Monday, May 14, 2007

Classroom Portrait Gallery: Exhibits A, B, & C

Several months ago, a couple students finished their work early and then used the PaintPad program on the classroom computer to create a likeness of me, which I later incorporated into my daily powerpoint presentations. Other students grew inexplicably jealous of this fame and insisted they could out-paintpad the original portrait-makers.

Paintpad is a difficult medium to work in, but my kids have never let the difficulty of a task stand in their way of completing it -- unless, of course, that task involves doing actual work rather than wasting class time -- and they are nothing if not prolific. Thus I've acquired an extensive series of portraits. And because many of these portraits are amusing, I thought I'd share them and some commentary with you over the next few weeks.

Exhibit A:

What I don't like: Okay, A) I'm naked. B) although I often yell at them to sit down, I NEVER call my students fools.

What I do like: Excellent use of the exclamation point, plus my eyes are a really pretty shade of green.

Exhibit B:

What I don't like: At the time this was created I was neither single nor particularly inclined toward mingling. Additionally, I am not a big fan of the rectangle + boots look. Lastly, studying has never been my idea of a good time. Unless by “studying” you mean “drinking.”

What I do like: First portrait to incorporate my cat, who's featured in most of the subsequent portraits.

Exhibit C:

What I don't like: Um, what's going on with my shoulders? And where are my teeth?

What I do like: Like the Romans mimicking the Greeks, we're building on a previous theme here. More importantly, this was the exact outfit, right down to the bellbottoms, I was wearing on the day this was paintpadded. You may notice, however, that I'm not wearing any shoes. My kids explained this: it seems like I only wear shoes because I have to, so the portrait shows me without them in an effort to capture my essence.

Be sure to tune in next week for exhibits D, E, & F.

Why I Teach

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. I'm not gonna lie, I didn't feel very appreciated. My kids are more sick of school than I am, which means their whining and complaining would be at its yearly high even if we were doing something cool in class. Which we're not; we're cramming for next week's standardized tests (thanks, NCLB). They did ask repeatedly if we could have a teacher appreciation party, but that's only because they like A) bothering me and B) snacks. A much better way of showing how much you appreciate your teachers is just shutting up and not bugging the hell out of them. Listening to what they're saying would also be a refreshing change of pace, but let's not push our luck here. Anyway, my week pretty much sucked appreciation-wise.

And I certainly did not get an "I appreciate you" vibe during Thursday afternoon's meeting with my vindictive principal, wherein he scolded me for the unprofessionalism I had demonstrated by sitting on the visitors' side at last week's baseball game and then, considering my loyalties, barred me from graduation. He did, however, offer to procure me tickets to the other school's graduation. He's that kinda guy.

Long story short: school has been rotten lately.

I took Friday off and went down to the beach for the weekend, hoping to feel rejuvenated (or at least less likely to quit) by today. But driving home last night I was dreading returning to school, and walking to school this morning I was dreading it even more. To make matters worse, my morning class is my most obnoxious and difficult class, which makes me hate Mondays more than your average person -- perhaps even more than Garfield (who really has no reason to hate any day what with him being an unemployed cat and all). This morning I flat out did not want to go to school, and in the grander scheme of things, I caught myself wondering whether I can accurately say I even like being a teacher anymore.

And then I found a note in my mailbox from one of last year's favorites:

I cannot believe that you are leaving next year! I will miss you and the fun-loving atmosphere that your classroom provided. I appreciated your humor and insight that were woven into each and every lesson. I enjoyed spending time in your classroom, during and after class. . .

So often students think it's cool to disrespect teachers and their lessons, it's rare to find a student who truly cares. But, it's even rarer to find a teacher with such vigor and passion for learning and sharing. Your lessons carried over into a reality that each of us face every day. You opened my eyes to injustice in the world, and caused me to want to be proactive.*

Thank you for sharing your knowledge, but thank you, most of all, for caring.
This note -- just one little note -- made me feel so appreciated I cried. More importantly, it reminded me of why I do this. Thank you for that, awesome kid from last year.

*PS: I want this sentence engraved on my tombstone.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Actually, If They DO Win It's A Shame

A few years ago my friend and colleague G was fired from his position as baseball coach for our school. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but here's the basics: G was starting a promising freshman at a position theretofor occupied by a mediocre senior. The senior's well-connected parents and their well-connected friends pitched a fit, and the principal told G to start the senior instead of the freshman. Being both a man of principle and a stubborn Italian, G refused. Being, above all, a man of politics -- and a stubborn Italian to boot -- the principal fired him.*

G is an avid baseball fan who loves coaching perhaps even more than he loves teaching, so I probably don't need to tell you that he took this hard. (Although not hard enough to cave. When the principal asked him for a letter of resignation G scoffed, "I didn't resign; you fired me.") Anyone who knows G can see how much he's missed coaching baseball, which is why we were all so excited for him when a rival school hired him to coach their bad news bears this season.

G's Bears played our Silver Spoons on Friday, after getting trounced by the Spoons earlier in the season. Now, I'm no
Roger Angell, but I know a good baseball story when it bites me in the ass. So for the love of the game -- but even more for the love of G -- I lifted a long-standing ban on attending high school sporting events and ventured out to Silver Spoons Stadium on Friday afternoon.

The score was 1-0 Bears when I arrived at the bottom of the 1st. I crossed my fingers and sent up a prayer to the gods of baseball and justice as I joined the lone fan in the Bears bleachers. "Who are you here for?" this baseball mom asked me, scrutinizing me as if trying to determine which of the teenaged team members I might belong to. "I'm here for G," I explained.

Over the course of the next inning, the Bears bleachers filled with one part Bears fans and two parts fellow Spoons there strictly for G. And the Bears kept winning. Spoons heckled the cheering defectors sitting on the Bears side, shouting things like, "Mr. [Principal] says none a y'all are graduating" and "first one back on the Spoons side gets a diploma," which elicited laughter from both Spoons and Bears fan, but didn't even register with G's fans.

Oh, and the Bears kept winning. At least until the 5th inning, when the Spoons scored two runs on Bears errors and turned the game into a nail biter.

The score was 3-2 Bears at the bottom of the 7th (and last) inning. The Bears pitcher struck out the first batter. (I think. I was busy biting my nails, so I might be a little off. The first batter definitely did not get on base though.) The second batter hit a short fly to the pitcher, for two outs with no men on. Which brings us to the third batter for the Spoons, who, PS, is a kid I teach. There were some strikes and a ball and maybe a few fouls (I SAID I wasn't Roger Angell), and then, with a 1-2 count, my kid hit a line drive to third base.

The Bears third baseman bobbled the ball for what seemed like an eternity and then, when he finally got his hands on it, overthrew first base. By approximately 8012 miles. "That's it, it's over" I thought sadly as I bit my nails and watched the batter round first base. But then I heard G shouting, "Make the tag!" and I blinked back tears just in time to see a Bear (the first baseman, I think) make baseball's most beautiful tag. A tag that, if you've been keeping track, ended the game. 3-2 Bears.

G's Bears went crazy. G's fans went crazy. G himself went a bit crazy. "I love you, G!" a Bear yelled genuinely, jumping into his arms and remaining there until just before additional Bears doused G with the contents of the water cooler. I don't know that I've ever seen a happier G.

The best part, though? Two dejected-looking Silver Spoons broke with their team to shake G's hand and congratulate him on a game well played. Oh, and the second-best part is that the Bears are going to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Because, as a poster in the stands noted, my buddy G rocks.

*from coaching, not from teaching

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Change Is Good. . .Right?

So. Remember back in January when I lamented my lack of direction and my inability to formulate any plans for my future? Remember how all y'all said plans are overrated and throw caution to the wind and other such nonsense? Yeah, well, you win. Although I AM currently in possession of both direction and plans.

I've submitted my letter of resignation, informed my kids that I won't be returning next year, given notice on my lease, separated books I'll likely never read from books I can't bear to part with, loaded up my CD player with
Eddie from Ohio in a fit of preemptive nostalgia, begun searching for good homes for my 40 or so houseplants, and struck up a friendly online relationship with the good folks at U-Haul. Oh, and I'm cheerfully burning through 25.5 days of sick leave. Because, as my boyfriend has already announced with his trademark brevity, I'm moving in with him. (He did elaborate on this exciting news by noting that he hopes I like frozen pizza, but that was pretty much the extent of his announcement. Now you know why I'm the designated detail-sharer. His detail-sharing lacks, you know, details.)

When Chris and I first started discussing the possibility of moving in together (back in January, actually, right before I started to lack direction), it kinda freaked me out. By which I mean it TOTALLY freaked me out, not just because it involved me moving to Michigan where I hear it's fucking cold, but because it involved me giving up some of my independence. "You know, you can live with a man and still be a feminist," my married friend G finally said, rolling his eyes after weeks of listening to me obsess and over-analyze. "I don't know," I responded, "one minute you're happily shacking up and the next minute you're shuttling a minivan full of kids from soccer practice to piano lessons to cub scouts, face to face with
the problem that has no name." This only elicited more eye rolling.

I pretty much got over that whole Betty Friedan thing only to begin freaking out about my living-with-a-man track record, which is not pretty: I tried it once, and I didn't like it. To be fair, it took a mere five days to confirm what I'd known long before the good folks at U-Haul got involved, and my fiancé was not exactly shocked when I called the whole thing off. "I'm going to stay with my parents,"I announced, duffel bag in hand. "Okay," he answered, glancing from the TV to me, "but do you want to watch The Simpsons with me before you go?" which I think we can all agree is not the way normal people react to their fiancés walking out on them six weeks before their weddings. But I digress.

I've never been good with change, and I rarely initiate it. I've lived in Virginia since I was five years old. My only major move was two years ago when I relocated a mere 188 miles down the road back to the place I grew up in, so while it was a self-initiated move it hardly qualifies as major. My family and almost all my friends are in Virginia, not to mention the mild winters and my proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. I really love Virginia, despite our propensity to elect morons like
George Allen, and I pretty much thought I'd stay here forever.

But then, I'd never fallen madly in love with a man who lives in fucking Michigan before. What's a girl to do but invest in a good pair of snow boots and throw caution to the wind?