Whisper Turtleneck

Monday, October 29, 2012

This story is just more proof that I'm insane.

I bought a thin, black turtleneck this weekend to go under several warmer-weather dresses that I have because a) I’m a Puritan and adore anything concealing,  b) layering is much cheaper than buying new clothes, and c) if I wear thick turtlenecks I will drown in my own sweat.  J. Crew has these turtlenecks they’ve named whisper turtlenecks because they’re thin, and J. Crew can’t just call them thin turtlenecks because… well,  it’s  J. Crew.  Also, I was able to use my teacher discount which made me raise the roof to my cashier.

Anyway, I’m wearing the whisper turtleneck today, and was walking around the back of the school after manning my station for morning duty.  I walk around the back of the school instead of going through the middle for two reasons: a) I’m about to spend 8 hours in a room with roughly 30 people and I need all the alone time I can get, b) the back of the school looks out over the football field, and in the early morning it’s easy for me to pretend that the football field is actually an English meadow. (Believe it or not, I haven’t made it to the part where I prove that I’m insane.)

As I’m walking around the back of the school, looking out over the meadow behind my imaginary English cottage with a brown cow named Horace, I started thinking about my new whisper turtleneck. 

What a funny name, I thought. Whisper turtleneck.  Sounds like a command.  Whisper turtleneck or I’ll kill you.

“Turtleneck,” I whispered out loud.

“What’d you say?”

 I looked up, startled. A colleague of mine was about fifteen feet to my right, by the side of the building, grinning.

“Uh,” I laughed nervously.  “Nothing.  I didn’t see you there.”

“No,” he insisted. “You said something.  What did you say?”

You asked for it, I thought.

“I whispered ‘turtleneck’ because I bought this turtleneck this weekend and it’s called a whisper turtleneck,” I said.  I laughed, hoping he’d join in.  He tipped his head to the side like a confused animal.

“Wait… what?” He’s a math teacher, and looked as if he was actually trying to figure out my situation as a word problem in his head.  A teacher walks around the back of the school by herself whispering articles of clothing  for entertainment.  If she’s in her 20s, unmarried, and wearing a turtleneck, about how long will it take for her to acquire 40 cats and be on Hoarders at her current rate of crazy?

“Turtleneck,” I confirmed. “Welp, have a good one!”

I cackled all the way to my room.




Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hello.  Sorry it's been so long.  I seem to have fallen into DEVOLSON.

DEVOLSON is an acronym I invented that stands for the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.  It's kind of a homophone for "devil's son," which is intentional.  I discovered that it's the time of the school year where teachers are the busiest, craziest, and, usually the saddest.

Whoever invented the school year (and whoever continues to create academic calendars) is responsible for DEVOLSON.  There is no greater period of transition and stress in a school year than the beginning, and, conveniently, this period of transition is an 11-week track completely free of any significant breaks.

I'm doing fine morale-wise, but let me show you the kind of crazy that manifests itself in my head and life as a result of how busy I am during DEVOLSON.

1) I almost decided to teach in England next year.  Less than two weeks later, I completely changed my mind.

2) My vehicle started shaking uncontrollably one day because I was under the impression that oil changes were a "once a year" event.  (When I reported this to my father, I could hear his palm smack his forehead over the phone.)  Don't worry.  It's fixed now.

3) I had a dream that I had lunch with my old American Girl doll who encouraged me to bring all my cats to a hotel in San Diego that she now owned.  (I don't have any cats.)

4) I tried to punish a student for snatching a paper out of his neighbor's hand by repeatedly attempting to give him a paper cut to show the danger of his actions. For the sake of my job, I'm glad I was unsuccessful.

5) I awoke at 2:45 AM one Saturday night to knocking on my back door and let in a complete stranger, thinking it was my roommate's friend.  We both realized he had the wrong address very quickly.

6) I have almost no money (still) because I keep buying things like this:

(The hat, not the baby.)

7) While speaking to my appraiser a few weeks ago, a huge flaky booger floated out of my nose like an autumn leaf and rested on my chest.  I was wearing a navy shirt.  He noticed.  I died a little.

8) I might buy a house.

9) I just blamed my booger in #7 on an acronym I made up.

That's all.

Hoping your DEVOLSON leaves you less crazy than mine already has.



Some Super Awkward 90s Book Covers

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My predecessor taught 20 years before retiring from my school.  Thankfully and unthankfully, she left around a billion books in my classroom, and so I've been spending the better part of my teacher workdays organizing them by genre. In doing so, I have discovered that there was roughly a 10-year era in the publishing of young adult literature where book covers were dominated by a style I like to call Super Awkward Realism. Here are some quintessential book covers from the period I've found in my sorting:

This cover is what gave me the idea for this post.  Anyone else's first reaction involve the title Nothing Butt the Truth?

 I'd be worried, too, if a nude feral child was stalking me from behind a jetty.

The caption stole the words right out of my mouth.


No comment.  Absolutely no comment.

 Girl in Exile, or Boy in Braids?

"'Always telling Sally what to do. 'Girls tend the garden,' they say. 'Boys get to laugh and play,' they say. We'll see who's laughing soon. Their joy shall turn to ashes in their mouths..." --Girl in this picture

A more awkward pose would be difficult to arrange. Also, this is what it looks like when a student tries to hug me.

I... I can't....

Awkwardly and lovingly,


P.S. In-service at new school: awesome. Stay tuned for a big surprise!

Last Day Eve

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Right now I'm laying in bed typing, finishing off the last of my Haagen-Dazs vanilla milk chocolate and almond ice cream bar (which almost brought me to tears), and considering how to tackle the task of reflecting on my time as a teacher leading up to this point. 

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to kids who I have spent almost 400 hours with since August.  I've seen them at their worst and their best, and they've seen me at both of mine.  I have spent more "real" time with these young people than I did my own family, friends, and even my own roommates in that same amount of time, and tomorrow our relationship will, for the most part, come to a pretty abrupt halt.  Some of them I have had for two years in a row now.   So (counts on fingers) like 800 hours.

There will be other goodbyes tomorrow-- the incredible and crazy teachers I work with, cleaning staff that I might kidnap, clerks and administrators, my classroom, and the drive to school that has become so natural.  A goodbye to familiarity itself.  There will be a lot to write about.

But not tonight.  It's my bedtime.



P.S.  But seriously, the Haagen-Dazs was amazing.

Student Appreciation Week: Up Close and Personal

Friday, May 25, 2012

Just in case you needed to restore your faith in humanity, I thought I'd share some of my students' reflections on this week with you.

From Day 2: Worthy
Reflection: Write a statement about your worth.
 "People say I'm weird, but I KNOW that I am my own unique individual.  And I'm okay with that."
 "I need to stop thinking that I'm ugly, fat, unpopular, and unworthy because actually I'm worthy I'm opposite of all that."

 "I need to shake off all the things people say about me because I'm not what they say I'm strong and not weak."

From Day 3: Powerful
Reflection: Write a statement about your power.

 (From top)
"I feel powerful when I am happy"
"I feel powerful when I do the right thing"
"I feel powerful when I start dancing, I know I'm shy to dance in front of people. But music is my life!"

 "I want to use my power to help people and help people fix their problems."
 "I feel powerful when I hep hlep help someone." :)

From Day 4: Unique
Reflection: Write three things that make you unique.

 "It's hard for me to get mad, I have a really good sense of humor, I'm always jumpy and happy"
(Students were instructed to write three things that make them unique)

"ADHD makes me my version of normal, my thinking makes me my version of normal, my agility and flexibility make me my version of normal" (We discussed the non-existence of "normal" :)
"Fastidious, full of positive energy, thoughtful-- full of thoughts"

From Day 5: Capable of Greatness
Reflection: Finish this sentence: "I am capable of...."

 "I am capable of going to high school and college and a lot of other places"

 "I am capable of changing the world artistically"

 "I am capable of bringing more happiness to the world :)"

"I am capable of doing whatever I want to do"

Yeah you are! :)



What Happens to me During Standardized Testing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Imagine being locked in a room with 30 middle school students. You have never met these students before.  The students are quiet because they are taking a test, and your job is to monitor them.  You may not speak or answer any of their questions. You may not sit. You may not check your phone or email-- in fact, your phone and computer must be turned off and your phone left off campus.  You may not draw, write, or have anything in your hand besides testing instructions.  You may not even stand in one place for too long, or look at a spot on the wall for too long. For the next SEVEN HOURS, your job is to walk around the room and watch 30 students take a test.  And if you don’t, you will get fired, audited, or some other scary word. 

For public school teachers across America, at least once a year this nightmare becomes a reality.  It is called standardized testing.

As with many other aspects of the teaching profession, it is impossible to convey to non-teachers exactly how mind-blowingly boring it is to administer a state-mandated test.  (Lots of hyphens in that last sentence.)  In fact, I bet it comes off as whiny. Some of you may even be saying, “Why, I would love a day to sit around and do nothing!”  No, no, honey.  First of all, you’re not sitting-- you’re walking.  Second, I’m betting that any other time in your life that you THOUGHT you were “doing nothing,” you were actually doing a lot.  Looking at magazines in a doctor’s office, listening to music on your iPod in line at the post office, checking your phone while waiting for a friend to show up for coffee-- you were doing plenty.  Even if you really did have nothing to do, chances are you were at least allowed to gaze off into the distance and come close to nodding off.

I dread standardized testing more than anything else at school. And while I’m particularly prone to being dramatic and/or overusing superlatives, I can say with certainty that that is the truth.

I go through 7 phases during standardized testing:

Phase 1: Optimism

In the Optimism phase, things are ok.  I’ve passed out the tests, things are going smoothly, and I am pleased with the silence that only happens when these kids have been threatened to do well within an inch of their lives.  “This won’t be too bad!” I think.

Phase 2: Recognition of the problem

Less than an hour in, I remember why I hate standardized testing. I have ran out of lists in my head, already having completed Groceries, Errands, Things I will Do this Summer, My Pop Culture Crushes in Chronological Order, and Foods that Start With the Letter D (there are hardly any!). I have looked at each child’s face and determined in my head what animal he/she would be.  I have tried (and failed) to mentally translate T. Pain’s “Whatever You Like” into Spanish and French.  I’m running out of things to think about, and definitely not running out of time.

Phase 3: Determination

Determination usually follows a break of some kind, usually lunch.  In Determination, I manage to pick myself up by my bootstraps ever so slightly. The sugar in my bloodstream kicks in, and I’m certain that I can get through the rest of the day. “Alright,” I tell myself.  “You can do this.  Plenty of people in history have been bored.  And you’ve got twice the imagination those poor suckers do.”

Phase 4: Resignation

I have resigned to the idea of ever experiencing happiness or sunshine again.  The sugar rush is over, and I am only capable of thinking, “I will die here.”

Phase 5: Delirium

I am only capable of thinking, “Wabbits, wabbits, wabbits.”

Phase 6: Relief

Yes! The announcement to turn in testing materials. I skip down the hallway.  Literally.

Phase 7:Flashbacks

Occasionally, I’ll have testing flashbacks.  They’re not pretty.



P.S. No idea why #4 has tiny sharp teeth and an underbite, but it has been making me laugh.  Probably because I tested today. 

Just like when I blew up that crate, yo

Friday, March 16, 2012

If you've never read the Hunger Games, you should just skip this post.

If you have read the Hunger Games but have an aversion to other forms of pop culture, you still might want to skip this post.

For the past few weeks, my students have been working on projects as a wrap-up to our Hunger Games unit.  I let them choose between art, writing, and performance-based projects, with several choices in each category (record and edit your own movie trailer, write your own fan fiction chapter, design a movie poster, etc). There is nothing more fun to me as a teacher than watching my students be their creative, weird selves, and I can practically see their synapses firing as they work hands-on.  Winning for everybody!

As I was watching them work, the same sentiment kept coming up.

"You guys are so lucky!" I'd say, watching students use my Nerf arrows to stab each other dramatically in front of their "cameraman," poised with my iPhone. "I don't remember doing anything this fun in junior high.  In fact, I think I only smiled three times." 

"I'm so jealous," I told one student as she quietly edited her partner's script. "I wish I was in 8th grade again."
"You were in 8th grade once?"
"Don't look so surprised."

I kept wishing I could be back in 8th grade to do one of these projects.  The only thing I remember about 8th grade English class is thinking the rest of my class were complete idiots for not understanding sentence diagramming. The only thing I remember about the rest of middle school English was a friend and I almost getting kicked out of my 7th grade class for laughing hysterically during "Rikki Tikki Tavi." That's it.  Sentence diagrams and a weasel.  No projects, no technology, no laughing.  Well, unless we were reading a story with a hilarious name.

On the last day before Spring Break, my students presented their projects.  I was blown away.  They put so much time and energy into these projects (I imagine partly because my rubric was almost impossible.)  Look at this movie poster one of my students drew!

After everyone had presented, I told my students how today had been my proudest day as a teacher, and how I was so amazed at their creativity and talent.  Then I told them how jealous I had been watching them, and how I had been wishing there was some way I could participate as their teacher.  By the time I got out my guitar from the closet and sat down, they were already screaming.

My dear readers, I give you: my first song.

"Hunger Story"
Original lyrics by: Love, Teach
Melody by: Taylor Swift
(to the tune of "Love Story")

Verse 1: 
We were both young when I first saw you
Outside the bakery I was starved
You threw some bread
Luckily it missed my head

I see Effie at the District Reaping
See her make her way through the crowd 
And say, "Primrose"
I couldn't bear to see her go

Then she drew Peeta Mellark, the boy with bread
And Claudius said, "Don't you eat that nightlock yet!"
And I was crying in the hovercraft
Begging you, "Please don't go,"
And I said,

Peeta, take me to the cave that's by the stream
I'll forget that you are Merchant I am Seam
Girl on fire and the boy with the bread
It's the Hunger Games, but, baby, we'll stay fed

Verse 2:
So I sneak out to the roof for some fresh air
The windchimes blow, and you whisper, "I dare
For them to see
That they don't own me..."

See the lights at the Capitol party
See you tell Caesar how I stole your heart
Is it a lie?
Or just a method to survive?


I got tired of waiting
Wondering if your fever would ever go down
My faith in Haymitch was fading
When I saw that parachute floating down
And I said,

Peeta, let me get that backpack from the Feast
Just lie back now, have some syrup, go to sleep
You'll be unconscious, I'll fight Cato
Just like when I blew up that crate, yo

Peeta, run there's some mutts about to eat us all
An "X" on his hand, with my last arrow Cato falls 
Is this in my head? I don't know what to say
Claudius gets on the speakers and the Anthem plays,

"Only one victor; the two of you will have to choose."
Death for one would mean that we both lose...
"Wait, wait--stop!  We'll get you out of this mess,"
District 12 victors, baby, just say, "Yes."

I don't claim to have any kind of singing voice, but they made me feel like I was T. Swift herself.   Even if I did cheat in the bridge by making "down" rhyme with "down".

It was a very good day.



Why Teachers are Complete Psychos

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ok, other teachers might not be completely psychotic.

But we’re all flirting with it.

I, in particular, have noticed a steady decline in my sanity since I’ve begun teaching.  I can’t make friends the way I used to in high school or college.  People I meet for the first time sometimes frown when I’m talking, or tip their heads to the side politely like my dog does when I talk to her through a cardboard tube.  I talk to myself ALL THE TIME-- not just in the car like I used to before I started teaching. I can pretty much cry on command. 

Why has this happened?  My other friends who have begun their career paths have also reported an increase in stress levels since joining the “real world,” but none of them are crazy.  My mom raised three children (one being me, who spent my childhood doing things like drawing elaborate scenes on the underside of our couch cushions with Sharpies) and she’s normal-- even nice.  Barack Obama has a terrible job and he seems to keep it under control.

It’s teaching, my friends.

Reason #1: We are tired.

Have you ever had to give a presentation for school or work?

Do you remember the preparation you had to do for the presentation?  Creating a Powerpoint, doing research, making graphs, charts, handouts.  You had to practice your presentation, think about what you would say, what order you would say it in, etcetera.  You put hours of work into something that might take 30 or 45 minutes, tops.  After you gave your presentation, how did you feel?  Proud, right?  But probably exhausted?  In need of a stiff, celebratory drink?

Teachers give presentations for 8 hours a day.  5 days a week.  And we plan these presentations or grade papers or fill out inane paperwork or answer hundreds of emails or meet with crazy parents for another 10-15 hours on top of that weekly.  Yes, it gets easier with time and practice, but it never gets less tiring.  In fact, the longer I’ve been teaching, the better and more elaborate my ideas get, and the more tired I am.

I’m not trying to get you to create a shrine to teachers in your home or feel sorry for us.  (We know we’re awesome enough on our own without other people’s help.)  I just want you to think twice before judging me for forgetting to undo my seatbelt before getting out of my car in the parking lot at the bank and almost strangling myself. 

We’re tired, and being tired can make people crazy.

Reason #2: We are in complete control for 8 hours a day.

I think this is the main reason I’m psychotic.

After growing out of a frighteningly bossy childhood, I spent the latter part of my teenage years and my time in college being very complacent, warm, and receptive to others’ ideas and concerns.  You would have described me, for the most part, as “laid back.” “Easy going.”  “Johnny-come-lately.”* I was always totally fine with whatever the group wanted to do; more than willing to accommodate those around me. 

“Heck yes I’ll lend you my favorite shoes!”

“Oh, you’re out of bagels?  It’s cool; I’ll have the breakfast tacos.  My other fave!”

“Oh, no worries about the loud music last night, neighbor--  I eventually fell asleep after awhile.”

I am not “laid back” anymore.

First, you have to understand that I have created an environment, my classroom, in which I have complete control.  Over EVERYTHING.  Not only do my students behave impeccably this year, but they know how everything works-- from turning in homework (no wide ruled paper, proper heading, no hearts or abbreviations or emoticons) to asking questions (“Fellow classmate Raul, would you mind moving your head for one moment while I copy the notes on the board?” not “UGH I CAN’T SEE”;  “I’m having trouble understanding,” not “MISS I DON’T GET IT.”)  We even have a system where they ask to use the restroom silently. Everything operates in the most efficient way possible, which allows us to learn in the best way possible.

Then I leave school and enter the world, where I have no control.

It makes me sad.

What do you mean, 5th red light in a row?

What do you mean, “Sold out?”

What do you mean, sassy drugstore employee?

I am not simply annoyed by these things; I become livid.  I find myself saying, “I just don’t understand why _________________.”  It’s usually something to this effect:  “I just don’t understand why (I can’t have my way).”

I have no idea why I’m still single!

(This reason also explains why teacher professional development days, particularly ones with old teachers present, are a joke.  These teachers have been in control for 8 hours a day for YEARS-- God help the man or woman trying to tell them what to do or how to do it. It also explains why first-year teachers cannot control a classroom.  See any post from the 2010-2011 school year for proof.)

Reason #3: Our job is violently important.

(I’m on this kick of using “violently” as an adverb ever since I saw The Pioneer Woman use it to describe the movement of her back fat.  That, my friends, is prose.)

Sometimes I think that America forgets that teachers fill young minds with knowledge.   And if America does know that, I’m pretty sure they don’t really get it. 

It would be one thing if we were cranking out burgers or graphic tees or expense reports.  We could meet up with our friends or go to concerts on weeknights.  We could email our friends from our work computers, or take a long lunch, or maybe only put in 75% one day.

But we can’t.  We’re creating scientists, writers, historians, Nobel Prize winners, moms, dads, farmers, executives, counselors and teachers. We’re investing in our students, not as commodities to be shuffled through the conveyor belt, but as individuals with unique visions and gifts. Some of us are putting in 150% to make sure that these people will hopefully leave the world a little better than they found it.

That kind of effort and pressure would make anyone a raging lunatic.

But it’s something worth being crazy about.