Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Great Children's Literature

I love good books and reading them. By the time I was sixteen, I had read almost every major league baseball player's biography I could get my hands on, every science fiction short story and novel I could find, Mark Twain, Mad Magazine, comic books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.

Children's literature at an intermediate reading level is a booming business and is a genre that is not familiar to many adults. By the time your child is an independent reader, you don't read with them much. Therefore, a lot of intermediate level books for children may have escaped your attention.

I have read these over and over and enjoy them every time. Check 'em out. I consider each one a treasure, a gem, a classic.

Where the Red Fern Grows
There is a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom
Harris and Me
Tuck Everlasting
Bridge to Terabithia
Old Yeller
Walk Two Moons
Because of Winn-Dixie
Hank the Cowdog (every one of 'em)
A Year Down Yonder

These are just a few of my favorites.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Thar He Blows!

I love class parties. We had a "Cold Weather Is Finally Here!" party on Friday, and we bobbed for apples, played "Heads Up Seven Up" and "Murder", and ate lots of goodies. Here is Melissa bobbing for apples. She sure hesitated a long time.

We had seven different kinds of chips, three different dips including some delicious homemade guacamole, four of five different kinds of sweets including homemade cookies and those little bite sized candy bars, and six different flavors of soda pop including Diet Dr. Pepper (I am on a diet!).

I told the kids at the end of the party that I was so stuffed that I was about to pop. Melissa yelled out, "Fire in the Hole!!" and hit the floor.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More Fodder for His Future Shrink

"Hi, this is the school nurse calling regarding Jake."
"Ohmygod, is he okay?"
"Yes, I am just calling regarding his hand."
"Oh, yes, well, um, he hurt it last night playing football. I supposed he jammed it."
Ok, you are talking to a nurse. You might not want to diagnose.
"Well, I really think it should be looked at. He came in because it was hurting and I splinted it."
"Oh, well, yes. I mean, I thought the same thing, but my husband..." (of course, Eric's fault)
"Of course. I wouldn't worry. I just would have it looked at to be cautious."

After the call, I sit on the bed, reeling from worry, embarassment, and fever. This is day one suffering from the cold I caught from Jake. Then, because I am the mother, I gather myself and call his pediatrician, who wisely suggests that I take him immediately to the ER for pictures.

Swig of Dayquil. (Did I do one of those already? My head is so fuzzy.) Shower and go get Jake. I can do this. Before I step into the shower, the phone rings and I can see it is my friend Shirli, checking on me.

"Where are you?" She asks. "I just saw Jake."
"I'm on my way," I tell her. "Is he hurting?"
"Well, he's upset."
Wow. He seemed fine this morning.
"He saw me and asked me to call you to make sure you were coming in time."
Silence from me. What? More fuzziness.
"I'm at the Student of the Month ceremony. Are you going to make it?"

OHMYGOD. This morning--right now--is the ceremony for the Students of the Month, and Jake is one of them. HE WORKED SO HARD FOR THIS. HOW COULD I FORGET? WE JUST TOOK HIM TO DINNER TWO NIGHTS AGO TO CELEBRATE.

I explain to Shirli that I won't be there, as there are a mere five minutes remaining until the lengthy, two-minute ceremony. She, my friend-angel, promises to take pictures and cheer for him.

As I race through my shower and try to remember if I took my cold medicine, it occurs to me that I must stop forgetting important award ceremonies. Because I want to be present when I waste all the other contenders for Best Mother of the Year award.

Friday, October 27, 2006

You Can't Say Christmas, Or Halloween

Twenty-first century Americans are a bunch of mealy-mouthed, scardy-cat, lip zippered, panty-waists, and I am one of them. I have been told a thousand times by society, the newspapers, the press and all the media, pollsters, attorneys, my bosses, and all sorts of politicians, that I should never use the words Christmas and Halloween at the elementary school where I teach. One of the words is Christian in nature ( see the word Christ in Christmas) and the other is historically based on either satan worship or paganism.

So I don't say the word Christmas, despite the fact that the school library has books that go into great detail about Islam and the respect it deserves, the Jewish faith ( the kids and I are about to be provided with our annual historical look at menorahs), Father Sky and Mother Earth, and religious tolerance towards all faiths, yet our library is not allowed to have one, single book on the Christian faith. I have been legally challenged on my chorus's "Winter Program." I am not allowed to use the phrase "Christmas Program," but I have been challenged on my choice of music because many of the songs use the word Christmas (e.g. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), and I have changed past programs in order to accomodate those complaints. The reason I have done so is because the school district's most influential attorney, who presides in a high rise office that looks like something out of the TV show Boston Legal, told me that despite the fact that the legal interpretation of the word Christmas by a U.S. District Court of Appeals (the case didn't make it to the Supreme Court) is that it is NOT purely religious in nature but also has secular connotations, I would still be terminated by the school district if I forced the issue to be resolved in a court of law. I was warned to just do whatever it takes to appease any complaints, despite the fact that I may be legally correct.

I don't say the word Halloween, either, despite the fact that every Wal-Mart and mall in town is shoveling the word and the accouterments of the holiday down our throats (mmm....chocolate).

So I am having a party today in order to celebrate "Cold Weather Is Finally Here Day." I am about the only teacher in our school that has the gumption to pull this off, despite the fact that I consider myself pretty mealy-mouthed. I tell the kids, bring party supplies, dress appropriately (there will be bobbing for apples), and be ready for "Cold Weather Is Finally Here Day."

Melissa raised her hand and asked, "Mr. R., why do you call it 'Cold Weather Is Finally Here Day' when everyone knows it's a Halloween party?"

Well, Melissa, that's because I celebrate cold weather. I'm too old for Halloween. It's not a Halloween party." (See 'panty-waist' in first paragraph.)

"Well, Mr. R., my parents say that you can't use the word Halloween because you're not supposed to, but you have changed it to 'Cold Weather Is Finally Here Day.' They told me you are supposed to be calling it the 'Venerial Equinox.' How come you don't call it the 'Venerial Equinox'?"

"I don't celebrate that either, Melissa."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Elementary Tactfulness

I have really been working on writing in my fifth grade classroom lately. Class time is allocated during each day to provide students with adequate time to generate completed rough drafts, and then parent volunteers come in three times a week to help students revise and edit their writing assignments. Lately there have been a lot of writing assignments to grade.

Because of this procedure, I grade a lot of papers I have not seen, even in the rough draft stage. One of the students wrote about me, and in a stupendous attempt to be to be tactful, made what I believe is a very clever statement. Here are her exact words:

"When Mr. R. is not getting mad at someone, he is very patient."

I have to agree. It's true.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Awwww, But Hearing You Say That Makes It All Worthwhile

Jake was home sick today. And the real kind of sick; the kind where you can't even study in case you go back to school tomorrow after your friend lugs all your books home from class for you. So for me, it was kind of a "day off". Sure there was nursemaiding to be done, and running after an infant--who as you found out yesterday has learned to walk and now will not sit still--in between water-fetching, and a few regular chores that couldn't be ignored. As I was cleaning the kitchen for like the eighth time (you know how it is when someone's sick), Jake looked up from the couch in the sitting room and asked me, "Mom, is this really what you do all day when I'm at school?"

The woman defenses kicked in. I wanted to explain that actually, this had been an easy day. No running anywhere, no floor scrubbing (no way with both kids at home), and no spa appointments. But why lay all that on a kid who clearly is now of the opinion that I do nothing but tinker on the internet?

"Yes," I answered.

"Whew, no wonder you go to bed so early." he said. "You have a crappy job."

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I know you have been busy as well. We all have jobs, and chores, and children. But really, it has taken a while and a lot of focus to teach Olivia to finally do this:

I won't even go into how much time I spend preparing her nutritious meals.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Largest Public School Chorus in the United States of America

I have blogged before about the chorus I founded. I have blogged how it is time and energy consuming and how I ought to just let it die. How I am a chump and don't get paid extra to do what some would consider a full time job.

However, I continue to do it, and here is why. Here are some very low-quality PalmPilot photos of what I believe is the largest public elementary school chorus in the United States. This photo was taken Thursday, October 19. Our membership is 156 students, and there were 143 on the risers the day of the photo.

Our accompanist, the effervescent, cheerful and low-paid Mrs. B.

Here is a photo of our chorus director, Miss L., who happens to be a former chorus member and a soloist in quIte a few of our shows before she graduated to middle school and the high school.

If you can't tell from the photos why I continue to make a pendejo out of myself by running this program, then you might not be a music lover or lostinkids. Or maybe you just have to be there. It's quite a sight.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I am tutoring a fifth grader who is struggling in school. I go to his house twice a week and do everything I can to encourage the boy to read. He is decoding (turning printed words on the page into language) at the third grade level, but is comprehending (understanding what the words mean) at only the late second grade level because he is working so hard at decoding. I assessed that much of his problem is a reluctance to read, so I decided to start by motivating him to read. I can't teach him to read if he won't read (practice).

I have been taking his parents' money for three months and was about to think about deciding whether to consider making a decision to analyze the possibilty of whether to wonder if I should give up and throw in the towel on this boy or not. In other words, I am discouraged and feel guilty about taking their money, but I can be relentless and will not pass on even the suspicion of that possibilty to him or his parents.

I finally made progress this Saturday. We had a major "break-through!" Whoa! What a great session we had! The previous four days he had read a lot and seemed to enjoy it. He is finally interested in Scary Stories and Captain Underpants, and is beginning to understand Calvin and Hobbes, which is well above his comprehension level but has him fascinated. I have always had Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on hand to give him as a reward but never had to hand them out. This Saturday he almost cleaned me out of two bags of snack-size bars. I pray for more of those sessions!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

No Child Left Behind. Adequate Yearly Progress: Government Run Amok Part 2

I have written an earlier opinion about our federal government's visionary attempts to hold our educational system accountable for individual student success.

Let me speak first of our leaders' vision, and the implications of their attempt to steer the nation into the 21st century. I think that the vision I speak of is the same one that the Soviets developed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). Government, not its people, run the show. Government is in charge, and government can force change. A good way to do that is to build the premise that the existing system is no good. Convince the citizens that the American educational system is failing. That's a good start. When "everyone" has bought into that, let us, your leaders, pass a few laws that will send shock waves through state and local governments that will fix this problem. What the citizens will actually wind up with is increased bureaucracy, well intentioned yet intrusive regulations, and a directive to teach by consulting legal advice and purchasing approved educational products rather than educational pedagogy.

Teachers' unions must be portrayed as unable to change and unwilling to adapt in order to make essential improvement. No problem there. Lots of teachers are knuckleheads and will feed right into that need.

I find myself spending more and more of my instructional time giving tests in order to demonstrate to a bureaucrat that the students in my class are not being "left behind." Hogwash!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's Been a Long Time Coming, and, "Honey, Just Please Keep Your Bra To Yourself"

My blended family is not an overnight success. Eric-the-stepfather has been obliged to cram into three years the parenting basics you non-blended families have had the entire length of your childrens' lives to form: united fronts, love through failures, consistent discipline, mosquito-laden childrens' sporting events, and exhausting evenings at Dave and Busters. The problem with the Immersion Parenting program for Eric is that, as we all know, the "instant gratification" of parenting comes, like, twice a year. Add that up and that is less than a week of positive confirmation from Jake that Eric is doing an adequate job. Sometimes he feels underappreciated. Welcome to my world.

This morning required a permission slip for Jake to attend a field trip, along with $10.35. I couldn't locate my checkbook, so we had to gather the correct money in actual cash. I, being the tightwad that I am, would not send in a ten-dollar bill and two quarters, so we rushed around looking for exact change. All with a baby that no longer is satisfied being held, a dog that looks for any opportunity to run around herding us into the laundry room, and a husband that was due at an early-morning meeting. We accomplished the change procurement--hopefully the school will actually appreciate having pennies on hand--with a great deal of laughter and chaos. After loading Jake in the car, and running back into the house for necessities like keys, my purse, and Nuber The Bear, we set off for school. Eric kissed me before we drove off, and said, "Hey, Jay and I got you and Nikki Aerosmith tickets for November." Finding out you're going to be 500 feet from Steven Tyler over morning coffee is such a bonus.

Jake was quiet until we were halfway to school. "Man," he said, shaking his head. "I really am loving this family we're putting together."

Me too, Jake.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lost In Marriage: A Short Blog

Last night, in a futile effort to get a compliment, I asked my wife what is one of the advantages of being married to me. She replied, "Well, I have developed an immunity to stupid remarks."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

R-Rated Blog: The "B" Word

I'm an elementary schoolteacher, yet I hear kids use cuss words and profanity that, if I would have used them under any circumstances as a kid in the 1950's, would have gotten a bar of Palmolive shoved halfway down my esophagus. Things like, and I quote:

"C_ _ p!"

"S_ _ t!"

"F_ _ k!"

"F_ _ k you!"

"F_ _ k you too!"

"E _ t me!"

"B_ _ e me!"

"That s_ _ _ s!"

"She s _ _ _ s!"

"He s _ _ _ s!"

"You s _ _ _ !"

"D _ _ n!"

"D _ _ _ it!"

"That p _ _ _ _ s me off!"

"Holy c _ _ p!"

But there is one word I have never heard any child even whisper, and that's the "b" word. Some kid'll run up to me on the playground and cry, "Mr. R., Johnny called me a b _ _ _ _ _ d, so I told him to go f _ _ k himself, and then he called me a w _ _ _ e, and I told him that meant he was g _ y, and then he......... and then.......... and then he.............. Oh! I can't say it, it's so horrible."

"But you have to tell me! What happened then?" What terrible thing made you come running to see me?"

Mr. R., Johnny then called me.......... he said....................Oh! Mr. R., I can't even say the word."

"Well whisper it. In my ear."

They'll get real close to my ear and then say, "I can't, Mr. R., it's too terrible."

"Well I need to know what he said, so I give you permission. Look here. I have a legal document signed by me, our principal, her boss the school superintendent, the Mayor of our city, the Governor of our state, the President of our country, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and Lindsey Lohan. This document gives you the right to say the word to me without ever getting into trouble. OK. Now what's the word?"

"The word is................ the word............. it's too............ the word............. Oh! Mr. R., I just can't.

"Well spell the word. Can you spell it?"

"Yes, but that would be like saying it in slow motion."

"Well then tell me the first letter. What does it begin with?"

The kid will then lean very close and whisper, "It starts with a b."

All the other kids in listening distance will put their hands over their mouth in disgust and horror and make a gasping noise.

"Was the word 'bitch'? Was that the 'b' word?"

"Oh My God! I didn't hear that. I can't believe you said it! Oh God! Save us all! Yes! That was it!!"

"Then what happened after he called you the 'b' word?"

"Well then I told him his sister was a h _ _ _ er and his mother was a p _ _ _ _ _ tute, and then he punched me, so I punched him back, and he's laying over there in a pool of blood."

"Well what did you come to see me for?"

"Mr. R.! He used the 'b' word!!!"

Poor Johnny. There are some limits as to what is acceptable in playground mores. He went way over the line. He is now an untouchable. A lower class citizen. A kid that used the "b" word!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kids Say the Darndest Things Part I

Before every piano lesson I take a minute or two to just talk to the kid about their day, or their week, or whatever. Except for Melissa, they never have too much to say.

I was starting up Sydney's lesson and asked her how everthing was going.


"How's your Mom and Dad?"

"They're OK."

"How's your teacher, Mr. N.?"

He's doing OK."

"Has he said anything brilliant or wise lately?"

"No. Not yet."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teaching Alexander Pope to a Fifth Grader

Today I finally got through to Arthur, at least on an emotional level. Arthur suffers from a severe case of CryBaby Syndrome. That kid can miscalculate a fraction reduction and he'll be all red-faced, teary-eyed, gulping air, and unable to work for half an hour.

Today he graded one of Paul's tests and gave him a U, which at our school is equivalent to an old-fashioned F. Paul seemed concerned because his paper looked high quality, and I agreed. So we went to Arthur and asked him why he gave Paul a U. He explained that it wasn't a U, that it was an A. I told him that it was a U, and he needed to correct the grade by improving his handwriting. Well, Arthur did that, but he started bawling and got pretty teary eyed. I decided to do something about it and kept him in for recess.

I made him write a sentence ten times. The sentence was Alexander Pope's famous quote, "To err is human, to forgive Divine." I explained the meaning of the sentence before he wrote it, for he didn't know what "err" or "Divine" meant, but I explained them. After he had written the sentence ten times, I asked him what it meant to him. He told me that he didn't forgive himself for making mistakes. I told him he understood, and I added that he didn't seem to ever forgive himself for simple, unimportant errors that shouldn't bother a person. I sent him on his way, but he missed almost the whole recess.

Later that day, the kids were moving desks around, and Arthur spilled the entire contents of Alan's desk out on the floor. I told Arthur to pick up the contents of the desk and to be more careful. He did it with no tears, and I told him, "Good job, Arthur!" Alan said, "He did a good job? He dumped all the stuff out of my desk!" I looked at Arthur and said, "Arthur, what job did you do that was good?" Arthur grinned and said, "I forgave myself." I winked at him and said, "To forgive is Divine." I think the others were a little confused, but Arthur understood.