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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Children’s Songs That Don’t Suck

Some people are irritated by very specific things: nails on chalkboards, a supervisor’s voice, forks on a ceramic plate, or animals chewing with their mouth open.

For me, it’s children singing.

Now, now, now -don’t get up in arms and start defending anyone. Don’t ask me whether I’m a good mother, cringing whenever my offspring try to carry a tune. That’s not it at all. My real hate is when children sing what they ought not to.

Don’t believe me? Go listen to that devil’s creation: Kid’s Bop. Oh, wait. It’s spelled “Kidz Bop.”

Children singing off-key and innocently to pop songs would be my eternal torment. Actually -eternal torment would be facing a mundane chore like piles of laundry or dishes; and when I am literally folding the last sock or washing the last pan, something dumps another hour’s worth of work in front of me.

Wait a minute…

So, getting back to children doing terribly irritating things, I thought I’d save anyone else the trouble of torture by providing a list of songs¬†geared toward young children that will not drive you completely batty (er…¬†more completely batty).

1. Caspar Babypants
Did you ever listen to “Peaches,” “Lump,” or “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Presidents of the United States of America? If not, do yourself a solid and check them out. “Peaches,” alone is worth watching; I do so with my offspring frequently. Weird Al even parodied “Lump” with a song titled “Gump.”

That lead singer, whatshisname (Chris Ballew) went on to produce and sing a whole crapload of songs once he settled down and made mini hims. I like a lot of them; they’re cute, catchy, and have good lyrical and musical aspects.

2. Banaphone
This is an oldie but a goodie. I can’t allow the kiddos to replay this one as often as Babypants, but it’s still fun.

They also like the video, so win-win.

3. They Might Be Giants, for kids
TMBG has clever songs for all ages. The singer’s a bit nasally, but their lyrics are educational. Admittedly, we listen to much of the¬†Apollo 18 soundtrack with our children as well; but those aren’t specifically for a younger audience (say, like when I mute that tiny cuss word at the start of “I Palindrome I”).

I respect a band that tries to keep things scientifically accurate. Like, releasing a new sun song when they felt the old one was misinforming.

4. Lots of classical pieces
My nerdy childhood was spent listening to the classical station on the radio and trying to be a snob of a higher degree. I listen to a wide variety of music now; and, by proximity, so do my children.

Still, music of this sort has the following advantages: clean, enlightening, traditional, timeless, and the YouTube videos don’t usually have some animated character dancing around and causing listeners to just stare at a screen.

5. Instrumental covers of awesome songs
Yes, the originals are better. For all the benefits I outlined above (like, no swearing or questionable video content), I will sometimes put these on to play while we’re cleaning the house.

And yes, these are not¬†geared toward kids. It’s my list, though, so I make the rules.

6. Super Simple Songs
Now here’s a company who knows its audience. These are NOT songs to play if you don’t want small children staring at a screen, so maybe play it from computer speakers with the monitor turned off?

For a good half-hour or hour of needing to use the bathroom and text and adult, I am in favor of playing them as-is.

Super Simple Songs are almost annoying. I certainly wouldn’t pick them for an eternal playlist, but I will listen to quite a few without tearing my ears off my head.

7. Parry Gripp
If you have children, you have probably heard of “It’s Raining Tacos.” Don’t worry -I’m not going to suggest you listen to Parry Gripp all day long. I merely threw it on here because they’re fun, my spawn enjoy many of them, and I liked them back before they were annoying cool.

In fact, “Mr. Raisin Toast” was the first of theirs we listened to.

8. The Muppets
Again, these fall into the “watch it, too” category. But, you know -Sesame Street. Nostalgia. Subtle humor that doesn’t involve farting (always a plus when one has all boys, like me).

That’s about all I can remember for tonight. I’ll write another post about songs we all like (and are appropriate), in the mainstream music field. Besides those, do YOU have any to suggest? Don’t be shy; we’re always open to new songs and artists.

Bakery Blues

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Edward sat, staring at his monitors. “My uncle works at a cookie factory!” He remembered his nephew, Sam, bragging to his class. “The cookies with M&Ms!” Sam’s peers had been duly impressed; M&Ms were a much sought-after candy for preschoolers.

Edward had felt a little proud, but also knew the poor kid wanted some credit for having an uncle drop him off, instead of parents like the others had.

“Do you get to eat all the M. M. cookies you want?” a boy in a red shirt had asked.

“Didja bring us some?!” A small girl in braids demanded. A tiny chorus of, “Oh, yes; did you?”‘s and, “Where are they?”‘s immediately followed her innocent query.

Luckily, their sweet, young teacher came to the rescue. Walking up behind the excited group, she placed her hands gently on Sam’s shoulders and looked up at Edward. “Shhh! Shhhh!” She quietly reprimanded, till the chattering stopped. “I’m sure we can have Sam’s uncle come and talk to us sometime about his job.”

“An’ will he bring cookies?” The girl asked, determinedly.

The teacher smiled at her, then up at Edward. Edward shrugged and looked down at his shyly shuffling feet. “I’ll talk to Ms. Prutt about it,” she said.

As baked desserts and giant mixing machines and oven temperatures automatically scanned beneath his bored scrutiny, Edward easily recalled and replayed the entire exchange. He thought about what he would tell all those eager children if he were to go in and talk honestly about his job.

“Well, kids,” he imagined saying, “First, I get to scan my name badge. Then, I walk to a magical land called a locker room.” Riveted, that girl with braids would yawn. “After changing into a protective jacket, hard hat, goggles, and ear protection, I pick up …a tablet computer.”

At that point, Edward was certain, Sam would ask if Edward got to play games on the tablet. “Yes,” he’d have to answer, “The games are called Spreadsheets and I check little boxes to mark whether the equipment is working.”

They’d be so interested, he might have the entire class asleep two hours before naptime.

He sighed, watching the millionth cookie pass by the electronic eye. He decided a nap on his part might be averted if he went down for another physical inspection. Glancing at the million and first cookie on the conveyor belt, he determined to visit the Inspection and Packing area.

A short trip out of Monitoring, across a catwalk, down some gleaming stairs, through Personal Sanitation, and out an automatic door brought him in front of that same line of cookies. A handful of workers in masks, hairnets, and gloves idly monitored the cookies. The M. M. cookies, he told himself.

“Hey, boss,” a man named Asay said, looking up to see Edward. He probably smiled.

Edward smiled in return. “How’s it going?” He and Asay used to work together in Mixing, before Edward trained and applied for his current position. He’d talked to his friend about moving up as well, but Asay claimed to like Production better. Now that Edward had been an inspector for a few months, he found himself agreeing with Asay’s perspective.

“Bored yet?” Asay teased, guessing accurately. He casually removed a cracked cookie, sliding it amongst fellow discards to the side.

Edward pretended to be indignant. “Of course not!” He continued, “We, in Inspections and Monitoring, are never bored.”

Asay laughed, leaning over the conveyor to look more closely at the new batch. “Hey! These have all blue M&Ms!” He exclaimed.

Curious, Edward walked forward. Sure enough, the first five cookies had all three chocolate candies in a blue shell. “Should we keep ’em?” Asay wondered aloud.

They both watched the cookies move down the line. They reminded Edward of the cute class of preschool faces. Blue was Sam’s favorite color; the boy would love to pull one from a package. Edward could even hear Sam’s exclamations: “Look, Unca Eddie! All blues, just for me!”

Edward, standing near Asay on a busy production floor, turned to his friend. “Of course we’ll keep them. What kid wouldn’t want to find one?”

Asay’s dust mask pulled to each side as he grinned. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re right.”

They both watched the cookies for a few seconds longer; Asay more closely than Edward. Edward had a thought. “I’ll see you around,” he told his friend, turning to leave.

“Okay, bro,” Asay answered, waving behind him.

Back through Sanitation and out the other side brought Edward to the ovens. He continued on, waving at a few people he knew and trying to look authoritative. Soon he was at Mixing and Shaping, his old stomping grounds. Three people worked in this area. The younger two were chatting and watching the enormous mixing machine. Soon the scooping mechanism would deposit balls onto the baking racks. For now, it was churning and the workers were idle.

Edward approached the third person. She was sitting on a special stool just after where the dough would be placed on sheets and given candies. Standing to her side, he spoke loudly, “HELLO, CAROL.”

An old woman turned to smile pleasantly up at him. Her grey curls were kept at bay by a company hairnet and her gnarled, gloved hands rested on a company uniform that covered her lap. “Why, hello, Edward,” she replied warmly. “How are you?”

Edward waved vaguely. “Oh, fine, fine,” he began; then, “I’M FINE. HOW ARE YOU?”

If possible, Carol smiled more widely. Edward had the fleeting idea that she was exactly the sort of worker children would expect to be at a cookie factory. They wouldn’t expect her to be hunched over machines in a hairnet and plastic apron, of course. Carol belonged in a homemade apron, proferring a steaming batch she’d just pulled from her kitchen oven.

“I JUST WONDERED,” he yelled over the mixer and age-related hearing loss, “DID YOU HAPPEN TO SEE A BATCH OF BLUE M&M COOKIES?” He glanced at her face, and caught a wry smile cross the old woman’s lips.

Carol shrugged, raising her clasped hands. “Now, wouldn’t that be a nice surprise for a small child?” She asked him innocently.

The mixer buzzed, startling Carol and her two coworkers to action. Scooping cups lowered to the surface of the dough and began lifting and depositing balls onto baking sheets. Each ball passed beneath the M&Ms depositor and on to the ovens.

The youngest worker pulled the first ball from the tray and ran it through a nearby Composition Tester; it passed. The second watched the progress of the machines, ensuring they were all clean and moving easily.

Carol, as Edward knew well, closely monitored each passing pan. Every cookie must have three M&Ms. If they had more, she was to slide it to the side. Fewer than three, to the other side. When the batch had finished moving down the line, she would carefully place the removed balls onto their own pans. Those with extra(s) had one or more removed. Using a bin of M&Ms to her side, she added chocolate candies to dough balls that had too few.

“Yes, Carol,” Edward answered, out of her hearing. “Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise?” Smiling to himself, he began walking back to his main work area.

“Well, kids,” he now heard his future self saying, “At the cookie factory there is a grandma named Carol.” He planned to look around the room and ask, “Do you have a grandma? Does she make cookies?”

He climbed the stairs, warming to the story forming in his mind.

“Carol is just like your grandma, but she makes cookies for all the children in the world.” He’d bring out a bag. Why not? They got to bring home remnants, as long as they never re-sold them. Holding it so they could all see, he’d say, “Carol’s main job is to put the M&Ms onto each cookie that doesn’t have enough. One day, she pulled three blue M&Ms from her bag. ‘I wonder,’ Grandma Carol said, ‘if any little boys and girls would like to have a cookie with THREE BLUE M&Ms.'”

Sam, the boy with the red shirt, the girl in braids, and the rest would watch him closely; they’d wonder if he had brought them just such an amazing cookie. Edward paused at the door to Monitoring. Could he get a full batch of cookies like that? Maybe he could even get all reds, all yellows, or all greens.

Entering his office, he planned to ask his manager that afternoon.

My Mama Said

Stress

My mama didn’t say there’d be days like today.

She didn’t say I’d wake completely wasted from staying up writing for a job I took because I have no job skills and only the lingering hope that everyday writing will somehow help and the paycheck is something whereas writing what I feel is nothing.

And the children, the children are yelling and picking and putting each other down like mean little parrots of their emotionally-drained parent who stayed up writing and let them watch a movie as a treat and to distract them from herself.

But watching a movie wasn’t a Fun Mom thing after all because now my child with some behavior diagnosis or another is telling me exactly what he thinks and his disrespectful behavior is the sort that would have gotten knuckles slapped or backsides switched a hundred years ago but instead I’m supposed to hug him and reassure him that his erroneous feelings are valid and I love him no matter what.

I don’t remember my mama telling me there’d be days where I didn’t love my children, no matter what because they’re impertinent and rude whilst telling¬†me that I am the rude one while I’m washing their clothes and making their food and cleaning their residual dirt from all the floors.

No, she didn’t tell me about how many floors were in a house and how many clothing items four small boys can manage to dirty per hour or how many times they’ll throw an empty cup in the sink till only the backup ones are clean and those free-from-restaurant sorts are what visiting guests drink from.

But, really, I’m sure my mama did not anticipate driving to preschool in sock feet, gym clothes that never saw exercise today, and hair that keeps falling out when a light zephyr passes through the air or when a child dislodges several in a rough sign of affection that was probably more of an attempt to show how upset he was over yet another Rude Mom gesture.

Perhaps she knew about the hopelessness, about the parroting, about the ramshackle hairstyle. Maybe she was watching us mirror her sadness and repeat her empty, futile anger as we did whatever we wanted. Did we hear her crying as we knocked incessantly at the locked door?

Honestly, I’m not sure what my mama said because I didn’t always listen.

unsplash-logoFinn Hackshaw

Burning Autumn

“Mommy, why are the trees on fire?” His three-year-old eyes look concerned, in my rearview mirror.

I glance back to smile, reassuringly, as we pause at a stop sign. The red and orange leaves of street-stalking maples fill my periphery as I do.

“They’re not on fire, Honey. It’s autumn.” He seems to be thinking, as I pull onto the main road. A seasonal gust dances clusters of brown, red, purple, yellow, and orange around our moving car.

“Why are the leaves blowing away?” He asks next. His eyes dart from one window to another to follow the erratic wind-paths.

I think over my answer. ‘The trees are getting ready to go to sleep,” I say, stopping at a traffic light. I watch the leaves as well, a happy warmth glowing inside at this vibrant change to mundane landscapes.

I watch his tiny face scowl. “Trees sleep?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. The leaves fall off so the trees can sleep when there’s snow on the ground.” His face lights up at the mention of snow. “They need to sleep or they get too cold,” I explain.

Just before the light changes, I catch my own eyes in the mirror. They’re dark, like my hair; like my son’s.

Memory-image immediately draws me back to that morning, when he’d walked in after my shower.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” He’d wondered. Still wrapped in a towel, I’d been anxiously pawing through my reflection’s scalp.

I’d found my first gray hairs while brushing.

We’re nearly to his preschool when he asks, “Will the leaves come back again?”

We slide back and forth against the seat¬† belts’ embrace as the car bumps over the parking lot entrance. I wait in a minivan queue.

“Mom! Will the leaves come back?”

No, I think, I’ll keep getting gray. Aloud, however, I tell him, “Of course, Honey! The trees grow new leaves when the snow melts and it’s spring again.”

That’s too far away for his mental reach. He’s trying to puzzle it all out, scrunching his lips and small, dark eyebrows.

I park, exit, come round to his door. Rustling leaf-rain sweeps under my feet. A few blow into the open sliding door as I unbuckle my thoughtful child.

“I like it,” he finally decides, smiling. He laughs; and, clutching my hand, skips and crunches through the leaf storm all the way to the school doors.

He goes inside, to his waiting teacher’s arms. Through the glass I see him point backwards, waving his stocky little arm in a swirling motion. He’s explaining autumn to his teacher; while she intently watches his face, smiles in return, and nods dramatically.

They head off to the classroom, hand in hand. I turn to face the wind and its accompanying leaves.

Everywhere a deciduous tree has been planted, I see color. They’re shouting on their way to the death of winter.

I absently run a hand through my hair, just about where I’d found the gray strand. I smile, as my son had.

When I die, I plan to go out like the burning autumn.