Tag Archives: middle school

Supersaturation causes precipitation, mitigation comes through consideration, contemplation, ending in provisional aspiration

Retreated from the house after trying to referee the three way argument about who hogged most of the recent ice cream purchase and who wasn’t sharing the bananas and popcorn. I tried to stimulate the oldest daughter to rise above the intense and emotional approach of the little brother and sister, to stay calm and take responsibility. She says if they’re acting like little kids, what do I do, act thirteen? I say how about aiming for that. She’s hurt, ends up her smirking at my brittle attempts to be the authority figure, and turns her music up loud. My anger is out of proportion and it’s all I can do not to express in revenge the tearful fury rising up into my sinuses. I add a five dollar fine to her growing debt record on the wall (for hogging ice cream–had that coming), consider cutting off the deposits into her college fund, locking the freezer, somehow cutting off all her worldly pleasures. I manage to send her to her room, where she locks the door and blasts her playlist.

The second daughter does not acknowledge any responsibility in the argument over ice cream, only my many imperfections as a parent, and leaves the room. The youngest apologizes for over reacting about the bananas, tells me he loves me. Still too hot and bothered to respond appropriately, I pack up my laptop bag and tell him keep up the good work on being the big boy and apologizing. I’m still seething, feeling that disconnect between my hoped-for home comforts after a long day, and the reality of three teens who still need me to be at my best for them after their long days. Fourth too, when he gets home from his workout and hits the books again.

“How was your day?” asks the barista.

“Too much time with teens today, I sigh, and now no T.A., P.A., principal or SpEd support.” No janitor or cafeteria either. Tired, so tired when I got home I lay back on my bed, feet up, blankets over my legs, feeling the heat come back into my bones. Not drained, just tired, knowing a power rest should do it. The cat climbed up and lay down on the center of my torso, purring loudly, tentatively extending claws for a contended knead through my too thin layers of protection.

Last night when I’d finished my day of subbing, I saw a job come up for the same classroom. I asked myself (and my kids) if I should take it, or wait for something that didn’t take so much energy. Well, I know the students, I thought, and what they’re working on, and though there were “pressure passes” flying, I didn’t “dis” anyone as far as I know, so they should be okay with me coming back. At least it’s less change for them to have the same sub. So I clicked “Accept” and packed a few extra fillers and openers into my magic bag.

In the morning I bring my A-game attitude to do this job that takes all my energy, positive thinking, patience–bring it on, I think. Looking forward to the first period prep to get my thoughts in order and pull together a few excellent openings, engaging moments to take those kids for a great ride through area, volume of 3-D objects and drifting tectonic plates. But when I sign in I’m told I’m needed to fill in first period–they’re short of subs. So much for prep. I take my keys and head down for a few minutes setting up math and science, find out I have the wrong plan printout, lose more time fetching the right one, and a laptop to play a science video. Try to set up, to no avail, head up to fill in with struggling seventh and eighth grade readers, stumbling through my quick read of that plan, and BEEEEP there’s the bell, and here they come. Glad at moments like these I’m not in my first year, or would I ever get to the second?

“You the sub today?”

“Yes I am,” I smile, thinking, if I can’t do this, well then I can’t, but I think I can I think I can and the low expectations fire me up to the higher ones. I ask some questions about their usual procedure, and they muddle trough an explanation, wanting partly to have things looser and more to their liking, so why give it all away to the sub? But they can’t overcome their instinct to be helpful and hospitable and it comes out they’re group reading Bridge to Terebinthia, so we do, taking turns. A truly relaxing and enjoyable experience, including the short interludes of gaping out the window, bantering about siblings, telling them how the brain gets bored when you’re reading because it can go so much faster that the eyes and mouth, and what audiobook I’m listening to, figuring out the most doable position in which to read–standing? Sitting on the back counter? “If that works for you,” I allow. I’m able to be chill because we are less than a dozen in all, and no one gets at loose ends in those numbers. We read almost the whole hour and don’t get to the worksheet at all.

Then it’s off to the downstairs sixth grade classroom as the kids roar in, asking to go to the bathroom, running the electric pencil sharpener, scraping chairs, boys joshing each other, girls gathering in clusters, laughing and getting in a last quick visit, and there’s the settle down bell. Call to attention, I explain my pickle–no planning time, put a brain teaser on the screen and ask them to be super quiet while I take attendance and get my lesson organized. They do their hospitable best, best that a short attention span can do, and I accomplish the head count, the reminders, the consultations with those who have requests and problems, and we start in.

On through the day–two math classes, two science, and a nice quiet typing block for a breather. Ups and downs, and I’m hoping my voice will get more durable with this kind of use, but overall we keep the plan flowing. Names are coming easier, I feel less scrambled, and succeed somewhat at interfering with the well-developed habit of sixth graders to look attentive while their minds are far away. Lights on but occupant is on vacation. I will have to seriously work on that habit of attention if I get a classroom of my own. I noticed the same thing in tenth grade. I’m using the seating map I sketched up to call on participants–without that I’d be dead in the water–calling on kids who aren’t expecting it, asking them to stay with me, if I find out they’re on a mental drift. Not to humiliate or embarrass, just to create an expectation that everyone should be ready, during class discussions, to do their best. Which they seem to start to get. Hard to ignore the raised hands of those who want to answer every question, but sometimes what’s needed. Mental note, for when I have a classroom of my own, to use the popsicle stick method sometimes for randomization.

By the time I’m heading out of the house to the coffee shop I think I’ve decided that I definitely won’t try for a position below seventh grade. But after an hour of writing and quiet, I think, maybe. We’ll see what choice I have, anyway, when the jobs start to come up later this spring. Maybe I’ll just keep subbing, tutoring when needed, and start my masters.

Thanks for listening.


Posted by on February 4, 2015 in Education


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Attempted fortifications

My consolation in knowing that my child is struggling, a lot and in a way I’m not sure how to help with, is that he has us, a reasonable stable family, and we love him and try our best to help him work through his stuff. Not every kid has that, so how indeed can they make it through those days when they hate school and feel like they have no real friends, and forget to do their homework, and can’t take it any more?  The stress is not only from everyday school stuff, like being surrounded by 90% immature kids such as yourself who aren’t thinking about kindness and courtesy and reaching out, but mostly the moment, and posturing and drama and survival. And knowing you’re different, your friends are different, and wondering how to fit in, and whether you want to anyway. And being the youngest at home and subject to a good deal of self improvement advice and teasing there too, and parents who are increasingly busy with work and all.

Also there’s this: trying to process all that “helpful” anti-bullying information such as, “Mom, did you know that there was a girl who was bullied so badly, she killed herself? And, sometimes I feel that way, and if things don’t get better, I…” And pretty soon he’s identifying with someone’s suicidal thoughts, thank you very much, school counselors. Whose idea was that, that every kid should hear that story? Now every day after school it’s me and my son talking over what he’s going through–nothing tremendous from what I can tell, but he’s taking every teasing, every innuendo, every deficiency of love and affirmation, as, maybe like what that girl experienced, which was actually too awful to mention to the sixth graders, thank heaven, but so he doesn’t realize that this is more about rolling with the punches. Right?

Other days he identifies with the boy who was bullied all through school and then when he became hiring manager at some important firm, in comes the bully to interview for a job, and it’s time for consequences, buddy! Those days are better. But it’s a real battle now to walk with my son through these feelings, and try to remind him that he’s strong, that he can handle this, that, yeah, sometimes people are jerks, but we’re all capable of being mean, or at least not as nice as we could be, but that’s just life. No, we realize that the counselor is not the sort of person one would want to talk to about that, but is there a way to tell someone you think would have the wisdom to keep an eye out? If not, just concentrate on learning, and keep your eyes peeled for someone else that needs your kindness. And be patient–people mature, and things get better.

And I pray that he’ll remember how much he’s loved, and discover each day those good deeds that the Father is providing for him to do, and be a blessing out there in the world. Because Mom is committed to working now, and can’t quit to homeschool you through this. I ask the siblings to pitch in with the support of friendship, and redouble my efforts to fill his love account to overflowing. And don’t you ever talk about suicide, boy, I want to say, because it makes me mad! Mad at people who aren’t loving, mad at people who are good intentioned but thoughtless, mad with grief. And I even tell him, I even say, the meanest person of all is the one who takes himself away from the people who love him. Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, but there it is, and by God I hope it doesn’t do any harm.


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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family


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Sub notes

Pretty tired this week, as I get used to a heavier schedule of subbing–this week in middle school as usual but also a bit of time with kindergarteners, second graders and fourth graders on a “float”day. With kindergarteners I told and illustrated a story about a spider who built a web in my car and caught two flies. The little boy who had arrived just a few days before and spoke only Chinese copied the drawing in his story book and and then the sentence written below it–perfectly. Later whispered something in my ear in Chinese. The other children wanted to convince me he couldn’t do this, couldn’t understand that, and I had to correct them, saying that they he would soon, just look at what he’d accomplished in the little time he’d been in the country. We reviewed colors, numbers, alphabet sounds–I wished I’d brought my ukelele. Later I led a round of pogo count-jumping with extra energetic boys, believing as I do that generally that’s more helpful than trying to get them to sit back down and be quiet. They didn’t want to stop until recess.

I think of my hour with second graders with a shudder, and am so relieved it was a one time job–there were kids poking other kids and making them cry, a kid doing a hip wiggly dance to entertain everyone while I was trying to explain an activity, lots of hands-on math games with no instructions and lots of small parts that got all mixed up and spread around, boys who got on the rolling cart of the computer maintenance guy and wanted to ride out of the room on it, and waves of children who couldn’t wait for their question or comment or story to be told and were blurting and mobbing me as I tried to get things rolling, others walking around visiting, causing trouble, everything so noisy, and I not knowing the signals and rituals for quiet down, sit down. No chance to get a handle on any kids’ names, since they were supposed to be rotating to different activities, and couldn’t keep their teams straight so eventually there was a table with eight kids and another with two. And a backdrop of cooperative kids ready to play the games and listen to the story and keep their hands to themselves, but could they get what they needed in the chaos? No, and I felt sorry for them. I asked the paraeducator to help get the kids to their right places, and she used the good old riot act, same one with which the regular teacher left us. Recess was a blessing, as they ran joyfully with the gusts of wind whipping up and around the soccer field and across the playground. Rumor was among the teachers that the wind was playing havoc with the kids’ spirits, winding them up to no end. Then it was back inside to try to get them to copy down words in their agendas until their teacher returned from her meeting, with frowns and stern words.

This week I also encountered middle school boys who had personally made jam and relish–the relish maker sure his recipe would be a prize winner. I asked seventh and eighth graders if they thought Google’s motives for getting internet access to remote areas of the globe by means of helium balloons was motivated purely by altruism (the only reason that was mentioned in the article they were reading), described ways to get to college without graduating from high school, read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and tried to avoid a teacher’s request that I line up a class by height, thinking it might be hurtful but finding out later it was for the purpose of arrangement in a choir. I saw a teacher show her class how to do a certain math problem, leave it illustrated on the board, and then hand me a stack of math assessments to give them as a test, with the exact question on it that she had shown them. Corruption or subversion, I don’t know.

My daughter said a curious thing after I went on a bit about how I really wanted to treat my time with students as important, that I didn’t want them to get the impression that because they had a sub it would be nothing much today. How I wanted to teach real lessons, facilitate real learning, and not just monitor study hall or games like Heads Up Seven Up. She said with conviction, “Mom, you care! You should teach; you should be a teacher, and not just a sub. Subs don’t care!” I said, Really? And she told me it was true, that most subs were just there, just got through the day, maybe had fun or were entertaining or nice, but their purpose was not education. Her words have been ringing in my ears the last few days. Don’t care? It’s true that I have heard numerous times in my brief encounters with other subs that they had come out of retirement because they were bored, so I suppose in a way my daughter was right. Still, maybe it’s a problem of low expectations that the system has of us, perhaps out of not wanting to impose unreasonable ones. Yes, we are told what we do is appreciated, but no one alludes to any real educational contribution, and there seems to be a sense of surprise when a sub can teach, or touch a heart, or bring something really valuable into the experiences of students. Or even bring a sense of refreshment, a different perspective about the children themselves, about the topics of study, the methods of work, or the atmosphere of a classroom. There’s mainly the hope that the work gets done somehow, and the kids behave.

I’m going to try out a more “regular” job next week, teaching high school biology for someone who’s out on sickness or injury, not sure how many weeks. It will be a good opportunity to get more familiar with high school work and expectations, high school professional atmosphere, see if I fit there. And, as they say, “get my foot in the door.” I’m glad to have the opportunity, but I have mixed feelings about committing to anything long term, if that opportunity comes up. Still, I might love it, and would consider it, providing I can sharpen up my biology knowledge and work it in with my present home responsibilities. Will I miss my middle schoolers? Will I enjoy the change to less emotional/intuitive work, more intellectual/organizational stuff? And will I be able to find the right shoes?


Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences


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I don’t have a title for this one

Ever trying to be a voice of reason. Choosing stocks for our retirement portfolio like Spock, as one is supposed to. Spock used to be my nickname, due to a habit I had of underfunctioning in the emotional expression department when others seem to be going over the top. I’d go all logical and try to work things out that way. I’ve learned that that just drives upset people nuts, and leaves my own emotions not dealt with–exhausting.

In other reasonable efforts, I’m trying to help with sibling conflicts related to one driving and picking up another on time or not, messes in said car, how much should one expect and give in a relationship of duty and dependence? As I offer suggestions to one and then the other, I realize my lack of good example has not been helpful. I say, give more than you feel like giving, when you have a chance to show love, make someone feel taken care of, do it, rather than constantly hashing out minimum expectations and boundaries, taking offense, feeling put upon. As for myself, I am so intent on cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions that I don’t do those little extra dropoffs and pickups that could be a way of showing maternal love, going the extra mile. Offers of walking down the hill to meet my child, or biking together to the bus stop, not received the same way. Offers to fix lunches often turned down on the grounds that I don’t use the right foods. Still, there’s always the nightly opportunity to give back rubs to one sore kid or another, and now and then to type out or proofread a paper.

In the long, quiet hours of the day I try to catch up on house cleaning, which I hate (except laundry), and soon gravitate to refinishing cabinets and furniture (creates a finished product, unlike housework). Satisfying to work the sander out in the wind, see the grain emerge, brush on the finish. Then some writing–not much I can think of blogging about, but I’m researching the issues around the Common Core State Standards and testing, getting the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top timelines nailed down, identifying the players, formulating a letter of response, waiting for my copy of A Chronicle of Echoes by Mercedes Schneider (review here). Gotta channel Spock in that work too, as it’s pretty alarming stuff. If it gets too gnarly I get back to woodworking, or go dig up some weeds, wash the mud off the pumpkins, look for the last strawberries.

Then it’s off to take my daughter to the horse barn, and back to pick up my son from track and field. He’s down, really down, exhausted, he says, from running three miles, but of more concern, says he’s a weirdo, crazy, not normal like everyone else, hates life. He said similar things when I picked him up two days ago. I want to encourage him–I know he is different, does have some habits others make fun of, but I want him to know that’s okay, he doesn’t have to  be like anyone else. Or, does he want to try to be like those people? Yes! He tries, he says. But no, he doesn’t really want to be like them. I start to ask him what in particular has happened, he says he doesn’t want to talk about it any more. At home I fix him hot chocolate, he turns on an audiobook, plays some piano, all calm and cheerful apparently moved on. I come by in a quiet moment, tell him to remember his home, his friends, remember the people who love his personality and uniqueness. I tell him that if he’s around kids who aren’t kind, who don’t appreciate him as he is, he shouldn’t share anything special with them–save it for the people he trusts, who will understand. He says he will.

I want him to get through this, learn from these difficulties, but I don’t want him to be wounded. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, sometimes, but it can also kill you. The desire to homeschool again comes–would that be the right thing to do? But I’m working now, maybe I shouldn’t consider it, maybe I won’t bring it up with my husband. Those days are gone, aren’t they? Yet his siblings were all homeschooled at his age, and in some ways he makes a great homeschool kid–loves to learn, experiment, write, read, make videos, and I sure could challenge him more in the math department. He’d get back to memorizing poetry, which he loves, could set up a business, which he’s now too busy to do, and we still have tons of good curriculum.  Truth is, I’m not sure I’m up for it. Do I have the energy, the willingness to put off my daytime goals and projects? There’s so much that Spock can’t answer for me here.



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