Surviving Teaching and Finding Joy

Not surprising, the amazing schoolteacher, Jennie, writes of her attitude shift in teaching and her subsequent ascension to perfect preschool teacher. ūüôā

A Teacher's Reflections

Times have changed.  Teaching has far more demands than it used to.  Required paperwork, overcrowded classes, and lack of support begins to take its toll.  At first it all seems manageable.  That fire of wanting to teach keeps the motor running.  Then bit by bit, as demands and expectations increase, it becomes more difficult to keep the fire burning.  The love becomes lost.

Teachers are quitting.

Children have changed, too. ¬†Their lives have less (or little) room for play. Most of their waking hours are structured ‚Äď from school to sports to after school activities. ¬†Oh, and then the homework. ¬†Frankly, homework in the early grades should be reading. ¬†Period.

Children are often coming to school feeling everything from anger to being overwhelmed. They may not know why, they just know they aren’t feeling happy.

Is it any wonder that America’s children are ranked 26th in reading  among the world?

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Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Five

It hadn’t been such a boring class after all, Wil reminisced. She crossed one foot back over the other and tried not to share that idea with the other members of her Chemistry group. They probably weren’t in the mood. She snuck a glance to her right and left, taking in their various poses of irritation and boredom.

She wished for something to do besides wait for her turn with only a motivational poster and her classmates to stare at. She should have grabbed the note from Hope, maybe, during their hasty escape to the office. None of them had thought to do much besides run, given the damage.¬†If only Carl weren’t such a clumsy jerk, she thought.

Almost simultaneously, she and the others glared at the door to the nurse’s office. It was a closet, really, since they lacked an official nurse or sick room. Only in today’s case of potential chemical burning had their secretary, Mrs. Bird, demonstrated concern or permission to use some of the school’s precious medical supplies. Wil hoped the first aid kit was still in date, considered who was at fault, and rescinded that hope -at least for the bandages used on Carl.

She sighed. The girl who had gotten their experiment supplies rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah. What a jackass.”

Bobby and Wil snorted, and Wil saw a slight smile on the boy’s face whose name she did not know. He’d been right next to Carl when Carl had spilled their supplies, and was therefore third in line to be seen.

“Shouldn’t we get an ambulance or something?” Bobby asked. He eyed the supplies girl, who was awkwardly cradling her arm in the office’s usual method of first aid: a wet towel.

The girl shrugged.

“I’ve never been burned at school,” Wil offered. She thought. “Did anyone bring a phone?” She knew it wasn’t likely, since anyone who owned one had to keep it in his locker or risk its removal.

The boy who’d been near Carl turned to the right and left, then down the short hall to the closed supplies door. They could still hear Carl yelping and complaining. Phrases like, “I’ve got¬†conditioning to get to, you know…” drifted down the hall, followed by Mrs. Bird’s impatient, “If you’d hold still, this bandage would stay…”

“I’ve got one,” he affirmed. “Can¬†you take it?” he asked the girl seated to his right.

“Ha!” she answered, screwing up her face. “Even if I¬†wanted to, lover boy,¬†my hands are as damaged as yours.” She held up her towel-draped hands to demonstrate; he responded in kind.

“I’ll do it,” Wil grumbled. Laughing as he angled to accentuate the appropriate side pocket, she slipped it free.

“Hurry,” Bobby urged.

Wil activated the screen. “What’s your passkey?”

“Twenty-three, thirty-two.”

“Nice,” Bobby commented.

Wil didn’t understand what was “nice” about a bunch of numbers, but put them in and pulled up a search. After only a half-minute’s read, she said, “Eurgh!”

“What?” the two hand burn victims asked. Bobby leaned over her left shoulder to see.

Just then, the supplies door opened. Wil stashed the phone in her pocket and looked up to see a mummy-like Carl Hurn exiting. He wore a glare as well, but it was not as impressive as the scowl worn by the woman just behind him.

“Mrs. Bird?” Wil ventured. “I think Carl needs to go to the hospital.”

Mrs. Bird stood all 5’2″ of her frame a little straighter. She peered around Carl. “Oh?” she sniffed. “And why do you think¬†that, Ms. Winters?”

“Well,” Wil gulped, “I …remembered a story I …um.. that Dr. L -Dr. Lombard told us recently about a guy with chemical burns..” She tried not to look at her classmates as she blushed. They knew she was lying about her source, of course, but even Mrs. Bird wanted to hear the story.

The secretary’s expression became impatient in her morbid curiosity. “Well?”

Wil shifted. “Um, well …I re- I mean, Dr. Lombard said- that the guy’s -erm- well, that the guy had chemicals spilled in his lap like Carl did; and that, because the guy didn’t change and rinse off and go to a hospital right away, that he didn’t have any …private parts when they finally did cut off his pants…”

To which Wil and three of her classmates witnessed the fastest de-pantsing a person with bandaged hands has ever completed.

 

Continued from Eighty-Four.
Keep reading to Eighty-Six.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Four

“Thank you, Mr. LongDog,” Dr. L. said, shooting nervous glances at the brown-bunned woman peering over her clipboard.

A few members of the class laughed again; Wil barely refraining from snickering, herself. She felt sorry for Dr. L. He was clearly flustered and the laughing didn’t help. That sympathy, however, vanished with what happened next.

“We’ll, erm, need to break into groups,” Dr. L. continued. He looked faint at the idea, then scratched the back of his head and cast his glance around the room for inspiration. Something must have hit, for then he raised his pointer finger in a pose of scientific discovery. “Ah!” he announced, “I’ll sort you like they did at the training.”

Looping his lab coat-shod arms in a wide air gesture, he said, “You six, here, are one group.” He walked to the cluster in which Wil sat. “You -um- seven are a group…”

Wil didn’t hear the rest. She was too mindful of her stomach dropping in dread. Kind, patient Jenny Sanders was fine. Even that quiet kid she barely knew (Bobby? Something?) wasn’t bad. The problem was that Dr. L.’s sweeping loop of her seven desk group included the ever-obnoxious Carl Hurn. She felt sick. “Uuuhhrrg.”

“Did you say something, Wil?” Jenny asked. She seemed concerned, although maybe that came more from a desire to avoid infection. Wil noticed Jenny’s eyes flit the distance between their desks.

“Fine,” Wil answered. “I’m fine.” She tried not to glance in the direction of Carl’s desk. Instead, she focused on reading over the paper of instructions.

Bobby cleared his throat. “Looks like,” he began in an unsteady timbre -Carl snickered and Bobby ignored him- “Looks like we need to circle up first.”

They all acquiesced a grumble and moved the class furniture accordingly.

“Then,” Bobby continued, “we need the things on this list.” He raised his own paper and pointed at the bullet point words.

“I got it,” a girl, whom Wil didn’t know, volunteered. She rose, grabbed her own paper, and headed to the supply cupboard.

“I wonder if it’ll even¬†open,” Wil muttered.

To her surprise, Jenny giggled. She met Wil’s eye. “This¬†is kind of odd for Ol’ Lombard,” Jenny said. “But, it’s also nice to not spend the whole period trying not to sleep.”

Someone snorted. It was Carl. “Says the Teacher’s Pet.”

A boy to Carl’s left punched him lightly in the arm. “Shut the -” he glanced up and paled a bit, causing Wil to whip around and see that their ‘visitor’ was peering in their direction. She whipped back forward. The puncher cleared his throat and leaned closer to Carl. “Shut¬†up, alright?”

Carl’s expression looked sheepish. Wil was amazed, up until she turned back to Jenny and caught the open admiration on the girl’s face.

“Got ’em,” a voice said, interrupting Wil’s observations. The girl who’d volunteered to collect materials had returned. She set two glass phials, a few strips of colored paper, and several opaque bottles on her desk. Plopping into her seat behind the supplies, she asked, “Now what?”

 

Continued from Eighty-Three.
Keep reading to Eighty-Five.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Three

Unfortunately for Wil, Dr. L. had attended a mandatory training over the weekend. This training, he now stopped mid-lecture to lament to the class, involved¬†hands-on activities. He’d had to practice with actual people and be told,¬†no, he couldn’t just¬†talk about science.

The conclusion of his complaints to Wil’s class was that the school wanted him to change the way he taught. Wil groaned in sync with a chorus of fellow sympathizers. She wasn’t the only teenager who used Dr. L.’s lectures to finish activities like text conversations or homework due in the next period.

“They’re even sending someone in to-” their teacher began, then cut off as a knock sounded on the classroom door.

They all turned to look as the knocker pushed into the room and stood expectantly just inside. She was a woman with a messy bun and a somewhat wrinkled pantsuit. Everything about her frowned, Wil thought, from the lines of the woman’s outfit to her down-turned spectacles.

Dr. L. stared in apprehension at her for a full minute; Wil couldn’t remember ever seeing him focus on a living object before. The woman cleared her throat. “Don’t mind me, please.” Her voice was a higher-pitched version of his, a nasal sort that put Wil in mind of a squirrel. A squirrel with a messy bun and frowning face. *Ahem*, she cleared things again. “Just pretend I’m not here.”

The class and, especially, Dr. L. watched her perch atop a lab stool, her clipboard grasped before her and her legs and feet drawn near to her body. When nothing else happened, she returned the bespectacled chemistry teacher’s gaze. “Well?”

“Oh!” He started, and seemed to remember where he was. “Oh! Right; right.” Shuffling back to his lecture table, Dr. L. began shifting through chemical bottles and loose papers. “It’s right here -I know they’re here somewhere…” he muttered.

“Dr. L.?” Jenny, the girl to Wil’s left, raised a hand.

The man she addressed peered near her in some confusion. “Yes, Ms. -?”

“Sanders, sir,” Jenny said politely. She always had to tell him and Wil always marveled at how patiently Jenny did so. “I think you left the experiment notes on your computer.”

The overhead lights glinted off Dr. L.’s lenses as he lifted and turned his face to the location Jenny referenced. “Ah!” he exclaimed, and walked over to pick the pile up. “Thank you, Ms. -?”

“Sanders.”

“Yes,” he agreed. Turning to Cash Delarge’s desk, he said, “Here, Mr. LeDog. Take a paper and pass them along.”

Wil sighed as a few people tittered. Chemistry was going to be a long class today.

 

Continued from Eighty-Two.
Keep reading to Eighty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Two

Wil used Dr. Lombard’s momentary distraction to enter the classroom and move to a seat near the front. She told herself she would sneak; she even thought the phrase,¬†slipped into her seat. In actual practice and true to form, however, her entrance was more distracting than any lecture on acids and bases.

Still, she might have avoided detection if she hadn’t stepped on two people’s feet. She certainly would have avoided attention if she’d been more silent. But even a nearsighted, absentminded science enthusiast notices when a desk falls over.

“Ms. Windows,” Dr. L. said, turning and speaking over a background of laughter. He squinted at Wil’s blushing figure through his thick glasses. “Chemistry begins when the bell indicates, and not one Planck more.” He wagged a stern finger in a direction somewhere to the right of her as Wil hastily set the furniture to rights and sat upon the chair.

Dr. L. nodded a definite scowl to the girl on Wil’s left and turned back to puzzle over his notes on the board. They were barely legible to Wil and most of the class, yet seemed clear enough to help their teacher regain his train of thought.

“Water is not¬†completely zero, of course,” he continued, and shot what he thought was a commiserating look back over his shoulder. “Buuut,¬†some say it’s close enough to put it there. Really, though, nothing is¬†absolute¬†zero because of contaminants and outside influences…”

As he droned, Wil settled into her seat. Her face still felt hot and she tried to keep her head low. She dragged her backpack around to her side, on the floor, and opened it. If she didn’t take notes, she knew, she hadn’t much chance of passing Chemistry this term.

“…Like soap, bleach, and liquid drain cleaner…”

Wil rifled around the dark cavity of her backpack. She withdrew a notebook, and was very surprised to find it was her Chemistry one. It even had a pen shoved in the rings. She yanked the pen free, flipped to a mostly-blank page, and began sketching a pH scale similar to the one on the board.

“No, Mr. Urn, you would not survive drinking drain cleaner. Chemicals and solutions at the far end of the scale cause irreparable damage to tissue…”

Not a bad idea, Wil considered, For Carl, anyway. She doodled a bit in her margin, then noticed some text showing through the page. She flipped her notes over to see what was behind them. Somehow, there lay a green page with dots and lines in half-box and part-triangle shapes: a coded message.

Wil felt eyes on the back of her head, but knew better than to look. That Hope! She really¬†was sneaky. How the small, quiet, shadow of a girl slipped the paper into her notebook, Wil would never guess; and therefore didn’t try to.

Keeping an eye on Dr. L.’s flapping-arm explanations and her own interpretations of them before her, Wil slowly unfolded the green paper. She picked up her pen and started drawing a codex diagram at the bottom.

She wondered what message The Talented Teenagers (name still a work in progress) had sent her. She couldn’t wait to find out.

 

Continued from Eighty-One.
Keep reading to Eighty-Three.

Freddy and Teddy’s Valentines

Freddy and Teddy were best friends. They lived on the same street, liked the same candy, and loved the same robots movie. They even went to the same school, and sat behind each other in the same second grade class.

Valentine’s Day was the very next day and both boys were excited.

After school, their moms gave them 32 robot cards. Each spent a while tearing cards apart and writing “Freddy” or “Teddy” too many times.

The next morning, each got ready then walked to school together.

“I hope I didn’t skip anyone,” Freddy joked.

“Me, too,” Teddy laughed.

But later that afternoon, Teddy wasn’t laughing. He had dumped out all his Valentines only to find one missing.

There was no card from Freddy.

Teddy felt bad. “Freddy,” he said, “Why did you forget me?”

“What?” Freddy asked. Turning around, he saw Teddy’s frown. He felt bad. “I’m sorry, Teddy. I didn’t mean to.” Then, his eyes lit up. Freddy turned back to his desk, pulled a red paper from inside, cut carefully, and scribbled quickly.

Facing his best friend, he gave him a giant red heart. It read Best Friends. There was even a picture of a robot.

“Thanks, Freddy,” Teddy said, feeling better.

“You’re welcome,” Freddy said, happy to see Teddy smiling again.

 

Submitted for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny Contest.

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Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-One

“Wil!” the crew chief said. “We’re here.”

Wil Power frowned in confusion and looked up from her idling IndyCar. Four hundred laps of looping, blackened tarmac still beckoned beyond the pit crew’s hunched shoulders. The hasty *bzzt* *bzzt*¬†of impact wrenches played background music to the ever-present hum of the waiting track and its racers.

“Wil!” her father repeated. “Get out. I gotta go to work.”

“Oh!” Wil scrabbled at the straps of her backpack as cheering fans and roaring asphalt dissolved into a silent, gray schoolyard. She blinked. She turned to her father, noted his impatient expression, blushed, and stole a quick peck on his cheek. “‘Bye, Dad!”

Rob watched his impulsive daughter successfully exit the car and take off running toward the dim, dark building up the dim, dark hill. He hadn’t the time to reminisce after her waving scarf and hair, however. Leaning over the console and passenger seat, he sighed and stretched to pull her door closed.

Wil heard the telltale just-made-it clunking of her father’s engine as he accelerated out and away from the curb. A long, low *bonnng* sounded from the school. Huddled, rushing teenage bodies scurried around and before her as her scrambling boots slipped up the winter-dew grass.

She caught the shadow of someone slipping past; had the idea that it may have been Hope.¬†Man, she’s sneaky,¬†was all Wil could think as she grabbed at a front door of the school building. Once inside, she rushed down rapidly-emptying hallways to her first class. Intermittent *bam* sounds echoed to her right and left as a few tardy people slammed locker doors shut.

She could hear Dr. L.‘s droning voice before she reached the hall of his classroom. “…We’ll see *mumble* *mumble* acidic *mumble*.” Wil turned a corner and saw the door near the end. “*Mumble* *mumble* bases and *mum*-acids are fairly inert at the midline, where you see water, blood, and urine.”

Wil walked in right when everyone snickered, yet also right when Dr. L. turned to his diagram to see what they all thought was so funny.

 

Continued from Eighty.
Keep reading to Eighty-Two.

The Sneetches

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Ah, Dr. Suess. What a fantastic writer! Many know that his real name was Theodor Suess Geisel, and that he drew political cartoons and even produced several short films before the fame of The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. If not, I taught you something new.

I love poetry. Perhaps you’ve seen¬†some¬†of mine or have read my post about Shel Silverstein’s¬†Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Dr. Suess is the best poet for young children. Believe me: I have children and was once a child myself. Because of those two things, I have read some terribly crappy attempts at rhymes in books geared toward kids. Suess, on the other hand, wrote simple poetry with simple words and simple illustrations long before sight word/level reading stuff. And Suess didn’t suck.

As a parent, I say the true sign of excellence in youth material is whether I can watch or read it and not want to gnaw my own arm off just to get away. I can read Suess’ books repeatedly and enjoy them.

The Sneetches is no exception. The story follows a group of creatures who all look the same -except some have a star on their bellies. “…(B)ecause they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches/Would brag, ‘We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.'” Meanwhile, the Plain-Belly Sneetches are excluded, spending their time together feeling sad at being left out.

And that’s how they treated them year after year.

Why didn’t the Plain-Bellies just hold their¬†own frankfurter roasts and ball games? Well, we get some clue as to the common sense of these yellow, birdlike animals when a stranger comes to their beaches and specifically addresses the left-out group:

“My friends,” he announced in a voice clear and keen,
“My name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
And I’ve heard of your troubles. I’ve heard you’re unhappy.
But I can fix that. I’m the Fix-it-Up Chappie.”

 

McBean builds a machine that can put stars on bellies, and charges $3 apiece. Then, when the original group is upset over the class-leveling, he builds another machine that removes stars (for $10 each!). Chaos ensues, expressed in my favorite stanza of the tale:

They kept paying money. They kept running through
Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one . . . or that one was this one
Or which one was what one . . . or what one was who.

 

It pleasantly tickles a literary nerve, doesn’t it?¬†Sigh.

The last literary element that makes Dr. Suess the best is teaching a moral. The Lorax and such are more heavy-handed than I like, but The Sneetches gives us a gentle tap of reprimand.

After McBean literally takes all their money, he leaves. “They never will learn,” he laughs. “No. You can’t teach a Sneetch.” Seuss, meanwhile, tells us a different message:

But McBean was quiet wrong. I’m quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day….

 

Read Suess, even for yourself. Share this story with others. Then, perhaps, the world will remember that “…Sneetches are Sneetches/And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-One

Wil’s eyes scanned the page without absorbing any of the words upon it. Her mind was with her ears: anxiously straining to hear movements from her parents’ room. All seemed quiet, but her father was not the noisy type.

She carefully adjusted her position on her bed, attempting to make it look as though she were comfortably reading and had not just landed after a hurried rush down the hall. Being further into the book would help, but she had to read it for English class and didn’t want to skip ahead.

Wil sighed. The few sentences she’d managed to swallow had not given her many hopes for its content so far. She’d expected more from a book with a title about killing. So far, the author had written about two kids in a boring town with a father for a lawyer who didn’t like it. One had a broken arm, but they blamed Andrew Jackson for it?

She heard the door at the end of the hall open. “To heck with that,” Wil whispered, then flipped the book open to the middle and pretended to be absorbed.

Her bedroom door opened to reveal her father, tiredly blinking in the light. Wil looked up and pretended to be startled.

“Dad!” She said. “What are you doing home?”

Rob rubbed his hand on the side of his gruff face, gathering thoughts for words. “I didn’t sleep last night, so I called in sick.”

Wil couldn’t ever remember him doing that, unless he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. If he didn’t work, Rob didn’t get paid. She looked at him in surprise.

“I, uh,” Rob began. He was still rubbing his face. He looked unsure about what to say. His eyes looked around Wil’s room, at the book she was holding. Finally, he met his daughter’s gaze.

“Cynthia and I want to talk to you,” he said. His eyes looked at her sadly, then turned to look toward the living room. “I’ll go see if she’s ready to talk.”

Wil sat up and moved to follow him. “No, no,” her father gestured tiredly. “You wait here. Keep reading your book.” He smiled a bit, then left.

Wil heard his slow tread down the hall. He was much quieter without work boots on. She turned the pages back to the beginning, where she’d actually been. Low mumbling (her father’s voice) answered by higher, softer pitches (her mother) was picked up by her left ear. As usual, a coughing fit began.

Subconsciously, Wil tensed up. She tried to tune her surroundings out and tune her reading in. Jem? Dill? Wil thought. Who named these poor kids?

“Wil?” Cynthia called from the living room.

“Coming, Mom!” Wil answered. She closed the book gratefully and rolled off her bed. Straightening her coat, scarf, and hair; she realized she still had her gloves on. Hopefully, her father hadn’t noticed. She slipped them off and put them into her pocket, then headed down the hall.

 

Continued from Fifty.
Keep reading to Fifty-Two.

Young Love

Rock Valentine

Tanner felt nervous.

He hugged his robot Valentine’s box tightly. Mom had helped him paint it yellow last night, and he had added sparkly stickers and funny eyes. Inside were cards for all the boys and girls in class.

Tanner looked at all the boys and girls in his class, safely, from the doorway.

“Well, hello, Tanner!” Mrs. Foreman called. “Come on in!” He could see her waving from her desk.

He held his box closer.

“It’s all right,” his teacher said. She stood and walked over to him. Bending, she looked at his eyes. “Would you like some help?”

Some of the children glanced over, including Ella. Tanner’s mom had helped him make a special card for Ella last night, too. It was a pink heart that said, “I love you.”

Mrs. Foreman smiled. “I’ll walk with you,” she offered. Together, they went to his seat. He set the yellow robot on his desk.

“All right, class!” Mrs. Foreman clapped. “Time to hand out Valentine’s!”

Quickly, the children pulled out all their cards. They began happily filling each other’s boxes.

Tanner pulled out the pink heart. As soon as no one was looking, he dropped it into Ella’s unicorn mailbox.

He still felt nervous, but also happy. He hoped she would like it.

 

(Entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny Contest.)