education, Memoir, Princess, Rants

I’m the biggest loser! No, I am! (Relax, people. It’s not a competition.)

writing110I recently told my tale of personal woe in an article that was published on the Huffington Post website.

It was scary to bare my soul in a public setting but I thought it might help other teachers to know that there was someone else out there who had a difficult time doing a challenging job.

The feedback I received was amazing. I got comments from teachers all over the world. “It’s like you are telling MY story.” Some people sympathizied, others empathized and some disagreed.

I also received some rather interesting feedback that implied there was a game at hand that I didn’t realize I was playing.

“Meh. Big deal. That’s nothing. You should see what I had to deal with.”

To which I replied (in my head), “Really? Is this a contest? Are we playing Who’s the Biggest Loser right now? Is this a special episode of The Amazing Pity Party?”

The one-upmanship in the comment section was quite amusing to watch.

“Humpf. This lady obviously had lots of money and got to stay home all day. I don’t have any money and I am run off my feet working two jobs.”

“Hold on, here. You have it made! You have two feet? I only have one foot and no job and I sit in my house all day crying my eyes out.”

“Whoa, whoa, suck it up, lucky duck. You have one leg? I have no legs and I live on the street where I wish I could cry but I have no tear ducts because they were removed by aliens!!!”

You see where I’m going with this?

We’re all just simple human beings trying to get by in a world that’s sometimes neither fair nor kind.

And sometimes the only thing that gets us through the day is the compassion of others – family, friends, and yes, even strangers.

Pain is pain. Compassion is compassion.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not a competition.

I know the story I told isn’t the most pitiful story in the history of the world. In fact, it not even the saddest story within a 100 metre radius of my house.

But it’s my story. And it’s the only one I can tell.

Feel free to tell your own. Trust me. If it caused you pain, you have my compassion.

For the ultimate one-up-manship story of woe, check out the attached Monty Python sketch.
For the ultimate one-upmanship story of woe, check out the attached Monty Python sketch. Be prepared to snort milk out your nose (if you’re drinking milk, that is).

Four Yorkshiremen – The script

Monty Python – Four Yorkshiremen – The Video

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education, Teacher

Ten Important Lessons I Teach That Aren’t Part of the Core Curriculum

writing100Some folks are predicting that live teachers in classrooms will soon be replaced by disembodied voices over the internet.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

Not because I’m anti-technology or because I want to preserve my job for all eternity, but because so many important things that are taught in schools every day aren’t officially on the curriculum.

I think there are plenty of aspects of grammar or math or science that can be taught on-line. And good teachers can and do access this technology and use it to benefit all students.

But what about the other things? Call them life lessons, if you want. We don’t plan on teaching them but when you deal with children, and people in general, these things come up. And I, for one, am glad they do.

Here are a few of my favorite life lessons

  1. Everyone has strengths and challenges…even teachers. Every year I tell my students the things that I am terrible at. I tell them that my drawing skills are abysmal and that I have absolutely no sense of direction and that I am woefully uncoordinated. Then I tell them that I am good at teaching writing and math and that I will do everything I can to help them have a great year. I tell them that each of them is going to be good at some things and that other things may be more challenging for them. And then I tell them that’s OK. All that matters is that we all try our best.
  2. Equal does not always mean the same. It’s important for kids to know that everyone learns differently and that sometimes other kids will get something they won’t because they need it. That doesn’t make it “not fair”. It just evens out the playing field.
  3. The world is a big place. One year I had two South Korean exchange students. Our social studies curriculum outcome that year was not to learn about South Korea but boy did we. Even showing kids where we are on a map of the big, wide world opens a flood of questions and wonder.
  4. Sometimes we have to work with people we don’t particularly like.  Some people will be bossy and some people will slack off. Some people will fool around and others will work like dogs. It will happen at school and at home and maybe even on your hockey team. It’s a fact of life. Learning how to deal with all different kinds of people is part of leading a successful life.
  5. Tests are no more than a measure of what you are able to express at this particular time in this particular place. They do not measure your worth as a person. A few years ago, I started reading report cards (privately) with my students before they were sent home. Knowing I would have to look into a child’s eyes as they saw their marks and my comments made me more accountable and conscious of what I was writing. When I sit with the student, I explain why I said what I did and why they got the mark that they got. I answer their questions and sometimes dry their tears. And I tell them that this piece of paper in no way measures them as a person. No test can do that.
  6. Respect and manners matter. Like all of us, kids often speak without thinking and sometimes that causes hurt feelings. In a classroom situation, they learn how important it is to be respectful of each other. Helping kids make the classroom a “safe” place to learn and take chances is one of the most important things a teacher can do.
  7. If you can laugh about something, everything is better. Once I sent a student out in the hall for disrupting the class. I told him I would be out in a minute to speak to him…and then…I promptly forgot about him. About 20 minutes (!) later, I went out in the hall to get something and was startled to see him sitting there against the wall. He knew instantly that I hadn’t been coming out to talk to him. “You forgot about me!” he said, incredulously. “No, I didn’t,” I stammered. “I just…I…” He started laughing and pointing at me, “Ohmygod! You forgot me!” I couldn’t fake it anymore. I started to laugh. “I’m sorry! It was just so quiet in there and I…” By this point we were both laughing hysterically – me and a 10-year-old boy who had almost driven me to distraction 20 minutes earlier. I apologized for forgetting him and he apologized for being a pain in the…neck…and the rest of the day was lovely.
  8. When you help out and contribute to making your class YOUR class, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. I generally like to leave some time at the end of every day for clean-up and organizing. Yes, I could do it myself at the end of the day. No, this doesn’t mean I’m a lazy teacher who is trying to race out the door as soon as the bell rings. Children who help keep their classroom neat, tidy, and organized are less likely to throw garbage on the floor or draw on their desks. Children who put their artwork on the walls and their writing on the bulletin boards are more likely to see their classroom as THEIRS. It’s not MY room, it’s OUR room. Hopefully these same kids will transfer this lesson to their home and their community.
  9. Today may have been a difficult day, but (hopefully) tomorrow will be better.* Some days will just not be fun and kids will end up learning a lesson that is not warm and fuzzy. Sometimes other kids will lie to them or be mean to them. Sometimes they will get in trouble for something that wasn’t their fault just because they were hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong time. Sometimes the teacher will get mad at the whole class for “no reason” just because she is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.** And that sucks. But hopefully everyone will learn that these things happen and that it doesn’t make someone good or bad but, rather, human. And that tomorrow will be better.
  10. Grade 4 (or 8 or 12) is a journey, not a destination. To paraphrase the great Steven Tyler, “Life’s a journey, not a destination” and school is a part of life. If every lesson plan is based on preparing for the next test or the next project or the next report card, then we are missing out on an amazing journey. Enjoy the moments. They are what matter.

Now YOU tell ME: If you are a teacher, what are the most important lessons YOU have taught that weren’t part of the curriculum? If you are/were a student, what important lesson did you learn from school that wasn’t part of the regular lesson plan?

“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Plastic Purple Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
*“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst.
**Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst.
Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Suburban

True Confession: I was a Disney virgin

writing90Growing up in the suburbs of New Brunswick in the late 70’s, it was pretty clear that only the rich families went to Florida on vacation.

Vacations with my family did not consist of getting on a plane and flying to…well, anywhere.

Instead, they involved an annual 14-hour drive (each way) to southern Ontario to visit the grandparents and assorted relatives.

My mother packed breakfast, lunch and supper and we drove straight through. My father white-knuckled it beside crazy-Quebec drivers, while my brother and I bounced around (sans seatbelts) in the back of the car. We would flip the seats down in the station wagon and lay out the sleeping bags, so we could read our comic books and punch each other until someone reached back and smacked at us from the front seat.

We never stopped at a hotel on the way for a night of fun and frivolity. Well, we might have once but I think it was because the car broke down and I don’t believe there was any frivolity.

Like I said, Disney was not part of my childhood. (Thanks a lot, Dad…you owe me for some serious therapy).

Fast-forward 20 years: my children are of that “Disney” age but still it’s not in the cards. For one thing, my boys were runners and climbers. Both had near-misses with cars around the age of 3 and I spent much of their early years just praying they wouldn’t die on my watch. Combine my fears of them running off into the Magic Kingdom and being kidnapped by Goofy with the fact that we had about 37 cents to rub together and once again, Disney was out of the picture.

It seemed as if I was destined to be a Disney virgin for life.

But then…all that changed.

writing93On a whim, my husband and I decided to take the plunge. We pulled the kids out of school and flew to the magical land of Mickey and Minnie. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the best time…my eldest graduates this year and 7 days out of school when you’re facing grade 12 exams probably wasn’t the smartest thing we could have done, but we were on a mission – we were Disney bound!

We left on a cool Canadian morning in May and arrived to steaming hot Orlando temperatures.

Our days were full.

I had bought tickets for 3 days in Disney, 2 days at Universal Studios, 1 day at SeaWorld, and 1 day at Wet and Wild. We left two days open for shopping and relaxing.

Let me tell you – those two days off?

Priceless.

My senses have never been so overloaded in my life.

Sights, sounds, smells – everything comes at you full speed at Disney (and by Disney, I mean all of the Orlando theme parks…they’re all Disney to me). You are on a thrill ride before you even set foot on a roller coaster.

I am grateful to have gone but I don’t know if I would go again. I think it’s something like childbirth. You would only do it again if you could forget what it was like the first time around.

All that said, since I am now an experienced veteran of all things Orlando, I will share my tips and observations with you. (You’re welcome.)

  1. All good things end in the gift shop…and all rides…and all shows. You literally walk through hundreds of gift shops during a week at Disney. Put on the blinders and march quickly through the gift shops. There are hundreds of discount stores mere miles from the amusement parks. You do not need a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like Mickey and Minnie. And if you really, really do? Buy them for $9.99 at the outlet store, instead of $29.99 at the gift shop.
  2. As much as I enjoyed all of the ‘activities’, waiting for my boys to finish riding the crazy-ass roller coasters gave me the chance to people watch. There is nothing like people watching at Disney – you see all shapes, sizes, ethnic groups, ages and personalities and hear all types of accents. I saw people in clothing choices that made me wonder if they owned a mirror and I saw tatoos on everyone from grannies to pre-teens. It was like watching a movie.
  3. Babies at Disney…WTF?! I don’t get it. What benefit does a BABY get out of a day at an amusement park? Now, if you have other children and you’re just dragging the baby along for the ride, I kinda get it…I couldn’t do it, but I understand. But there were adults there with just a baby…trying to get the carnie-worker to let them take their BABY on the rollercoaster with them?!  Stop. Put.the.baby.down.  (One exception to the baby rule is my cousin Tracy, but that’s only because she is a superwoman and she does Disney with kids the way it should be done…with kid rides and kid activities.)
  4. Water rides will save your life. Don’t worry about getting soaking wet…you will get soaking wet but you won’t care because Orlando is stinking hot and you will dry quickly. The water rides will cool you off but even better than that, they will soothe any crankiness or nastiness that might be setting in after a day of sensory overload.
  5. Street food is everywhere. Word of advice? Walk away from the giant “turkey legs”. At $10 a piece, these things could feed an entire family. But should they? I have never seen a “turkey” with a leg that big. And the meat is pink, more like ham than turkey. I am pretty sure these things are made from some sort of weird hybrid. Turkey + pig = purkey.  I would not encourage the eating of purkey until more testing can be done.
  6. Carry your own bottled water. We bought a two-four of bottled water at a local convenience store for $2.99, which coincidentally is what you pay for ONE bottle of water at the parks. We hydrated ourselves like we were hiking through the Sahara desert.
  7. Carry some real food for lunches and snacks. Yeah, the street meat and deep fried foods are fun…for awhile. But there comes a time when you hit the wall and you can’t bring yourself to pay $7 for a hot dog that tastes like…well…a hot dog.
  8. Allow yourselves downtime. For us, it was sitting around in the evenings, watching TV or hanging out around the hotel pool. That’s when the kids would tell us what they liked, didn’t like, wanted to do, didn’t want to do.
  9. Enjoy it for what it is. Yes, it is a super-sized, commercialized, sensory experience but for me, it was a chance to spend time with my husband and our boys without any interruptions from real life. Just us and Mickey.
Turkey...really? Purkey is more like it.
Turkey…really? Purkey is more like it.
Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Why We Should Abolish Grade 8

Let the cats and the grade 8's roam free.
Let the cats and the grade 8’s roam free.

I have long proposed that Grade 8 be abolished.

Sort of like the 13th floor in a hotel. Just skip over it. It’s bad luck. No one wants to get off on that floor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying kids in grade 8 are bad people. It’s just that when they hit grade 8 they become afflicted with a condition I have coined Grade-Eight-I-Tis ©.

Grade-Eight-I-Tis, or G.E.I.T. for short, causes the adolescent brain to stop working, allowing the puberty hormones to take over.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what are the side effects of this dreaded condition?

Well, since you asked, let me give you an example of G.E.I.T. in action.

***************************************************************************************

Yesterday, as I was driving through my neighborhood, minding my own business, I saw one of my former students coming around the corner of the little side street where I was about to turn. He was with three other boys, all in grade 8.

I taught him three years ago when he was in grade 5. He was a cute little kid then. Nice, friendly, helpful.

I waved at him but he didn’t wave back. This was odd because he always waves at me. In fact, the other day, he actually stood in the middle of the road so that I would stop my car and talk to him.

That little mystery was solved in a matter of seconds.

As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the fire.

I have no doubt that this former student of mine started the fire with his empty-headed buddies and then just sauntered away. There was no one else around and the flames were pretty high by the time I started beating them out with an old hat I found in the trunk.

Between my hat beatings and the man from across the street who came over with a bucket of water, we managed to put the ditch fire out pretty quickly.

But I was mad. I called 911 and told them they needed to send someone over to spray down the grass, just in case there was a rogue spark lurking somewhere. Then I told them to have the police call me. I was on my way to have a chat with a few budding arsonists.

I caught up with the boys pretty quickly (athletes they are not). The three I didn’t recognize took off running. My former student walked over to the car.

Trying to be cool, he leaned over my window, “Hey, what’s up?”

“You’re busted, buddy,” I told him. “Get ready for a chat with the police about the fire.”

“I didn’t light any fire,” he said, trying to look cool as sweat beaded on his forehead under his stupid backwards baseball cap.

“Whatever. Tell it to the police.”

Now, I know the worst thing that will happen to this little dumb-ass-kid, and his equally dumb-ass friends, is that they will get a slap on the wrist. Even if they are charged, the Young Offenders Act in Canada protects kids from their own youthful stupidity. And I suppose that’s a good thing. I can only hope that their parents will realize that unless they want to visit their kid in a juvenile detention facility in a few years, they need to step up and nip this problem in the bud.

*********************************************************************************************************

This incident just reinforced my belief that G.E.I.T. is a burning problem (no pun intended) that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

In my little fantasy-world, students in Grade 8 would not be in the classroom.  Instead, they would be out in the community helping: helping people, helping animals, helping the environment. This would help grow the parts of their brain that have been stunted by G.E.I.T. They would learn empathy, compassion and respect.

There would still be grade 8 teachers but their job would be to coordinate and supervise the work placements.  Yes, it would be like herding cats, but seriously, if we’re being honest here, isn’t teaching grade 8 like herding cats anyways?If you’re going to let the cats out of the bag, you might as well give them a wide open space in which to roam.

And who knows?

Perhaps if you’ve just spent the week cleaning out the ditches around your neighborhood, you might not be so quick to light them on fire.

I’m just sayin’.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Checkin' for monkeys right now.
Checkin’ for monkeys right now.

UPDATE: I heard from the police this evening regarding our little junior arsonists. It seems three of the boys threw the fourth one under the bus and said that he lit the fire without them knowing. Apparently, this one rogue trouble maker ran off to the ditch (alone) to pee and then he started a fire. That makes sense to me. I always light a fire after I pee in the ditch. Yeah…and then monkeys fly out of my butt!!! Amazingly, their parents apparently bought this big stinking sack of doo-doo and all four got a “stern talking to” from the police.

I must say, I am a little concerned. I believe the United Nations puts “firm talking to”s in the same category as waterboarding. I hope the boys can get past this.

Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

10 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Your Child Get a Better Report Card (and lead a happier life)

writing72

It’s that most wonderful time of the year…report card time!

I jest, of course. Report card time is often a stressful time for children, teachers, and parents alike.

After report cards come home, the question parents most often ask is, “What can I do at home to help my child?”

They think the answer is going to be complicated and involve expensive tutoring support. And sometimes these things are necessary.

But in many cases, there are some simple (free) things you can do at home that will make a positive difference in the classroom. They aren’t based on rocket science and they’ve been proven time and time again by people way smarter than me (people like scientists and psychologists).  They don’t just help kids get better grades…they help them to become healthier, happier people. And in the end, that’s really what we want, isn’t it?

Keep in mind that these suggestions are designed for parents of elementary school children. Once your child hits middle school, you want to have good habits and attitudes ingrained.

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Get the TV and the game system out of their bedroom. If they have a phone, have them turn it off and leave it in the kitchen at bedtime. You want your child to have a restful sleep so they are ready to learn once they get to school. Kids can’t focus on learning when they are tired.
  2. Get your child to school on time. It’s disruptive to everyone when kids arrive late. And it’s often the same kids who arrive late every day. I get it. You’re saying, “Oh, but it’s just so hard to get out the door on time.” Uh, yes, it can be. But you need to make it a priority. By consistently allowing your  child to be late, you are teaching them that punctuality is not important when it is.
  3. Help your child with personal hygiene issues. Check them out before they leave the house. (I often do the sniff test with my kids.) Body odor, dirty clothes, bad breath, basically anything that involves bad smells, is going to make your kid a social pariah and a target for bullies.
  4. Teach your child that everyone has strengths and challenges. Your child may be good at math but struggle with reading or vice versa or both. Make sure they know that this in no way measures their worth as a human being or anyone else’s worth, for that matter.
  5. On that note, make sure your child understands that neither their self-worth and nor your love is tied to a grade on their report card. Remember: no one will be checking their grade four math mark when they are applying for college or their first job.
  6. Teach your children that popularity comes with both power and responsibility. If your child has been blessed with a leader-like personality, help her to use this power for good, not for evil.
  7. Keep an eye on what your child hears, sees and reads. There is a reason movies and video games have ratings. Movies that are rated R are not for children. Video games that are rated mature are not for children. Grow a spine and say no.
  8. Sexy lingerie is not for little girls, it’s for grown women. Even though they make thongs and lacy bras for the pre-teen set doesn’t mean you have to buy them. It’s not cute…it’s wrong. Same goes for Playboy t-shirts and sweatpants that have “Juicy” written across the butt. If she begs, see #8 for advice.
  9. Healthy food makes for healthy minds and bodies. If your child is coming to school already jacked up on a sugar-fueled breakfast (or worse, no breakfast) we are already at a disadvantage.
  10. Finally, don’t trash your child’s teacher in front of your child. The fact is, unless you can negotiate a class change, your child and his teacher will be spending more daytime hours together than the two of you. Be part of a team – your child’s team.

writing71

Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

The Sunshine Award – Yes, it’s all about me.

Sunshine Award

You like me! You really like me!

It appears I am a Sunshine Girl! A lovely lady over at http://1tric.wordpress.com/
nominated me for this blogging award. She follows me, I follow her – everyone wins by getting to read interesting posts on a regular basis.

I’m not really sure what a Sunshine Award means, but it’s a very pretty icon and I guess it’s better than a kick in the pants, so I’ll take it. Hooray for me!

The award comes with some rules that I must follow. They are:

* Make sure to post this award on your blog site. – Done
* Nominate ten fellow bloggers. – Done (see bottom of page and everyone over on the side, as well.)
* Please answer the ten questions. – and…Done-er-i-no.

1. What inspired you to start blogging?

I was tired of stifling my voice. As public servants and members of a union, teachers are expected (and actually required, in most cases) to keep their opinions to themselves. As someone who is, how shall I say it nicely, not exactly quiet about her opinions, I needed a place to vent, share and express myself.

2. How did you come up with a name for your blog?

I have always wanted to write a book called, Confessions of a Suburban Princess. I figured this blog would put me on the road to that goal. But the name, Suburban Princess, was already taken, so I tagged ‘Teacher’ on to the end and decided I actually prefered it.

3. What is your favorite blog to read?

http://thebloggess.com/ She makes me laugh with every post. She also inspired me to write this blog. After I read her best-selling book,  I thought, “Damn! That girl is crazier than a cat in a paper bag and she wrote a blog and a book. Maybe I could, too!”  Check her out…you won’t be sorry.

4. Tell me about your dream job.

I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up but my dream job should include beagles, George Clooney, wine and chocolate.

5. Is your glass half-full or half-empty?

It’s usually completely empty…I’m a chugger.

6. If you could go anywhere for a week’s vacation, where would you go?

Barcelona, Spain.

7. What food can you absolutely not eat?

Liver. It’s disgusting. I had to eat it once a month when I was a teenager because my mother was convinced it would raise my iron levels when I was men-stru-ate-ing. Helllooo? Had we not heard of iron supplements in the 80’s?? There’s really no need to eat an animals’ internal organs.

8. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

I’d like to say dark because it’s politically correct and all, but no…I could eat milk chocolate until it flowed from my orifices like lava. Pour it overtop of a soft gummy bear and you have my heart forever.

9. How much time do you spend blogging?

Not a lot. I don’t like it to get in the way of my “Vampire Diaries” watching.

10. Do you watch TV? If so, what are your favorite shows?

Of course I watch TV…what do you think I am? Amish? I LOVE TV and now that I have Netflix, I may never go back to work. I’ll just sit at home, eating my milk chocolate, watching series after series…ahhhh, bliss. Favorite shows? Vampire Diaries, Days of our Lives, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, What not to Wear…yes, I am an intelligent girl.

That’s it for the questions about ME. (Sadly.) And now, for the final part of this assignment: ten of my favorite bloggers. Check them out, if you have time on your hands that you don’t know what to do with. Also: I love the people down the side of my blog. They are cool, too. Enjoy.

OTHER AWESOME BLOGGERS

1. http://carrieblueberry.wordpress.com/

2. http://illbeoutinaminute.com/

3. http://siobhancurious.com/

4. http://5kidswdisabilities.com/

5. http://anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com/

6. http://ineedanewman.wordpress.com/

7.  http://peachyteachy.wordpress.com/

8.  http://pamela984.wordpress.com/

9. http://yacantgohome.wordpress.com/

10. http://thefoodgirlintown.wordpress.com/