Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Good Word List

A while ago I started keeping a list of good words on a sticky note. Words I came across in books or conversations or crossword puzzles, words that are as fun for your mouth as popping grapes. Now the sticky note is full, and I wanted to type up the list before it got lost or thrown away (which happened once, to an earlier version), and figured I'd let you all in on the fun while I was at it. Some of these words I love for their connotations, some for the connection between their sound and meaning, some for the colors of their letters (yes, only in my head.) All of them for their feel in your mouth. So go for it. Read the list out loud.


Well done. Now get your own sticky note and make your own. And don't forget to tell me what they are.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Balls and packages

Seriously, what kind of math curriculum designer came up with the bright idea of giving middle school kids a project designing packages for ping-pong balls? Whoever it was clearly has not spent enough quality time with seventh-graders to recognize the imminent danger in such an assignment.

Here's the background info: we've been investigating volume and surface area of 3-D shapes, and discussing how short, fat boxes have less surface area than long, skinny ones, and therefore save companies money by requiring less packaging material.

Scene from 3rd period today:
I left a table of boys who found it vastly entertaining to make loud farting noises every time I tried to talk and went to check up on another group of boys who appeared to be slightly less off task.

Me: "Can I see some of the boxes you're designing?"

D: "Here."

Me: "Nice; very creative shape. How many balls will fit in it?"

E: "Yeah, do you have two or three?"

Me: Mental note: use caution when referencing balls around middle school boys.
"It asks you to make a small package, a medium package, and a large package. Which one is this?"

(Smirks and giggles.)

J: "He has a small package."

Me: Mental note: use caution when referencing packages around middle school boys.
"Are you going to stack these ping-pong balls on top of each other or put them in a long line?"

T: "I dunno."

Me: "Well, is it better to have a short, fat package or a long, skinny package?"

Silence. They all just stared at me.

Me: %$!&

I got up and left the table, turning my head almost in time to keep them from seeing me laugh.

Can you tell I've spent too much time around twelve-year-old boys?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why I love what I do

Well, the play is over...one more unexpectedly successful performance under our belts. The show for the school was by far the best we had ever done it, which isn't saying a whole lot, but still. I am satisfied, and it is done.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago at the end of spring break that I had written a list to remind myself of the things I love about my work as a para so it wouldn't be too depressing to go back. Now, after a laid-back teacher planning day with no students, and with yet another April snowstorm turning the world white outside my window, I actually have both the time and the energy to type that list up. (It's amazing how much less exhausted I am after work when I haven't spent the past eight hours pulling teeth trying to get defiant middle school kids to focus. You know I wouldn't say it if I didn't love them.) And one of my students and his friend just knocked on our door and offered to shovel our sidewalks for $5. Even though the snow's still pouring down and we'll have to do it again ourselves in a few hours, it reminded me just how much I like these kids and this community.

So, without further ado: Why I love my job.

Things like spring break and winter break actually exist.

I can keep my Spanish in decent shape.

My knowledge of Mexican slang and expletives is improving rapidly.

I get a crash course in teen pop culture.

I can build relationships with kids working one on one and in small groups.

Students beg their teachers to go and work in my group.

Abby, my fellow para, is awesome. I don't know if I would've survived this year without someone in such a similar situation to laugh and cry and vent with.

The whole staff is pretty amazing. I see teachers here who truly inspire me.

I have a chance study German flash cards while I'm on door duty every morning.

There are always kids who want to talk to me while I'm on lunch duty.

I can teach the girls in my recess how to throw a football.

Students trust me. They tell me their problems, their fears, their issues.

Kids are curious for information on what it's like to be in high school, in college, on your own.

Absolutely miserable days at school make for absolutely hilarious stories.

I get a taste for urban education without having to be the sole person in charge.

I get to see a bunch of different teaching styles and decide what will work for me.

Staffroom gossip is highly entertaining.

I'm getting a much better understanding of educational politics. Better than I ever wanted.

Student fashion sense is a never-ending source of amusement.

I get advice on hairstyles from middle-schoolers.

Since I'm not a "real" teacher, I get invited to chaperone almost every field trip in the school. I've been to the art museum, the skating rink, and the zoo in the past three weeks, and the University of Colorado, the opera house, the contemporary art museum, and the Museum of Science and Nature are all on the calendar for the next month.

FAC. Debriefing on Friday afternoons and spending time with fabulous coworkers in an outside-of-school context is pretty much the best.

I get to go outside for two recesses every Tuesday and Thursday.

I run into my kids in the library, in the park, and just walking down my street.

I can bike to work.

When the weather is miserable, I have a standing offer for a ride from Abby.

I don't have to take work home.

I get to be involved in theater and orchestra.

Kids say the funniest and most ridiculous things in class.

Sometimes I get high-fives in the hallway.

I can be a positive role model.

After our math group one day, one of my kids told me she was actually learning something.

Watching struggling students actually understanding a concept and then running to teach their friends makes it all worth it.

On very rare occasions, kids will actually let on that they appreciate what you do.

And last but not least, there are only 30 school days left before the summer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Drama, Take II

Six weeks ago, after the against-all-odds success of our first middle school play, Abby and I were asked to carry the momentum and direct a second production. Being agreeable people with tendencies toward overcommitment, we agreed. When I think now of the chance we had to decline and settle for bowing out on the high of the last play, all I can do is shake my head and admit that we should've known better.

The unfortunate truth, though, is that we didn't, and now our April 16th performance of "Jackie and the Chile Stalk" is a mere three days away. Did I mention that we are left with only five of the twelve student actors we started with? And that half of the cast was kicked out due to disciplinary issues with their families or the school or the police within the past week? I have counted a total of one actor in our cast who has not quit the play or been forcibly removed at any point. One. Fortunately, we've reclaimed four others, so between them and a couple of us teachers who spent the weekend memorizing lines as emergency replacements, we're hoping to avoid complete catastrophe and total humiliation in front of the entire school on Thursday. I'm crossing my fingers that that's a reasonable goal. Today, at our second-to-last rehearsal, only two of us had our lines memorized. Sigh. Still, as the kids never fail to remind me, though, "we were badder than this for the last play!" And all I can do is laugh. If I didn't, I'd either be crying or chasing kids around the auditorium in a fit of rage, armed with the magic guitar.

Here it is in writing: I will not say yes to any more plays. None. Until maybe next year.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A bunch of crap

And who would've thought it could make me so happy? Last night, after reading through my Rocky Mountain gardening book, I asked my housemates to let me know if they knew where to find any manure. Approximately two hours later, James came in with the news that someone had just posted a truckload of fully composted horse manure on freecycle.org. Brilliant timing. So this evening after work, Kate and I drove over, knocked on the door of this couple's house, and shoveled manure from their backyard into trash bags to fill the trunk. If it doesn't snow this weekend like it has the last two, I'll be out in our garden getting dirt under my fingernails. When work is rough, it's little things like this that give me hope for the world.