Day 15: Whatchya Gonna Do?

Wow.  What a week.  You know how everyone says "Nowadays, all you see is sex and violence"? Well, this was a rather sexy and violent week.  A week full of things no fourth grader should ever be exposed to.  Dirty words...dirty pictures...violence...and yes, the police.  Let's start with "this is funny", transition into "this should be serious, but it's still kinda funny", and wrap up with "this is just plain serious".

THIS IS FUNNY:  A few days ago, it was literally "penis day"....and no, I did not have any slip-ups a la Clarissa from a previous blog post (although, ironically enough, my FIRST official principal observation is on THURSDAY!).  Instead of accidentally calling someone "penis" in place of a kiddish nickname, I inadvertently kept drawing silhouettes of the male anatomy all over the board.  Let me attempt to explain.  The subject:  Science. The topic: Trees/Leaves. The lesson: Go outside and record arboreal observations.  On the back of their leaf/tree bark observation sheets, there is an x and y axis plotted out on which the students are roughly supposed to center the silhouettes of each tree.  They're supposed to quickly draw the overall outline of the tree, showing where the branching begins, and the general shape that the branching makes atop the trunk.  

 Have you ever drawn the outline of a silhouette of a tree on a chalkboard in front of 18 curiously staring children?  It's a penis.  Quick.... erase the penis-y looking parts.... redraw the outline.  Aw, crap... An even more clearly defined penis.  Turn red.... flop sweat... draw a whole new tree silhouette.  Another penis.  Before you knew it, our board had a sampling of phalli of all different shapes and sizes.  Had it not been for the discussion of palmate venation on red maple leaves, anyone walking in would have thought I was reassuring everyone to be happy with the anatomy god gave them.  Can't you see it now?  "Class, remember:  Not everyone has a Sequoia Redwood.... Japanese maples are beautiful trees too."

Believe it or not, the sex continued outside - only now, we added vulgar language into the mix.  What are the odds that on the same day I'm drawing phallic outlines all over the chalkboard, we go outside to observe our trees, only to have a student say, "Mr. D!! SOMEONE WROTE THE "F" WORD ON THE CEMENT WALL!"?  "Don't worry guys...just focus on making your leaf observations and drawing your penis tree silhouette outlines."  After they settle down and the murmurs of "It says the 'F' word over there" come to a quiet close, I take a look at the graffiti I scrambled to cover with my clipboard.  No joke - they were so distracted by the giant "F" word, that not ONE of them noticed the VERY GRAPHIC and VERY ANATOMICALLY correct erect twig & berries drawn right next to it.  What's worse?  Ummm...let's just say it was depicted "producing" some fluid and the "F" word was actually supposed to be paired with the other word written right next to it...as in, the kids should have shouted "Mr D!!! It says "F*CK GRAVY" on the wall!!!"    

THIS SHOULD BE SERIOUS, BUT IT'S STILL KINDA FUNNY:  I kicked one of my kids in the face.  ....No, I'm just kidding.     ...No...actually, I'm not.  Remember Magdalena from my first day blog post?  Well, I've come to learn she's a bit of a voluntary space cadet (i.e. she's a perfectly capable student who opts to check out).  She's always zoned out and very rarely follows directions.... to the point where she's the only one on the playground because she "doesn't realize" the entire school has already come in from recess after they heard the bell go off.  

Picture it:  read aloud time.  "Kids!  Gather 'round for a reading of Shiloh!"  All of the students come into the library and find their assigned places on the beanbags and carpet.  Our student library assistant turns on the multicolored spotlights, the overhead lights go off, and my glasses come out as we begin the discussion of what happened the last time we read.  On my stool, a couple feet above their heads, I swing my right leg over my left at full speed as I cross them by rote in preparation to dive into our juicy story.  BAM!  Magdalena (who was sitting waaaayyy too close to me on the ground) was leaning forward at the precise time my size 13 leather shoe was careening towards the previously empty space that was now occupied by her zoned-out, gaped-open mouth.  

Shock.  Horror.  Secret hilarity at the bizarre coincidence of it all after the inevitable moment where you quickly imagine the footage making it onto AFV.  She's stunned; completely frozen in place, gripping her chin in UTTER shock.  I drop to the ground, take off my glasses and put my arms on both her shoulders and ask her incessantly if she's ok, while telling her repeatedly how sorry I was.  Basically it sounded like this: BAM!  "Oh my god!  Are you ok!? I'm so sorry!!! Are you ok?!?! I'm so sorry!!  Are you ok?!?!  I'm so sorry!!".   After what seemed like hours of stunned silence, she finally utters in her spaced out language "Am I bleeding?".  Thankfully, she's not... no swelling either.  I reassure her she looks absolutely fine, and I continue to stay on the floor with her while my students watch the drama unfold as if they were watching the elementary school version of one of those "Caught on Camera" shows from Tru TV.  Thinking we're over the hump, finally after a couple minutes of stunned chin-holding silence, the shock of it all eases....and then she drops her head into her arms and begins to sob.  Sob.  

I had to call home once it was all over - because the last thing I wanted was the truth being lost in the translation of her space cadet language and it coming out sounding something like this:  "MOM!! MR. D KICKED ME IN THE FACE TODAY!".  So, after rehearsing several less incriminating ways to say "Hi Mrs. Magdalena!  I was just calling to say I kicked your daughter in the face today!", I finally picked up the phone and dialed.  While thinking of the hilarious Jerky Boys "You Kicked My Dog" skit and beginning to inappropriately laugh to myself, I start to mutter in nerves as the phone rings. "Don't pick up....don't pick up....don't pick up...don't pi-- Hello!?"  Luckily, she was very sweet...and because I rehearsed it to myself first, I was able to get it all out without any awkward hiccups.  "I just wanted to let you know that when I crossed my legs for our read aloud, Magdalena leaned forward at the exact same time and my shoe accidentally clipped her chin a bit....but luckily, she's doing just fine!  No cuts...bruises...or bleeding.  In fact, right now, she's playing happily outside at recess."  Unreal - I've been here less than a month, and I'm kicking fourth graders in the face.  Trust me, after that, I would have MUCH rather preferred I accidentally called her "penis" during an observation lesson.  (Inside joke from previous blogpost).

THIS IS JUST PLAIN SERIOUS:  Three words - "Dennis the Menace".  I don't even have the energy to describe all of the crap he pulled over the course of these last few days. He has been EXHAUSTING.  Here are just a few of the stunts he's pulled:

  • Calling a girl a "bitch" 
  • trying to stab students with super sharp snapped-in-half pencils
  • twisting people's ears/arms
  • pushing
  • shoving
  • lashing out and lunging at the principal, the case manager and the aides
  • running around the building, in and out of classrooms, and into both the girl's & boy's bathrooms
  • having to be restrained in a bear hug while growling and hitting adults
  • making death threats
  • telling people "he" wants to be the reason for a school-wide, code-red lockdown
There are so many more - but all you need to know is it got so bad yesterday last period (my science period with him) and particularly after the bell rang as he headed back upstairs, that after about an hour of chaos and violent restraint,  the police were called.  Yup.  Bad boys, bad boys....Whatchya gonna do?  Whatchya gonna do when they come for a fourth grader?  I'll tell ya whatchya gonna do:  suspend him for the rest of the week, and recognize that the camel's back has indeed been broken.  Apparently, after 5 dedicated years of attempted inclusion, the paperwork to get him out of our district has been filed immediately.  The news gets broken to his parents in about 12 hours.... when I asked Clarissa how they'd react, she rather cavalierly said "They'll probably sue us...but they will have no case."  I must say - Never in a million years did I ever expect to witness something like I did this week as an elementary school teacher.... We're all kind of still in shock. 


Day 10: I'm Angela Bower, Dammit!

Ok.... so I gotta be honest.  I don't want to get ahead of myself... but I must say, I feel as though I'm finding my footing.  Am I still tripping?  Oh yeah....I faceplant about five times a day.  But I'm learning and adapting... quickly.  My new organizational system hasn't failed me yet (a shiny agenda complete with daily post-it system where I note sudden important messages/to-do's on one large neon pink post-it throughout the day and then take the post-it home with me in the agenda and transfer all of the changes/updates/meetings INTO the agenda) {See: Photo Below... and YES, that does say "Observation 9/30"...as in, my first official observation from my principal is next week.} 

Anyway - where was I?  Right - Now that I've planned the next few weeks of lessons in each subject, I feel much less sudden-death-stress every evening before I go to bed.  Don't misunderstand me - I have not written out giant lesson plans in every subject for every day for the next three weeks.  But I have written a simple one liner teaching point for each subject on each day.... and my GOD, does it help to know right now where I'm going and what has to get done.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of MAPPING your immediate future out.  

*ALSO HELPFUL:  Establishing an efficient homework system with the kids to cut down on confusion, slackers and excuses.  This is one of those on-the-job learning opportunities I mentioned in my last post.  Finally, I think I figured out the best way to manage eighteen kids and five school subjects, each with different homework assignments.  There is a homework depository attached to my desk, and on the board is one laminated piece of paper per subject with a giant bold title for easy dry-erase homework assignment usage.  Additionally, I made up one homework spreadsheet per subject for myself to check off everyone's name as they hand in their work each day.  Done.  Here's to hoping the excuses end TOMORROW.    

But I wanted to address the bean bag punishment since I mentioned it.  I failed as teacher my first few days teaching....well, more specifically, I failed as a disciplinarian my first few days.  I was so awestruck, dumbstruck, excited and scatterbrained that I didn't have the wherewithal to really stick to my guns and lay down the law of the land (mostly because it was unfamiliar territory... I didn't even know the lay of the land yet!)  Despite everyone telling me the most important thing to do on the first day is to let them know who's boss, my version of "letting them know who's boss" just wasn't.....bossy enough.  Keep in mind - the kids were amazing the first few days... then week one hit.  And they got rowdy... during transitions....while lining up..after settling down from recess...they weren't in a single file line in the halls...  and sometimes, it took WAY too long to get back on task.  Crap - Who's the boss?  The D'Angelo dollars work well....but their effects are not instantaneous.  

To make matters worse, they started to abuse the library privileges... and despite my casual policy with the beanbags in terms of leaning back a bit to get comfy, too many were abusing the privilege altogether and laying all the way back... or on their sides... or even closing their eyes and completely withdrawing from the lesson.  Crappity crap - Who's the boss?  A couple days into last week, I actually started to hear the theme song start to play in my head.... that cheesy 80's synthesizer... those first shrieky high-pitched notes... and that god-awful lounge singer starting off, "There's a time for love and a time for living..." .  Please - at one point, while the kids were particularly rambunctious on the third day in a row, I actually got that visual of Angela Bower standing in her pink robe wearing a towel turban....or if it was the 90's, wearing a Turbie Twist.  I knew who the boss was.  It wasn't me. 

Drastic times called for drastic measures.  I caved - despite my firm commitment to Positive Behavioral Support (the decision to only praise good behavior and never penalize bad behavior - no really, countless studies have recently proven it works much better than traditional methods), I decided to pull ONE stunt....just ONE... to shock them...and let them know that the game is over.  Guess what kids?  Even friendly Mr. D has a breaking point.  So, knowing already that I was getting frustrated with their behavior, I surprised them with two shockers on Friday.  When they walked into the classroom, the beanbags were all in a pile behind the table in the library with a big sign on them that read, "With Freedom, Comes Responsibility"  (which has been a recurring mantra in my classroom).  On the board , I drew a hazard sign and wrote the following stern message:  

"TOO many people have been disrespecting the rules, their classmates and myself.  The beanbags have been removed from the library floor and will return only when everyone in this room starts acting like the fourth graders that they are."   

After a two day hiatus (Friday and Monday), they came back today.  It definitely worked - they snapped back into place immediately.  (I even heard the cartoony "boioioioiiiiinnnnnng" sound with some of the behavioral slackers).  But will it last long?  I'm doubtful.  And if I'm being honest, my own jury is still out on how I feel about the move.  I'm sure there was a less immature way to proclaim, "I'm Angela Bower, Damnit!".  So, I'm not really happy I did it - I don't agree with it.  I think I'm really angry that I didn't run a tighter ship from the start. I'm angry I dropped the ball and ended up desperately needing a reset button.  And I'm angry I took the easy and dangerously gimmicky way out, ultimately  compromising my own pedagogical principals.  I don't think I'll ever do it again.  I shouldn't have to ever do it again....but you know what, like the show's theme's lyrics says: "You take a chance and face the wind."  At this point, I know who's boss and they know who's boss.  It's Angela Bower.  No wait...It's Tony Micelli.  Wow...what a clever title that was.

I especially feel bad for the students like Dakota Fanning who always follow the rules and never act out of line.  Ohhh...right.  I haven't introduced Dakota yet.  She's BRILLIANT.  She looks JUST like an actual Fanning child.  And every time I see her, I think of that SNL skit called "the Dakota Fanning Show" where Amy Poehler plays an overzealous precocious know-it-all Fanning who surprises unwitting peer interviewees looking to discuss simple age-appropriate topics with uber-intelligent philosophical issues related to Russian Literature, modern day international governments and multi-ethnic conflicts in African countries.  (see: hilarious clip below)  

No, my Dakota isn't NEARLY that obnoxious.  But she has her moments where he precociousness treads ever so closely to arrogance...but I ABSOLUTELY LOVE HER.  She's got just the right amount of sass to temper her introverted, book-reading, super-quiet, peasant-skirt-wearing-personality.  She's a BRILLIANT wordsmith for her age - and her reading skills are unparalleled in the entire fourth grade.  The reading levels in the Teachers College system go from A to Z....'A' being children in kindergarten, 'P','Q', & 'R' being average for fourth graders, and 'Z' being the pinnacle of reading most achieve at some point in middle school.   Dakota is a real-life, one of a kind, fourth grade Z.  No one else even comes close.   

On the first day, when I was talking about "the need to maintain order in the classroom, because we don't want....chaos", she jumped ahead of my sentence, and during the split-second delay before I uttered the word "chaos", she offered up a ho-hum "anarchy" instead.  And on the most recent spelling pretest to establish their spelling levels, she's the only one in the entire class who spelled every single word correctly out of 25 words... and we're talking "monarchy", "circumference", and "illiterate" here.  But the real surprise came when I noticed something else on her spelling test....take a look at this actual photo of her test.  See if you notice it.  It's not too hard..... check out the sass infused geniusness jumping off the margin.  

That's right; she actually wrote "harder words please!"  Oh. My. God.  I love her.  But I'm scared of her....not because she outsmarts me.... but because I'm losing her already. She's too high above the rest of the class and she needs to be challenged HARD and FAST or she's going to keep pulling her favorite book out during what must seem like a remedial math lesson to her.  I never thought accommodating my highest learners would be as challenging (or more challenging) than accommodating my special needs learners.  SHE will be a challenge for me.  Luckily, she loves hugs.... and she seems to have taken a liking to me.  I worry about Dakota though....she's a loner. On the playground, she reads.  And she looks too sullen too often.  I check in with her throughout the day as many times as I can before it becomes noticeable....and comfort her each time to try to boost her confidence and garner a smile.  But it's not enough....she will be a year-long project for me....and luckily for her, I love projects.  

Anyway, I gotta go.  I'm on the "Sunshine Committee" and our September Staff Birthdays Celebration is tomorrow....I have to make my mother-in-law's famous egg casserole tonight so it can refrigerate overnight.  Luckily, it's easy, fast and it's a surefire showstopper.  Stand back curious staff - I can cook.  

Btw - I'm communicating with a pet adoption agency to take in a pair of abandoned guinea pig siblings and using craigslist to buy all the supplies at a significant discount.  I'll keep you posted.


Days 6-8: Along For The Ride

Wow.  What a week.  My first full week of teaching in my entire life....and boy, was it full.  Full of ups and downs - both professionally and pedagogically.  Full of stress and happiness.  It was basically full of every superlative you can think of.  Whatever highest highs were achieved were inevitably countered swiftly and intensely by some pretty low lows.  I think the takeaway from this week is the fact that so much of what you learn as a first year teacher happens on-the-job and happens whether you're prepared to learn it or not..... the key is whether you adapt quickly enough to make sure you only have to learn it once.  The caveat is the amount of things you're learning come so quickly and in such great numbers, it's basically unavoidable that some of those little pearls of wisdom or corrections you should be making in your everyday procedures fall through the cracks...and you WILL have to learn them a second time... or third time....

First things first.  Back To School night.  Hands down, the most crazy day so far at my job. A seventeen hour day has never seemed so short.  The craziness wasn't necessarily because of the evening's festivities - more so because the during-the-day chaos that forced me to run on full steam from the moment I arrived at 7am until the moment I left at 9:00pm was so unrelenting, I actually felt lightheaded enough to ask to take a seat mid-Readers Workshop Lesson while being observed.  I blame a lot of my stress that day on Rose Zbornak.  ***Warning!!  Deep passionate understanding of The Golden Girls necessary to appreciate approaching discussion***  

You haven't met Rose Zbornack yet.  I have.  She was our unofficial Readers and Writers Workshop guru before we hired a brandy new ACTUAL guru who works hand in hand with her while training Cady and I (awkward professional tension!).  She's the perfect combination of Rose Nylund and Dorothy Zbornack.  

She's a brilliant and highly dedicated educator whose advancing age has only expanded her already impressive knowledge base;  Dorothy.  She talks incessantly;  Rose.  She's very assertive and intense;  Dorothy.  She's easily distractible to the point that she can be mid-GIANT-lecture, passionately explaining something about literacy and you can just mention one key word about a different topic and off she goes for another hour on that new topic; Rose.  She's keenly aware about how to connect with children; Zbornak.  She's completely clueless about social nuances between adults; Nylund.  One more - I promise!  She knows how to word things in just the right manner while addressing children;  Dorothy.   If you joke with her, there's a strong chance she'll take your playful idiom or attempt at sarcasm at its word...at the very least, you'll confuse the hell out of her.  Quintessentially Rose.

Anyway, Rose Zbornack in all of her Zbornackness politely demanded that I meet with her, Cady and the AMAZING new district literacy coach during my only free period left - which happened to fall just before the meeting about Dennis (our emotionally disturbed boy) that had been rescheduled THREE times already to make sure all of his teachers would be there.  Long story short, despite the request of my principal, Clarissa, Zbornak kept me from the meeting about Dennis which I was desperately waiting for, just so she could babble on incessantly a la Nylund about basic literacy concepts I already knew.  

Thank you, Rose Zbornak - now I missed lunch, missed time to prep for my upcoming observation, but more importantly, missed the discussion about Dennis' Reactionary Attachment Disorder and how to manage it in the classroom.  She's the kind of woman who you know when she says  "Let's meet for 15 minutes", it actually means "Let's meet for 4 hours or whenever I'm done babbling...whichever comes first."  She's physically incapable of streamlining and/or condensing her thoughts into a few succinct takeaways... much like myself in most of these blogposts... You know, I always knew I was mix of Rose and Dorothy...I'm definitely Sophia in many ways too... and Blanche?  Well....how I'm similar to Blanche is not really appropriate for this blog - at least not right now.  Must I recall my quip about fetishes and  my old Halloween bunny costume?

So, after the chaos of lunchtime meetings and an afternoon of rambunctious 10 year olds was under my belt, it was time to plan for Back To School Night as quickly as humanly possible.  Ten bites of dinner... photocopying welcome packets while sweating profusely.... laying them out in piles and stapling them together while tying my tie and cleaning my room...Staging my room perfectly while jotting down speaking notes.....and finally getting my parent-teacher survey that I worked on in grad school ready for its pilot year.  (I will use this year to guide my future usage of it and make any necessary changes - my goal?  My grad school partner and I will try to get it published!!) Well, after some severe moments of panic when I realized unexpectedly that nearly every other teacher had so many more cool things ready in anticipation for their parents' arrival, (i.e. poignant poems clothespinned to adorable PERSONALIZED apple shaped magnets [THANKS, CADY!?!?]), I calmed myself down, and rocked it out.  

Keep in mind, my day was so hectic, I never got to Costco to pick up my photos of all the children's Me-Bag contents... my awesome idea was gone....and there was no hope of making it work....So I improvised.  Last minute student-to-parent notes written in computers last period, and a fun interactive contest b/w the parents, the students and myself involving D'Angelo dollars and a mathy guessing game symbolizing my strong belief in the equal partnership of parents and teachers cooperatively functioning as experts in bringing each child to their fullest potential.   Success.

On a side note - I knew they were thinking "Who is this new teacher?" the whole time...and I caught quite a few of the moms staring at my wedding ring trying to make sense of my identity.  I hope I confused them as much as possible.  (It becomes a fun game for me to subliminally mess with overt nosiness.)  Maybe at parent teacher conference night, I'll dress in a football jersey and discuss muscle cars while crocheting and reading Cosmopolitan.  Then I'll make dueling references to Sex And The City and something I saw on Spike TV in the same breath.  Messing with people about stuff that's none of their business is fun - but I'm smart enough to know messing with my qualifications in such a high stakes district is just plain stupid.  So, to alleviate their educational concerns about my identity, I confidently reminded them of my qualifications which was met with that quietly impressed upside-down mouth movement and eye brow raise that always seems to say once and for all, "I'm impressed!" ...and "Ok - now I approve."   

They LOVED the room...they LOVED the Mr. D'EPOT catalog system....they LOVED the beanbags....they loved my enthusiasm...and surprise, surprise - I was a much bigger hit with the ladies than the men.  On another side note, it was quite funny to scan the room and see so clearly who was related to who.  Often the child had the exact bone structure and face of one parent, but the body-wide coloring of the other....and in some cases, the look was so exact, I honestly felt like I was looking at my students in 25 years.  Very cool...and yet, somehow incredibly disturbing at the same time. 

Ok - I gotta go.  So much more to chat about.  The beanbags had to be removed to prove a point (and negative reinforcement goes against everything I believe in) - but we'll cover that later....and Dennis had a wonderful Thursday after an ATROCIOUS WEDNESDAY.  And after verifying the absence of any child-rodent allergies, the children voted on a guinea pig to replace the fallen turtle...so this week may be the week the class pet FINALLY comes together.  

But before I go, I wanted to get excited about something.  My first follower who is someone completely new!  I'm so grateful and excited to have accumulated eight loyal followers thus far....all of which are personal friends and/or family members (THANKS, GUYS!)... and I'm even more honored to find out more and more people are following casually without being official "blogspot followers" (THANKS TO YOU TOO!).... but today, I noticed a brandy new follower!  (Someone I've never met who must have found the blog online and decided to officially join in on the fun!)  So, I say to you:  WELCOME!  You're OUR FIRST! So happy to have you along for the ride!   Please keep all hands, arms, and legs inside the car at all times until the ride comes to a complete stop.  Thanks, and enjoy your ride!  See you in 172 days when the ride finally does come to a complete stop. 

No - really.  It's fun. I swear.  


Day 6: Nothing Left To Give

Ok - faithful readers....I have to level with you.... I feel terrible.  I didn't get a chance to update the blog about day 5 yet....and I know there is NO CHANCE day six is coming today either.... I got four hours worth of sleep last night while I prepped to be observed by my district literacy coach for BOTH my reading and writing workshop lessons....Add to that back to back meetings during my lunch period which meant all I was able to fit in was an apple and a few saltines....then a double observation in the afternoon....then an after school meeting with the literacy coach and Cady....which brought me until 4:30pm.... which left me 2 hours to get my entire room ready for back to school night.....which meant only enough time to run next door, and order chicken parm from a take-out place....eat ten bites.... and then ditch it to immediately begin feverishly stapling packets together for parents.... to the point where teachers literally had to pull me out of my out of my room because I was going to be late to the auditorium for the welcome and I wouldn't stop until I got it ready...... which brought me to two back-to-back parent-teacher sessions that wrapped up around 9....then an hour commute home... until finally just walking in the door at 10:10pm.

I feel like I'm disappointing you all and I feel terrible... I promised to post each day.... but I guess this experience is a valid part of the blog as well.... it's just a reality of the situation..... that this job is so all-consuming at times, I have nothing left to give after a day like today.  The feeling of complete drowning is back....it comes in waves...even despite my newfound organizational system....And you know what?  Right now, I JUST. NEED. SLEEP. ...and I need it DESPERATELY.  And it kills me to forfeit any chance to properly plan for tomorrow.... I have no idea what I'm doing with the kids in some subjects...but when I feel so lightheaded that I have to sit down mid-lesson today in the afternoon, even I can tell when a line needs to be drawn...

All told, today was LITERALLY 17 STRAIGHT HOURS (5am-10pm) of NON. STOP. WORKING.  

...And I'm heading to bed.  



Day 4: Legally Blonde Ambition

Ok - First things first...before I get to day four, I have to finally update you on some past events... one of which will be a good segue into day four's events.

First order of business: Doris' inappropriate comments.  I wanted to clear up a potential misconception; That my "Doris" actually looks like Doris Roberts....she does not.  In fact, it's just the opposite (which is why I thought it was worth the mention).  

She actually looks a little like Joan Rivers.  She's very petite....very well put together for a woman in her early sixties....very chic....and almost....almost looks like she's had a little work done.  (I would need one of those infamous TMZ "Good Genes or Good Docs" polls to be sure).  When I thought about that, I thought about the fact that calling her Joan would have been even more appropriate because not only does she bear a physical resemblance, but her often brash comments are reminiscent of the real loud mouth politically incorrect Rivers.  So then, I realized I should call her Doris Rivers.  

But then I had one more piggyback thought after my Rivers epiphany....that she doesn't quite have the often emotionally jarring facial structure of Joan Rivers....she definitely doesn't look like her face has seen more knives than a Benihana.... and plus, she's got a tad more class than Joan.  Then it hit me.  She looks just like she could be Ellen Barkin's sophisticated, yet less attractive sister.  Which is why from now on, her official pseudonym will be Doris Barkin Rivers - it sums her up perfectly.  And yes, her full name will be used every time she is mentioned.  Get used it.  Neil Patrick Harris.  Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Doris Barkin Rivers.

So Doris Barkin Rivers said the other day not ONE, but TWO WILDLY offensive comments....mind you, on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!  (As if after all her years of experience, in all her infinite wisdom, THESE were her takeaways from meeting her new class of innocent nine year olds)  To summarize>> ONE: "Too many Orientals that all look identical, whom for the life of her, she can't tell apart."  TWO: (and this one is the bigger doosy)  With all four of us fourth grade teachers in her room, she says:  "I have this hispanic girl who can't read or write....she might as well be in 1st grade.  You know, I hate to say it, but let's be honest here....she's just gonna be another one of those girls who ends up 16 and pregnant."   OHHH.  MYYYYY.  Ga---  (gaped mouth...SEE: above dramatization).  That's right - a sweet, beautiful nine year old child is now predestined by an upper-class, white veteran teacher to become a "useless" knocked up teenager.  The fallout?  The three other fourth grade teachers (Me, Cady, and "my buddy" who we will now call "Jillian")  were so disturbed, that the amazing fourth grade teacher Jillian decided it was her duty to have a chat with the principal about Doris Barkin Rivers.  Surprise, Surprise - apparently last year, our adorable principal Clarissa had to give Doris Barkin Rivers "sensitivity training" because complaints started coming a-rollin' on in from frustrated parents.  And let me tell you, I can attest to her rapport with parents after seeing her interact with them on the first day of school.  Epic fail.

Second order of business: The hare might have beaten the tortoise after all.  I called the Turtle Rescue Center of New Jersey because I wanted to be a good little environmentalist and adopt a desperate turtle already in need of a good home. Problem: It's virtually impossible to give a turtle in need of a good home a good home.  Why?  Habitat and diet requirements.  They're elaborate, super high-maintenance,  and despite all my research, can't adequately be contained in a relatively small tank.  After a long talk with the impassioned head of the Turtle Rescue Center of NJ, she convinced me that successfully having a turtle in a classroom is all but impossible.  Furthermore, any teachers who DO have a turtle in the classroom are ill-equipped to care for it properly and are probably unwittingly making the turtle's life a living hell. It would be like trying to keep a horse in a trailer for life in the freezing cold.  Add to that the very specific environmental needs required for a turtle to be healthy, safe, comfortable, and get just the right amount of warm air, cold air, warm water, cold water, basking and swimming time, and you have one big tortoisean mess.  With the high salmonella risk to boot, a turtle is no longer in the running to be our class pet.  

I'm so sorry for all who voted - but my options are going to be dictated by the realities of our classroom.  This also rules out all other reptiles (for similar reasons) and leaves only rodents and fish - apparently the only TRUE pets suitable for classroom usage.  So, we're aiming for a hamster or guinea pig.....notices went out today to rule out allergies.... if any come back positive, then fish it is.  Basically, our classroom knocked us all the way down the class pet food chain.  But, that aside, we did pick ten very cool names.  Apart from the irony of having a pet hamster named "Tortuga", all the names chosen should also make pretty cool pet hamster/guinea pig names.   So, without further adieu, here are our TEN Turtamsterfish Pig name winners:   Rufus, Copernicus, Galileo, Picasso, Kobe, Tortuga, Turbo, Michelangelo, Gizmo & Rafael/Rafa (go Rafa! He became a Career Grand Slam winner AS I was writing this.... SEE: Homo-erotic post-match victory photo below).

Third order of business:  My emotionally disturbed child.  Whoa.  I'm intimidated. I shouldn't really discuss his behaviors...even with his code name.  But, all I will say is "Dennis" does harmful things to himself that no other fourth grader should ever even know is possible....or would ever consider doing to themselves in their wildest dreams.  And if you discipline him too harshly, you will send him into a dangerous rapidly descending downward spiral.  So far, he's outwardly defied me by telling me he won't sit where I tell him to, and he's left the room on his own accord.  Today, for instance, he poured water on his desk, pretended to karate-chop a box of tissues, and for the big finale, took his name tag, rolled it up, and pretended it was a taser that electrocuted him in the neck to death a la 1920's Green Mile electric chair...capped off by fake slump-over death and all.  So far, believe it or not, I've escaped his wrath relatively unharmed by barely acknowledging his outbursts, and quietly maintaining order by removing his distractions one by one mid-lecture without any pomp and/or circumstance.  Fingers crossed that it doesn't get much worse than this.....  

Which brings us to today.  What a difference a day makes.  Nervous breakdowns have officially passed.  Friday was one giant kick in the ass. And it was needed.  A necessary wake-up call to abandon my old disorganized ways. Who here has seen Legally Blonde?  (SHAME on you to those who haven't!!!!) So, you know the scene where after she finally gets into Harvard, she's pushed to the point of defiance by some ruthless fellow law students who prompt her to immediately decide to take control of her life by buying a macbook in her hot pink bunny suit and prove everyone wrong?  That's what happened to me this weekend.  I was a defiant Elle Woods, determined not to drown in this sea of chaos - sans hot pink bunny suit, of course.  (Well....I do have an old baby blue bunny costume from about 20 Halloweens ago....I'm sure there's a bizarro niche fetish market for that somewhere.)  Anyway,  I went out to Office Max, dropped a pretty penny, and came home with planners, organizers, notebooks, school supplies and a commitment to turn things around NOW....oh yeah...and a wholllllle lotta post-its for to-do lists.  After working straight through the weekend, I suddenly feel completely in control.  And today was a great success....and with Back to School Night looming on Wednesday, this was just the boost of confidence I needed.

I wasn't the only one whose behavior changed today.  I love the expression "same shit, different day" - but that couldn't be more wrong today.  What a difference it makes to actually have taught all of the subjects today.... kids who were previously distracted, aloof and very difficult to keep on task during our initial days of community building and bullying lectures, were instantly engaged in Math and Science classes. I mistakenly thought those first few days were indicative of the year to come in terms of individual behaviors.  I was all wrong.  Students behaved completely differently today now that they were learning....and handing out D'Angelo dollars for the first time didn't hurt.....AND, having a serious behavior-related pow-wow this morning on the rug about how frustrated I was over the weekend about their performance the first few days as compared to the other fourth grade classes helped to set the tone for the first full school week ahead (thanks for that idea, Cuz!  You're the BEST!). 

  I saw good behavior today that I've never seen before...and I saw faces light up with encouragement and promise when struggling students earned dollars for succeeding at simple tasks.... immediately, they worked harder and faster.  Success.  Some of the kids are loving our time together so much, they think I need to add "Class Lunch in the Room with Mr. D" as one of the big class prizes. We're talking a $2000+ class prize....not kickball....not a pizza party.... everyone eating lunch with me apparently takes the cake.  Don't be fooled - they were pretty upfront about what an upgrade it would be to eat with me instead of the "mean lunch ladies."

Basically, today was a picture perfect day.  I arrived to school this morning committed, relaxed and excited, and I left at 6:30, twelve hours later, relieved, elated, and proud.  After a bumpy few days, we're off to a good start.  It reminds me of those few initially bumpy moments of turbulence you just have to suffer through every time you take off into the sky from a runway....until you reliably cut through the cloud line and ascend to higher, calmer skies and suddenly feel the plane ease into a smooth climbing glide .  I guess we just had a bumpy take-off.  Hey - If Elle Woods is any indicator, things will only go up from here.  In her words, "This will be like senior year, ONLY FUNNER!"


Day 3: The History of Organized Chaos

Chaos.  Today was chaos.  Not necessarily with the kids (although I'm realizing today that I'm FAR too lenient with them...and they're beginning to walk all over me), but more so with the job itself.  It's more work and organization than I can handle - and for the first time, I seriously doubt my capacity to handle it at all.  Do I doubt my ability to teach or my love of teaching?  No.  Has reality set in that this job will challenge me more than anything else has in my entire life?  Yes.  A lot of yes.  You see, I've always been able to remember everything....I never had to write things down.....I can remember where I saw something on a page....picture it in my mind during a test....remember appointments weeks in advance....remember phone numbers or random-ass facts off the top of my head...and if I ever forgot something that was due, or mismanaged my time (which happened often), or simply procrastinated until the 11th hour (which happened four times as often as mismanaging my time), I could always whip something together by working straight through the night...something good!  I've essentially trained myself to succeed with the worst organizational skills humanly possible, because my memory, resourcefulness and ability to fly by the seat of my pants always compensated for any lack of thoroughness or planning. 

My life has always been organized chaos.  There are stacks of things everywhere (literally, and figuratively), but yet I usually know exactly where to go to find a specific document.  Well today, amidst an ONSLAUGHT of schedule demands, forms, meetings, emails, dates, deadlines, paperwork, preparation, lesson plans, phone calls, and (oh, yeah!) eighteen fourth graders that you have to teach all day long, I realized something....one of the scariest things I've ever realized in my adult life.  If I attempt to manage this job with the same system I've used for more than a decade, I will fail.  100% FAIL.  BP oil spill FAIL.  Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview FAIL.  Friends spin-off sitcom Joey FAIL.  (Ok, I know - one more.)  Crystal. Pepsi.  FAIL.  

I'm not being dramatic.  I'm not over-exaggerating.  I'm a very matter-of-fact realist (well, at least when deliberate histrionics won't get me anywhere).  There is simply TOO much to keep track of using my formerly successful memory-based half-ass organizational system.  What's worse?  After today, it's clear to me that I've already begun failing.  I'm forgetting to write back to emails....forgetting times meetings began....forgetting to check my teacher mailbox in the morning....  forgetting to hand out forms... forgetting to collect forms... 
forgetting to send through attendance on the computer...forgetting to rehearse fire drills before next week comes and we have the actual fire drill.... forgetting to bring my lunch... forgetting to eat...forgetting...losing...more forgetting...more losing....and this isn't even factoring in all of the work that must be done in preparation of actually teaching.  I honestly can't even EXPLAIN how much there is to remember - probably because I can't even remember all of the things I was supposed to remember to explain.  Teaching would be much easier if it was just about the teaching....but it turns out, teachers have A ZILLION professional obligations in addition to the obligations to their students.  More proof that Darwin was right.  I MUST ADAPT NOW or I will be naturally selected right out of the teacher population.  

 I'm drowning in a sea of emails, paperwork, and deadlines, and the few times my ears crack the surface of the water, I can hear the waterlogged echoes of former colleagues, cooperating teachers and college professors shouting "Your first year teaching, you are going to work the hardest you ever have in your entire life."  Damn.  It's day three.....and I already know they are right.   One time my cousin and I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean during VERY rough seas....I'm not certain, but there might have been a hurricane a couple hundred miles off shore.  We were young...and naive...and we completely underestimated the current.  Despite being good swimmers, no matter how hard we tried, we kept drifting speedily down-beach.... we were only in the water for mere minutes, but thankfully, we ended up making it out (five blocks from where we entered!!) with the help of concerned parents.  Right now, tonight, at 11:30pm after staying at school until 8:30pm and coming home just before 10, I feel like I'm that kid again....being swept out to sea.  

Despite Dory's optimistic message, I'm too tired to "just keep swimming".  I need sleep.  There is so much more to talk about....I still haven't discussed the rest of the Doris story or given you the low-down on the severely emotionally disturbed boy that I have for science...and now there's new drama...i.e. Turtle no more?  ...And my first education-related interaction with a parent!  I guess it'll have to wait until I re-energize.  There's a fabulous quote in the wonderful movie "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" which gets delivered by the film's star, the incomparable Julianne Moore (give that woman an OSCAR already!!).   It's painfully simple...but MAN, does it hit home perfectly on days like these....

 "I'm tired of this day.  I need a new one."