Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Happens on Wednesday…

This has been one of those weeks. We had a very odd sub come in on Monday, and as far as I’m concerned, she can go be a sub at the bottom of a lake somewhere. A deep lake. Seriously, do not tell any of my special needs students to “stop being a baby.” Goddamn it, if I’d heard her say that, instead of hearing it second hand, I would have told her to shut up. Why the other para didn’t is beyond me.

So that was the tone set for the week, and Wednesday brought out the special effects for the occasion. My boy, Mr. Cheek, loves to watch the buses so we do that every morning. Once the last one has gone and the bell has rung, it’s time to run the gauntlet, which is entering one of the hallways crammed with jostling students, and pushing through while making happy noises.

His happy noises resemble the same happy noises made by goats. Happy goats. Very happy…goats. When we went around a corner, there was a new face in the crowd. A new adult face. It was a visiting teacher (also known as a substitute). This guy looked like a young Justin Timberlake and he smiled as we approached.

You should have seen that smile disappear the moment Mr. Cheek greeted him in a new (to me) fashion. Mr. Cheek did not grope Mr. Young Teacher’s chest area, oh, no. Mr. Cheek went right for the groin.

“Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry! No! You’re supposed to say ‘hi’ to people, not do that.”
“That’s ok,” the gracious fellow said. He couldn’t back away because the idiot was standing with his back pressed to the wall. Note: You should always give yourself a few inches of space to maneuver in middle school halls. Always. Don’t lean against anything and be ready to leap out of the way at any given moment.

I apologized one more time and attempted to distract my charge from the fellow’s private sector. It didn’t work. Mr. Cheek did it again!
“Ok, that’s enough, we need to get to class. Welcome to the school. I hope your day goes better. At least it won’t be much worse.” I looked at Mr. Cheek who was already eyeballing more mischief to get into. “Unlike my day, I imagine,” I muttered as I went after my young charge just before he bowled into a knot of students, scattering them like tenpins.

Later, we headed to the park for P.E. Like many parks in the area, there is a walking trail that makes it easy to traverse no matter how you get around, by foot or by wheel. Our teacher likes to take advantage of the nice weather when we have it, so away we went. Mr. Cheek and I took our first lap, and he decided we needed to take another. It was going GREAT until he saw the squirrels. He stopped suddenly and stared. The squirrels stared back. He made a strange guttural sound and I thought he was afraid.

I am such a nitwit.

Before I could say, “Its ok, Mr. Cheek, it’s just a squirrel,” Mr. Cheek was off and running, chasing the little gray beasts right up a tree. Thankfully, Mr. Cheek does not climb trees. Once again I thought we were in the clear as we returned to our meander around the park, but it was not to be so easy. We rounded a corner and came face-to-face with a woman walking her Chihuahua. Mr. Cheek made that guttural sound again.
“No!” I told Mr. Cheek, “That is NOT a squirrel. You may not chase it. Look! There’s the bathroom! Want to go hang out there and flush the toilets for a while?”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Week Two Too Weak

Friday finally found us, gasping for breath and staring at the clock. It was the last day of a very long week. It was also not the best day for me to wear a dress to work. The weather has turned muggy and none of us were handling it very well.

I was telling my teacher that the one thing I love about working for the school district is the same thing I hate about working for the school district.
“The kids?” she asked.
“No, actually, I was referring to summer vacation. A nice long break of doing whatever I want, whenever I want, including getting things done during business hours…Then, all of a sudden, here comes September and POW! I'm back doing the alarm/snooze thing then ferreting around in the pile for clean clothes.”
“Yeah,” she said, “it was REALLY hard to come back to work. But I kind of like the paycheck, so I come back for another nine months of IEP’s, crazy parents, not enough money, and those songs we play every day and longing for summer break.”
“Those songs live in my brain when I’m not here. I will occasionally break out in the ABC rap song while shopping for groceries. It amuses few who hear it.”
“Rappin’ m’ ABC’s! Rappin’ m’ ABC’s! oooh! Oooh!”
“Yeah, that’s the one. You may kill me now.”

It takes all of us a good month to reacclimatize to being back in the swing of things, and the hardest part is not showing it around the kids. Not that they won’t pick up on it or anything when they see us with that thousand-yard stare at the end of the day, while chaos is running amok and groping everyone.

Yes, I said groping. We have a groper. A charmer for sure, and very affectionate, but at times a little too friendly. The first day he was with us, he walked up and patted my boobs. “That’s not ok, honey. We keep our hands to ourselves.”

He was back, moments later. “Look, kid,” I said, removing his hands from my bosom, “it is not ok to do that even if you close your eyes.”

While we were getting ready for morning calendar time, he indicated I was to sit next to him. I complied with his wishes and that’s when I learned he had more than just the one wish where I sit next to him. “Oops!there’s your hand,” I said as I moved it out from under my leg. Moments later: “Oops! There’s your hand again!” only this time I moved it from my lap. Cheeky fellow.

Anyway, we’re learning about our new students, and Mr. Cheek is full of surprises. He’s quite fond of folding chairs and would carry one everywhere if we let him. We don’t, which is why he gets so cranky and hitty. According to his former teacher, he only does that when he’s comfortable with someone. I would be fine dealing with the sniffing (yes, sniffing) and groping, but the hitting and scratching is starting to suck and we’re only in our second week. But I’ve figured out that there are things he really likes (besides boobs) and watching the custodian is big on his list.

Unfortunately, the Custodian is an ass and being in the same room with him gives me hives. He’s one of those “gods gift to women” types and who doesn’t like a guy like that? Besides me, that is. Ill-mannered, slimy, uncouth, opinionated, probably believes supermarket tabloids are reputable newspapers. He pounds his chest and flaunts his…machismo at every turn.

And I have to follow him around a few hours every damn day because Mr. Cheek loves to do janitorial stuff, as long as it means pushing things around, yelling, and moving folding chairs. It’s kind of like walking behind the horses in a parade. Not always the most pleasant place to be on a hot day, especially while wearing a dress.

Mr. Cheek is also very fond of bathrooms and will spend a lot of time in them, flushing, standing around, turning on the hand dryer and playing in the sink. His favorite restrooms are at the park near the school where we occasionally go for a walk. They are filthy and I have to make sure he doesn’t touch anything gross or remove his shoes at any point.

Mr. Cheek and I were in the men's restroom while one of the other paras was waiting right outside. Everything was fine until she said, “There’s a guy coming this way, you should probably leave.”
“Well, that would be nice, only he’s not really interested in leaving.”
“Is he just standing there staring?”
“Yes. Oh! No! Don’t take off your shoes! Oh! Oh! Oh!” I made a mad dive for the unshoed foot before it touched the filthy floor, then nearly burst a blood vessel trying to get the shoe back on his foot while simultaneously keeping him from touching the toilet seat, which was right next to my head.
“I guess that guy didn’t need to go to the bathroom after all. He turned and walked away.”
“He can go pee on a tree for all I care; I need your help getting this one out of here.”
“I don’t want to go into the men’s room. It’s disgusting.”
I poked my head out of the stall and glared at her. “No! Really? And here I am, wearing a dress for the occasion.”

We headed back to go to lunch, Mr. Cheek alternating between hitting, sniffing, scratching, and groping me, while I looked like some kind of spastic interpretive dancer, ducking, dodging, evading and blocking. Tam and I really need to work on our future plans, because as funny as this job can be, I’d like to retire with a little bit of my dignity intact.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here’s Where I Ask Myself: WTF?!?

A few days ago I learned that one of my co-workers was planning on leading a literacy club for the students at our school. She was going to have them do stuff with books.

Ok, to be honest, we didn’t get into much of her plans because in our classroom, every conversation is odd and difficult to comprehend. For instance:

“You doing Book Club?”
“Don’t know, is this a nine or a five?”
“It’s a five.”
“Well, I’m glad you know your numbers, Karen, but I was asking him.”
“Dude, tell her it’s a five so we can move on here.”
“Stop helping, it’s counter-productive. I can’t do the club. Good, job, you picked five.”
“Are you sure? I think he was having a spasm.”
“You’re not being helpful. Fine, we’ll try another number. Is this a three or a four. Hey! Don’t put my pencil down there.”
“He’s fine, he’s just exploring his world, which seems to be the front of his pants. You want your pencil back?”
“No, I’ll get another one, but you might want to toss that one into the garbage. Are you going to do it?”
“Give me a second, I have to get it from him. Wow, that was loud. I think he’s unhappy.”
“Thanks, but I meant the club. Do you want to do the club?”
“What? I can’t hear you. Wait… play with this instead. The club…no, well, maybe. What were you going to do? Ow! No pinching!”
“I don’t know, read books and talk about them, I guess. I hadn’t given it much thought.”
“That tactic might work on a college campus, but these are middle schoolers. Reading is, hey there, big guy, let’s not grab those, they’re mine.”
“Yeah, that definitely describes middle schoolers.”
“I was referring to my student who seems to be quite enchanted with my boobs.”
“That, too. Um, I smell poop.”
“Well, this has been fun, but now it’s time for me and my prom date here to do recycling. See you later.”
“You are so not helpful.”

Armed with that information, I mulled over the possibility of being the Literacy Club advisor and bagged it. No way. With my luck, I’d get one student to show up and it’s the one who can recite every Harry Potter and/or Twilight book from memory. Or the really brainy kid who has read every classic and can quote Chaucer, Thoreau, and Wolff and we’ll have nothing to talk about.

These Gen. Ed. middle school kids can really scare the shit out of me, you know?

But…writing… Here’s where I think I may have a chance.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. There is a wonderful Young Writer’s Program they’ve developed that really sounds awesome. The best part is it’s free, they have lesson plans that meet Common Core standards (not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive, right?) and at the end, each participant will be able to have their finished manuscript professionally printed and bound.

It’s given me ideas.

I’m not going to call it Literacy Club, because to be honest, I’m not that literate. Besides, I have a feeling the name would scare away anyone like me, you know, the kid who is not well read and would feel kind of dumb listening to people quote from thick books that don’t have cool artwork on the covers.

We’re definitely going to talk about books; we’re going to talk about why we liked some but not others. Then, we’re going to attack NaNoWriMo and write the book we want to read.

I’m calling it the Do It Yourself Book club. Want to read a good book? Write one! We’ll discuss plot, character, twists, and cliff hangers. We’ll play with flash fiction, and I’ll introduce them to Exquisite Corpse poetry. Of course, I must include my favorite game of all, Writer’s Scrabble, where no score is kept, all tiles are used (trading is acceptable and encouraged) and made up words MUST come with a definition and used in a sentence.

There will be writing prompts, and if I’m REALLY lucky, we’ll even attempt some script writing in the Spring. Who knows where that’s going to lead us?

I’ve given myself two weeks to get my act together, because I’d like this club to stay active. Every Thursday for an hour after school, I’ll be there, hoping some students believe in themselves enough to want to listen to that muse and write the story that they think about in their waking moments and, they hope, touches their dreams.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This is Why I’m Always in Trouble…

Toward the end of the last school year, the teacher in my classroom decided it would be awesome to do a science section on frogs. Not only were we going to read books about frogs, we were also going to have some in the classroom.

But first, we’d need to grow them!

She ordered a kit that included at least 100 frog eggs, and minimal instruction as to their care. After some diligent searching on the web, she found a site that helped her, and we were soon on our way to experiencing the whole “cycle of life” of frogs.

The students were excited and every day, we watched more tadpoles hatch and swim around… and die. She was constantly fishing out the dead ones. Until one day, we discovered that they weren’t really dead, they were just exhausted from all that swimming and were napping. Of course, now, they were REALLY napping. Fortunately, this was discovered while we still had several tadpoles in the tank, so all was not lost.

Equipment was purchased as needed, and soon we began to see the little darlings change. Soon, tiny legs began to sprout from under their tails. This was a point of contention for a few days, as that was also where the little polliwogs pooped, so was it poop, or were they feet? We decided, if it fell off, it was poop.

They grew…and grew…and one day, the first one popped out the front legs and we had froglets. Panic ensued, because we weren’t quite ready and had to shuffle the tanks around to accommodate both land dwelling frogs, and water breathing polliwogs. I was put in charge of the terra forming project and I had a blast.

Unfortunately, something wasn’t quite right with several of the froglets and they began to die off. I don’t think they were eating enough, as their back legs ceased to function. Soon, we were down to one polliwog and seven froglets, and the last day of school was upon us. According to the place where we bought the frog eggs, we were supposed to salt the water or do other nefarious things to kill the frogs, as they could not be turned loose in the wild.

We sent them home with the children, instead. With parental permission, of course.

But, there was still the matter of the last polliwog. Teacher was about to end him, but I decided to intervene. “I’ll take him home,” I said, crossing my fingers that a) Tam wouldn’t mind, and b) we had something to keep him in.

I got lucky on both counts, and “Wogs” came home with me that last day. While most of his siblings had become froglets by the end of May, Wogs held out. I pampered him, took him outside into the sunshine for a few hours, then one day, he stopped swimming. I checked and checked, but he remained in that same spot. I stopped putting food in for him, but couldn’t quite bring myself to flush the body right away. Two days later, I knew it was time. I looked at the bowl and THE LITTLE SHIT STARTED SWIMMING!

Soon, his back legs began getting bigger, but he remained a ‘wog. He grew, but the front legs didn’t show. It was time for us to head out on vacation, so we packed up the wog in a portable tank and away we went. I was really glad I did that, because while we were visiting my parents, the ‘wog’s front legs… well, they… dang, it was kind of troubling to watch, because they just kind of BURST out from inside him. You know, like an alien… Yeah, like that.

It was panic time, because soon he’d need to get the hell out of the water, and I’d need to figure out what to feed him. None of the pet stores in the Southern Kingdom had pinhead crickets, but they did have containers of…”Flightless Fruit Flies.”

Don’t try to say it three times fast, because you will sprain your tongue and be mad at me.

The flies were perfect and Frog Woggins scarfed them down almost as fast as I could feed them to him. But, what I didn’t understand was what happens to the fruit flies when they’re not crawling around inside their special home with flightless fruit fly culture in it? I did not know they would keep living, so I spent a lot of money on those things until we accidently discovered that there were plenty of eggs that would hatch…

Live and learn.

Frog Woggins munched down a lot of flies, and once I learned their little secret of new hatchings, I began saving money.

Note: Just because they are flightless, does in no way mean they will remain in the frog habitat. They can, and WILL crawl out and all over the place. It is…unsettling. Especially for Tam, because I would feed the frog on the front porch and leave him out to enjoy the sun, but it was also right where she would go out to have a smoke. So it was not uncommon to be sitting inside, minding my own business, when what to my wondering ears should be heard, but the cursing and swearing of very bad words. Evidently, fruit flies like my girlfriend. A lot.

Also, Flightless Fruit Flies are only flightless for one generation, and they are not sterile.

Guess who has fruit flies all over her house? Go ahead, guess. If you guessed me, you’re right! For being right, I’ll send you as many of the fifty million flying fruit flies as I can possibly catch. Tam is thrilled about the winged pests. Almost as thrilled by those, as she was when I told her some of the crickets had escaped.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do Not Think...

Please do not think I have forgotten, because there are days when it's all I can think about.

There are days when I can recall every moment of that morning as though it happened yesterday.

We were in our frenzied morning routine, getting ready for work and school. The television was on, but the station was all cartoons, no news. There was no indication that anything had changed, no indication that the world was reeling.

That year, I was working with a team, going from school to school, checking vision and hearing of all the students in the district. I arrived at work just as a student came into the office and asked the secretary if school was still being held. She gave me a puzzled look and I shrugged. "Of course," she said.

The boy nodded and dashed out to tell his mother she could leave. I asked what it was all about and the secretary shook her head. I went back to where the rest of the screening team was and one of them asked where Joyce was.
"She's at the airport, but stuck in traffic. She thought they'd be back by now, but her friends can't leave, you know."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because of the planes... Haven't you heard?"
I thought it was one of those internet hoaxes that got everybody all crazy and panicked over nothing. Like those emails begging for cards to be sent to the dying boy...

Then someone brought in a television and I called home, instructing my daughter that she was not to go to work at the mall that day. I wanted to gather my children and hide at home. Until I learned the Pentagon had been hit, then I almost lost my shit. My sister-in-law worked there.

I was on the phone to my husband, but he had already heard from his folks. His sister was fine.

She was fine. She was fine. She was fine.

Days later, as we left another school, the no-fly rule had been lifted. As we stood outside, we heard a strange noise, and as one, we looked up to see a small plane coming directly toward the school. We stood in silence, waiting to see what would happen next. When it passed overhead, we all breathed a sigh of relief and someone said, "It's hard to not look at anything and not see a potential weapon."

I will never forget, just like my parents will never forget Pearl Harbor. I will honor those who died with a moment of silence and respect, and I will honor those who continue, by living life and sharing love.

And being very, very thankful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Doesn’t Hit Hard

Those three words, “doesn’t hit hard” were on an IEP of a new student. “Doesn’t hit hard,” the student’s former teacher wrote. She wrote it in bullshit ink.

It was the first day of school with the students, and while many of our kids were with us last year, we had a handful of new students come in this year and it was chaotic. The day before the students arrived, the teacher and paras in my room all had a chance to look over the files for each child and plans were made. Schedules were filled, altered, scrapped, reorganized, and scrapped again. Concessions were made and compromises followed suit.

Finally, a workable solution was put forth and the world smiled upon my classroom.

Then the administration threw in a monkey wrench and we had to start all over again. Those damn clowns changed the master schedule three times before the final one was handed down. There are rumors that it will happen again, but they’re trying to assure us that it will be in the best interest of the students.

Fucking with schedules in the gen-ed group makes enough chaos, but fucking with the Sp-Ed gang? Oh, now that’s taking bat shit to a whole new level of crazy. These kids rely on us knowing what we’re doing; what they’re supposed to be doing; and making sure they are where they need to be at the proper time. That’s not easy to do when the rug keeps getting pulled out from under us and we have no idea where we are, much less where we’re supposed to be at any given moment.

Toss in fragile children, none of whom take change well, and you have large red handprints caused by a child who is escalating into a full blown fit and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. You can only do your best to keep them from hurting themselves or another student. It really doesn’t matter if you get hurt in the process, just keep the kids safe.

“Doesn’t hit hard” would NOT leave large red handprints on my chest and arms, or my pinky joint sore and swollen. “Doesn’t hit hard” would not leave round red marks from a very pointy elbow on my arms, either.

I’m sure once we get to know the students better and can figure out what is BS and what is truth in the files, things will go a lot better.

But I think the best part of the day came when it was discovered that my little angel was enrolled in what they call “Leadership” classes, where they take at-risk students, mix them with honors students, and lead the rest of the student body to success. Needless to say, THAT schedule was fixed straight away.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Nightmare from Hell, Saturday Market Edition

For some reason, Tam and I found ourselves doing what every other person does on a Saturday: we had to go to the store. Stores, actually, as our list of crap to deal with was longer than expected and required more than one stop. It’s the end of summer break and starting next week, we’ll be back at our jobs, Tam slinging food to the children, and me slinging whatever lessons I can come up with that will match their IEP’s and help the little darlings make their goals.

Our larder was rather bereft of foodstuffs for lunches, so the first place we planned to hit was the warehouse store for bulk items like tuna fish, bread, whatever.

Ok, let me back up a few days… We decided to end the summer with a last-minute visit to her mother’s cabin at the beach. We left her son to take care of the animals, while we attempted to rid ourselves of anxiety regarding the coming year. It was wonderful, but our timing was crap. We ended up in holiday traffic on the way home, and I’m nothing if not a tense, raving, foaming, ranting lunatic around stupid drivers, and there were several of them out on the roads.

So, while still not completely recovered from the ordeal of driving through all that stupidity, I again found myself behind the wheel of a lethal weapon as we headed out to deal with idiots.

We arrived at the warehouse store about an hour after the floodgates had opened and hell disgorged its contents into the parking lot. Deciding it would be best to not even attempt to find a spot that didn’t require a hiking permit and a supply of provisions, I took the easy way and hit the distant lot.

It was crowded, but only around my car, and only after I parked it. Plenty of spaces. I took one far from the other cars, so why did the idiot have to park next to me, then stand by my door while she argued on the phone with her husband? Because it was hell, and she was one of the residents.

We finally entered the store, grabbed a cart, and Og burst on the scene, insinuating in no uncertain terms that the woman we were now following, was a complete and utter moron. Og has very little volume control, but it didn’t matter. The noise level in that place was reaching airport proportions.

Taking Tam’s lead (mainly because she was pulling on the cart), we went in a different direction than the rude idiot, far from where we wanted to go, and took a nice saunter through Fool’s Land. Tam refused to allow me to push the cart alone, as she feared there would be bloodshed and sticky body parts stuck to the wheels of the shopping cart. They’re hard to push when there are things stuck to the wheels.

I did get one good one in, though, and it was appreciated by an employee. Some manager walked by the checkout stand we were in and barked out, “Mary! Over here, when you’re done.” As he walked by, I looked at him and said, “Please.” Mary gave me a smile that lit up the sky. Manager Dork didn’t get it. Oh, surprise.

Our next stop had only one incident, and I can’t be positive, but there are times I must trust my gut, and this was one of them. We were standing at the paint display when one of the clerks said to the other clerk, “Remember what I said earlier?” and I thought I saw the motion of a thumb cocked in our direction. Small stores in small towns can have some of the neatest people, you know?

Finally, we finished our big adventure at the regular grocery store. That place is once again in a state of upheaval while they remodel, so it takes us a little longer than usual to find what we want. Plus there’s that whole “List? What list? We don’t need no stinking list” mentality we have, which adds a good thirty minutes to every shopping trip. As we wandered alone through housewares, Tam said something and I replied with a kiss to the neck. This was done in an aisle where we were the only people around. I say that last part, because it is important. We were alone.

Until a guy in a turban comes up behind us, and stands there until I turned around. He stuck out his hand and said, “My name is John.” Reluctantly I shook his hand. Then he pointed at Tam, who was pointedly ignoring him, and asked, “this is…?”
“My girlfriend,” I said.
“Um, uh…ah… huh?” Maybe he didn’t understand that I mean girlfriend-girlfriend, and not just my BFF-girlfriend, because English was not his first language and there could have been some confusion. Or maybe he was just freaked out. He stood there for a few more minutes, before asking god’s blessing on us as he backed walked away.

This is not the first encounter I’ve had with evangelicals wandering our local markets, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Eventually I’ll come up with a snappy retort, but for now that’s as good as it gets.

Our last stop in that store was to check out the latest paperbacks, just in case we were feeling richer than our school employee salaries allowed. Once again, WE WERE ALONE in the aisle, until we were joined by some guy who looked like he hadn’t seen the inside of a book cover since grade school. Even his wife looked a little startled that he chose that particular place to browse. As Tam and I moved down the aisle and away from him, he scooted our direction. I swear, if he’d said anything at all, I was gonna bash him with the cart. Or throw a book at him. Or use big words like, GET. THE. FUCK. AWAY. ASSHOLE.

It was a busy day. Tomorrow had better shape up, or I’ll give Og free reign and let the body parts fall where they may.