. "

It is from Stoopid Boy.

Stoopid Boy was sent to alternative school two weeks ago, much to my dismay. I just wanted to get him through the year without having to do that, but he had to go and do something "stoopid" (remember the hyperdermic needle?) and off he went. Stoopid Boy was a tough nut to crack, but once I did I absolutely fell in love with this kid. Now there are teachers on my team who would think I need my head examined for saying that, but it's true. He's a great kid, a bit of a goofball and a nutcase, but still, deep down, there's a good kid trying to crawl out. I miss him. A lot. Perhaps because there's part of me that likes the underdog, or a part of me who remembers what it was like to be a geek and a bit of an outcast. I'm not sure. But Stoopid Boy is one of those kids I connect with. I'm not sure if that says something about me, or something about him, or what.

But you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw who that card was from.

And that just about made my year.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mean Girls Yet Again

Just when I think I can't be surprised any more, I am.

So Mrs. Eagle and I, who are usually at school by 6:15 which either makes us crazy or dedicated (I can't tell which most days) are up front talking to one of The Secretaries, when the phone rings. It's a parent calling to warn us about a potential conflict between her daughter and another girl on her team. Turns out both girls belong on Mrs. Eagle's team which causes her to shake her head and mutter, "only one more Monday", under her breath. She has, you remember, had the Absolute Team From Hell This Year.


Apparently Mean Girl decided she wanted to cause a problem for Victim Girl and went and posted Victim Girl's phone number, along with a description of a sex act she would be willing to provide, on the internet.

Victim Girl's mother reports that on Sunday they received 140 phone calls from all over the United States from people who wanted to hook up with her daughter so she could provide sex to them.

I don't know which disgusts me more, the fact that Mean Girl (who is very smart, but a brat beyond belief who wants to be "cool" and "bad") would do something so outrageously stupid or that there are at least 140 perverts out there, trolling the 'net, looking to have sex with 13 year olds.

My guess is that this probably appeared on My Space which is all my kids talk about all the time - they are on it constantly, and what I've seen on there really concerns me. (Parents? You out there? You know what you're kids are doing?)

In any case, I heard from Mrs. Eagle later today that Deputy Dude was processing paperwork to bring Mean Girl up on some kind of charges. Don't know what they are, but let me tell you, Victim Girl's mother was hopping mad, as she should be.

Finally Field Day!

The Seventh Grade had field day today. It was actually supposed to be on Friday, but we got rained out and except for the volleyball tournament (which we did anyway because they needed the gym for yearbook dedication today) we had to wait until today. Believe me, we were praying for good weather because I don't think we could have stood another day in class with these kids all hyped about field day.

For those of you who don't know (and I didn't because my schools never did field day), field day is a day at the end of the year where the kids go outside and do all sorts of competitions like kickball, tug of war, sack races, etc. The kids love it because they get to run around and act like goobers, buy lots of candy and hot dogs and nachos from the PTO, and generally burn off some energy.

From a teacher's point of view, it's not too bad although you spend 99% of your time chasing down kids and keeping them from doing anything stupid and dangerous (like having sex or throwing rocks at each other). We did send a few back inside into the "I got in trouble room" where they had to sit for the rest of the day, but all in all it wasn't too bad. The hardest part is rounding the kids up for the events, and then finding replacements for kids who all of a sudden decide that maybe they didn't really want to do the sack race.

The big hit of the day, however, had nothing to do with any of the games, but everything to do with our partners in education. As I've said before, I teach right outside of a major military base, and one of the units at this base is our Partner in Education. These guys and gals are awesome and do a lot for our school, including chaparoning at dances, helping proctor for the State Tests, and painting nails on Go Green day. Anyhow, they helped out at Field Day by bringing a one and a half ton truck and a humvee to the school for the kids to play on.

You have no idea how much fun kids can have climbing on a big ol Army truck. It looked, from a distance, like ants swarming over an anthill. They all decided to see how many kids can fit in the back of the truck and then how many kids can fit in the cab (answer: plenty). The kids loved the humvee as well as they could spin around and get dizzy in the turret on the top. Amazing. The soldiers stood there and laughed. Heck, we all stood there and laughed as it was so funny seeing this huge truck just crawling with kids hanging out the windows, playing with the steering wheel, and crawling in the back.

All in all a good day - no broken bones, no fist-fights, no cuts, no missing kids.

And a big ol' Hoo-ah! to our troops who took the time to make some great memories for our kids.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Stroke of Genius

Sometimes, maybe only a few times a year, you'll hit upon something that really, truly WORKS. It is rare that you can come up with an assignment or a project that will keep all the kids engaged, that keeps them busy, and that they actually learn something from. When you find something that fits the bill, you've hit upon gold.

PowerPoint is Gold.

Mrs. Language and I are back in our own classrooms, with the laptop labs, and we're having the kids finish up their severe weather projects. They're writing their research paper in her class, and doing their PowerPoints in my class.

The plan was to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each class teaching them how to log on to the server, find their storage area (each person in our building has a storage area on the server which is fantastic - this means the kids can access their work from any computer in the building), set up a PowerPoint, save it, do transitions, put in graphics, etc. I've learned that the best way to teach this sort of thing is a very brief lesson, and then turn 'em loose to play. They'll actually learn more just messing around and teaching each other. After all, there is nothing more boring on earth than watching someone click around on a computer. I know, I've had to sit through in-services like that.

So on Monday, I do my little ten minute dog and pony show and then I turn them loose. They have their note cards, they have their rubrics, they're ready to go.

And ten minutes later I realize that something truly amazing has happened.

It is silent. The only sound I hear is the clicking of computer keys. Every once in a while a hand will go up and I'll go help my kid and move on to the next kid. They are generating absolutely beautiful work. I see PowerPoints with dazzling backgrounds, wonderful graphics, beautiful transitions.

It is almost unnerving.

By Thursday I am completely bored because they rarely need my help. Instead, they are quietly helping each other. Each class has a handful of kids who really dig this techy stuff (and it's kind of interesting seeing who these kids are as they aren't always the top students) who finished their projects quickly and now are working the room helping their classmates.

This isn't to say that all is perfect - they're still acting like idiots in the hallways and at lunch, but at least in my room (and in Mrs. Language's as well, she reports), they are quiet. And they are working. And I am ecstatic.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Strip Tease

You can tell we only have - according to Mrs. Eagle - ten and a half days - left of school because the kids are getting a little crazier every day. Fortunately her kids are even crazier than mine. At least so far they are. Give them time, I suppose, and mine will be ripping off their clothes as well.

I suppose I should explain.

Yesterday morning one of the boys on her team was caught standing outside the girl's restroom dangling a turquoise colored water bra which apparently belonged to a girl on her team as well. For a while there was some debate as to which girl, exactly, it belonged to (there were two possibilities) , but it was finally narrowed down. Perhaps because the young lady in question didn't have a bra on since it was in an envelope on Mr. Enforcer's desk, along with the discipline referrals.

(And for those of you who don't know, a water bra, which isn't cheap, is a bra filled with water or gel to give the wearer a bit more clevage than Mother Nature has given her. What a thirteen year old girl needs with a water bra is beyond me.)

So the question did Casanova get the bra in the first place? Was it given to him willingly by the girl in question, bringing to mind visions of Molly Ringwald in the movie Sixteen Candles where she loans her panties to the geek (if you don't know what I'm talking about, rent the DVD). Did he remove it? Did she? And why? A dare? He's a cross-dresser? He has a thing about lingerie?

It boggles the mind.

And makes me doubly thankful I'm glad I'm not the parent of a thirteen year old.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Career Opportunities - Not!

Ya'll remember Miss So Fine and her, ahem, wardrobe problems? She's the one who's mother spends a fortune on clothes usually found on streetwalkers or in really tacky hip hop and rap videos. Skin tight, low cut, high cut, revealing, you name it, if it's slutty or tacky, this kid comes to school in it. I've lost track of the times she's been sent up to ISS because of school dress code violations. We've had numerous meetings with The Mother about her clothes, kindly suggested that she wear clothing more appropriate for a thirteen year old, but to no avail. Then again, mom dresses the same way. And The Mother is a lunatic.


The other day Mr. Social Studies is doing his thing and discussing career opportunities with the kids. You know, the old "you better start thinking about your future and here's some ideas for careers you may be interested in" talk. And the kids are responding, talking about jobs they might be interested in (including the ever popular skateboard star and video game tester). And Miss So Fine raises her hand (which in itself is cause for celebration because she's usually completely incapable of following any sort of classroom rule, including something as simple as raising her hand and waiting to be called upon). Mr. Social Studies, astounded that she's actually - gasp - behaving herself, calls on her.

"Well, prostitution is legal in Nevada."

The class goes silent. Mr. Social Studies goes silent. And then changes the conversation to something a little less, well, provocative.

It makes you wonder what dinnertime conversations are like with that family.