Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm a Better Teacher Now That I Have Kids

I'm a better teacher now that I have kids. 

I realize now that it's a little funny typing that sentence--because of course I've had "kids" as long as I've been teaching. My kids. The kids in my classes. 

But that's not the same thing as having your own kids. And that simple realization is something that has come to me only after holding my own red, wrinkly babies in my arms. 

No, those kids at school aren't really my kids at all. They are merely lent to me for a brief period--yet I have the potential to have a powerful impact on their lives. 

If you'd asked me before the days of pregnancy, I might have said that I knew what my students needed. And, to a degree, I did. I knew what they needed to become better readers, to become better writers. I knew what things were like for me as a student, knew what I liked about classes I'd attended, knew what motivated me, what annoyed me, and my goal was to replicate all the wonderful things about courses I'd taken and to leave out the bad--to bring that experience to my students. 

But what I didn't know was what it was like to be the parent of a student, and I hadn't seen my students in their weakest, most vulnerable moments like their parents had.

I had no idea what it could be like to put your whole world onto a yellow bus and hope that the driver would be safe, that the kids on the bus wouldn't be like the kids I remember on my bus. I had no idea what it would be like to turn away from the bus and realize tears are streaming down my face, no idea what it would be like to continue to cry the whole way back to the house, while all I could think about is how my oldest baby is in the hands of adults I don't know. I had no idea what it would feel like to cling to the 2 year old in my arms as I watch the rickety bus head down the road.

I didn't know what it was like to help a child with her homework. I never imagined those nights of scrambling to fit it all in, homework, snack, play, activities, a bath, reading before bed...Honestly, I had very little sympathy for kids--and their parents--when they didn't have my assignments done. I never imagined the crying, the emotions, when a child can't do an assignment perfectly (or doesn't want to do it at all). Now I know better.

I didn't know how much--how incredibly much--I'd appreciate an organized homework folder, with a spot for communication with the teacher, a spot for returned papers, a spot to send papers in. How I'd have organized my classes differently if I'd only known what  a lifeline this could be for a mommy trying to keep up with the child who's separated from her for most of the day! I teach high schoolers, and my oldest is just starting 2nd grade, but I now realize how much it helps parents--parents of any age--if they just understand how things are working. It's security. It's giving the student and parents a sense of what is happening. 

I knew a routine was important...but I didn't know how important. I didn't realize how hunger or lack of sleep could affect a kid's ability to think and behave like a human being. (I didn't understand how these things could affect a mommy's ability to think, either!) 

I didn't really comprehend the power I had to build students up or tear them down. I didn't realize that all those little anecdotes I would share in class would come home with students, be shared around a dinner table, among siblings. And I don't think I ever realized my name was being mentioned daily in houses around the community. 

I didn't realize that an award I gave a student could inspire them to work five times harder all summer long. I can only imagine the power that a negative comment or a mark on student writing might have had over the years. 

And even though I always knew every kid is different, it wasn't until I had two very different kids of my own that I really understood the gravity of those differences.

When I have my own classroom full-time again next year, I go back knowing that I'm better prepared to teach the kids that other parents share with me--and so much of my confidence comes from my sweet little girls and the lessons they have taught me.   

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hours of Entertainment: A Shoebox TV

This activity is something I read about in some book YEARS ago when I was a kid. So--full disclosure--I did not come up with the idea myself. Like most ideas I ever had, I swiped this from somewhere else and forgot where it came from.

So, of course, my kids feel as though I've been holding out on
them and that I should explain why I hadn't already made it with them, like, a long time ago. Well, friends, I've been holding out on you, too, so here's how you do it, with step-by-step photos and adorable kid models. (My kids, of course. Who else did you think I'd get to do this?) And since we're in full disclosure mode, you should know that the pictures were hard to take, because Olivia refused to put on any clothes. So, for her...only one measly head shot.
How to Do It
It's simple enough that I could explain it in a paragraph paired with a picture, I guess. I used pencils, tape, scissors, newspaper, and a shoe box. I cut up the comics from the newspaper and made my own shoebox television for my Barbie dolls. The "show" is reminiscent of the film strips you other old people used to watch in school...there's a roll of "story" and some scrolling that has to be done with the pencils, which are lodged in holes that you poke in the cardboard shoebox. It entertained me for hours when I was a kid. 
Here you can see the shoebox with a rectangle cut out to make a "screen." We punched holes in the top and bottom of the box with scissors and inserted unsharpened pencils. This was before we attached the "films" the girls designed.
The box from the front and Olivia's favorite new toy, Lamby.

Creating Your Own Story Pages
Not to be outdone, Rosemary has to make every idea better than mine, so she elected to create her own movie to scroll across the screen. That and we didn't have any comics in our house when I introduced the-best-idea-that-I-withheld-from-my-children-for-way-too-long (i.e. this little TV project).
We used regular computer printer paper and cut it in half horizontally, then just taped the half-sheets of paper together to make super long paper that could be rolled up. 
Rosemary creating her film...a masterpiece.

Olivia ended up drawing a lamb multiple times. Sorry...I couldn't get a good pic of her face. It's hard to photograph a naked child.

Look! I made the cast for Rosemary's movie. Better work on my Oscar acceptance speech...
And this one, just because it makes me smile.

Putting Your TV Together
To get the "film" up  on the screen, take the pencils out of the box. Carefully tape the end of your super long paper to the side of one pencil that will go in the box, then roll up the paper on that pencil. Then just tape the remaining end of the paper roll to the other pencil. 
See? Put tape on the side of the paper. Then roll it up. You will have to attach the papers with tape on both pencils. Voila! Homemade "film strip".
Then, still being careful, put the ends of the pencils back in the holes in the box.

Here's what it looks like once the pencils have been put back in their right places. Set the box down on the erasers so you don't scratch your floor. Spin the nubs sticking out of the top to move your film forward and rewind when you're finished.

"Performing" the Story
Oh, and not to be copycats, the girls refused to use simple-minded dolls for their TV "performances". This meant their daddy and me sitting in absolute anticipation while they both scrolled through every inch of the 8-page "movies" that I'd just watched them spend 2 hours making, and sometimes Olivia doing interpretive dance in the background. And it meant clapping afterwards, of course. Lots of clapping.
Showing off her hard work. Olivia was present, but still not pictured. You know why.
They are pretty sure they're going to work on their movie careers next. Olivia is a little disappointed that they didn't get a real movie made by the end of the day, but there's always tomorrow...By then she better have on some clothes.
The finished product!

What have you taught your kids to make on a rainy day? Share it in the comments!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hey Kid

Hey kid,
if you think it would be a good idea to ruin vacation
by peeing on the hotel room floor
in a passive aggressive 4-year-old version of F-you
and then call it an "accident"--
it wouldn't.

Hey kid,
if you think it would be lots of fun for everyone
if you attempt another all-nighter--
for us to to spend what should be resting hours
watching you kick your feet up in the air
so the bed sheets in the hotel room are like a parachute
while you chant, "I cannot go to sleep! I cannot go to sleep!"--
think again.

For the love of God, be quiet, kid.
Hotel rooms aren't cheap, and we all need some rest.
And without some rest, you're gonna be even worse tomorrow.
Stop roaring your terrible roars, 
gnashing your terrible teeth, 
rolling your terrible eyes, 
and BE STILL. 

What would Sarah say? 
You remember Sarah, kid? The lady we met on the playground?

She's the lady with the New Jersey accent, 
the one who seems to think we're staying on a real cruise ship,
instead of in a hotel that sort of looks like a ship,
and she's staying in the hotel room next door.
She's the lady who just about knocked me down on the playground 
so she could confirm whether or not I was Born Again 
in the first 5 minutes that she met me, 
told me how lucky you kids are that I'm a teacher 
so I can help you with your homework, 
but that I should send you to a Christian school, 
then she said "God Bless You" before she left, 
probably to go pray somewhere--

You know her voice. 
She's the one who keeps barking at her grandkids so loudly at 11pm 
while I'm trying so incredibly (incredibly) hard 
not to rip out my own hair
while you're squealing and giggling and rolling around on the 15 pillows that go on the fancy hotel bed...

Kid, you have to be quiet.
Don't get us kicked out. It's our vacation, and I really don't want 
to sleep in the minivan.
And Sarah would certainly not approve of that.
You're already slated to go to public school, which might explain why you're turning into a heathen.

Hey kid, 
Why don't you listen? Just a little bit?

I could talk to the hotel walls, 
covered in striped wallpaper 
and prints of steamboats hung in plastic gold frames;
I could talk to the bleached white towels 
or the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, or all-natural body lotion; 
the cleansing facial soap;
I could talk to the sheets on the bed; the hair dryer attached to the wall, the refrigerator hidden in the armoire, the Gideon Bible in the empty drawer.
(And Lord knows I could go over and talk to Sarah again.)
I'm starting to think I'd have a better shot at getting any of them to listen. 

But I'm scared they'd answer back and start telling me stories of what they'd seen, 
and when other people peed on the floor in this very room, probably just last week.
They might tell me about all the illicit things that had taken place here, 
but right now, all I know is that what you're doing in this room is NOT okay. 

You aren't being the kid I expect you to be.
And, really, kid, the only one I want to talk to right now is YOU.
I can talk all I want, but--HEY KID--if you won't listen, 
I'm wasting the little bit of energy I have left.

Come back, kid. Come back from that island 
where the wild things are.
That's no place for a vacation.

I hope Sarah will keep us in her prayers. 
If I put my ear to the wall, I bet I can hear her praying for us. 

Did you go on vacation this year? How'd it go?