Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Have you ever seen two Bighorn sheep ramming their heads together? Have you ever seen the film of the two locomotives that were driven into each other at full speed? I am a fifth grade teacher who conjures up these images when I think of myself and one of my students. The reason? My job is to bring up and discuss this student's problem behaviors and his incorrect solutions to answers despite the fact that he is having great difficulty accepting the possibility that he is not perfect.

The boy has always been overly sensitive to criticism. My strategy so far has been to say something that doesn't work, like "I like you. You're wonderful. But you're answer is not exactly correct."

Unfortunately, his issues have worsened. All his life he has been the center of attention, the most popular boy, the fastest, the strongest, the tallest, the handsomest, the creme de la creme. Now he finds himself second fiddle to his new step-brother, and he is not handling this new situation well. His new step-brother has leukemia. I am sure that his displacement as the family's center of attention must hurt, but his need for continued back-patting has turned sour. As his teacher, I am now unable to correct him in the slightest way without getting arguments and denials. He is unable to accept responsibilty for his own actions.

His reflexes are quick and responsive, and I can see him formulating his argument the moment I begin my sentence with, "This is good, _ _ _ _ _ _ _, but - ." Instantly I get some arbitrary, contrary excuse that prevents me from pointing out his answer makes no sense, and if it did, there is no punctuation of any kind on his paper.

I have a tough road to travel with this boy, and unfortunately, he is the class leader. That means other students take his side. I have become the Bald Meanie, the Yeller, and the Grumpy Teacher. It's a role I can't stand.

I have three choices:

1) Let the kid sit in the corner and mildew. Stop all instruction. Discontinue all learning on his part. Have no expectations. Just keep him from arguing with me. His arguing is a detriment to the rest of the class. Unfortunately, setting him in the corner to rot is to his detriment.

2) Butt heads! Collide head-on!! Use all forces in my arsenal, including but not limited to sending him to the school principal.

3) Use what little tactical advantage I have as an adult to get through to this kid. In other words, use my older intellect (I was gonna use the word "superior" intellect, but I'm not convinced that's accurate), reverse psychology, and every mental and emotional trick in my thin, little book to make this boy understand that I have to be able to teach him without his taking it the wrong way.

I'll tell you what I have always done in the past: #3.

I'll let you know if it works. The collision/solution will be decided soon.

Monday, February 26, 2007


My job as Melissa's piano teacher is about to end. I know it sounds silly, but I believe I may cry when her lessons stop. I'm mighty misty-eyed just writing this blog.

She hasn't been practicing for quite some time, and I have mentioned this fact in some of my blogs. Last week I told my wife that it seems odd that she is still continuing her lessons. Peggy hit me in the gut by speaking the obvious to the oblivious. "Well, it's easy to see what's going on. She likes spending time with you."

I realized that I have not complained about her lack of practice because I like spending time with her. I like spending time with her a lot, but I am a teacher and I have to use my best professional judgement, so at the last lesson I brought up the unpleasant idea that maybe we should discontinue her piano lessons. She told me that she didn't want to stop the lessons because she enjoyed spending time with me. I told her that I should have dropped her as a student some time back, but I didn't say anything because I enjoyed spending time with her.

The idea of her quitting is out there, now........lying out there like a pig turd on a hot fudge sundae. I think her piano lessons are about to end.

Losing Melissa as a student reminds me of the lyrics of the barbershop quartet song from the Broadway musical and the movie, "The Music Man."

"How can there be any sin in sincere?
Where is the good in goodbye?"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Application of Studies to Daily Life

Jake is preparing for FCATs. This means he is learning the same stress he will face as an adult when you get the announcement that your company is merging with a larger company and this will result in termination that means you are bankrupt within six months, not that this is an actual example anyone you know is drinking over.

He is valiantly attempting to truly comprehend abstract ideas like algebra, gravity, and excerpts from Little House books. And he has been struggling the most with science. We spent quite a bit of time discerning between the different forms of matter (solids, gases, liquids), and of the various energy types (kinetic, chemical, light, etc.).

It all came into focus for him the other day. We both went in to check on Olivia, and watch our little Tasmanian sleep without stirring. Her legs were splayed, she was grabbing her stuffed chicken with passion, and her pacifier had slipped out of her open, momentarily-resting mouth.

Jake shook his head as he watched her. "That's Potential Energy," he noted.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It Should Have Been In The Gargantua

Albuquerque received another wonderful snow fall, and the schools are closed due to hazardous driving conditions. I am happy to have the day off. However, I did something VERY stupid.

My fourth grade car (nine years old), my thirty miles to the gallon in town and forty-one miles to the gallon on the highway little Saturn, my little, quick, blue gem with the stiff seats and the rattly ride and the ten disc CD player that takes up most of the trunk but sounds really good if the fan motor isn't blowing for the heater or the air-conditioner, is in the body shop. A lady whacked it with her big, huge, monstrous truck and dented the left front fender just a tad, so my little Saturn is being repaired. Her insurance company generously and rightly paid for me to have a rental car to drive while my Saturn is in the body shop. The rental car is a big, huge, monstrous, gigantic, typical, modern-day American Gas Hog that can pass everything except a gas station, and it needs but doesn't come equipped with a tugboat to get it in and out of parking spaces. I don’t remember the name of the car, but I think if I was given the power to name the……..”Thing”, I would call it a:

1) Ford Whale

2) Chevy Guzzler

3) Buick Behemoth

4) Pontiac Titanic

5) GMC Mammoth

6) Chrysler Colossus

But I digress. I was talking about my act of stupidity. When I picked up the rental car early yesterday morning, I was in a hurry to get to school so I grabbed my stuff out of my Saturn and put it in the Wake Maker, but I forgot one thing: my wife’s Valentine’s card I had hidden under the passenger seat of my Saturn. So this morning I sneak out to the garage to get my wife’s Valentine’s card so I can put it on the kitchen table so when she comes in to get her coffee and sits down and starts sipping in that cozy, enchanting way she does that makes me happy to be with her, she’ll see the card propped up on the table and will open it, and she’ll gaze into my eyes and kiss me, and laugh, and cry.

But NO!! My Saturn isn’t in the garage! It’s at the body shop, being repaired. In the garage is this empty space because the Beast won’t fit in my garage. It's out in my driveway crushing cement and it doesn’t have the Valentine’s card in it either, because I am a knucklehead and left it in the Saturn.

So this morning I sat down and drank my acid-free, decaffeinated coffee because of my babyfied, old man tummy, and I saw my wife’s card, and I opened it, and I gazed into her eyes, and I kissed her, and I laughed, and I cried, and I told her I bought her card two weeks ago. I mentioned that it was carefully selected out of thousands because it told her how much I loved her in the way I wanted to say it. “But it’s in the Saturn, baby. Sorry.”

She forgave me, but I won’t forgive myself so easily.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Truly Great Spelling Sentence

I have written posts that pass along some of the clever or inane sentences that my fifth grade students have written using their spelling sentences. Here is the greatest of them all, a little gem, a pure treasure, and frankly, one that this year's students will never be able to top.

The spelling word is : impair

By Sarah:

"Breaking an arm will impair your ability to slap your sister."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I Play Straight Man to Andrea

Those precious fourth graders I taught last year have become fifth graders heading into sixth grade, and their charm is fading quickly.

On Friday I went by Andrea's desk and saw billions and billions of tiny pieces of paper. It looked like some tiny, minute creatures so small their fingers could not be recognized by the human eye had taken several pieces of 8.5" x 11" notebook paper and turned them into the world's most miniature confettti.

I was dumbfounded. I looked at Andrea and disbelievingly asked her, "Andrea, what is going on here? What is this crud?"

"Well, it's just paper and erasers and stuff."

"Did you do this during class time?"

"Yes sir, I did."

"Are my classes so boring that you have nothing better to do than shred paper and erasers?"

"Yeah, sometimes."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Melissa, Shopping Afficionado

I have given up on the idea of ever teaching Melissa to play the piano. She has reached a level of proficiency that is satisfactory to her needs, and any further keyboard skills just don't fit into her plans of becoming a professional shopper.

During her piano lesson last week, I asked her if she ever did any exercise.

"Yes, I get lots of exercise. I shop."

"How can shopping be exercise?"

"Well, you have to start out treadmilling. Some people call it walking. Then you do a LOT
of weight training by picking up items and turning them over and looking at them. Speed walking is necessary if there's a sale or you're running out of time in a mall that covers a lot of area. That means you also have to carry heavy items. All of this, of course, takes a lot of stamina, determination, and practice. I'm very good at it!"

"I'll bet you are, Melissa."

For her Christmas present I bought her a MasterCard gift card with her name on it:
Mellissa, Shopping Aficionado. An appropriate gift, I think.