I’m melting… melting…

The high temp for Doylestown today was 86°. The lowest temperature my classroom managed today was 86° – and that was at 7:30 in the morning before 26 preteens arrived to add their body heat to the mix.

The classroom worked its way above 90°, so we did most of our work outside, chasing shade around the school as it shifted with the hours. I mother-duckling’d the kiddos: “Bud, you need to get under that tree,” “Sweetpea, scoot back a few inches, your shoulders are in the sun.” They were sent home sweaty and flushed, but without sun damage.

Did I take similar care of my own precious skin? Not so much – although I didn’t realize this right away. I noticed my coworkers giving my sidelong glances after school. A couple made comments: “Spend some time outside today, Tiffany?” Being an idiot, I worried my class had been too loud and disturbed others – but no, they were unusually quiet, subdued by the child-melting heat of our classroom. It wasn’t until I arrived home and looked in the mirror that I figured out how my colleagues knew I’d had a courtyard-classroom today.

Do I match my powder pink polo shirt? No. I am burned darker, more like the color of a Macintosh apple. I’ve got reverse racoon eyes, white in the places my sunglasses covered. Guess I might have to add sunblock to my morning routine.

I’m too cranky and pink to do much more of a blog, so I’ll just leave you with this:

Ten Signs it’s too hot in your classroom

10) You can pick up a piece paper by pressing your warm palm to it. Sweat makes an excellent adhesive.

9) Each time you shift in your seat, it makes an embarrassing ~squeeelph~ noise. Each time it makes this noise, you feel the need to say: “It’s just the chair.” And everyone gives you a sure-sure look, even though they know it’s really just the seat.

8) The room starts to take on a funny odor that reminds you of childhood summers – you hunt for the source and realize that it’s the crayons melting in their bins.

7) The room starts to take on another odor – this one isn’t funny at all – the smell of 26 pre-teen bodies post recess-basketball.

6) Pens and pencils slip from sweaty hands while writing. This may occur spontaneously and accidentally once or twice. Then it becomes accidentally-on-purpose.

5) Snack time string cheese becomes snack time soup cheese.

4) Math class features problems like: If it’s 90° in Doylestown, snowing in Denver and 26° in Montana, where would we like to live right now?

3) Your projector overheats before morning announcements, rendering all of your PowerPoint, SmartNotebook files, and lessons unusable.

2) The kiddos ask you to play ♫Frosty the Snowman♫ and ♫The Nutcracker Suite♫so they can “visualize snow”

1) Despite being alarmingly under-caffeinated, you wait until your coffee is room temperature before drinking it.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be in the 50’s again – so we won’t have a repeat of today. What we may have, however, is students who come to school dressed for a repeat of today – and spend the hours between morning announcements and dismissal with chattering teeth and goosebumpy arms.

At least I won’t have to worry about sunburns.

Conferences aren’t all they’re CRACKED UP TO BE

Today’s blog isn’t going to be all hyped up with jellybean-inspired hyperness or toilet-tweezers antics. On the whole, it’ll be more serious than my usual hijinx.

Last night I read Courtney Summer’s Cracked Up to Be. I planned on starting it while I worked out and made it all the way to the basement before I cracked the cover while tying my sneakers. I was absorbed instantly and stumbled my way over the elliptical with my eyes glued to the pages and my hand groping for the buttons on the display. I punched a few of these to set it for hill intervals and turned my total attention to the book.

I didn’t lift my eyes from the words until St.Matt came clomping down the stairs wearing a sleepy but less-than-saintly expression and carrying all our bedding.
“What’s wrong?”
“Bruschi peed on me!”
“He did what? Why?”
“I don’t know – I was sleeping!”
“Did you take him out?”
“Well there’s really no reason to now, is there?”
I nodded solemnly and managed to wait until he walked into the laundry room before giggling.

After starting the washer, St.Matt came to stand by the elliptical.
“Good book?” He was really asking: Are you going to going to bed anytime soon?
“Excellent.” which is Tiffany-speak for: I’ll be finishing this book before I even begin thinking about sleep.
“How’s your workout going?”
“Good, it seems really easy today. I’ve been on for –”
I lifted the book to check the display and saw it flashing 00:00. I hadn’t hit start. This is why I need wait until after I get on the elliptical to crack the cover a book.
“I’ve been on for 31 pages,” I answered him as I pressed the start button.

I stayed on until I hit page 97, then I had to get off because it was too hard to breathe. Not because I was tired (although I bet I was by that point – I just wasn’t paying attention). I couldn’t breathe because I was crying, because all the air had been sucked out of the room.

Before I go any further, I want to say I think this book should be required reading for all high schoolers and all high school parents. It’s only fair to warn you, you won’t all like what you read, but it’s realistic and honest.

I wandered upstairs to the couch to finish the book – stopping periodically to take some deep breaths and unclench my tension tightened hands. I wanted/ want to save Parker – to save every child like her. And Summer’s honest writing doesn’t allow the reader to keep a safe emotional distance from Parker’s pain.

When I finished reading my chest was tight and my abs hurt from sobs. I had to focus on the inhales and exhales and tell myself: it’s just a story, it’s not real.

Except, for a lot teens – it is. Maybe not Parker’s exact story, but the sense of identity tied to perfection is an overwhelming and impossible reality.

Cracked Up to Be was both the ideal and an awful book to read the night before portfolio conferences with my class. In my district, students attend their spring parent-teacher conference, which focuses on identifying their strengths and weaknesses and setting a few, specific academic goals for them work on in the final semester.

Can you imagine an experience more anxiety-inspiring than walking into a room where your parents and teacher are going to discuss your strengths and weakness – and expect you to participate?

With Parker fresh in my mind, all I wanted to do was give each of my kiddos a hug, say: “You’re amazing, you’re loved, and I’m so proud of you.”

While the actual conferences did comprise of more than those sentiments — I did, after all, have twenty minutes with each kiddo — I hope they all left knowing those three things. Because they are, every one of them, amazing, loved, and impressive. I hope that if they ever enter into a Parker-type-period, they remember this and remember no matter how flawed they feel or what mistakes they’ve made, they’re still amazing, loved, and I’m still proud of them.

There’s a reason I have the following Emerson quote hanging on the door of classroom so it’s the last thing the kiddos see before leaving each day:

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered withyour old nonsense.

No matter what happens on any given day, I truly expect the kiddos to come back the next one and impress me again.

Because they are so amazing, so loved, and I’m so proud of them.

A Raven’ Scaredy Cat

Today was dark and gloomy. And a half day for the kiddos. I decided that since Mother Nature was cooperating and it is Poetry Month, we’d study Poe’s The Raven.

I shut the blinds and killed the lights. Turned up the volume of the recording I have of Basil Rathbone reading the poem in a delightfully British accent. Would it be too scary? I watched the kiddos closely for cues.

Not scared, the kids were spellbound. They listened. We discussed. They asked to listen again. Who am I to deny them poetry pleasure? I hit play and ducked out of the room to visit the teacher across the hall and borrow her freakishly realistic fake raven: complete with feathers and beady eyes. I stepped back into the room and most of the kiddos didn’t even look up from their copies of the poem.

I walked over to one kiddo who was concentrating particularly hard: forehead leaned against the edge of his desk as he studied the poem in his lap. Holding a finger to my lips for the sake of his smiling desk neighbors, I placed the bird on his desk. When he shifted to turn the page, his shocked double-take was quite comical.

I repeated this to great effect with three other students. The kiddos weren’t really scared, just startled and amused. When the poem ended, they begged to write their own scary poems. Being the selfless teacher that I am, I agreed to let them learn, practice their writing skills, and share the results.

Then it was noon and time for them to leave.

I had the classroom to myself and four hours to put a dent in a Everest-sized pile of grading. I looked at the pile and sighed:

Once upon a [afternoon] dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious [page] of forgotten [answers],

Remember that dark and gloomy day? Ten minutes after the last bus it turned a lot darker and a LOT gloomier. And then came the lightning. The building-shaking thunder. The rain so loud I couldn’t hear the showtunes I’d turned on.

All that fear I’d worried about inspiring in my students – it must have been on delay, because I found myself terrified; irrationally, embarrassingly quaking in the middle of my classroom. I turned on all the lights, and turned the showtunes up louder, singing along in a quavery voice and fighting the urge to duck under my desk and cower.

And then IT happened.

Suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my [classroom] door

I may have squealed a little bit and shot a horrified glance at the model bird before realizing that it was only the teacher across the hall asking if I wanted to go to lunch.

I made her take back the bird before I agreed.

Poems & Pranks… it’s April 1st

Today is April 1st. In the teaching world this is a day of greatness and a day of dread.
Dread because it’s April Fools’ Day – and when you teach 6th grade, that means anything, anything could happen. Gone are the days of whoopie cushions or chalk in the eraser (I don’t use chalk & eraser’s electronic). Anything could happen.

Luckily not too much did. (Have I mentioned lately that I <3 my class?) They did try a cute little trick, convinced the art teacher to let half of them hide in the back room and she told me they’d been sent to the office.

Clearly my kiddos aren’t schemers because they chose all the teacher’s-pets to be the hiders, which I kinda get – they don’t get in REAL trouble, but it’s safe to pretend. The remaining kiddos giggled, hid grins behind marker-smudged hands, and examined their shoes.

I played along. “Really? They got in trouble? I’m so disappointed. What did they do?”
*crickets*
“Surely you guys must’ve seen something. What happened?”
“Um, they were goofing off.”
“And being disrespectful.”
“Yeah! Disrespectful – that’s it.”
“And then one of them threw something.”
“Uh-huh, and it hit me in the head”

“Wow. That’s awful! I’m so proud of you for not getting involved. Maybe you guys should have the night off of homework. That’ll be my thank you for behaving.” I raised my voice so the crowd tittering in supply closet could hear, “And those other kids – man – they’re going to have so much homework, they’re going to wish they never got came to school today. They know better!”

The ‘behavers’ were about to lose it, so I winked at the art teacher and started walking them back to class.

We made it about halfway down the hall before the others came tearing up after us, laughing and whooping: “We got you so good!” “Ha ha!” “April Fools.”

I froze, put on a stern face, and turned to face them: “Sixth grade! Is that how we walk in the hallway? Turn around, go back to the art room and try again.”

When the hiders slunk into the classroom, they were nervous. I kept my sternest face on and addressed them: “I don’t care about the prank, that was actually pretty funny – but what about that hallway behavior? Is that how we walk in the halls? Were you being role models?”

Chastised, they lowered their heads. “No.”

“Not at all! Why don’t you come in at recess and reflect on appropriate hallway behavior.”

*sighs and sorrys*

I let them fret through Reading class – possibly the most evil thing I’ve ever done as a teacher – then lined them up for lunch. “Those of you that had some hallway issues this morning, don’t forget to meet me in outside the cafe after lunch. We’ll have a discussion about that behavior and then maybe write some letters to your parents telling them what happened this morning.”

Shoulders slumped, okays were muttered.

Without missing a beat, I shut off the lights and led them out of the classroom: “Now let’s have a nice quiet line all the way down to lunch. And April Fools.”

The kiddos were halfway down the stairs before the first kid stopped and said: “WAIT! Did you say…? Did she say…?”

Kiddos, don’t mess with me – this is my 6th time in sixth grade. You’ve only been here six months.

Oh, and the reason today is wonderful? It’s the first day of poetry month.

Today we listened to and analyzed George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.”

Some of the kiddo’s responses made me teary. And not in that I’m-scared-you’re-going-prank-me way.

Luckily, there’s another 29 days of poetry month, while April Fools’ doesn’t reoccur for another 364 days.

That gives me plenty of time to plan for next year!

Toilets, Tweezers & Twitter

I was feeling optimistic as I brushed my teeth last night. I could do this. I could beat insomnia. I could sleep. I could – gulg, blurble. Those sounds, in case you don’t recognize them, are the sounds tweezers make when they’re knocked off a counter and into a toilet.

Toothbrush still wedged between my molars and cheek, I stared open-mouthed. Toothpaste foam began to dribble down my lip. Looking like a rapid insomniac, I peered in the toilet.

Nothing.

Did that just happen? Maybe I imagined it. Sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations.

I checked the counter. No tweezers.
I checked the toilet. No tweezers.
They’d gone down the hole.

Confession: my first instinct was to flush. If there’s no proof or witnesses, it never happened, right? I stood glowering at toilet and imagining what would happen…

Husband: Have you seen our tweezers?
Me: Tweezers?
H: Yeah, tweezers. Pointy metal things? Used to take out splinters like this one?
Me: *giggling nervously and edging out of the room* Never heard of such a thing


Later the same day, the pipes EXPLODE and plumber is called. He spends hours muttering things like ‘hopeless,’ ‘major repairs,’ and ‘Maserati’ before plucking the tweezers out of the ruin that used to be our bathroom and saying: “Here’s the cause of the bazillion dollars of damage. I’m going to hafta turn off your water. It’ll take four months to repair.”

Me: *innocent look in place* Wow. How could those have gotten in there? I have no idea how they could possibly, accidentally gotten knocked into the toilet and then impulsively flushed.
Husband: Tiffany!

Resisting the urge to flush, I backed out of the bathroom.

I needed an expert – but who to ask?
Around 1:30 this morning, I tweeted this:

HELP! I dropped my tweezers in the toilet. Can’t see them – can I just flush & consider them a lost cause, or do I need to do something?

But no help was offered. Tweople were asleep. Stymied, I took a post-it note, wrote: Don’t Flush! Tweezers in there. And went to bed.

Since it was 2 AM when I crafted my post-it, it took multiple snoozes, wet puggle noses and finally Husband threatening to withhold coffee before I got out of bed in the morning. He was on the way out the door.

Me: Um, honey, did you fix anything this morning?
H: Yes.
Me: *perking up* Really?
H: Yes, your coffee’s ready to go and sitting on the counter downstairs. Now get up!
Me: Oh, coffee. (first and only time when having coffee fixed for me will be disappointing)

I followed him downstairs, and held my breath as he popped in the bathroom to Lysterine before heading out the door.

Husband emerged with post-it. Ut-oh.
H: What’s this?
Me: You’re going to be late, we’ll talk about it tonight.
H: Why didn’t you just pull them out?
Me: I’m not putting my hand in THERE. Besides, I can’t see them. But don’t worry, I have a plan.
H: Ooo-K.

Great, now I needed to find a plan. Well, it’d taken him that long to find my note. We have other toilets – maybe we should consider this one a lost cause and abandon it forever. I could find an alternate use for the toilet – like people who use tires as lawn art. We could fill it with dirt and make it a self-watering planter. If we got a step stool, it could be a water bowl for the dogs.

I needed help.

  • Co-workers just reiterated that Tiffany should NOT flush the toilet. No matter how much she believed that maybe the tweezers disappeared overnight.
  • Students thought it was very funny. Sixth graders like to say ‘toilet’ and make bathroom jokes.
  • Our DARE officer stopped by and I asked him: “I know this is outside of your typical jurisdiction, but…”

I needed more help; good thing that the Twitterverse was very ready to be helpful. It assembled a virtual support team for my tweezer/toilet crisis.

Thank you Suze, Emily, Linda, Clinton Books, Lisa, Julie, Alea, Michelle, and Pseudosu for being there for me in my time of need. Julie, if I have a plumbing emergency – I’m calling you! The rest of you – I’m glad you weren’t around when I was fighting the just-flush impulse last night. Clearly you’re in cahoots with the plumber – he wasn’t really going to let you test drive his Maserati.

My students came through in the clutch too; they created a fetch-your-tweezers-from-the-toilet-dance. It involves reaching down, making a fist, pumping it in the air, shaking it off, then reaching around with the other hand to ‘flush.’ I’m sure it will be appearing on dance floors near you later tonight.

With all this support, I was ready when I got home from school. I plucked the strongest magnet off the fridge. Tied my best former-Brownie knot around it. Twice –I wasn’t a very good Brownie. Took a deep breath. And marched into the bathroom.

And it an utterly anti-climactic turn of events – the tweezers stuck to the magnet the first time I dropped it in the toilet.

SUCCESS!

The tweezers and magnet are both safely in the trash and I’m dancing. It’s a great new dance that’s all the rage in 6th grade; the fetch-your-tweezers-from-the-toilet. I’ll teach you if you want.

These are life lessons, people!

And survival skills too.

It was math class and my students were diligently working their way through some operations with positive and negative numbers. I was playing with the Sony e-book reader that my colleague, Mr. Techie, had dropped off for me to explore as I continue to dither about if and what type of e-book reader I want/need.

I answered a question, handed out a few ‘good jobs’ and a ‘get back to work’ as I paged through Techie’s book selections. He had Pride & Prejudice, so I gave him + 10 cool points. He had all the Meyers books, which just made me laugh.

And then I got to last page in his catalogue and gasped: “Schmidites. Writer’s notebooks. Front rug. Nooow!”

Did I mention it was math class? And that I didn’t even have my whole homeroom and that some of the kids didn’t even have writer’s notebooks? Whatever. It’s called problem-solving.

The kids assembled themselves on our sharing rug; they were full of anticipation and questions: “What’s up?” “What’s going on?”

“I have something important I need to teach you. Now. This might be the most important thing I teach you all year.”

“What is it?”

“Kiddos, get the lights. “

And then I began to read to them from: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

“There’s no such thing as safe,” I read to them, “only safer.”

We read about forms of transmission: bites, an open wound exposed to the virus (this begged for the comment: “Oh, so the next time I get a papercut, I shouldn’t go rub it on the nearest zombie?”), or if a zombie explodes on you. We read about the timeline of the disease’s progression: starting with fever, eventually death, then reanimation.

And then math class was over. “Writer’s notebooks!” I announced as the rest of my homeroom stumbled back in, bleary-eyed and drained from pre-algebra. Come to think of it, they looked a little zombified until they read the buzz of excitement and ran for their notebooks.

After we’d read about how to evaluate your zombie killing weapon, how to protect your home & school, and the list of items to have on hand (our favorite: earplugs to block out zombie moans), I turned the lights on and shared their writing prompt: “In your notebook, respond to the following: Zombies, dangerous or not?”

They would’ve written all afternoon if I let them. Many of them will write all weekend and share their zombie stories on Monday.

I felt like this was a book I had to read. After all, zombies are attacking… or at least infiltrating. Prior to October I’d lived a zombie-free life.

Now…

  • There’s the Austen thing
  • Then there’s Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (Kiss of Life comes out in May). I read this book in one night in October. I gave it to a co-worker the next day and haven’t seen it again because it’s been passed from one reader to the next.
  • And what about Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry? This doesn’t come out until March 3rd, but I was lucky enough to read it early. You need to buy it on Tuesday (along with a copy of Brook’s book).

And who would have thought I’d plan on attending a zombie night – complete with zombie movies? Now that I’ve read the Zombie Survival Guide, I know I can handle it. (I hope). If you see me there, feel free to sit next to me. I’ll gladly keep you safe… until I run from the room screaming and crying for my mom.

Mad for Vlad: Part 2

“July? Seriously?” he asked me.

“Yes, bud, July,” I answered.

“Are you sure?” Because he’s an all-knowing sixth grader and I’m just the teacher, he needs to double-check this.

“Well, I went to Heather Brewer’s website and it says pretty clearly that Tenth Grade Bleeds comes out July 9th.” I can say this without even a trace of sarcasm because I’ve had five years of practice.

“Man! July? I won’t even be in your class then!”

“You’ll still be allowed to read it,” I assured him.

“I know – but then we can’t talk about it. Man.” Student hangs his head, sighs, heads back to his desk and picks up his reading response journal.

A few minutes later he’s popped back over to visit. “I thought of two things.”

“Okay.”

“Well, maybe she’ll write faster and it will be out sooner.”

“What’s the second thing?” I asked, not wanting to get into a whole discussion on the publishing industry.

“We can e-mail. But you have to promise to buy the book and read it.” He’s serious.

“Bud, did you think I wouldn’t buy the book and read it?”

“No, I know you will, but you need to buy it ON July 9th. Don’t make me wait this time.”

“Deal,” I agree and we shake.

So, on July 9th, do not call, text, e-mail or tweet at me. I’ve got a date with a vampire named Vlad and then an important e-mail to answer.

If, however, in the month since his elementary graduation, my dear reading buddy has become too 7th-grade-cool to e-mail his former teacher about books – then please call, text, e-mail AND tweet to cheer me up (and talk about the book!).

Mad for Vlad: Part 1

It’s Monday morning and I’m grinning and bouncing in the hallways waiting for my students to arrive. This is not my typical Monday-morning attitude and no, I haven’t had an extra cup of coffee. I’m impatiently-excited because I’ve finally gone out and bought the copy of Ninth Grade Slays that one of my students has been begging for for weeks.

I’d given him Eight Grade Bites by Heather Brewer and he’d read it in two days – “Where’s the sequel?”

“I don’t have it yet, bud,” I answered.

“When are you going to get it?”

“Um…” I mentally replayed the do-you-know-how-much-money-you’ve-spent-already-this-year-on-books conversation I’d had with Matt the night before.

“Um….” And-by-this-year-I-mean-this-year-2009-not-this-school-year. “Soon?”

And so started a refrain of: “Did you get it yet?”

It even became accusatory, “I don’t think you’re a real fan!”

So on Valentine’s Day when Husband took me to the bookstore and told me to pick out what I wanted, I knew that Ninth Grade Slays was going to be in the stack.

And that brings us back to my bouncing Monday. I read the book Valentine’s night (that’s the thanks poor Husband gets for his gesture – a super-romantic night of reading!) and had already strategically placed on my student’s desk so he’d see it first thing.

I was beaming like a two-year-old with a sticker when he walked down the hall. I met him at the door: “Good morning, buddy!”

And he was glowing too. “Good morning, Mrs. Schmidt. Did you have a good weekend?”

“I did, but we’ll share at class meeting,” I said, dismissing his attempts at a polite conversation because my gratification from seeing his face when he saw his desk was much more important. And since when was my buddy a morning person? He typically half-dozed until announcements came on. Why was he so cheerful? I shooed into the classroom so he could find his surprise.

I followed a few steps behind him: bounce, bounce, bounce. Ready to squeak and receive a loud THANK YOU!

And he walked right by his desk to his coat hook, oblivious but still smiling. Seriously? Does he mistake me for someone patient?

“Um, buddy?” I prompted, picking up the book and waiting for him to turn around after hanging his sweatshirt (this is 6th grade, we’re too cool for appropriate winter attire).

“Look what I got for you!”
Only, this wasn’t me speaking.
It was my buddy.

My student whirled around with his own copy of Ninth Grade Slays that he’d bought for me over the weekend.

I looked at what he was holding – he looked at what I was holding.

So now we’ve got two copies of Ninth Grade Slays (twice the Vlad love) and we’re rapidly recruiting new members into our fan club.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, buddy and I encourage you to do so. But even though we have multiple copies now, you can’t borrow them – there’s a waiting list to read them.
You’ll have to get your own copy. Or better yet, buy someone else a copy – make his or her day by sharing the Vlad love.

Check back tomorrow for “Mad for Vlad: Part 2”

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