The Tour Starts Here

Something I’m thinking about doing is taking snap shots of items in my classroom and using them as a way to, over time, give you a little visual tour of where I spend most of my waking hours. There is so much weird that happens inside these walls.  You’ve heard about it, now you can see it.

The first stop on this magical, mystical adventure into the trenches of our public education system?

This guy:

He was a creative exercise in shape identification.  I call him “Snappy McSnarlsalot.”  I think his given name is “Mr. Monster,” but that’s lame.  He doesn’t even answer to it.  He vastly prefers to be called Snappy, or even Sir McSnarlsalot (but only on very formal occasions). 

I love that guy.  I love looking at him every day.  He makes me happy.  I’m exceedingly proud of his overall design.  Triangles played a central role, clearly.  Spiky teeth were easy enough to come up with, as well as spiky hair, but triangular eyes?  That’s thinking outside the box.  And you might not be able to see it in the photo, but he used a magenta color around the green pupil to add some dimension.  The kid creator would never say that.  He can’t read or spell “dimension” and I might not be far off in saying he’s never used it in a sentence, at least one relating to art and not to Lego Star Wars.  But it’s what he did intuitively, and that makes me so excited about the results of this little project.  All he had to do was glue some shapes together into some kind of form, but he did it with such style.  I’m going to stop there, though.  I’ll keep to myself all the wonderful things I have to say about his use of the color green. (I mean, those eyebrows?)

I’m not the only one who’s noticed Snappy.  Nearly every adult who walks into the room for the first time says, “Hey, who made that? It’s awesome.”  Oh, you know, just a kid with a history of some severe behavior problems who walks in to school every day already feeling like a failure.  You like it?  Please, oh, please, please, please go tell him.  Tell him specifically what you liked and why.  Tell him you’re proud that he spent over an hour on it when previously he’d only attended to a task in five or ten minute bursts.  Tell him how cool it is to see something he spent so much time creating, because in September he spent most of his time seeing what he could destroy or how many ways he could avoid anything remotely related to learning (including knocking over desks and throwing around his school supplies).   Tell him you think he’s rad.  Tell him he’s a fun kid.  Tell him he’s smart (and mean it).  Tell him all of those things because he’s working with a huge deficit of kind words in his life.  We’ve got a lot of time to make up for, but it looks like he’s starting to believe all those things to be true about himself and that sure is a victory.

Oh, and while you’re telling him all those nice things, will you tell him I’m sorry I called the name “Mr. Monster” lame?  I don’t really think that, it was for comedic impact.  Thanks.

My Job

I am a teacher.  I teach special education.

Here is a list of things that have made me seriously look into other career paths including pastry chef, school counselor, and Old Navy sweater-folder:

1. Large (read: things I can’t lift on my own) objects of furniture have been used against me as weapons.

2. I’ve watched kids get into cars with police officers to head into foster care. I know some kids that have seen more at 8 years old than I’ve seen at 28…more things than I will probably ever see, actually.

3. I’ve worked until 8:45 at night in my classroom preparing lesson plans and returned in the morning to find out another teacher had come across a crack pipe right outside the door I’d used to exit the building the night before.

4. I’ve been kicked, hit, and head-butted.  Along with that I’ve had to physically restrain kids, one a 6 year old kindergartener, who are violent to the point hurting other kids and staff.

5. I’ve listened to a lot of media tell me, and about a million of my colleagues, that we’re not working hard enough, that we’re not smart enough, and that we don’t care enough about our students.  The general consensus seems to be that the only thing wrong with this system is me, the teacher, and that’s disheartening (like having furniture thrown at you wasn’t disheartening enough).  But, that is a way bigger issue, is incredibly complex, and is not really why I started writing this list.

Here’s why I started this list: to contrast it with this conversation. 

Sometimes kids come to hang out with me at recess.  Sometimes it’s because they have disabilities that make large, unpredictable crowds seem like walking through a carnival haunted house.  They’re never sure what strange and scary thing requiring social skills beyond their grasp is going to run up to them next.  That kid with the sweet face and the soccer ball who said, “Hey, dude!  Wanna play?”  That’s like when I walked out the end of the haunted house at Wild Waves and a guy with a chainsaw started chasing me. Straight up panic.  Whereas in my room they can talk about legos and Transformers to their heart’s content.  But sometimes kids come hang out with me because they think I’m awesome.

One of my little gems was hanging out with me during his recess for the latter reason.  He was chatting on and on about these girls at his previous school who had chased him down and tried to kiss him/get him to marry them/punch him in the nose during recess. 

He said, “I don’t know why they kept chasing me.  I don’t even want to get married.”

“Well, sure, not right now, ” I said, “You’re in third grade.  But when you’re older, probably in just a few years, you might change your mind.”

“Nope,” he said, “I never will.  I never wanna get married.  Ever.  Or even have a girlfriend.”

Pretty decisive statements, I thought.  “Ok, why not?”

Here’s where my heart broke a little.  He said, “Because all married people do is yell at each other.  All the time.  I don’t want to yell all the time or to hear people yell all the time, so I’m not gonna get married.” 

Hm.  That’s a pretty good reason.

I said to him, “Friend, my mom and dad are married and they don’t yell at each other.”  He looked really confused.  “Sometimes they get mad, but they say things like, ‘It hurt my feelings when—,’ or, ‘I didn’t appreciate the way you—.'”  Might be a slightly glamorized version of my parents’ relationship, but I honestly never hear them yell at each other.  They don’t often even get a little snippy. Weirdos.

Anyway, there is no yelling in my classroom, either, even when I am really upset about something. It’s a promise I made to my students after they said I “was always yelling at them,” and that they were, “really mad and not going to listen to me anymore.”  Really they had gotten in legitimate trouble and were trying to manipulate the situation by pushing some blame on me. It’s cool, that’s why they’re working with me in the first place. I wanted to say something like, “Well, quit ripping your work up into little shreds because you’d rather be a lazy bum and I’ll quit telling you to stop it and get back to work.”  I didn’t say that, though.  I promised that I was not yelling at them and that I would never yell at them.

 After I made the promise, I did a little compare and contrast.  I confronted them on their behavior in the calm, firm voice I’d been using…and then I yelled at them.  They thought it was funny, which is perfect because it diffused the tension. On top of that, it clarified my point and it built a little trust. 

I called that conversation back to his mind.  “Remember how I don’t yell at you?  Even when I am very frustrated or you’ve made a choice you shouldn’t have made or have hurt my feelings, I never yell at you.” 

He looked thoughtful, so I added, “So you don’t have to yell, either.”  Truth is, he’s a kid who does yell, has thrown things, and has hit me when he’s angry. 

After a minute, he said, “Oh…and you could teach me to do that? Will you?” 

You could wait your whole teaching life for a kid to come up with that kind of internal motivation. I just wanted to cry and hug him.  Did a kid really just ask me to teach him anger-management and appropriate communication skills? Did that really just happen?

Yes, friend, I can teach you to do that.  In fact, at this moment, it is all I want to do in the world.  I don’t want to be a pastry chef and I don’t want to work at Old Navy.  I want to teach you how to use your words to solve problems, how to read,  how to write in complete sentences, and how to take on something that seems like a huge impossibility.  

If I ever think about quitting, I think about that kid.

And then I think about the crack pipe…(kidding!)