27 October 2005

In the diner on the corner sits a lady eating pie

I have twenty minutes before rehearsal begins, and a goal of finishing Paige this week. I have about three chapters left, so clearly the logical thing would be to take this time to knock out a few pages, but instead I'm eating pie and updating my blog for the first time in months.

Apologies for the hiatus, and to make up for it, a retrospective of the last six weeks (in no logical order at all):


Super Punk Tough Kid: Ms. Backes, are you sick?
Me: Mmm-hmm.
SPTK: What's wrong? Just the usual tuberculosis?
Me: WHAT? I hope not!!
SPTK: Oh, I don't even know what that is.

The nice thing about getting sick is that kids are so cute about it. They're always nicer and they yell at one another to do their work. "Can't you see Ms. Backes is sick???"


I may very well be the ONLY TEACHER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD who can say that a child CAUGHT ON FIRE in her classroom during a parent teacher conference.

Also, why do so many of my stories begin with "How many people can say...?" As in, "How many people can say they've caught a squirrel with their bare hands, using chap-stick as bait??" or "How many people can say they've been run over by their OWN CAR?"


Parent-Teacher Conference Update:

While cleaning out my classroom in a quiet moment, I gathered up a pile of clothes (gym-type shorts & whatnot, abandoned in the last week) to take to the lost and found. From the bottom of the pile fell two extremely skimpy pairs of string thongs, one pink, one black. "Well," thought I, "certainly I cannot put these in the lost and found, or some teenage boy will find them and a riot will break out." So I hooked them around one pinky and walked them to the office, where the secretary was on the phone. When she saw my dangling panties, her eyes bugged out and she said in a choked voice, "I'll have to call you back!" "I found these in my classroom," I said nonchalantly. "WHAT??" she asked. "Who left them there?" I shrugged. "I have no idea, but clearly I can't put them in the lost and found. You have to take them." "But who would leave their panties in a language arts classroom." Behind me, the principal turned and looked at the two little thongs on my fingers. "Well, they're not mine," he said. "Yeah," the secretary said, "they're too small!"



This morning I met with my department and we discussed our plans for next year. The school's steering committee is working with my suggestion that we move to an 8 period schedule in order to separate Literature/Reading and Language Arts/Writing into two classes. As it stands, I generally focus on writing because it's what I'm good at, and so my students don't get as much experience working with literature. The other main LA teacher focuses on reading, because that's what she's good at, and the kids don't do much writing at all for her. (The third LA teacher just teaches the clappy chanty SRA Reading Recovery curriculum from the book.) At a terrible staff inservice a few weeks ago, I brought the idea of the 8-period day to my colleagues, and now it's very seriously being discussed. Similarly, we're talking about moving to the "family" model, which is something I've been promoting ever since I moved here. This afternoon, I'm meeting with the discipline committee to discuss the discipline model I helped to design (based on Berg Middle School's green card system).

One thing I love about this school is that each teacher's voice is heard, and if you take iniative you can really effect change in a timely and obvious way. Part of this has to do with how small we are, and part of it has to do with the fact that our leadership is committed to continual improvement, and as such is willing to experiment with new ideas.

The problem is that A) I feel like the more I put into this school, the harder it will be to leave, and B) I worry that in some strange ways I'm getting spoiled by teaching here, not in terms of student performance or parent support, of course, but in terms of administrative vision and attitude. This has been such a great place to try things out, to learn and change and experiment, and I worry that I'll be hard pressed to find another school with the same kind of openness to new ideas. And so C) I worry that I'll get stuck here. :-)

I guess it's not a huge problem to have, is it?

Thank god it's not my only problem, or I'd start getting nervous.


From an eighth grader's essay:

"Some of us rely on video games when we can't rely on our own world."


From a seventh grader's essay entitled To Be A Good Teacher:

"The behavior is the most important of all because of how many sex offenders that we have in this world, definitely no-body wants to be raped, and no-body wants to be raped by a teacher."


Walking down the hall at the end of the day, I admitted to the Spanish teacher next door that I'm kind of stressed out today. He dragged me into my classroom, held both my hands, and prayed with me. Staunch unitarian that I am, raised by parents who openly express their concern that the "Jesus People" will get me, nevertheless it was a sweet moment, and I feel a little bit softer. Not because of the heavenly father's light, neccessarily, but because of the light from the people around me, the light we create in our own lives and all the tiny mercies we show one another each day. Yes, and blessed. That I do feel.


Me: So I have to do this big dossier thing that's a lot like our portfolios only so specific I can't re-use any data...
My college education advisor: (interrupting) Just make it up!
Me: Oh... what??
MCEA: Use my name! "Jane Cutter went from a 45% to a 93% in a week!"
Me: Jane, there have been a whole bunch of expose things recently about teachers doing just that, falsifying data!
MCEA: Well, can you blame them?
Me: No, but it's illegal!



Super Punk Tough Kid: Do we have to write in complete sentences?
Me: Um, just for number fourteen, no.
SPTK: Yay! You rock!
Me: (smile)
SPTK: (to himself) Did I just say "yay" out loud?


(from a letter to another teacher)

...I think a great teaching/learning relationship should be mutually beneficial, with both parties enhancing the lives of the other. Certainly I have my days where
teaching doesn't feel so much like saving the world as it feels like being saved, and it doesn't feel so much like imparting knowledge as it feels like being granted the chance to learn yet another one of those big life lessons we all come back to again and again, and it doesn't feel so much like a job as it feels like something holy.

I confess to memories I keep like rosary beads to click through when things get tough; the majority of beads are tiny moments of grace, the times when you feel craziest and as lost as you can be, and then you look up to see a little circle of munchkin angels standing around you to take care of you in their strange little ways, whether it be reminding you to take attendance or handing you a pen when you need one or offering a word when words won't come, or squinching up their little faces and asking with concern, "Are you okay?"

Likewise, there are the rare opportunities you've had to say exactly the right thing or be there for a kid in exactly the right way. They're so, so rare, but they're critical, too, and believe me, they will not be forgotten.

This is why teaching is so difficult and so essential: you are dealing with human beings in a system -- a society, even -- that values statistics and numbers and would reduce each child to a series of test scores and socio-economic stats, a society that blinds children to violence and strips them of their natural empathy, in a profession that is under-supported and under-recognized, and in the face of all this, you and the young people around you will struggle, each day, to identify that in one another which makes you uniquely human and uniquely worthy of time and attention.

Ultimately, it will not be the test scores but rather the moments of human connection that sustain both you and your students. Nobody can tell you that those moments are not vitally important.



Me: What's your thesis?
Taylor: We should move to the Forest Moon of Endor.
Me: Um... (trying not to laugh) okay, what are your three arguments?
Taylor: One, there are ewoks. Two, we wouldn't have to go to school. Three, there are lots of trees.
Me: (trying so hard not to laugh) Well... those are good arguments... sounds good! Okay, good luck with that! (runs away to laugh in corner)


Xander: Ms. Backes, when you were in school, did you ever have a teacher that you thought hated you?
Me: Yeah, TOTALLY.
Xander: I think Mrs. Bradley hates me. She took my hat.
Malinda: Who hated you, Ms. Backes?
Me: My high school advanced biology teacher. We'd be studying these diseases, and he'd always be like, "I think Molly has that." Like, "Narcolepsy -- maybe that's why Molly's always falling asleep in class! Schizophrenia -- maybe that's why Molly hears voices!"
Courtney: I would have been like, "Oh yeah? Well you have herpes!"

I don't think I've laughed that hard in my classroom, EVER.

Today in 8th Grade:

Jody: What's Arbor Day?
Me: Blah blah blah planting trees.
Jody: When is it?
Me: I have no idea.
Paul: Nobody really cares about Arbor Day.
Jody: I do! I love flowers!
Entire class: TREES!
Me: I *JUST* said that, Jody!
Jody: Ohhhh! Why would they have a holiday about trees??
Entire class: JO-DY!!!

The assignment: Create a word portrait of a person you know using lots of interesting, telling details.

Most kids chose their best friends, parents, or siblings, but one of my 7th grade boys chose me. I guess I'll come back on Monday, after all. :-)

Ms. Backes

Ms. Backes is one of the coolest teachers because she lets us talk and listen to the radio during class. She jokes around with us and helps us when we need the help. She lets us make bets with her. For example, the class bet her that she could not go for one day without wearing black. She always wears black to school. She says that is all she wears because that is all she buys. She did win the bet, though. She managed to not wear black for one day. She wore a blue and white shirt, blue pants, brown sandals, and a rainbow colored belt.

Ms. Backes is really funny. She told us that she has ADD and is dyslexic. She said that last year, a girl wore shiny shoes, and they distracted her all during the class. So, we can't wear shiny shoes. She also told us to keep our watches out of the sunlight, because the reflection will be a distraction to her.

Ms. Backes must love dogs because there is a picture of a dog on every poster in her classroom. There are space dogs, escape artist dogs, vampire dogs, dogs with pink hair, dogs in a suit of armor, dogs in swimsuits, detective dogs, and many, many more.

She also has a very big collection of post cards. There are post cards from all of the United States of America and around the world. I wonder if she has traveled to all those places.

Ms. Backes has very nice handwriting. She writes stories about all kinds of stuff. Last weekend, she told us that she wrote twenty pages about stuff for a novel that she is working on. I think she is a good language arts teacher, because she loves to write and teach and gets very involved in her work.

She likes to tell stories about her friends, especially Ally and Mr. Blue. She told us that she could tell us stories all day long about her friends. One story was about Mr. Blue. He used to teach second grade in the United States, but now he teaches kindergarten in China. One time he came into her seventh grade class, when she was a student teacher, and told the class that his name was Mr. Blue. Sometime later, her friend Ally, otherwise known as Mrs. Brown, came to the same class. After that, another friend came to class, and the class asked what is his name, Mr. Green? Ms. Backes thought that was kind of funny, because how a lot of her friend's last names were colors. Her favorite color is green.

I am looking forward to an exciting year with Ms. Backes, otherwise known as Molly. So far, I have enjoyed her class very much. Thank you, Ms. Backes.

21 October 2005

Poofy and Peeeenalized

This morning:

Davey: (knowingly, sympathetic) Bad hair day?
Me: What? Me?
Davey: Yeah...
Me: I'm having a bad hair day??
Davey: I'm just asking....
Me: You think I'm having a bad hair day!
Davey: Well, it is kind of poofy....
Girls: No, Ms. Backes, it looks good....
Me: [yanking a hair tie off my wrist, pulling my hair back into a ponytail] I *like* it poofy! But fine! I don't even like you people, anyway!
Girls: Aw, Ms. Backes, don't do that, it looked good..... [turning on Davey] SEE WHAT YOU'VE DONE!!
Davey: [shrugging] I just said it looked a little poofy is all.


Me: Anyone who does not have this tomorrow will be penalized.
8th Grade Boys: HA HA HA HA!!!!!
8th Grade Boys: Pee-nalized! She said peee-nalized! Ha ha ha!!
Me: Yes, yes. Hilarious.

8th Grade Boys: Ms. Backes, are you going to PEE-nalize us?
8th Grade Boys: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Pee-nalize!
8th Grade Girls: Ms. Backes, why are those boys *still* laughing?
Me: Oh, they think it's funny because it sounds like PENIS.
Me: (in my head) They've had them for 13 years, you'd think they'd be over them by now. Ha ha!

Yes, she who laughs last laughs best.