Monday, June 19, 2017

School Daze

I’ve taught school, officially, for 22 years now. I mean, as a contracted teacher. I also worked as a teacher’s aide, and as a short-term and long-term, substitute teacher for a couple of years, as I finished the credential program in California. I went to college, for a couple of years, fresh out of high school, but wasn’t a dedicated student. So I dropped out, got married, had five children, then decided to go back and finish my degree (because I had so much spare time). But, this second attempt at college was more successful because I’d gained more self-discipline, and better stick-to-it skills as a mother. I became a full-time teacher when my “baby” was in eighth grade. It was a really hard transition because I didn’t realize how much time was involved in being The Teacher. Wow … lots of work and time. But, it is a very entertaining profession. I’ve taught in California, Maryland, and Nevada, and have been in 4th grade for my whole career … I love them.
Here are few anecdotes:
  1. One afternoon, a father came in to pick up his son from my after-school tutoring group. Addressing Father, I explained how Son, standing right beside us, was still having a great deal of trouble focusing on work during class time, and how I was hoping that Father could help me with this. (I’d called and talked to Mom a couple of times; Son just loved to talk and mess around.) Father spoke, “Well, I’ve heard just about enough of this bull[expletive] about trouble in school. And, I don’t want to hear about it again. So deal with it, okay?” I turned to Son, and then looked at Father, and then Father spoke again, “You understand, lady? Don’t call our house ever again.” He was speaking to me … not to Son … luckily, the vice-principal was still in her office, so I just took that pair, and our conversation, right to her door.
  2. All year, I had been teaching how to write complete paragraphs that included a topic sentence and a closing sentence. We had completed our research reports on birds. Each student was assigned a different bird, and it included four paragraphs of information. Best closing sentence ever: “Vultures are a very useful bird. Without them, the world would be covered in dead meat.”
  3. In my first classroom here in Nevada, I had a population of students who spoke English only to me. The rest of their lives was lived in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. I’ve heard it a lot, but I learned French in my high school. After living twenty years in Southern California, though, I understood quite a bit, but I still couldn’t make sentences without mixing up French and Spanish. So, I stuck to English. One afternoon, I needed my students to line up so that we could go to another classroom for some event. I announced, “Okay, you guys, it’s time to stand up and push in your chairs so we can line up.” I saw a boy turn to a girl near him, and say, in Spanish, “No, stay here, she said “You guys” –it’s just boys leaving.” I said to him, “No, todos los estudiantes — hijos y hijas.” It just came out!! It means “all the students–boys and girls.” The look on his face was priceless!! He was astonished! Good grief! His teacher understood what he said, and she replied — in Spanish! I could tell he was wondering what else I’d overheard in class.
  4. Another year in that same school, I’d worked so hard to teach vocabulary that went along with our reading program. We read the words, we spelled them, we defined them, we found synonyms and antonyms, and we acted them out (when possible). Well, we really struggled with the word “anxious” because it is hard to say, and weird to spell. And most of them had never encountered it before. Several weeks after it had been on our study list, we were discussing a new story, and I asked the students if they could describe how one of the characters must have been feeling. Crickets … then a dear little girl’s face lit up with a smile, and she shot her hand into the air. “Meeess…he was fiiilling anxious!” Yeah!!!
  5. When I was at my first-ever school, one of my high school aged daughters volunteered in my classroom one afternoon. She told me this story that evening: two little girls came over and asked, “Is your mother like this at home, too?” My daughter replied, “Like: what she says to do, she means; and no matter what you do, she’ll never change her mind?” “Yes!!” they said, in unison. Ha ha!! We laughed.
  6. One day I saw one of my students looking really sad. I asked him what happened. He replied that his dad was so mad at him for getting in trouble with me at school, and having me phone home, that Dad had announced that the son couldn’t go to Pocono to the NASCAR races that summer. (School had about nine weeks to go.) Hmmm … so I called Dad and made a deal. I’d make up a little chart, and Son would bring it home daily to show Dad how that school day had gone. If Son could get four out of five days with good reports for each week, till school was out, could he earn back the trip to NASCAR? Dad agreed … I had the best “Carrot” anybody ever had to use for the rest of the year! We had a fine end of the year, and Son learned how to be a better student.
I’ve got a million of them … but, I’ll stop now. I didn’t know that being a teacher was going to be worth much more than just my paycheck.

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