Back to School: A Teacher’s Wish List

It’s back to school time.  And teachers are FREAKING OUT.  Because it is almost Labor Day, and Summer is over.  The to-do lists are out. of. control.  The parents are already calling.  The administration is sending a million memos, some in print, some in digital form, a mixed media medley of messages that are often vague, full of jargon and these many forms of communication do not seem to align with one another.  We are worrying about our students, we are worried about our sanity, before we have even started.

The rest of you?  You are rolling your eyes and saying it’s about time you slackers had to get yourselves back in the working world with the rest of us.  Never mind that teachers generally put in enough overtime during the school year to compensate for all of that unpaid “time off” during the summer.  Or that they work second jobs during the Summer to make ends meet.  Or that even though they work during the Summer,  taking classes or preparing for the new year, they are only paid for nine months.  Ahem.

Regardless of your stance on teacher compensation or hours, I think everyone can appreciate these seemingly simply desires that every teacher wants, but usually does not receive, from September through June.

Time to pee.  Seriously.  There is no time to pee.  In between classes?  We’ve got students popping in, admin popping in, other teachers popping in, and not just to chat, but with some sort of need.  There is often a crisis.  We live by the bell, by the minute, by the semester and EVERY SECOND COUNTS.  We are in a bizarre time warp where things must be done NOW (even though what must be done NOW can realistically hardly be done EVER).  This is a problem for many reasons, but the no-peeing part is especially troublesome for those of us who have birthed children.

A desk that isn’t broken.  One of my students on the autism spectrum took out all of the wheels from several of my desk drawers, and those kind of things just don’t get fixed.  You just, for thirty years, have drawers that go thump thump thump thump, jumping a bit as you pull the drawers out or push them back in.

A chair that isn’t going to cause disc damage.  Okay, if that isn’t possible, at least A CHAIR.  I don’t have a chair, because the one I bought (which happened to be an exercise ball because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a chair, and I have a relatively weak core) was lost when I moved classrooms.  Poof.  I blame privatization.  Our regular custodians would have made sure my chair made it to my new room.  It’s really not that far away.

Coffee.  No, this doesn’t just exist in any “teacher’s lounge” I’ve ever been in, unless it was in a coffee pot bought by a teacher, made with coffee bought by a teacher and, if it existed, was hopefully cleaned by a teacher.  Who knows when they had time to clean it….it probably wasn’t cleaned.  But, let’s be honest, we really care more about the coffee than the cleaning.

Time to drink coffee.  There is no such thing as a coffee break.  There is really hardly a lunch break. C’mon. I can’t believe more student scaldings don’t happen, to be honest.

Time to work by ourselves without interruption.  Planning period?  Hahahah!  That is filled with meetings and more meetings and, oh yea, STUDENTS.  Do you know, teachers have to plan what they are going to do when they stand in front of their students?  Do you know, teachers have to grade their students work?  Do you know, teachers benefit from collaborating with other teachers?  Time for any of these things is what teachers want.  So much more so than apple-shaped trinkets.

Pens.  Why is it so hard to get pens?  And pencils.  We need a million pencils for the kids. They are incapable of keeping one in their possession for an entire day.  And they are incapable of not stealing our pens.  Don’t get me started on tape.  I got an email from a co-worker last year saying that they would not be providing tape for their students because they were ON THEIR LAST ROLL OF TAPE and would not be providing any more. This is what teachers become at the end of May.  Barbaric tape deniers.

Tissue.  Maybe the kind that doesn’t cause chafing the first time you wipe your nostrils with it.  But, if that isn’t possible, we’ll take the tissue that feels like sandpaper.  I’ll take the sandpaper tissue.   I NEED SANDPAPER TISSUE.  Anything is better than my sleeve. Best case scenario if I don’t have any?  I’m wearing a pattern (that doesn’t show the snot so much).  But, my students?  They don’t even use sleeves.  If they don’t have tissues, they just use my air.  And my desks (which are also your kid’s air and desks, by the way).  Ew.

A cabinet that locks.  And ideally, a key that goes with it. Because if the stars align, maybe I can go pee.  But, I don’t want anyone to steal my wallet when I do.

For anyone making decisions about what happens in classrooms to actually have experience working in a classroom.  We can all have dreams, right?

Time to eat lunch.  At least, sometimes? Pretty please?

Assessments that aren’t arbitrarily changed from year to year. Oh wait, the change isn’t always arbitrary.  It’s usually based on profits for companies and cost-savings for our government…

Assessments that actually measure something of value.  Can anyone give me some proof that anything we assess actually has merit? Hello?  Bueller? I’m all for data.  I love data.  Just not pointless (even if well-intentioned) data.  And hell hath no fury like a teacher who cares about their students seeing them freak the heck out because of assessments that, in the long run, don’t mean anything.

More coffee.  There is never, ever, enough.

An automatic translator that turns what we are actually thinking into polite and professional language. Seriously, how do politicians and admins do this?

Wine.  Coffee only goes so far.

Time to work one on one with students.  We really want to help our students.  All of them.  That’s why we’re here.  We just can’t be everywhere and help everyone at the same time.  Anyone who says class size doesn’t matter has never been in the classroom.

Note that nothing on this wish list pertains to wishing the students were anything but themselves.  The students are the best.  They are why we keep coming back.  Parents, keep sending those lovely students of yours! They keep us going.

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By Malate269 (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Anything you’d add to the list?

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Dear General Education Teacher: Surprise! You’re A Special Ed Teacher!

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My first job out of college was working as a general ed high school biology teacher.  On day one, during second period, a woman I had never met before walked into my room, alongside the kids.  She introduced herself as a special education teacher in the building and informed me she was assigned to work with me during that hour.  At first I thought she meant for the day, but she meant for the entire school year.  I had no idea why.

Turns out, I had a high percentage of special ed students in my class that hour, and the model utilized at this school to help address those individualized needs was co-teaching.  I didn’t have any special education training, I didn’t know the best practices of teaching with another teacher in my room. No one, it seemed, had bothered to inform me ahead of time that this is what my job as a high school science teacher would entail.

I suppose they didn’t need to: it might not have been emphasized during teacher training, but a large part of general ed teaching is teaching special ed students.

It worked out well, for the most part.  I just taught the kids who were in my room, and did the best I could to help them succeed, and she did the same, complementing my actions and responses with her own.  Each year I taught, I ended up adding a section of co-taught classes.  Eventually I taught a biology class that was made up entirely of special education students, a course that had previously been taught by a special ed teacher with no biology background.  I’m not sure if other biology teachers had tried teaching this class in the past, and it didn’t work out, or if the special ed department had never even considered asking any of the other teachers to teach it. Eventually I got my masters in special ed, and then I was the co-teacher, in someone else’s science room, and now I work mostly with students on the autism spectrum in a resource room setting.

For me, teaching a diverse set of learners was never easy.  But it made sense.  I had kids in my classroom. Some got it.  Some sort of got it.  Some struggled.

This was true for both academics and social/emotional regulation.  It was easiest to teach the kids who got it. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to “teach” students who are readily teachable, who can basically teach themselves, who have maturity and coping mechanisms solidly in place.  It takes a lot more patience, more time, more creativity, more ability, to help the kids who struggle. It took me awhile to figure out where I needed to be firm and rigid, and where I could bend, molding myself into the teacher that each particular student needed me to be.

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It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find the time to plan lessons for the “easy” kids and also creatively change the plan for the ones who didn’t get it, or the ones who seemed unruly.  I could not meet all of their needs.

But I tried.

I went to conferences, and I collaborated with peers, and I spent a lot of time working, well after that sixth hour bell rang.  I asked my co-teachers for help and I took them up on every opportunity offered to present a concept to the class in a different way, or to adapt a worksheet to make it more accessible.  I kept learning the content, and more importantly, I kept learning about the kids, because I knew there was really no point in me learning additional facts, if I was unable to help pass this along, in any sort of relevant fashion, to the people placed into my classroom.

It never surprised me when I learned that seated in the front row was a student with Prader-Willi Syndrome, or a student with ADHD, or a student with a significant attitude problem.  It surprises me that this surprises other teachers.  Doesn’t everyone know about the bell curve?  That there are always points outside of the average range (and a lot of them!), and it’s impossible for everyone to be A students, for everyone to complete each task in the same way, or in the same amount of time, or for everyone to be at the exact same point of social/emotional awareness and ability?  Doesn’t everyone get that we are still responsible for teaching the kid who is that data point, waaaaaaaaaaaay out there, far to the left?

I have certainly had days when my students drove me crazy, or puzzled me and put me in positions where I didn’t know what I was going to do to help them become successful adults.  I have often felt frustrated and worn out and exasperated.  But, I’ve never looked at a student name on my roster and literally thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have to teach that kid”, or “That kid isn’t good enough to belong in my room”. That is a very dangerous mentality. Especially considering the fact that the problem isn’t the kid. The problem is that I just don’t know how to reach him or her. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

 In the public school setting, we don’t get to pick and choose who we get to teach, but we do get to decide, in many ways, how we will support them, how we will help them improve their knowledge of the subject matter, their confidence levels, and their strategies for dealing with stress.  Even when I know I can’t meet every need, I know I can still do something.

 I am constantly asking myself, “What can I do to help support these kids?”.and “What do these kids need?”  And I mean all of them.  Not just the ones that make my job easy.

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Maybe we need a separate sign that starts with Dear Teachers…..

 

The One Question Every Teacher Needs to Ask Their Students

When I completed my year-long student teaching internship, in a 10th grade biology classroom,  I was lucky enough to be paired with a true master teacher.  She had previously worked as a researcher for NASA, and while her extensive knowledge base, her meticulous nature, and her steadfast attitude made her more than a little successful on the job, she found the work to be too mundane, and too unfulfilling.  So she brought her expertise, her limitless patience, and her diligence with her to the high school setting.

While I learned a great deal from her in terms of the content (she had so much to offer!), I learned even more from her in terms of character.  I remember her sitting me down one day and telling me that while she could tell my understanding of the material was sound, my lesson plans were well thought out, and my delivery of the content itself was smooth and efficient, there was still something missing – and it was resulting in my students not learning.

I was missing a connection.

I was so caught up with making sure I knew the material and was delivering it the best way I knew how, I wasn’t directing enough attention towards who I was delivering the content to.

As soon as she gave me this honest and direct appraisal, I realized I had been neglecting to work on the relationships I was establishing with my students, so I began to actively include this focus when I worked on planning and delivering my lessons.  It paid off.

I distinctly remember one of my students coming into the room in a huff, a couple of minutes after class had already started, slamming her books down on the desk as she looked up at me and said, “this school is bullshit!  This class is bullshit!”  I had never been in a situation like this before, and the whole class was waiting to see my reaction.  A few students leaned back into their chairs, excited for the potential of a drama full of screaming voices and reddening faces to play out before their eyes.  But, thankfully, I had listened to my mentor and had been working on making connections with my students.  Instead of yelling, writing a detention or demanding that she speak to me in a respectful tone, I asked the girl a question that changed everything.

 “Are you all right?”  

Before asking, she had been standing with her shoulder blades pinned back tightly, her chest puffed out, her chin jutting high, her hands at her hips, clenched into fists.  A fighter’s stance.  After the question, her fists uncurled, she let out an audible exhale, shoulders and chest deflating. And she answered me, “no, I’m not”, and proceeded to tell me how unbearable her day had been and how stressed out she felt.  I told her I could tell that something was bothering her by her behavior, and that I hoped the day turned around for her.  She thanked me, sat down and pulled out her notebook and pen, ready to start the day, and the rest of the class followed suit.

That was the day my students started learning from me and my well-thought out lesson plans.

Character, it turns out, is the most important aspect of teaching.  

No one is denying that content-area knowledge is a must when it comes to being a competent instructor, but simply having and dispensing knowlege in itself does not make one effective.  No matter how good the presentation, the worksheets, the technology or the wealth of knowledge a teacher may hold, without inspiring, supporting and connecting, there can be no learning.

And many of our students are in dire need of inspiration, support and connection.  Many of our students are not all right.  They’re children dealing with adult fears, anxieties, abuse, neglect, intense pressures, a whole magnitude of grievances beyond our scope, and they often don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with their situations.

My fellow blogger and colleague, Sandwiches and Psych Meds recently pointed out that students can pull up information at the touch of a button, via Google, YouTube and Wikipedia.  We are no longer the only vehicle available for students to obtain information from.  She makes the statement, in regards to the future of the teaching profession and the teacher evaluation process,“If content knowledge … is all we care about as a society, then Google might as well be nominated Teacher of the Year”.  

Students, especially those who struggle, need to know we care in order to allow the possibility of learning to occur.  Master teachers understand this, and are sure to check in with their students periodically, asking if everything is all right.

Education, Qualities of a Good Teacher

The One Question Every Teacher Needs to Ask Their Students

The Problem With Teacher Assessment and Schools As Businesses

The last few years everyone has been up in arms over EDUCATION REFORM!  And we’ve been beaten to death with the idea that our public schools are FAILING OUR KIDS! And that GREEDY LAZY TEACHERS! are living lavish lifestyles, punching in at 8.30 and punching out at 3:00 (nevermind that that is a monstrous misconception) with 12 weeks of vacation in the summer (nevermind that it’s unpaid), and it’s all the DAMN UNIONS! fault so let’s get rid of the unions, and give parents an alternative to traditional public ed – let’s give MORE CHOICES! Which sounds great, but is really full of empty promises, back-door deals, flat-out lies and let’s face it, a bunch of bullshit.

It’s no secret that many of these so-called education reforms are simply thinly veiled attempts for to privatize the nation’s education system and allow charters and non-traditional schools to contract companies that produce testing prep materials and educational technology and other school-related resources (think landscaping, maintenance, etc..) to make a buck. Sammiches and Psych Meds jokes about commercializing the classroom, but really that’s probably not too far off from where we’re headed.  Here’s a snipped from her post:

Students walk up to a classroom which is no longer room 123 World History with Mrs. Jones, but rather Koch Industries’ World History.  And then when they walk in the door, they get to sit in a desk, each one sponsored by a child company — you know, like Brawny paper towels and Stainmaster carpet.  And all around them — on bulletin boards and handouts — is one slogan after another, begging them to try this product and convincing them they can’t live without that one.

While I understand that the current system isn’t perfect, those preaching of reform are typically thinking less about students and more about bottom lines.  And they’re tearing apart a very needed public system in the process.

In addition to corporate sponsorship, the Wall Street Post article The Big Business of Charter Schools provides a brief snippet of how charters are the next big thing to be included in investment portfolios.  Here’s a glance at the conversation between David Brain, head of an investment group called Entertainment Properties Trust, and a CNBC anchor:

Anchor: Charter schools have become very popular as parents seek more choice in educating their children. But are charter schools a wise addition to your investment portfolio? Well let’s ask David Brain, president and CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. ….Why would I want to add charter schools into my portfolio?

DB: Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools … the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this, uh, category, and uh, if you do business with states with solid treasuries. then it’s a very solid business.

It doesn’t take a degree in particle physics to understand that there’s a conflict of interest here.  Are we trying to reform education to help children?  Are we trying to shape our youth into confident, creative, hard-working, independent individuals who can think for themselves?  Or are we trying to really just make a profit?  Children are not manufactured goods and schools cannot be run like businesses.

Why not, you ask?

1.  Free public schooling is promised to ALL children.  ALL CHILDREN.  Not just the ones who are headed to Princeton or Harvard or Yale.  So this includes students with disabilities and students with impairments and students with Krohn’s disease and ADHD and autism and central auditory processing disorder and those with crackhead mothers and deadbeat fathers and those who have a mothers who die from breast cancer when they’re in the 10th grade and those who get into a car crash at 17 and end up with a traumatic brain injury.  The list goes on.

And unlike putting someone on a performance plan and firing them when they aren’t meeting your demands, you can’t* just kick students out if they aren’t performing at the arbitrary level some government official pulls out of his ass and decides that THAT is the level EVERYONE needs to be at.  ALL ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THEM.  Yes, that’s a real law.  All 100% will be at the same level.  No, of course I’m not saying we should kick them out.  But expecting them all to be at the same place by the same time, under the facade of “ensuring high standards” is laughable.

*Charters and private schools CAN and do get rid of whichever kids they want.  They can be exclusive and selective and are not held accountable to the extent that traditional public ed is.

2.  Children are not products that you assemble from scratch.  You can’t guarantee the quality of the product when you have no control over the pieces you have to work with. We mold, we shape, we guide to the best extent possible, but let’s be real.  There’s only so much we can do.  If you think that homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, parental follow through, substance abuse or differences in cognitive ability have nothing to do with how well students will perform, I fear that you don’t at all understand homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, parental follow through, substance abuse or differences in cognitive ability.

3.  You can’t really tell when you’ve made a quality product.  Part A:  Standardized tests.  In business, it’s easy to tell.  It’s about how much you sell, or how much  money you make on each product.  With education, it’s not so clear.  How can we assess whether or not a quality product is being produced by graduation day?  Standardized tests?  Really?  The idea sounds okay at first glance.  But, think about it for a second.  A list of random facts is what you want students to know by the end of their schooling? That’s it?  That’s how you’re judging whether a teacher is effective, a school is “failing” or a student will be successful in life?  By a secret list of random facts, that changes each year?   A list of 100ish facts that is derived from state standards (that are constantly changing) in which the amount of information expected to be mastered, if laid out sentence by sentence, could wrap around the Earth 3 times?  A moving target where the questions are hidden to the people instructed to teach that exact list?  By standardized tests that have a lifespan of a few years and are eventually deemed not good enough to serve as a valid assessment and then are replaced by a new standardized test?  Recently, in Michigan, the cut score for what was deemed passing was changed.  The state goverment decided that a score that was passing the previous year would not be considered passing the next.  Because that is helpful.  Is that education reform?

4.  You can’t really tell when you’ve made a quality product:  Part B:  What do we want from our youth?  If you ask most people what makes a good person, or a good employee or what makes someone a productive member of society the answer is generally not “good test scores”.  It’s a rare employer who really cares if their new hire can tell them what year the cotton gin was invented or how to solve for x using the substitution method.  Standardized tests do not take into account effort, attendance, punctuality, accountability, honesty and integrity.  They do not take into account creativity, compassion, empathy, self-awareness or self-respect.  They do not take into account versatility, curiosity or confidence or willingness to learn and improve or take a positive risk.  They do not take into account self-growth or leadership abilities, commuication skills, or being able to work as a team member.  These are things K-12 teachers and educational staff work with on a daily basis with students, and things that all employers would say they would like to see from their employees, yet so far there are zero standardized tests that assess this sort of thing.  By using test scores to determine who the “high quality” teachers are, we are sending the message that we as society don’t care at all about any of these other things.  And I don’t really think that is true, do you?

So enough about education reform – lets focus on those lazy, greedy, worthless teachers. How can we weed out the bad ones and keep the effective ones?  Let’s talk about teacher assessment.

1.  Guess what?  There already is a process for getting rid of bad teachers. During the first few years of employment, teachers are on probationary status and can be fired without reason at the end of their contract.  Contrary to popular belief, even a teacher with tenure can be fired.  There just has to be a well documented reason.  Tenure just means that a teacher can’t be fired on a whim*.  Even my husband’s company, who doesn’t have a union, has a similar system.  In fact, his company even has an appeal process.  So, if a truly shitty teacher is keeping his or her job – is it fair to continuously blame unions or other teachers for this?  Or does the problem really lie within the administration?   In any profession, you’re going to get a few people who put in as little effort as possible.  But, as Teacher Biz shows us in her article, I’m a Proud Public School Teacher.  Here’s a Glimpse of What I Do, this doesn’t make them the majority, it makes them the bottom of the barrel.  Any quality teacher is just as fed up with their shitty lazy colleague as you are – probably even more so. We don’t want apathatic, crappy colleagues eitiher, because they make us look bad.

*In Michigan, tenure has pretty much lost any value.  You can basically get fired on a whim these days.

2.  Different kids need different kinds of teachers. No one teacher will meet the needs of every kid. It’s impossible.  A good teacher-student relationship can literally make or break a studen’t success in that area.  However, we know that a perfect match is not always possible. That’s just reality.  And in the long run, it is good to be exposed to different people with different expectations.  In the meantime, how can we avoid punishing one or the other for the inevitable lack of compatibility?

Some kids need someone rigid and strict.  They need discipline and stern looks of disapproval.  Some students need daily pat on the back or another acknowledgement of their effort.  Some need flexibility and creativity.  Some need routine.  Some students need to be kept accountable with nightly homework and assignments that require they practice and practice and practice again.  Some students need to just listen while teachers lecture and moderate classroom discussions.  Some cannot handle busywork, but can ace the tests.  Some work hard to complete all the busy work but fail every test.  Some students need the flourescent lighting and the classroom chatter to be reduced in order to hear anything the teacher is saying. Some students need to listen to heavy metal or rap while working independently. Some need earplugs.  Some need a teacher who will listen to their gripes and answer their millions of questions. Some need someone who leaves them alone.  Some need more time.  Some need to move faster.  Some need a teacher who writes out all of the note on the board and requires copious note-taking. Some need a teacher who posts them online because they can’t keep up with the writing.  Some need audio books.  Some need silence while reading. Some need hands-on activities.  Some need a teacher who draws them out and gets them excited.  Some need a teacher who calms them down and helps them focus.  Do you get my point yet?  So which type of teacher is the right type of teacher to be?

3.  Delayed performance.   A little talked about phenomen, but an important one.  There are lessons we teach and expectations we hold and requirements we demand.  Not all students meet these standards by graduation day.  But, that’s not to say they never meet them at all.  Some are just not ready to apply what they’ve learned by the arbitrary date that is assigned to them to walk across the stage.  Every single teacher I know can provide numerous examples of kids who have “failed” or kids who didn’t achieve as well as their perceived potential at the time, and a few years after they are gone, the student comes back to say thanks.  Or the teacher gets news about how the students is thriving and is now performing at, or above, the levels desired a few years earlier.  Maturity and circumstance can make a world of difference and just because we aren’t seeing it at the time, it doesn’t mean the child isn’t learning something, isn’t soaking it up and taking it all in.  So, tell me, how the hell do you measure THAT?

The current so-called education reform appears to have less to do with student outcomes and more to do with profitization.  During the process, the people who put in the effort to make a difference in the lives of our students are getting beaten down, barraged with negativity, and are being called greedy and lazy while watching their incomes and benefits being reduced each year by politicians with zero education experience.  I guarantee you that having disheartened, defeated teachers in front of our classrooms is no way to help kids.

What do you think about education reform and teacher assessment?

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nine Ways I’m Going To Be Annoying When I’m Old (Which Also Happen To Be Why I’m Annoying Now)

1. I’m going to misplace everything.  I already do this, so it’ll just be magnified twelvethousandfold.  I misplace my phone about 5 times a day.  I put papers on my desk and can’t find them for 40 minutes.  And they’re right there, on my desk.  It’s exhausting.  My grandmother recently drove an hour and a half away to get her hair done at a salon by her old house, and while she was there she went to lunch.  She somehow managed to lose her car key between parking, walking into the restaurant, eating and leaving.  She thought it must be buried under the umbrellas, shopping bags, papers, and multiple packages of cookies she has strewn around her car, so she made my mom call a locksmith (who totally swindled her and made her pay 175.00 in cash).  After all that, the key wasn’t even in her car.  My mom had to make the 4 hour trip to bring her a spare.  This is the kind of shit you’ll be dealing with in the future, Baby Grouch.

2. I’m not going to be able to hear anything.  I already can’t hear.  I once went in to have my hearing tested because I realized I was making my students repeat themselves and kept telling them they needed to just TALK LOUDER.  It turns out my eardrums work just fine, but I’m allergic to my cat.  So allergic, in fact, that my Eustachian tubes are perpetually stuck together.  Allergen earmuffs, if you will.  What? Did you ask me why I didn’t get rid of my cat? I think we’ll both be better off if I pretend I didn’t hear you say that.

3.  I’m going to poke my loved ones in the eyeballs with my whiskers.  Seriously, I’m the hairiest beast.  You  might think I’m exaggerating, but have you seen my 7th grade picture?  I can only hope that they won’t get so long that I poke myself in my own orbs.  Which brings me to number 4.

4.   I’m going to be blind.  This is going to be a horrible condition in itself, but will be doubly horrible when considering the implications when combined with number 3.  How will I see the hairs that need to be plucked?  I’m already very much near-sighted.  Combine this with impending farsightedness and that means I’ll be nosighted.  Blindness is scary. Almost as scary as not seeing my own hirsuteness is not being able to see if bears are surrounding my tent when I go camping.  Even if I don’t actually go camping, the thought of potentially being in the woods and not being able to spot a bear before it sneaks up on me and swipes my guts out with his claws, gives me anxiety.  My impending nosightedness is not going to improve my neuroses.

5.  I’m going to walk into a room and ask, “What did I come in here for?”  This will happen in every room I enter. Probably even the bathroom.  I will go into a room to complete task A and not be able to remember what task A was until I walk out of the room to do task B.  At this point, I will complete task A, and then completely forget what the hell task B was.  And the cycle continues.  And, I will probably end up peeing myself.

6.   I’m going to list every item I have in the fridge and pantry when guests come for a visit. My grandmother does this and it is annoying as fuck.  Seriously, stop telling me about the 6 different types of mustard that you have in the fridge.   Mustard is delicious, yes, but also so not important. In fact, it is so unimportant that I will choke on a dry pretzel before encouraging you by responding to your nonsensical mustard-speak.  The incessant babble about mustard is making me hate my used-to-be-favorite condiment.  I caught myself Granny Listing the other day to my sister’s fiance.  I basically forced leftover pumpkin pie into his hand and was wasting time chatting about condiments, for crissakes.  We hardly get to talk and I wasted time on CONDIMENTS.  I’m pissing myself off thinking about it right now.  I caught myself after I had offered up half my fridge and then promptly rescinded all of my offers and wouldn’t let him try my strawberry ghostpepper jam (which is REALLY, REALLY good).

7.  I’m going to get annoyed with technology.  I like to think I’m okay with technology now.  I’m one of the ones in our department where I work who is considered somewhat technology savvy.  But, if I’m trying to do something and I don’t know how, I really just want someone to do it for me.  I usually need it done NOW and don’t have time for bullshit – like LEARNING.  I get annoyed when I can’t do something, but I get even more annoyed when someone points out the obvious, like the fact that I should take the time to figure it out.  I still haven’t used Tweet Grid.  Or Prezi.  Or Camtasia.  Let’s face it, I’m not so hot at Instagram.  I think there are a million apps that people use all the time I haven’t even heard of yet.

8.  I’m not going to be able to sleep.  Hopefully I can still blog about it and find others who can relate and help me vent or find the humor in the situation.  Then it’ll just annoy those who hate hearing about my stupid blog.

9.  I’m going to gross you out with my cough. It’s already harsh and recurrent.  I drink water – I cough.  I talk – I cough.  I breathe – I cough.  I sleep – I wake myself up with my cough.  I choke on my own saliva – I cough and cough and cough and tears stream down my face and I cannot get one word out and I cough some more.  Baby Grouch was doing this weird fake-coughing for awhile and I couldn’t figure out why.  As I was changing her one day and turned my head to cough, it dawned on me.  She was COPYING me.  At 6 months old Baby Grouch was already a saucy little Coughy Cat.  So gross.  My grandmother gets a cough every time she eats.  One bite and it’s all cough cough cough cough… and she gets an amazed look on her face and says, “Oh! I’ve got a tickle in my throat!” She always acts surprised, like the same thing didn’t happen at breakfast and lunch and dinner for the past 20 years.

How are YOU going to annoy your friends and family when you get older?

On Gratitude and Compassion.

This is the week where we are reminded to reflect on what we are thankful for.  This year my biggest gratitude and thanks go to Baby Grouch.

She makes me happy simply because she is she.  I am grateful for her smiles, her snores, her little grasp on my finger, her cuddles and coos.  I’m grateful for her cries and her tears and for the exhaustion that comes from her waking me up at all hours of the night.  I’m grateful for every tiny bit of her being.

She is a really good baby, very content and calm most of the time.  There was one night when she screamed bloody murder – and nothing could be done to console her.  She continued to shriek and shriek for what felt like an eternity, but in reality was about 40 minutes.  Unlike the annoyance that I imagined I might someday feel when my child didn’t stop screaming, I surprised myself by feeling compassion.  I knew she wouldn’t be crying without a reason and I just wanted her to be happy again.  I wasn’t angry, and I just calmly did what I could to try to help.

Within my years teaching high school students, I’ve worked with upwards of a thousand high school students.  For all of those years, at least some of my students have been considered “at risk” and there is a substantial number of them have been said to have behavior problems in other people’s rooms.  From what I’ve heard, some of them have really been little fuckers, I must admit.  In my classroom, however, there are very few students I would have classified in that way.  That’s not to say they didn’t sometimes do things they weren’t supposed to, but by punishing the action and not the child – by approaching each outburst with compassion and empathy – I haven’t had to deal with too much – and I’d say that all of my students have been, and are, really great people.

Well, all except two.  Two of them I thought were pretty evil and beyond help.  During my second year of teaching there was Steve, and my 5th year of teaching there was Michael.  It’s okay to be honest here, right?

Okay, okay, in all reality, those two probably just needed help beyond what I was capable of giving. But, see how easy it was for me to put the blame on them? To say that there must be something wrong with THEM, when really it was ME who couldn’t help?

Unlike babies, teenagers (and adults) don’t always cry at the exact moment when something is wrong.  More often than not, this unhappiness manifests in some other form, and is often redirected at sources other than the real problem.  When someone lashes out angrily, or cruelly or even violently, we can condemn the behavior, but we need to look at that person with compassion and do what we can to help.  Maybe they have sensory issues, maybe they have a cognitive impairment, have poor coping skills, are dealing with depression or mental illness, have anger issues due to neglect or abuse, or were just never taught how to use good judgement.  We need to remember that good people can do stupid things.  Even horrible things.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions or that poor choices shouldn’t have consequences.  Not at all.  But, we sometimes need a reminder that it is incredibly easy for those of us who are so lucky to have support, love, guidance, strong role models, financial means and good health, to judge the actions of others who do not have the benefit of these gifts.  But just because it is easy doesn’t make it okay.

It’s so easy to sit back in our cushy lives, look down our noses and arrogantly scoff, “What is wrong with these people?”  Well, guess what,  there is probably a LOT wrong. And the reason we don’t act that way is because we are LUCKY, not just because we are so much better than everyone else.  Instead of judging, we need to all have a little more compassion.

This is why despite the incessant bashing of teachers – calling us lazy, calling us greedy,  politicians taking away health care, and pensions and our funding, and increasing class size – despite all of this, I still love my job, because, like so many of my colleagues, I choose my “core curriculum” to include empathy and compassion.

I’m so grateful for Baby Grouch, and the happiness she has given me, and for her reminding me what I already know, but what is so easy to forget.

Oh, and I’m also thankful for wine.  Very, very thankful for wine.

This post is a part of Yeah Write #84.  If you like what you read, vote for me on Thursday 🙂