15 December 2006

More funny oral reports....

K: I have a question. How many variations have there been on the Art Deco style?
D: MS.BACKES!!! OH MY GOD!! That was actually an intelligent question! You should give him extra credit for that!!!



"FDR was basically a mama's boy. He had a stamp collection."



I: And that's my report on the Empire State building. Any questions.
J: Yeah. Is it still standing today?
Me: The EMPIRE STATE BUILDING????
J: Ohhhhhh! I didn't realize it was THAT empire state building!



E: And he wrote this song called "Rhapsody in Blue...."
K: Wait, George Foreman wrote MUSIC?
Class: What?
E: George Gershwin!
K: OH! Because I knew about the sandwich grill, but not the music!


14 December 2006

Feliz Hanukkah!

This year, my pet peeve is people who are crabby that they "have" to say "Happy Holidays" instead of merry xmas, as well as the people who take Wal-Mart's reclamation of "Merry Xmas" as some sort of F-You PC-ers! victory. First of all, weird. Second of all, I grew up in Madison, home of the Freedom From Religion people, so the idea of any sort of xmas in schools is totally foreign to me. Third, I grew up a Unitarian Universalist in a town that was 50/50 Catholic/Lutheran, so the winter holidays were always a little rough and weird for me personally, especially in school. And fourth, I just don't see why taking other religions/cultures/beliefs into account is such a huge problem that you have to be such a smug asshole about it.


Anyway... the other morning at a staff meeting, the Spanish teacher got up and waved his arms in his special way, announcing in this very aggressive way: "We're going to be singing Christmas carols in Spanish next week, so if that OFFENDS anyone, we'll make sure not to sing too close to your room! We will be singing CHRISTIAN songs, so let me know if that's a PROBLEM!" (He stared right at me the whole time, even though I've made absolutely no mention of my non-xianity. Anyway.)


The next day, some students told me they had to go to his class next, and they were all moaning and whining like they do. I said, "You guys are learning xmas carols, right?"
"Yeah...."
"Tell him you want to learn some Hanukkah songs in Spanish," I said. "That would be awesome."
The kids laughed and agreed.


Later that afternoon, I was out on the bus pad when I heard the teacher screaming at me. "THIS IS YOUR DOING! JEWISH SONGS?????? YOU TOLD THEM TO SAY THAT!!!!!"
I shrugged and said mildly, "Hey, if your students want to express appreciation for a diversity of religious beliefs, I think you should support that."


And then I walked away, laughing quietly to myself, while he waved his arms and yelled after me.



Good times.

12 December 2006

Natty's Survey...

... because it's better than paying bills.

1. Full Name: Mary Margaret Backes

2. Name a few nicknames you may have: (chronologically:) Mouse, Mousie, Moddy, Molly Holly, Moo Boxes, Maruja, Molly Dolly, Mollsa Bollsa, Holly, Monster, Sister Mary Molly, MIZBACKES, Plincess, the devil

3. Whats a nickname that you HATE - and why?: Suki. I mean, come on. Ditto for Muffy, Puffy, Buffy, and Chaz.

4. What was your FAVORITE grade/year in school? Why?
Let's see... maybe junior/senior years of high school and college. Senior year of college was probably the best year overall. Living with the Fun Nuns in White House, the last stop before hell....

5. What elementary School Did you Go to?
Oregon Elementary School, K-3

6. Junior High?
Oregon Middle School, 4-6; then Oregon Junior High, 7; then (briefly) Century Oaks Middle School, 7, before Oregon Middle School, 7 & 8. It's a long story. And a stupid one.

7. High School?
Oregon High School (see a pattern?)

8. Name one person you absolutely did not like in school:
Dan Quayle. He bugged me so much when I was in middle school. I'm not even kidding.

9. What states have you lived in? (again, chronologically:) Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts, Iowa again, and New Mexico

10. What countries have you been to? Canada, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, the Netherlands, uh... the United States

11. Do you think you would like you if you weren't you?
Really hard to say. I do like to do projects, and I *love* to do projects with someone else. So... as long as I did projects with myself, I'd probably like me.

12. Are you a GOOD secret keeper?
As long as I know it's a secret. Jesus.

13. Are you a good Liar?
I used to be an excellent liar. I think that's why I started doing improv. But now... I don't have the energy for it.

14. Are you lying about being a good secret Keeper?
Look, you didn't tell me it was a secret, okay?

15. Who are you thinking about?
Natty, of course.

16. Whats the BEST part about that person?
Her excellent taste in friends.... She's brilliant and doesn't realize it, she's super loyal and just really true to herself. I respect her, even when I don't agree with her. Also, she's just really fun to hang out with. Look her up, people, she's not one to miss.

17. Kate may be with Sawyer now...but she's going to end up with Jack, Ultimately.
I met a baby named Sawyer over the weekend, but I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl, so I think I referred to its mother as IT, as in "how old is it?" Very classy.

18. Seventeen wasnt a question....I just wanted you to know that.
Another thing about Natty is that she's a stickler for grammar & punctuation.

19. Do you know someone named Heidi?
Yes, Heidi was my chemistry partner and we learned so much together about the difference between hot glass and cold glass.

20. Is she obnoxious or fat?
Not at all. Short and weird, but in a really great way.

21. Everyone I know with that name has been both.
Oh you and your non-questions.

22. Do you like your job? Why or why not?
Sometimes. I really like the kids, except when they suck. I mostly like the people I work with. I love the moment when a kid *gets* it. That's so awesome. And when kids come back and tell me stuff from the real world that relates to my class. And when kids come back and whine about how much they miss middle school. And when I get to do something that actually makes a difference, like be the advocate for a kid who doesn't have too many adults in his life who believe in him, or give good advice to kids struggling with stuff, or.... basically yeah, I love all the parts of my job that have to do with kids. It's all the other bullshit that's hard to take.

23. Can you finish the following sentences?

>>Here we are...face to face...a couple a _faces____ ______.
>> You take the good you take the bad you take them both and then you have the _good______ of __bad________...
>>DAAYSS GO BYYY....its the bigger love, of the _days________

24. Did you Lie about being able to answer those questions? (if so, please go back and change your answer to #13)
maybe.

25. Favorite Disney movie- PRE-PIXAR:
All of them except Pinocchio. I hate that little puppet kid. Also Snow White. No one who sounds like a goat should be allowed to sing in public. But I made everyone at my birthday parties watch lady and the tramp every year from 1984 to 2001.

26. What's a good quote?:

Whenever characters become self-important or sentimental in the Muppets, then there's always another character there to blow them up immediately.

~ Frank Oz


Summer: But what if we don't HAVE any friends?
Me: We all have friends. At least one. Your dog counts.
Davey: I don't have a dog!
Me: (seriously) Thomas Jefferson said, when everything else is said
and done, I shall have one friend, deep inside of me.
Jack: Is it his liver??


27: Ever been to Hawaii? What Island(s)?:
no

28. Do you know all of your siblings birthdays?
Megan: July 29, 1982; Val: December 17, 1972; mystery half-sister stolen by the nuns: ?

29. Do you know the order of the colors on a stoplight?
this question makes me unaccountably nervous

30. List your Ideal job. Money and reality is no object. If you could do ANYTHING you wanted and get paid for it...What would it be?
live in a stone house and write books and raise geniuses. Also I wish someone would pay me to be friends with you guys. I like you. Also teaching, but only if I was teaching awesome stuff in the way I want to kids who actually care. Also I've long harbored a secret dream to be a country star: big hair, big boobs, big boots. I'm perfect.

31. What frustrates you about the world?
where the hell do I start. That people too often value style over substance. Also that some people don't believe in global warming. What the hell? And hate crimes, and kids making comments about all things gay and queer. Giant pet peeve.

32. Texting- Dumb or Awesome?
Necessary.

33. Toi gavareesh na-rucckki? ochen xorosho?
Of course.

34. Do you LOVE kids...or not know how to interact with them?
I hate the little ones. They're so sticky and needy and they want to sit on your lap and play the same freaking game for six hours. You're not a doggy! Get out of the kennel, stop barking, and grow the hell up. Go file some taxes.

35. Can you drive a Standard?
Like an Andretti

36. If not, arent you embarassed? I would be.
I know, right? Tell that to the other adult in my household.

37. Ever been arrested?
Of course not.

38. Have you ever felt that you probably should have been arrested?
Can you get arrested for being a dumbass? Then yes.

39. Did you grow up going to church?
yes

40. DOGS!!! am I right???? DOGS!!!
DOGS!!!!!!!!!!!!

41. What was the WORST groundation you ever got? ( you dont have to put what for....)
Our parents couldn't really ground us effectively, because of the divorce thing. One time my mom tried to kick me out, so I called her bluff and made my dad come get me. She was not happy.

42. Favorite toy/stuffed animal/doll as a kid?
Mama Bear. One time I left her in Peoria, and we had to turn around to go back for her. In college, I'd leave her in Wisconsin because the drunk assholes on my floor (including Ali) liked to use any and all stuffed animals as projectiles, and I wanted to protect Mama Bear, but every semester my mother would stuff her into a fed-ex box and send her down to Iowa.

43. How many cousins do you have...and do you like them?
A million. My dad's the youngest of 9 irish catholic kids, most of whom had kids. And yeah, they're good people. Many of them are way older than me. My oldest cousin is older than my mom, I think.

44. Have you spit on someone? Duh.

45. Can you play an instrument? What kind? How many years? Best song you can play? I studied the violin for ten years, and can still play the theme song from the Civil War series, and Smetana's Moldau. Also I used to play "You don't bring me flowers" on the piano, and it was so much prettier than it is on the radio.

46. Best movie youve seen recently?
White Christmas. I don't care what you people say; I freaking love that movie. Oh, Danny Kaye, why you gotta be gay and dead?

47. Do you have a BIG secret- that no one can know?
That's the secret. It's so meta!

48. Would you rather be bald or have no toes?
No toes, for sure. Jesus, that's a macabre question.

49. What is the DUMBEST thing you have heard in your life?
Seriously, you don't believe in global warming? What??


and FINALLY........

Don da da dA!!!!!!


50. Without naming the person...tell them what you need to say: I pretend not to care, but secretly I don't think I can live without you.






THERE! Are you happy, Natty?



xoxo

11 December 2006

Oral Reports! (The funniest time of the year!)

Kaitlynn: During the Great Depression, lots of people lived in Hoovervilles....
Cale: OH! That's where they lived in the Grinch!
Class: ...
Kristy: Oh.....! You mean WHO-VILLES, Cale!

*

Today a 7th grader gave a very earnest presentation about Franklin Delaware Roosevelt. She seemed so nervous I didn't have the heart to correct her... so I just tried not to giggle too loudly.

*

Also today, the kid who had researched Babe Ruth and the kid who researched Dorothea Lange discovered that...

Babe: Your guy was born in 1895? MY guy was born in 1895!
Dorothea: No way! What month was your guy born?
Babe: February.
Dorothea: Mine was May! That's really close!
Babe: What day?
Dorothea: The 26th.
Babe: Oh my god, mine's the 6th!!
Dorothea: That's SO WEIRD!!!
Babe: What are the chances???
Dorothea: I know, right? Isn't that SO WEIRD, Ms. Backes??
Class: They probably knew each other!
Class: Maybe they were in love!!!





(I didn't tell them that since we're studying the 1920s and 1930s, there's actually a pretty limited window of time in which any given adult from the 20s and 30s could have been born.....)

06 December 2006

Laryngitis!

*ring ring*
Me: (whispering) Hello?
(silence)
Me: (croaking) Hello?
Cam: Did I wake you up?
Me: No... I have laryngitis.
Cam:
Me: I wasn't going to tell you....
Cam:
Me: I mean, I was going to tell you later this week, if I didn't get my voice back....
Cam: YOU'RE GOING TO RUIN MY WEDDING!


*



This morning one of my students handed me a broken mug with four pieces of candy in it. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Backes!"
"Uh, thanks," I said, taking it gingerly so it wouldn't break more. Later, I overheard him telling another kid "I accidentally ate Mrs. Backes's candy! Don't tell her!" (He was sitting like five feet away. I may have laryngitis but I'm not deaf.)


But yeah, Merry Christmas! 'Tis the season of awkward student gifts!


*


Helene: Miss, what if I can't do research, because my computer is broken, because I got mad and threw it on the floor?
Me: Um... use books?
Helene: (whining) Miss Backes! But books are so ghetto!

(cue "when I was your age, we didn't have a fancy internet to do research" speech...)


19 November 2006

Boob Jokes

S: I hate that door! It closes!
Me: (sympathetically) Yes, doors do that, don't they.
S: No, Ms. Backes! I mean, it closes LOUDLY!

*

Lindy: I saw you smile!
Me: Okay.
Lindy: I never see you smile!
Me: Never?
Lindy: Nope, never!
Me: That's not good....
Lindy: I told all my friends that I saw you smile, and they couldn't believe it!

*

E: Ms. Backes, you can sit on my desk, but just don't fart on my novel.
Me: I won't. Teachers don't fart.

*

K: Ms. Backes, don't worry, I'm not looking at your boobs, I'm just trying to read your pin!
Me: Aaah! I don't have boobs! I'm a teacher!

*

Me: (skimming a kid's novel) Wow, Taylor, that's really good!
Taylor: Really?
Me: Yeah! I love this sentence....
Taylor: I guess I should change the title then.
Me: (flipping to the front cover and reading:) THE NEXT WORST AMERICAN NOVEL. Ha! What's the first?
Taylor: Bill Clinton's book My Life
Me: And yours is second?
Taylor: That was the plan.
Me: I don't know, Taylor, there are a lot of really wretched novels out there. Like those Goosebumps books....
Taylor: Those are horrible!
Me: Exactly.
Taylor: Well, crap. Now I have to think of a new title.
Me: The 257th Worst American Novel...?

*

Principal: ...and then there was that ONE student who....blah blah blah....
Shop Teacher: ... oh yeah, did you ever have that Ortiz kid? What a nightmare!
Me: (staring intently at the marquee over the front door)
Principal: ...never was so happy as the day that kid got arrested on his 18th birthday, ha ha!
Shop Teacher: Molly, you're awfully quiet....
Me: I'm just wondering if that sign is correct. Over the October calendar? Isn't it missing a word?
Principal: (reading) October is National Breast Awareness Month.
...
Me: Because I'm thinking, in middle school, EVERY month is breast awareness month.
Principal: Ha ha ha!!


My principal may be a Good Old Boy, but he does enjoy a good boob joke.

16 November 2006

GOD DAMNIT!

My wallet was stolen on October 25. I called Visa on October 25 to block it, which they said they did. A few days later a lady at my bank conFIRMED that it had been blocked. Today I got my credit card statement and there's another $150 on it from OCTOBER 25. So I called VISA and they said THE CARD HAD NEVER BEEN BLOCKED! What the HELL???



Everything sucks. Never have your wallet get stolen, because it is the biggest pain in the ass in the world. It's been THREE WEEKS and I still have no ATM card for my primary checking account. I've been buying gas for my 100 mile/day commute with the ATM card from my HIGH SCHOOL CHECKING ACCOUNT, opened in 1995, which had like $35 in it before I SIPHONED MONEY from my ELDERLY MOTHER'S vacation fund to get to and from my stupid job where I have to teach someone related to someone who stole my wallet, put more than $650 on my credit cards, and LAUGHED about it, while I'm STILL trying to clean up the damage THREE WEEKS LATER!!



GODDAMMIT!

14 November 2006

Sex Ed

Me: Hey girls, what's all the drama about?
Carla: Well, Mina told Jannelle that she was a lesbian and she got someone pregnant with her finger...
Me: Oh! (two minutes of me trying not to laugh)
Lonnie: Yeah, and now Lupe is gonna beat Sondra up because of it!


Yes, notice that one girl says something about another girl and thus two entirely separate girls are in a fight. What?

Also, I saw Lupe between classes with another little girl trailing behind her, carrying her backpack and glasses for her. All I could think of was Tim in 1999: "Somebody hold my baby so I can put my cigarette out in this bitch's eyes! Hold my baby!"


In other news, I guess I always took Jerry Springer as hyperbole. I guess I was wrong.

*


Teaching personification is much harder when your students are convinced that "trees have feelings!" The sentence "The tree reconsiders its leaves" is literal, because trees have feelings! They know when you cut them, they can feel it! Um, okay, but they can't think.... No, they can feel! They're alive! They have feelings!

I always thought Topenga Lawrence was cute; I never considered how hard it would be to teach her figurative language.

*

Yesterday a little girl kicked a big gigantic boy in the shins, and he screamed "GODDAMNSHITMOTHERFUCKER!!!" The whole class was silent for a long second, staring at him, then at me, back at him, waiting for one of us to say something. Finally, I clapped my hands together. "Okay! Class dismissed!"

*

Working on figurative language:

Annabell: (reading aloud) Wear this ring to remind you that I'll always be there for you.
Annabell and Juanita: (looking at one another, in unison) AWWWWWWWW!!

(SO CUTE!)

*

Caleb: Ms. Backes, "My brother is a pig" is literal, right?
Me: Um, no. Your brother could act like a pig, but he couldn't actually be a living, snorting pig.
Caleb: What if we adopted him?
Me: If you adopted a pig? Then it would be a pet, not your brother.
Caleb: Yuh huh, then why do they always say "adopt an animal"??
Me: Again, pet, not brother.


07 November 2006

A Lot!

4th period.

Registrar: Hi! How much will you hate me if I put another kid in your 7th period class.
Me: I already have 30!
Her:
Me: A LOT.
Her: Well....
Me: Why don't you put him in my FIRST period class, which only has THIRTEEN KIDS????
Her: Oh! First period? Good idea! (she runs off)

7th period.

New Kid: Hi, I'm in this class now.....

23 October 2006

Things I Worry About

1. Zeke. One day he will die, and maybe I won't be able to work for a while after that. Yesterday I read a book where the cat dies, and I couldn't help but cry. Sometimes I cry just thinking about that fucking book "The 10th Good Thing About Barney" because my mom bought it for me when our golden retriever Gretchen died (ON, as it turns out, my tenth birthday), and I just think it's so sad when a family has to try to comfort one another about their dog dying. I could never be an Owens, because they had like twelve dogs die in under a decade. Like the one we saw who got hit by the horse-carcass truck, and the guy got out, looked around, and threw the dog into the back with the dead horses. And we kids were all hiding somewhere, playing either "Russian Spies" or "Steal the Neighbors' Blue Garden Ball" or "The Neighbors, who are Russian Spies, have Stolen our Blue Garden Ball and we Must Steal It Back." All three games involved hiding in the bushes and peeking down at the road. Where people hit your dogs and throw them in the horse truck.

2. The cultural purity of Tibet. China just built this super train to Lhasa, and I seriously spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying that Tibetans are now watching American Idol. It kills me.

3. The Constitution. In the words of Ali Brown, "I believe in the constitution more than in the bible!" Yes, and watching it get dismantled troubles me.

4. My hair. Why can't it always be as cute as it is in that one picture?

5. Having kids. This one could actually support its own sub-categories:

a. when I have kids I will talk to them all the time, like I talk to my dogs, only it will be worse because I will believe that they might actually understand me, which will warrant further conversation and eventually I will forget how to talk to adults.

b. what if they are crazy. Genetically, it's extremely likely.

c. what happens when the family dog dies, and suddenly I'm the one who has to buy them a copy of "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney" even though I can't stop thinking about how cute and sweet our perfect family dog was and crying about it. God.

d. I bet I'll be WAY more worried about them dying than I am about Zeke, and I literally think about Zeke dying at least once a day. The only good thing about this is that children generally have life spans of more than thirteen years. (BUT WHAT IF MINE DON'T???)

e. How can you afford to feed and clothe kids? They're so freaking expensive. We're living hand-to-mouth here just trying to feed ourselves and the dogs.

6. What if Studio 60 gets cancelled? I will be sad.

7. One day I might wake up and find that I've become totally mediocre. I've been worrying about it since I was about 14. Luckily, my sheer degree of neurosis may serve to keep me from becoming totally mediocre. On the other hand, I may end up being just another mediocre-ly neurotic person. Can't a person get a break??

8. Driving in winter. So scary, especially in New Mexico. Driving in any kind of weather, really. I swear I didn't used to be like this, but if you go off the road in Iowa, you'll just land in a fluffy, soft cornfield of safety and love. If you go off the road here, you'll probably die.

9. Global warming. I mean, what the hell can we do about it?? I did my part in the 80s, cut back on the Aqua-net, and it didn't help at all. The polar bears have less and less ice to live on every year.

10. Sam: I'm probably not crazy, because if you think you're crazy, then you're probably not, right?
Max: No.... you ARE.

21 October 2006

Adventures in Dogtown, Pt. 2

Always, when I walk through the door, the first question on my mind is: what did the dog eat/pee on/destroy while I was gone?

I turn the light on, stand in the doorway with arms crossed, and survey the damage.

Tonight:

1: Candle, chewed on

2: Monkey, flung

3: Table, toppled

4: Wisconsin cheese curd lid, licked

5: Glass (formerly of coke), licked



And then, passed out, arms akimbo, snoring, Zeke.



Looking at him, lying in the middle of all this, I realize this all feels very familiar to me. I come from crazy, self-destructive, addictive personality folk. And here I am, once again, cleaning up after a self-destructive binge. Instead of overflowing ash trays and too many empty vodka bottles, it's cheese lids and monkeys, but still. That old adage about dogs looking like their owners? Not even close. This dog looks like his owner's soul.



I'm silent for a moment. Zeke snores and twitches a leg. I sigh, and begin to clean up his mess. It's like living with John Belushi, I tell Rory. And how can you not love him?

19 October 2006

So Long, Farewell....

On Tuesday, Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, suspending habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an enemy combatant.

This deeply concerns me.

In fact, I've been a little freaked out about it ever since it went zipping through congress on September 28 and 29.

Habeas corpus is a nice little law that says you have the right to know exactly why you're being locked up. And that you have the right to tell someone you didn't do that thing that you are being locked up for, and even maybe the chance to get out of prison for this thing that you didn't do. Without it, you can be grabbed off the street (or more likely, out of the airport, as in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen INNOCENT OF ANY CRIME who was abducted by the United States Government, taken to a secret prison in Syria where he was held for 10 months and 10 days, beaten, tortured, forced to make a false confession -- and eventually RELEASED WITHOUT CHARGE) and "disappeared" without any indication of why you're being taken away.

Disappeared.... desaparacidos....that's right, we learned about that one in my "Radical Movements in 20th Century Latin America" class. Also in high school Spanish, when we watched the movie "La Historia Oficial" (every year - it was the "Stand and Deliver" of Spanish Class), about the disappeared in Argentina in the 70s and 80s, the dissidents who were forced to jump out of planes over the ocean, thus ensuring that their bodies would never be found -- the desaparacidos. The disappeared.

In the United States, we call it "extraordinary rendition."

You know what else is interesting (by which I mean terrifying) about the Military Commissions Act of 2006? There's this tricky little line in it that basically says that if the government -- aka Bush & Rumsfeld -- say you're an enemy combatant..... you ARE.

(Which reminds me of a note I once picked up off an elementary schoolyard. In the tiny, precise writing of a child, it said, "If you read this, you eat poop!" I thought, that's so clever. You can't deny eating poop, since in order to know what the allegation about you says, you must in fact admit that you did just read the note. As the note says, "IF you READ this, you eat poop," it clearly states that the only evidence needed to condemn you as a poop-eater is the mere incidence of your reading, something which once done, you cannot undo. To this day, that note remains in my mind the perfect example of cold conviction logic.)

If they say you are an enemy combatant, you ARE.

A few years ago, Bush's then-Secretary of Education announced that the largest teacher's union was a terrorist organization. According to the Military Commissions Act, the law would now say that once accused of being a terrorist organization, they ARE. Right?

Also, the MCA says that if you give monetary support to a group the president deems to be a terrorist organization, you can be considered to be an enemy combatant yourself. I wonder, in a country where the president can suspend habeas corpus without anyone blinking an eye, where the president can actively defend torture practices such as water boarding -- for which the United States prosecuted people after WWII, treating it as a war crime! -- where a group of teachers fighting for better dental plans can be called a terrorist organization -- I wonder if I shouldn't be worried about that donation I sent to KUNM earlier today. What if the president declares his personal war on the free media next? What if NPR is the next identified terrorist cell?

In the words of Keith Olbermann, "the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States."

Good luck.

17 October 2006

Lockdowns

All the time I spend trying to teach the standards and raise my students' test scores seems completely irrelevant when we have to spend an afternoon evacuating our school and comforting scared, crying kids.



Yesterday it was TWO lockdowns for us, one lasting two hours (luckily we were watching an old Twilight Zone episode & could just hang out watching the rest of the episodes on the DVD), one where the secretary, who -- we have learned -- is not very good under pressure -- ran into my room crying and whispering loudly about a lockdown in a panicky voice, and THEN twenty minutes after the second lockdown ended, a slightly panicked-sounding principal came on the overhead telling everyone to EVACUATE THE SCHOOL IMMEDIATELY -- TAKE EVERYTHING -- GO AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE TO THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (1/3 mile away) -- and as we're all booking it out of the school we see, across the street, that the high school is completely crawling with flashing lights, officers, dogs, cars, & even a helicopter.














What's going on, America?









Jean and Kara never mentioned the days we'd literally fear for our lives.












.

13 October 2006

Hopscotch and Hate Speech

Yesterday:

Me: Hi, Taylor! What are you doing?
Tiny neighbor girl: I'm drawing a hopscotch, but I don't know how to make a five.
Me: Do you want help with that?
TNG: Yes, please. (she hands me the chalk)
Me: (kneeling down, drawing) First you have a straight line across, then a straight line down, and then a half-circle here. Can you do that?
TNG: I think so!
Rory's car: honk honk!
Me: Oh, I have to run! Have fun with your games!
TNG: (waving) Thank you! Thank you!!
Rory: Where were you?
Me: Sorry, I had to make a five.
Rory: ...
Me: What?
Rory: You are SUCH a teacher!

*

Arturo: Ms. Backes, me and my dad call each other homos all the time. That's okay, right?
Me: Um... no. I mean, it's still hate language.
Arturo: But why? It's not like we're hurting any queers or anything.

*

Today, diagramming sentences:

Directions: Write and diagram a sentence with a predicate noun.
Coal: (talking as he writes) You.... are... a fag. Ha ha!
Me: No. No! Do NOT use that word in my class! You should know that by now, Coal!!
Coal: Whoa, sorry. It's not that big of a deal, Ms. Backes.
Emma: Coal, she has gay friends or something. She doesn't like it.
Me: Would you think it was okay if I wrote, "You are a nigger"??
Entire Class: GASP! (suddenly silent)
Coal: Um, no.....
Me: To me, those words are the same. To me, "fag" is JUST as offensive as "nigger."
Class: ...
Me: That's why I never want to hear anyone in this class use that word, EVER.
Class: ...!

(Bell rings -- class stumbles out)


Let's hope I don't get fired over that one...... SIGH.

08 October 2006

Adventures in Dogtown

Poor Zeke. He is known for many things, one of which is his ability/desire to eat everything in the universe. Some of the more notorious examples of this include:

-- a gallon bag full of oatmeal cookies

-- a pizza box - and then pepto bismol (proving that not only is he a garbage dump, he's also a genius!)

-- an inhaler (resulting in a trip to the emergency vet; goodbye, summer school paycheck)

-- everything in the garbage can -- and what doesn't get eaten gets spread across the floor. Wonderful.

-- cough drops (he's a fiend for them. they're like truffles to his little nose)

-- and so much more......

Today while we were at the grocery store, Zeke managed to get into the art room and devour a whole big box of ding-dongs leftover from 24-hour comic day. He ate all the chocolate ding-dongs (chocolate is very bad for dogs; however, Zeke's eaten six Baby Ruth candy bars in one day with no noticable effects), and the wrappers, and the box.

Around dinner time, we noticed that he's bloated up like a balloon or like the annoying girl in the chocolate factory. He's huge! R. gave him some doggy-pepto bismol, but it doesn't seem to be helping much. What does seem to be helping are the epic farts he's been sending out into the atmosphere. No lie: I was working in my office and I suddenly smelled the deadliest dog fart ever -- and Zeke was three rooms away, on the other side of the house, lying peacefully on the bed. Unbelievable. We're talking Ripley's Believe It Or Not, people.

I'm sure he'll be fine -- the time he ate all the oatmeal cookies it was like he didn't even notice. Now he's lying at R's feet, moaning and pooting. R's heart is far less black than my own, because he makes nice little sympathy noises and petting Zeke, whereas I just yell, "WAS THAT ZEKE? GROSS!"

But seriously, this is probably the first time in my life I've ever hoped that the dog farts more tonight. The more he toots, the better he feels......

22 September 2006

How come you're so WEIRD?

3rd period

Door: SLAM!
Me: Who just left?
Kiley: Dorian.
Me: Hmmmmm.....
Door: SLAM!
Me: Dorian, since when do we leave the room without Molly's permission?
Dorian: (Completely Blank Look)
Me: Um... Molly being Ms. Backes. Me. You know what I mean.
Dorian: Okay... sorry miss.


*

Me: What do we know about Africa, based on the stories we read last week?
Candi: They eat weird stuff. Like bugs!
Me: Um....
Morgan: You told us! You told us they eat bugs!
Candi: They ate bugs in the story!
Me: Umm...... (Looking back to see Ali at the back of the room with a puzzled, amused expression on her face.)
Morgan: The guy went looking for bugs to eat!
Me: Oh, ANTELOPE? Are you talking about antelope???
Candi: Yeah, that's it!
Ali: (DOUBLED over in silent laughter)
Me: An antelope is not a bug, it's like a deer.
Candi: Well whatever! They eat weird stuff!!


*

Link: (to himself) If I could go anywhere in the world...... (louder) Ms. Backes, where's Three Mile Island?
Me: Um... Pennsylvania, I think.
Link: Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. If I could go anywhere in the world, I'd go there.

*

Dakota: I was going to ask you something, Ms. Backes. What was it? What was I going to ask you?
Me: Was it, "How come you're so awesome?"
Dakota: Yes. Ms. Backes, you are an awesome teacher.
Me: Oh! Thanks! Wow, that really came out of nowhere!
Joellyn: I know what the question is, Ms. Backes! How come you're so WEIRD??

*

Anna: I like parentheses.
Me: Good.
Donny: Who said that? It's dumb.
Anna: It's not dumb. If I were in a parentheses right now, it would be like getting hugged.


*

this morning, bus duty

Me: (humming to myself) la la la....
Mr. Schmidt: What are you singing there, Backes?
Me: Um... you know in the Muppet Movie, when they first meet Rolfe, and he's singing and playing piano in a bar?
Mrs. Jones: (wide-eyed, looks slightly horrified)
Me: (half-singing) You can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em; there's something irrestibleish about 'em.....
Mrs. Jones: We really worry about you sometimes, Molly!


And sometimes **I** really miss Grinnellians. They wouldn't tell me I'm weird for singing a muppet song.


*

Crazy Teacher Next Door: I asked Andi where she wants to live when she grows up, and she said, "Where the hippies live." Then I told her that we have a hippie teacher in the school and she knew right away that it was YOU!
Me: I'm not a hippie.
CTND: Yes you are!
Me: My PARENTS were hippies. I'm a Gen-Xer or a Millenium child, depending on which cutoff date you.....
CTND: Look at your classroom! You're a hippie!
Me: Uh...
CTND: Like this. What does this say?
Me: My classroom is a safe environment for all students.
CTND: See? Hippie!
Me: I don't....
CTND: Or this! Who is this even a picture of??
Me: Rosa Parks.
CTND: Hippie!
Me: No, she was a poster girl for the civil rights movement.
CTND: Or that sign, "Hate Free Zone."
Me: So acknowledging and supporting student and global diversity in my classroom makes me a hippie?
CTND: Yes!
Me: FINE! Then I'll be a hippie!


Note that this is the same man who picked a fight with me two weeks ago about homophones, first joking about how much I love "homos" and then ranting (for days) about how "where" and "wear" are not homophones because the H should be enunciated in "where" and I am doing my students a disservice by allowing them to pronounce it incorrectly. And THEN getting a bunch of my students to go, "Hey Ms. Backes, Mr. Gooze says w-H-y, w-H-at, w-H-ere! He says it really bothers you!" Which, of course, it didn't; what bothered me was Mr. Gooze saying crazy and annoying things about me to my own students.


Sigh.

21 September 2006

Bobby McFerrin for God in 2000!

Okay. This is the story of me and Bobby McFerrin.

First of all, I violined. I don't know if you knew that. I violined for ten years, and at the end I was still not a wonderful violiner, but I did love to play inside of an orchestra. Orchestra was a really big part of my life from 4th grade through 12th grade, and I continued to play violin regularly through much of college. I still pick it up every now and again; it's under Natty's bed in Zeke's room.

But I digress....

In 6th grade, my teacher Ms. Sanyer sponsored a contest for us orchestra kids. If you could practice at least 120 minutes a week for like six weeks, you got a prize at the end. And I did it -- and it was the one semester I ever really really improved as a player. (You'd think I would have learned, but I really didn't.) At the end of the 6 weeks, Ms. Sanyer gave the five of us who'd made it a very special prize -- a mix tape she'd made herself, with her own gorgeous handwriting on it.

I didn't listen to the tape much -- too bad, I bet there were some great things on it -- but one song I did get off it was a song off of the album "Hush," a collaboration between Bobby McFerrin and Yo Yo Ma. And I loved it. I LOVED it. Turns out my mother actually owned the real album, on CD! So I listened to it a lot in 8th and 9th grade. (Oddly, my two favorite albums in 9th grade were Hush and a collaboration between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. No wonder I had no friends.)

In 9th grade choir, we had to do this thing called an IMP -- individual music project -- and I brought in the song "Coyote" from "Hush." At this point, I'd already been to New Mexico with my orchestra, already fallen in love with the state, already declared my intention to move there when I grew up, & so forth. "Coyote" reminded me of New Mexico, reminds me still, of the desert sky at night, the crystal of the stars, the loneliness.... Anyhow, so I turned off all the lights in the echoing choir room and made everyone lie on the floor and listen. Coyote.

In 10th grade, I wrote an autobiographical poem at the beginning of the year, in my Multicultural Lit class with Rebecca Fox-Blair and Camille Farrington. There was a line about Bobby McFerrin being some sort of god with really cool hair. My mom, never missing an opportunity for me to make a fool of myself, made me send it to Bobby McFerrin.

Can you believe that?? I haven't even thought about this in years, and I'm still embarassed, eleven years later.

Also in 10th grade we had to write our future selves letters, to be delivered in five years. The thing was, I was in a senior English class, so everyone else would be 22 or 23 when they got the letters, solidly out of college, solidly adults. I'd be.... 21. BO-ring. But I wrote it, extremely awkwardly, covered it with stickers from Ben Franklin, and gave it to my teachers to mail to me in 2001.

Somewhere along the line, my mom started a friendly relation ship with Bobby McFerrin's publicist. I guess she'd read the dorky poem I'd sent, and thought it was cute, and my mom did her "my daughter the nerd" networking, and next thing you know we have backstage passes to Bobby McFerrin in Milwaukee.

Backstage passes!

You have to understand, I never liked NKOTB or any such band. I never went through that shit. I mean, I cried when Kurt Cobain died -- we heard it on the radio in art class, in 8th grade -- but I didn't WORSHIP Cobain like I worshiped Bobby McFerrin.

So we saw him in concert in Milwaukee, and it was amazing. We'd seen him live before, at Ravinia in Chicago, but this time we MET him. And I was such a dork, I was like, "Oh my god, hi, I love you!" And he kind of laughed and said hi. My younger sister Megan was completely unimpressed; she didn't say a word but kind of nodded at him, so he pressed his hands together and bowed to her. I was too drunk on adoration to be jealous.

Over the years I saw him several times more, always wonderful. Most recently, my mother sent me tickets to see him at Popejoy for my 25th birthday. And he was wonderful again. He did the Bach Prelude/Ave Maria thing with the Popejoy audience, and it was something holy. One of those rare moments in your life when you're entirely present and you can actually look around and say, this -- this -- is a moment of grace.





And the letter? Delivered to me in the late, lazy Grinnell summer of 2001. I wandered through beds of native prairie grasses and purple conflowers to sit on a bench in the peace grove and read it. It was covered in stickers and addressed, awkwardly, to "you -- I mean me, I guess -- I mean, you know. Weird!"

And on the front of the envelope, it cheered,

BOBBY MCFERRIN FOR GOD IN 2000!

18 September 2006

Pirates!

Homecoming 2006:

1.
(prep period)

Melusina: (jumping through my open door) Ta Daaa!! I'm a pirate!
Harriet: (walking slowly after her, sounding less than enthused) And I'm a Viking.....
Me: Ooooh! Fight!
(They do, Melusina eagerly and Harriet obligingly.)
Me: Um, Mel, shouldn't you actually be a horse. We're the Pintos, right?
Melusina: Yeah, but the theme of Homecoming is Pirates.
Me: Pirates?
Harriet: Yep.
(More student council kids wander in.)
Me: Seriously, just.... Pirates?
Shelby: Yep, Pirates! We have a treasure chest full of candy!
Me: Not, like, "Enchantment under the sea" or "Adventure on the waves" or "Moonlight Cruise"? Just.... Pirates?
Kids: (giggle)
Me: Homecoming 2006.... Pirates!
Kids: (giggle)
Shelby: It's pretty romantic, huh?
Melusina: I never even thought of that!
Me: Just... Pirates!


2.
(after school, the float)

Shelby: Hey Ms. Backes! Look! Pirates!
Me: Pirates!
Troy: We have a treasure chest! And it's full... of CANDY!
Me: That's cool, you guys.
Melusina: We're going to throw candy!
Harriet: Last year we got in trouble because someone got hit in the eye.
Shelby: (nodding wisely) That's right. This year, gentle throwing.
Jason: Here Ms. Backes, I'm going to throw you some candy!
Me: (standing like four feet away) Uh, okay!
(Jason throws candy. I catch a couple of tootsie rolls, more fall at my feet.)
Me: ... (bending over to pick up the fallen tootsie rolls)
Jason: Okay, now you throw it back at me!
Me: Why?
Jason: Because I want some candy!
Me: But you just threw it to me....!
Melusina: Ooooh, throw me a tootsie roll!
Shelby: Throw me one, Ms. Backes!
Me: No, I'm keeping one for myself!
Kids: Awwwwww.
Me: What?? You're sitting on a treasure chest -- literally! -- a treasure chest of candy!
Shelby: Pirates!



It might not come through, but this is the perfect, perfect example of why I love middle schoolers. They're so weird, and they still make me laugh.

12 September 2006

Grinnell.....

Over Labor Day weekend, R. and I helped our friend Natalie move to Chicago, which involved driving a u-haul trailer from Albuquerque to Chicago in 24 hours, staying long enough to have dinner with friends, watch you-tube videos of people getting punched in the nuts, sleep, have breakfast with friends the next morning, restock on ice and food at Target, and hug everyone goodbye. We left Chicago around 2 on Sunday and made such good time I talked R. into stopping in Grinnell where, incidentally, Adam & Cam were for alumni soccer weekend.

Grinnell. The moment we crossed the Mississippi I was too excited not to drive. R. slept as I drove over those familiar hills, under that enormous sky. I surfed channels on the radio, but for some reason I kept finding songs that were popular when I was at Grinnell (Cher's "Believe," Madonna's "Believe") and happily pretended it was junior year again. By the time we were passing exit signs for Victor and What Cheer (not to mention Monty & Brooklyn!) I was hitting R. to show him.

Of course, I can't go back to the Grinnell I knew. The place itself is different -- the Chrystal center, East Campus, the shiny new student center, the shiny new PEC -- ad infinitum, it seems, though I only left a little more than three years ago. And the people, though they look shockingly familiar from a distance, are not the same people. I bet they're great. But they're not *my* people, not *my* Grinnellians. I'd need an Ali and a Hudson, a Jamie, Cam, Adam, a George & Dan, a Nadia and Mary, of course, a Margaret, Em, Vivek, Chris & Nick, a Paul and a Matty and a Posey, Kim, Melissa, Gus, John, Gina & Pat & Dave and.... well, you know what I mean. That collection of people, the specific population of people I love, will never be together again in exactly the same place or exactly the same way.

And yet....

Knowing that the campus itself is different, and knowing that the people, for the most part, are gone (though there's a very real chance of running into a Professor Youde or an Abby Scheckter these days), Grinnell still holds a powerful draw for me, the very trees themselves which I knew so well, the very curve of each path meandering through the wildflowers across campus. The air there seems different, even, in ways I may never be able to explain.

And I realize now, 1300 miles away once more, teaching again on the wide desert plain, that the person I was hoping most to see was myself, the girl I was six years ago, walking across the campus with notebook in hand and mischief in mind.....

The chances that I'll see her again are slim, I think, and yet the fact that I was able, even for an hour, to sit at Dairy Barn with Cam & Adam and a strawberry-banana smoothie tells me that there's a chance I can find her again as well. A chance that I'll be able, even for an hour, to step outside the suburban adult life of mine to walk alongside her as she wanders under the apple trees, wholly present and wholly herself.

And I wonder if that's not the biggest reason anyone has to go back, not in search of the place or even the people, but of yourself, the person you were. The person you know you still can be -- still are -- given an hour and enough wildflowers.

08 September 2006

Dear Everyone....

I love you. I really do. I love you, and that's why I want to have this little talk. Consider it an intervention. Because I love you.

it's = it is

its = it, possessive

Quiz:

1. The dog licked (it's, its) balls.

2. (It's, Its) so nice of Molly to make this quiz for me.

3. This particular grammatical idiosyncrasy is tricky; (it's, its) something I've never quite gotten.

4. And now this quiz has just about outlived (it's, its) novelty.



HINT: it's = it is, its = possessive





Key: 1, its. 2, it's. 3, it's. 4, its.



How'd you do?





Wonderful. And remember, it's just because I love you so much.

06 September 2006

Great Moments in Teaching, or: Why I'll Go Back Tomorrow

4th Period, 8th Grade Language Arts

Me: What is the MAIN IDEA of this essay (Charles Kuralt's Independence Hall)?
Class: Declaration of Independence!
Me: Okay, but what's the THESIS? What argument is the author trying to put forth?
Class: 1776! John Hancock!
Me: Um.... okay. Is the author saying that the Declaration was written by God himself, left on a rock for Thomas Jefferson to find, at which point the entire Continental Congress burst into song?
Mysterious Voices in beautiful 8 Part Harmony: Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner Still Wave....??
Class: OH MY GOD!!!
Me: Whoa! That's apropos.
Class: So... yes?
Me: What?
Class: You asked if God wrote the Declaration of Independence, and then angels started singing the Star Spangled Banner!
Me: I know, right? But seriously, the main idea of this essay is....
Dalia: The main idea is that it was HARD, that it was a struggle.
Me: YES! Very good.
Mysterious Voices: ...and the HOME of the BRAVE!!
Class: (spontaneously applauds)

So then I ran into the hallway, found the choir and their teacher, and said, "Hey, we just read an essay about the Declaration of Independence, can you come sing for us?" The choir teacher said, "Great!" and the 26 high schoolers filed into my room, some of them former students, and sang for my 8th graders. After which, of course, we applauded again. Then the choir teacher told my students some facts about music, and then I released my students early for lunch. Awesome.

25 August 2006

The first days of school....

Day 2.

Okay, I really don't like to use this forum to talk about how depressed I am, but..... I'm depressed. Our new principal told me today that I can't do NANOWRIMO with my kids this year because it's not going to help raise our school test scores. "You don't have time to write novels. You have too much real work to do."

NANOWRIMO was the best thing I've ever ever done with kids. November 2005 was the best time I've ever spent with kids. It was the hardest I've ever seen kids work, the proudest I've ever seen them be of themselves, the most engaged, the most excited to do schoolwork.... they actually took their novels home and worked on them over the weekends, over Thanksgiving! It was amazing. I've been clinging to the memories of that month, thinking that even one month of that every year would make this job worth it.

I'm just -- why am I teaching? Cam said, "To change the world, remember?" I said, "Oh really? Because all I hear about is changing test scores, and the link between raising test scores and making the world better seems pretty abstract." (Cam: "Hey, if it's good enough for George W, it's good enough for me!" But then, he hasn't been subjected to constant test-score-raising talk and inservicing for the last two years.)

Teaching -- this kind of teaching, at least -- is stupid. Two days back and I already want to quit my job. super.


Day 3.

Over lunch today, the department head said casually, "So... how do you feel about 'cutting back on the creativity'?"

I said, "I went home depressed."

"Yes, I was thinking about you. I figured."

I said, "I was really depressed. I went home and called my teacher friends, looking for someone to tell me why this was a good idea."

She said, "I'm just going to fly low until I can retire."



So sad.



The good news is that a bunch of my 9th grade girls have come back to visit, and reminded me how much I like kids. Also, this morning when I had to lead my homeroom group around on an hour-long scavenger hunt, I named them "Team Awesome," and they instantly became a community. Very cute. They ran around telling everyone, "We're Team Awesome! And we ARE!"




Day 4.

I wasn't excited about school starting until... yesterday. Maybe today. Team Awesome helped me, and then today my 7th graders have been so quiet and have actually listened to me, and even LAUGHED AT MY JOKES, which makes me nicer and funnier than usual. I came into this year with such a big chip on my shoulder, and my little "sevvies" are and will be in the honeymoon period for the first few weeks, at least. So that's really nice.

On the other hand, my 8th graders are annoying! But I still like most of them. It's not their fault they're hormonally challenged.


Me: I just want to remind you of the rules: No bleeding on my furniture, no throwing up in my room, and no stinky kids! Take showers often, use deoderant, and do NOT spray that AXE stuff around me. Gross!
Jack: Just wait, Ms. Backes, you'll have a whole line of kids spraying axe outside your room!
Me: No I won't, because people like me.
Jack: Like who?
Me: Everyone but you, Gomez!



Day 5.

Today I walked past the department head's room and heard her going through a list of essay questions I developed and am doing with my own students. It made me feel a little bit like a rock star.... or at least like a real teacher.

26 July 2006

Where I'm going to get laid....

Even though this isn't the most accurate quiz result, it's apropos (and therefore HILARIOUS) because Dan, Steve, and I learned all about Bhutan watching the Korean channel last week. Bhutan is a great country, with an inspirational soccer story worthy of Disney's best efforts. Bhutan totally kicked Montserrat's ass in the 2002 soccer world cup. And what does Montserrat have going for it? Nothing.* Bhutan, on the other hand, is in the Himalayas, has a bunch of Tibetan Buddhists, and makes the majority of its income from animal husbandry. Also, the King of Bhutan has his own airplane. Take that, Montserrat!

Molly is most likely to get laid in Bhutan, in a cathedral.



*Other than being a tropical island, with a unique cultural blend of indigenous Carribbean and Irish, a week long Saint Patrick's Day festival, $700/week vacation villas, and an active volcano.

29 May 2006

Oral Reports!

Highlights from the last few days of Hate/Peace Studies reports:

Blind ignorance (all references to the Civil Rights Movement come from the same kid, an extremely smart and **extremely** lazy surfer-slacker 8th grader who cares more about his hair than anything else):

(from a paper entitled "The Civil Rights Movment[sic]")

"To Integrate some thing means to combined to things to in this case they where interrogating blacks and whites. This was called the little rock in 1955."


"Black power 1966 at the same time that King Arthur was find him self with the odds over the Democratic Party."


(incidentally, when I confronted this student about this particular sentence -- reading it aloud to him and saying, "Does anything seem wrong about that to you?" he quickly answered, "Oh yeah, I got the date wrong...." I said, "Yeah, by like 1500 years!" And he had no idea what I was talking about....!)



C: The main leader of the Civil Rights movement was Rosa Parks.
ME: Um... can you think of any other influential people in that movement?
C: (searching through his two hastily compiled note cards) Um... Rosa Parks.
ME: Anyone else? Anyone at all? Anyone else who fought for the rights of African Americans?
C: Uh..... no.
Entire Class: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR, STUPID!!


***


Excessive use of Thesaurus in papers:

"And they ne'er found out who started the fire."


***

J: That happens, you know. Women can abuse men, too.
M: I know! My stepmom punched my dad the other night!
P: Did she lay him out?
M: No, he was just like, what's your problem???

***

On the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing: "...they were in the basement, so it basically killed them the worst."

20 May 2006

Update on the hate

This is turning out to be one of my favorite units ever. It's so fun to sit and talk to an 8th grader about Islamic fundamentalism and then turn around and discuss the use of a "gay panic defense" in the Matthew Shepard murder trial with another 8th grader. Yesterday, one kid looked up from a book and said, "Martin Luther King Jr. got a lot of his ideas from Gandhi!" and another kid said, "Oh! I'm doing Gandhi!" and they spent the next five minutes comparing notes on non-violent reform techniques. So great. Because there are so many topics, and because they got to choose, most kids seem to be really interested in their topics & research. I hope the days they're presenting are as successful as the last few have been.

23 March 2006

Eagle Colts Unite

Last night, the board announced a decision to combine the two middle schools in the district, and this morning my 7th graders were FLIPPING OUT about it, because for some reason the other middle school has been allowed to become our school's biggest sports rival. (This has always struck me as incredibly misguided.) The kids kept telling me, "Edgewood kids are SNOBS!" "There are going to be so many more fights next year!" "We hate them!" Finally, I put my hands on my hips and said, "I can't believe this! We've spent the last four weeks studying Anne Frank and the Holocaust, and you have told me that you can't understand why Hitler would single out the Jews, and yet here you are telling me that you hate an entire group of people just based on where they happen to go to school!! Are you kidding me??" In that moment, I saw about five kids just snap out of it, like their little faces were skies clearing after storms. It was very cool. At the end of class, I said, "If you still don't get this, ask Melinda, because she clearly understands why you need to go into this with an open mind," and Melinda -- future Jerry Springer poster girl Melinda -- got this HUGE grin on her face and nodded in agreement. "Yeah, Ms. Backes, I'll tell THEM! You guys gotta be cutting out the HATE."

15 March 2006

Reading The Diary of Anne Frank

Bell: Ding! Ding! Ding!
Class: Awwwwwwwww! I was really getting into it!
Me: !!
Julia: Wow, Ms. Backes, you actually found something that we like!
Me: I'm... I'm not really sure what's going on! Who are you? Where are my real students??

*

Kid reading part of Edith Frank: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
Eliza: Um, Miss Backes?
Me: Yes?
Eliza: Isn't that, like, from the BIBLE?
Me: (checking the notes in the teacher's edition) Yep, it's psalm 121.
Eliza: I don't get it.
Me:
Class:
Me: Um, what?
Eliza: They're Jews, right?
Me: Right. That's why they're hiding from the Nazis.
Eliza: Then why are they reading the BIBLE?
Judah: Yeah, I thought Jews didn't believe in God.
Me: (taken aback) Oh. Okay, that's a good question. Um, okay. So who knows the basic difference between christians and jews?
Judah: They don't believe in God, right?
Me: No. They believe in God. In fact, they share a part of the Bible with Christians: the Old Testament. But while Christians believe that Jesus was a divine figure, an actual god, Jews believe that he was a prophet, but not a god.
Sam: That's all?
Me: Well... that's the big one.
Eliza: Uh uh! Uh uh! They don't celebrate CHRISTMAS.
Me: Um, right. Because Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, right?
Judah: Oooooohhhhhh, I get it!
Sam: So Jews are basically a lot like us?
Me: Pretty much.
Sam: How come Hitler wanted to kill them so bad?
Me: I really don't know. I guess when you're looking for differences instead of similarities, little things can seem pretty big.
Judah: That's messed up. They're not even that different.
Me: True. But even if they were, no one deserves to live in fear like the Franks and Van Daans had to. No cultural or religious group, no matter how different, deserves to be exterminated.
Eliza: Miss Backes? Was Hitler insane or something?
Me: I don't know. I really don't.
Eliza: How could he kill all those people, for one little difference?
Judah: That's messed, yo.
Me: I agree.

07 March 2006

No Goat Left Behind

The school where I teach is in a pretty rural area of New Mexico, home to children of ranchers, farmers, and migrant workers. More than two-thirds of the students come into middle school unable to read at grade level, and (as I discuss below) at the high school level, 27% of the student body can't pass Algebra I. For two and a half years, I've told myself that it's because they're farm kids. They're ranch kids. This book larnin' doesn't much apply to their lives. And that's fine.

Because it's a rural school, many of the teachers also come from farms and ranches, and this time of year the school counselor often brings in baby goats that were born that morning and need special attention to live through the day. I love this about Moriarty. It reminds me of my own childhood, where my classmates would often bring in baby farm animals for show and tell. My elementary school saw everything from baby geese to baby horses -- kitties, pigs, goats, sheep, calves, puppies, etc. I feel very comfortable and happy in a school full of farm animals. (Insert joke about middle school being the perfect place for me, ha ha.) In my ideal world, there would be animals in every school. I think it's healthy, and of course Dewey et al advocate for making connections between school and "real" life.

But.

Last Friday, one of my students informed me that the counselor had brought her "puppy" [GOAT!] to school. Which reminded me of last spring, when another of my students saw the Registrar's calico-colored goat tripping around the schoolyard and asked me, "Whose kitty is that?" I said, "Sweetie, cats don't have HOOVES."

Seriously? I'm supposed to make more than two years of growth in reading levels with farm kids who can't even tell the difference between a CAT and a GOAT??

*

-- Ms. Backes, this class is pretty bad, huh?
-- Mmmm.
-- Are you going to put us all in ISS?
-- No, but I might just quit my job and run away to Mexico. And then you'll be stuck with a mean teacher who will yell at you.
-- What?? NOOOOOOO!! You guys, get to work or Ms. Backes will run away!
-- You can't run away, Ms. Backes! You're my favorite teacher!
-- Yeah Ms. Backes, you have to be here so I can have you next year after I flunk 8th grade!
-- How flattering.

*


The New Mexico PED (public education department) just handed down requirements that students be able to pass Algebra, Algebra II, and Geometry in order to graduate. But. 27% of the students at MHS can't even pass Algebra, much less Geometry and Algebra II. So increasing numbers of students are opting to drop out and just get their GEDs. Which would be fine, except for the fact that drop-out rates and graduation rates affect adequate yearly progress (AYP) under NCLB, so as long as we have such a high drop-out rate, there's literally no way we can make AYP, but as long as we require that the student body make it all the way through Algebra II in order to graduate -- when on the GED all they have to do is basic skills -- our drop out rates will remain high. And the thing is, [ Nathand], a great number of our kids *will* grow up to be mechanics and waitresses and small business owners and ranchers and moms. Is it right to force these kids to take Algebra II when they honest-to-god will never use it? Why can't they take an alternate math -- we used to offer "Business Math I" and "Business Math II." Moreover, is it right to punish the 73% of the school who can pass Algebra because the 27% chooses not to put up with the hoop-jumping bullshit and takes their future into their own hands? As long as the GED kids are dropping out, our school will never make AYP, and within a number of years -- two, three -- our high school will be at the highest level of "school improvement," meaning that the government can come in and replace the entire staff of Moriarty High School. At which point, I sincerely believe, the government is just as likely as not to outsource that job to independent corporate contractors (think "rebuilding" Iraq) and suddenly our school will be just another franchise in a long line of failing schools.

10 February 2006

Valentines!

Today's teaching story:

SO... I keep a student desk outside my classroom door for the kids who are unruly and/or who are freaking out and need a break. Because it is so often the naughty babies who sit at this desk, over the years it has acquired a lovely and deep carved message to the world: FUCK
Which is so awesome, because every single person who visits my room first sees a desk with such a warm and welcoming message. I have tried everything when it comes to this desk. I have soaked it in 409 over night, hoping that the entrenched ink and pencil lead would come out. I have sat at the desk myself, scratching sideways with a knife across the letters. But no matter what I do with the desk, the message of F U C K always comes back.

Last week, I took a big black sharpie and drew over the letters. I turned the F into a B, the u and c into o and o, and left the k... then I added an S, and above it, I wrote "I [heart]" -- so now, instead of F U C K, my desk says "I LOVE BOOKS!" It makes me laugh every time I see it.

*

Dickie: Ms. Backes, do you know that chocolate has the same effect on people as marijuana?
Me: No it doesn't.
Dickie: Yes, Ms. Backes, scientific studies have shown....
Me: No, it really doesn't.
Dickie: Chocolate and marijuana are basically the same, Ms. Backes.
Me: Dickie? Really? They're not.

*

Jose: Ms. Backes, you can tell you're a mom.
Me: Umm...
Javon: You idiot, she doesn't have any kids!
Reynaldo: But you're pregnant, right?
Me: Um, no.
Javon: Reynaldo, you IDIOT! You don't tell a girl she looks like she's pregnant, or she'll hit you!
Reynaldo: Don't hit me, Ms. Backes!
Me: ANYway, back to work!

*

Dominic: Ms. BAAA-ckes! Jessie stole my heart!
Me: Well, Dominic, that's very romantic, but I need you to be working right now.
Dominic: No, wait -- I mean --
Class: Ha ha, Dominic loves Jessie!
Dominic: I mean, she took my heart and ran away with it!
Me: Yes, very sweet, Dom. Get to work.
Dominic: Oh, MAN!

*

Courtney: Ms. Backes, can I see your engagement ring?
Me: Sorry. I don't have one.
Cortnee: Awwww, Anderson!!
Courtney: Anderson -- Melissa Anderson -- told us that you had a HUGE engagement ring!
Cortnee: She doesn't have one, Anderson!!
Courtney: Anderson, you're wrong!
Cortnee: She's not even engaged, Anderson!!!

*

Dan: Ms. Backes, he hit me!
George: Ms. Backes, he touched my book!
Other Kids: Ms. Backes, Ms. Backes!!
Me: Okay you guys! Chill!
Dan: But Ms. Baaaaaaa-aaaaackes!!
Me: Oh my god, I am NEVER having children!
Haley: What? But you're not even married.
George: Are you married Ms. Backes?
Me: No.
Dan: Do you have a boyfriend?
Me: Yes.
Haley: YOU have a BOYFRIEND??????????
Me: (dryly) try not to sound so surprised.
Haley: You must be a lot more exciting outside of school.

*

Best Valentine's Present (so far):

A small, round, beautifully wrapped pink-tissue-paper-with-purple-ribbon gift. What could it be? A candle? Chocolate?

"Oh no, Ms. Backes. It's a tennis ball. For your dog."

07 February 2006

Agathokakological

awesome word of the day:

agathokakological: comprised of both good and evil

I identify strongly with this word. As do my 7th graders.


*


Me: Yeah, I've been getting these headaches every day and I don't know what's going on.
Cam: You probably have a brain tumor.
Me: Oh, ha ha. Great.
Cam: My mom kept getting headaches and it turned out that she had a brain tumor.
Me: Oh! I thought you were kidding.
Cam: Do you have headaches every day?
Me: Yeah, I said that.
Cam: Do you have a loss of peripheral vision?
Me: (looking wildly from side to side) No!
Cam: Have you experienced an increase in paranoid thinking?
Me: No.... no! (defensive) NO! ....why? Why!
Cam: Are you meaner and more evil than usual?
Me: ...yes... You're just saying things that you know are true to make me think I have a tumor!
Cam: Maybe... or maybe that's just your increased paranoia talking.
Me: Aaaaah!

*

4th period spelling bee winner: Do you think I should do the school spelling bee?
Me: Of course!
4PSBW: Um.... would I get a trophy?
Me: I don't know... but if you win the school bee, you get to come to the district bee with me next Friday, and it's fun. We'll go on a school bus and get free lunch and hang out at Edgewood all day.
4PSBW: With you?
Me: Yep.
4PSBW: What if I won that?
Me: You'd go to the county bee, in Estancia, the week after that.
4PSBW: With you?
Me: Um.... I don't know. Maybe.
4PSBW: But no trophy?
Me: I think you'd get a medal. But it would look good on college applications.
4PSBW: Oh, I'm not going to college.
Me: You're not? What are you going to do?
4PSBW: Well, I'm a Jehovah's Witness, so I'm going to spend my life spreading the message of the kingdom. So I'm not really thinking too much about college.
Me: Oh.
4PSBW: But it would be neat to win a spelling bee.


"Ms. Backes, are you racist against FAT KIDS??"


"Ms. Backes, sometimes I think you have no heart at all!"


J: Ms. Backes, am I your favorite?
Me: No.
K: Am I?
Me: No.
J: Who is?
Me: My dog.
J: But he doesn't even go to school here!
Me: I like him better than I like any of you people.
Other Kids: Ha ha ha!
A: At least her dog knows how to sit down, right Ms. Backes?
Me: Exactly. He does what I tell him to do.
A: Unlike YOU, J!
J: (wounded) Hey, I can follow orders. I can sit... lie down... even roll over!