Adventures in Middle School.
Crotchety old head of department: I wanted to ask you something...what was it?
Me: Perhaps it was, "Ms. Backes, how did you get to be so awesome?"
Me: Um, nothing.
COHOD: Awesome? No! I learned the hard way -- never marry awesome women! I married three of them. Marry someone who will stay home and cook for you!
Ms. Backes' Classroom Rules:
1. Shower every day.
2. Use deoderant. Reapply after PE.
3. Brush your teeth every morning.
(Justification: Smelly kids get fewer dates.)
4. No barfing in my room. If you must spew, spew onto the linoleum in the hallway or onto the concrete in the parking lot, but preferably the hallway, because I have to cross that concrete to get to my truck.
5. No bleeding.
6. No haters. There won't be no hatin' in this room.
Today I was telling my 7th period class about The Puppy (because for some reason everyone in that class has a weird nickname: Rabbit, The Turtle, Salad, Troy the Tiger, Umbrella -- I'm not making this up) and said, "HE's the one who gave me SOS (shiny object syndrome, aka ADD)! One day I was trying to teach, and he was in the back of the room STAPLING HIS PANTS TOGETHER! Ten minutes later, he just randomly fell out of his chair!"
The kids all laughed.
Ten minutes later, The Turtle fell out of his chair.
-- Used Nat Goldberg's poem "Remember This Place" to teach about using specific, vivid imagery in poetry. Such a great poem, especially for New Mexicans. My activity worked well too -- feel free to rip it off -- I read the poem and then gave the kids 2 minutes to write down every word, phrase, or line they remembered from the poem. Asked people to share what they remembered, and then led into a discussion of how Goldberg uses specific imagery to paint a picture of New Mexico.
-- Talked about LABELING. "If I had a four year old daughter and told her every day that she was ugly ---"
"Ms. Backes that's mean!"
"Right. So every day I tell her she's ugly, and then she's in middle school. She looks like Beyonce, but she looks in the mirror and what does she think?"
"She thinks she's ugly!"
"Because she believed the label I gave her. We've all been labeled in our lives; our job is to re-label ourselves in a positive way. Words are powerful. Label yourself carefully."
-- Talked about PREJUDICE. Writing the word "pre" on the board, "What does this mean?"
"Okay, when does the PRE-game show happen?"
"Before the game!"
"It means before!"
"Exactly." Then on the board:
"What does prejudice mean?"
"Before judge. Judge before."
"Right. To judge someone before you know them, based on something like skin color or clothes."
-- Watched an inspirational video about Larry Bird. My team-teacher is friends with LB because his father coached Larry in college. TT told the class stories about playing HORSE with Larry Bird. Cool.
-- Got my very first note from a student: "Dear Ms. Backes, I think that you look like Drew Barrymore. From: Sheila"
-- Remember what we talked about yesterday. Specific, concrete details. Vivid imagery. Not a car, but a 1987 tomato red Renault Alliance that looks like a tractor drove into the passenger door. Not just a cat, but a sleek black cat curled up on the adobe wall in the sun. Don't just say "It smells nice," say "It smells like...."
-- Um, okay. It smells like butterflies. But not just butterflies, a whole herd of yellow butterflies in the afternoon!
-- Hey, you can't smell butterflies!
my team taught Humanities block comes to my room for the first time:
-- (pointing up at a wall of poems) Those people are bad at cutting! Those poems are all crooked!
-- "Those people" would be ME.
-- Whoops! I was just kidding, Ms. Backes. You're great at cutting!
-- (pointing to the map on the wall) Why is there a frame around New Mexico?
-- Because that's where we live. In case you forget.
-- That's weird! Who forgets where they live?
-- She's right! Some people don't even know this is a state!
the principal comes into my room right before lunch and hands me a book called "how to differntiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms"
when he leaves:
-- See, the principal just gave me homework!
-- That looks boring!
-- Ha! Teachers get a taste of their own medicine, finally!!
-- Okay, what?
-- It's a taste of your own medicine, get it, because you have to do homework for once.
-- For once. Let me explain something to you. You guys are just beginning 7th grade, which means that this will be your eighth year of school.
-- But I went to kindergarten, too!
-- Right. Kindergarten through 6th is seven years; this is your eighth.
-- Oh. Right.
-- Anyhow. You all have done seven years of homework. **I** went to school every single year between 1983 and 2002. That's nineteen years of homework. So believe me, I know what it's like.
-- Whoa. That's a lot of homework.
-- Did you save it all up and do it at the last minute?
-- Did you wait 'til the last minute to do it all?
-- Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was rushing to finish coloring in the triangles when I was a senior in college.
-- Ms. Backes, you're weird.
-- Can I tell you something?
-- Yes, you may tell me anything. Already today I've been told I'm cool, creative, weird, and "bad at cutting," not that I'm bitter.
-- Well, I don't know about weird or whatever, and you're cool, but what I really wanted to tell you was that you look like Drew Barrymore.
-- ..... you know, I seem to get that a lot.
-- I would like the most responsible and least likely to be absent person in the class to raise your hand.
-- Oooh! Me!
-- Pick me, Ms. Backes!
-- Okay... Andrew.
-- Are you the most responsible and least likely to be absent person?
-- No way, Ms. Backes! I'm horrible! I'm the least responsible of all!
-- This is the funnest class because we learn the least. I mean the most!
-- But seriously, you have to feel sorry for the kid who's digging in the trash can for his retainer at the end of lunchtime.
-- (blank looks of horror)
-- Don't you have those kids?
-- That's gross!!
-- Really. Hmm, well it was a requisite of my middle school lunches. You'd always have the kid who put his retainer on his lunch tray, then accidentally dumped the retainer from tray into the trash, then had to dive into the garbage to find his retainer. At LEAST once a week that happened.
-- (again, horror)
-- Ms. Backes, you're dirty!
-- Ms. Backes! Ernest said he's gay!
-- Ernest, you're gay? Oh my god!
-- What did they say? Did they say gay?
-- Who's gay?
-- Who said gay?
-- Ernest! Ernest is gay!
-- Okay, STOP.
-- (nervous looks)
-- Let's talk about this. We're going to stop and talk about this, as a class. First of all, who can tell me what it means to be gay?
-- It means happy!
-- Yes, it can still mean that, though it's mostly lost that connotation, or meaning. What else?
-- (tentative) It means two guys, like, kissing?
-- Right. It means two men or two women who are in love with one another.
-- But I, like, love my grandma. Am I gay?
-- No, Darlene. We're talking about ROMANTIC love. A lot of people feel nervous or scared when they think about the idea of being gay, and they get silly or defensive. But fundamentally, what does it mean to be gay?
-- [blank looks all around]
-- It means you love someone. It's about love. And no matter what, love is a good thing. It makes the world a better place. So when two people are gay, all it means is that they love one another, and that's never a bad thing. Questions?
-- But, it's... like, weird. It's not normal.
-- Well, it's true that sometimes gay people aren't expecting to fall in love with someone of the same sex. But in this world, love is rare and precious, and lots of times people fall in love with people they didn't expect to love. Like Romeo and Juliet -- they didn't expect to fall in love with one another. But they did. No matter what, love is a surprise, and a gift. Other questions?
-- Yeah. Like, no one can ever really know what love is, because it's just a word.
-- That's true, Darlene. (picking up an eraser) This is an eraser, and when we talk about it, we have something concrete to point to, so that we all know what an eraser is. But when we talk about love, that's so abstract, no one can ever come up to you and say, "Now, THAT'S what love feels like," because no one ever knows 100% how you're feeling. Everyone feels things differently, and there are lots of different kinds of loves. The love I felt for my 7th grade boyfriend was different than the love I felt for my college boyfriend, and that's okay.
-- What happened to your 7th grade boyfriend?
-- Um, he grew up to be a crack dealer.
-- (quickly) I hear he's better now, though. Anyway! The point is that in this classroom, we accept people no matter who or how they love, okay? Remember, this is a Hate Free Zone, and I don't want to hear you guys making jokes about being gay or whatever. Got it?
-- Got it!
A few minutes later Ernest came up to me and said, "Ms. Backes, I love you." And Rabbit, a tough barrio-type kid who happens to carry pink purses and wear princess sweatshirts (think of a young, hispanic [pasquesi01]), said "Can I have a hug after class?"
Which totally made that conversation worth it, even though I'm sure that tomorrow I'll be hearing from pissed-off parents who hate queers.
Principal: How's it going?
Me: Good, but I think I'm getting sick.
Principal: Let me tell you, you'll get everything except maybe leprosy from these kids.
Crotchety old head of department: How's it going?
Me: Okay. I think I'm getting sick.
COHOD: Take my word for it, this year you'll get everything from these kids except a venereal disease.
a few days ago...
-- Ms. Backes, what's your schedule?
-- Well, I teach Humanities first and second, and language arts 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th.
-- What about third?
-- That's when I hide under my desk and hope no one finds me.
-- (I walk into the library, looking for books on native american myths)
-- Ms. Backes! What are you doing?!?
-- (startled) What?
-- Shouldn't you be hiding under your desk right now??
We're writing autobiographical poems, and one kid ends every stanza with the line, "And I am Ellery W. Jones, the smartest boy in the world."
During my prep, the principal comes into the room:
-- That poem project you're doing is really good!
-- Thanks. It's a big project, but we've broken it up into small enough parts, I hope, that it's manageable.
-- You know, I've known Ellery Jones since he was in kindergarten, and I am really impressed by the quality of work you've inspired from him.
-- You mean, Ellery W. Jones, the smartest boy in the world?
-- That's how he ends all his stanzas. "And I am Ellery W. Jones, the smartest boy in the world."
-- You know, his parents used to think he was retarded.
Thanks for the postcards, everyone! Especially Mom, Sally, and Gail, who sent them in bulk. You are awesome.