Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tales of A Substitute Teacher: BOY NOT

Last Thursday, I was certain that my virgin tour of the faculty lounge would be a high point of my day. I wasn’t expecting massaging recliners or a complimentary espresso bar. I was just planning on being inspired by a place about which I had always wondered and never had the offical right to use.

This virgin visit, however, was upstaged by an episode that happened a bit earlier in the classroom. Plain and simple -- I made a big mistake and dwelled on it the whole day long... and then some.

I thought that a girl was actually a boy and I referred to her as “He.” Some of the kids corrected me. “He? She!” they said, but in that moment it didn't register. I repeated “He.” They repeated, “He? She!”

Then I got it.

And in that split second I found clues that I had overlooked... or had never looked for in the first place. I spied a pink bag strap peering out from behind her stocky frame. I noticed breasts which could have easily been mistaken for a few extra pounds of flesh.

My body was heating up, filling with embarrassment. I looked at her and apologized, attempting to recover. I offered a few excuses. The girl seemed more resilient than me. She let me know that I was not the first to be mistaken. This was her way of forgiving me, and, though I was thankful for that, my carelessness weighed heavily for the rest of the day.

I learned that it is better to address an individual by name rather than by a pronoun. Actually, that is something my mother has reiterated through the years and I finally got it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mean Mommy

It is 9:40 pm. She is 9, and I have kindly or foolishly allowed her to watch the end of Ice Age...again.
"Sammi please brush up now."
(1 minute later)
"Sammi, brush up now!"
(3o secs later)
"Sam. Brush. NOW!!"
(she pretends to be stuck in the chair lolling her feet, tells me she can't get up)
"Sam UP! NOW!!!"
("I can't" she is laughing. Unfortunately for her...I am not.)

First she freezes.
I usually don't go this distance.
She is bawling in the chair and squirms her way out of it.
"Leave me alone," she says crying her way into the bathroom.
I am in the living room, crawling around, whisk brooming tiny relics from the day,then wetting a cloth and erasing the mass of black scuffs here and there. I am channeling my irritation toward sanitation. That usually works for me.

She stomps down the hall to her room, turns out the light and gets in bed. She returns, grabbing her iTouch which she uses for an alarm. I do not follow her. I know what's coming. If i wait a few minutes she will ask for me. If i go in there now, she will say "leave me alone", all the while meaning "come, i need you."

She asks for me. It is dark, but i can see her pained face.
"You hate me," she wails.
This is possibly one of the most difficult things to hear from one's child if she really means it. With Sam, sometimes yes, sometimes no.
"You don't like me. You yelled at me. You think I'm a pain."
I think she means it tonight.
But no matter how many times i tell her that I love her, she won't hear it or accept it until she is ready to let me back in.
"I love you, Sam, but I do not like the way you were acting. I understand why you would think that, but it simply isn't true. Even when I yell,I never stop loving you."

She has emotionally exhausted all the petals in her love daisy -- loves me, loves me not -- and has finally let me put my arms around her and stroke her hair. After a few moments, my eyes start to fill. She is so small and dependent on me.

I turn her toward me, "Sam, I've never stopped loving you for a minute." She looks right into me with those puppy dog deep dark eyes and we just hold each others' gaze for a few seconds before returning to snuggling. .. actually spooning. "Mom," she says, " don't go till I'm asleep."

I don't like it to get to this point. And it doesn't happen very often, but I have to say that making up with my daughter is better than any make up sex I've ever had. Yeah, OK. Maybe I just haven't ever had the end-all-be-all MUS.
Nevertheless, when we are lying there, and my arms are around her making her feel safe again, and I hear her breathing return to a calm rate... this is my personal heaven. I think I could lie like this forever, that there's this completeness that is so powerfully beautiful and also sad.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Silly Bandz -- The Cool and Collected

"I have 117!!" one kid flaunts, wagging her personalized plastic Silly Bandz case right in front of my face. "That's great," I say sounding enthused, then adding, still smiling, "but honestly, honey... I really don't care." I am straining to keep my voice of judgment neutral. I think of how a child in Haiti would be thrilled with just one or two.

We are casually invested. By that, I mean my daughter Sam has begged and bartered for them too, and gotten some. She is not, however, obsessed. I bought 2 or 3 packs for her, and she has spent her own money on a few. This past weekend her daddy bought her a "Sammi's Silly Bandz" box. If i was the present parent, I would have said, "Let's make one instead."

I do enjoy observing this trend. From a business perspective, I commend the inventor and marketers on creating an affordable amusing craze and topping it off with the suggestion that each juvenile collector needs a silly-specific receptacle for safekeeping. From a substitute teacher's vantage point, I understand why certain schools have "banned the band" during school hours. From a mother's perspective, I was impressed with how these stalwart bands retained their shape after countless cycles of washing and drying.

But what's gonna happen when the next tween craze comes along, and knocks the Silly Band from favor? I have a few ideas:

- Sling over wine stems next time my fave cowboy or dog trainer comes for happy hour

- Use them to communicate when my throat is sore. Here I'm saying that I'd love an apple."

- Make art. This fashio-political work is called "High Heel Hell."

- Start "Band Aid" fundraiser. Sell bands and give money to fave charity.
- Add to pile of regular rubber bands and use them similarly in my office, kitchen, etc.

(NOTE:If you have no contact with a person 12 and younger, you may not have heard of or seen Silly Bandz. Closely related to the classic rubber band, a Silly Band is a colorful shape-themed silicone stretchy band bracelet collected and worn by girls and boys.There are 47 pages worth of Bandz for sale on eBay.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hello, My Name is Mrs. Dagmi and I'll Be Your Sub

It’s been driving me crazy – my inability to blog about my substitute teacher debut. I mean, I am rarely at a deficit for material. Every little thing usually inspires me. And taking on another part-time career was not just another little thing.

As the magazine world continues to readjust itself, I wanted to look outside my job zone. Substitute teaching made sense. It combined my genuine love of learning with the need to be creative and make a difference. With two kids in the Broward Public School system, I also wanted to get to know the system from the inside.

I was registered in Sub Central at noon last Tuesday. At 4 pm I confirmed a 3-day fifth grade assignment. I dove right into it which was unlike me, and I liked that.

So, here I am chomping at the bit with excitement over this new addition to my life. I want to write all about it, and yet… I’ve had a touch of blogstipation. Drats! Some of it’s no doubt from the sheer exhaustion of the job. I was not expecting to be totally wiped. But I think the blogstipation comes mostly from not being able to think about anything but teaching in the moment of teaching.

Usually when something occurs to me as “blogworthy” I have the luxury of turning thoughts over in my head, and maybe even jotting a few down. When I was in the classroom, however, I was on every minute and then anticipating the next. Downtime doesn’t exist. There are two half hour breaks. I filled mine with eating, peeing, brushing my teeth, checking email, checking in with the other 5th grade team teachers, organizing my desk, and writing notes for the real teacher.

I had a couple of tests to administer on Friday. Dylan said I’d be bored and that I should bring stuff to do. I packed a newspaper and a book and, of course, a journal. I never read the paper nor opened a book nor wrote a note. Instead I gave tests, walked around the classroom monitoring chatter and wandering eyes over and over again, and then graded tests.

On the first day of the new job, it was all so new. I was just amazed I got through the day without a hitch. I had 63 names to learn, 63 faces to remember, minutes to watch, equipment to work, and a slew of behavioral issues to quell. Day 2 was similar but I felt more comfortable and confident because we were already acquainted. On Day 3, I was referring to the class as “my kids.”

Sammi is excited that I am a sub. Teaching’s been at the top of her career list for a while. This weekend when I was making dinner and fantasizing about a nap, Sammi was in the living room playing school. “Rolling your eyes won’t get you anywhere!” she warned the class. I think I’ll have to try that line.