Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fort Freshman

“Save the drama for your mama.”

- Original Author unknown, but heard on an episode of the Fox reality show “Boot Camp”

Today’s job was for high school for Community C, which I’d only worked with one time before. The weird part of the job is that it was for DRAMA. Why I put myself down to teach drama, I have no idea. I had nothing I could bring for them to do if there were no plans, so I decided to bring my iPod and dock.

When I arrived to the school, a teacher chef walked me to the stairwell that led to Community C office. Sometimes I feel like subbing is like being in a Fellini film. When I made it up four flights of stairs (with four heavy bags) the sour secretary pointed to my schedule and attendance sheets, but no plans. The teacher’s mailbox was empty, so I hoped something would be in the room. On the way down, I ran into my sister’s role model* who sweetly said, “Hi,” instead of running away from me.

The large room was like a suite – with a large room in the middle and four smaller rooms attached to it. I made my way to her office and met another teacher. It turned out I’d be working for two teachers who were going on a field trip and I’d be working in two schools, because one teacher’s afternoon schedule was at the Freshman Academy. (You know, the place I drove to by accident yesterday.)

While in the room, I realized that this was probably where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rehearsed when they were students at this high school. Looking around, I wondered if any of these students would become famous actors. I recognized some of them who had been in the dance recital.

Before class began, this was a discussion about Passover overheard between three students:

Boy 1: “I’m still the youngest, so I still have to read ‘The Four Questions’.”

Boy 2: “I don’t know anything about being Jewish. What do you do at a Seder?”

Boy 1: “We eat matzoh, drop wine on a plate, eat matzoh, and drop more wine.”

Girl: “You sound like you’re really devoted to your religion.”

When it was time for class, the students had to watch a movie about an illegal Irish immigrant family called “In America”. They were good during the film. I had to leave class twenty-minutes early in order to make it to the other high school, but the teacher had assured me they’d be good for the rest of the period. “Don’t tear up the place,” I said before leaving. “Good luck with the ninth-graders,” one of boys responded.

I’d taught at the Freshman Academy a few times before**. While ninth-graders aren’t my favorite grade to teach, I understand the species. But I didn’t understand the directions to the classroom, so I took the television up to the second floor, when my class was in the basement. And then I fumbled with the door key. But I figured everything out before the students arrived.

I asked a group of girls to sit.

One of them said, “You look really young. I don’t mean it in a mean way or anything.”

Her friend added, “I hate it when people think I’m eleven.”

“I used to hate it when people thought I looked young when I was your age, but now I like it,” I said.

I refrained from adding a story about the hassle of trying to drink underage when you look really young.

This group was supposed to watch “A Raisin in the Sun”, but they weren’t into it, so I spent a lot of the time walking around, trying to keep it quiet enough for the handful of students who were trying to hear the movie. The only time the class cared was when “Claire Huxtable” from “The Cosby Show” first appeared on the screen. At some point “Jesse” from Full House made an appearance and a girl and I agreed he was cuter on “Full House”. Oddly enough, nobody cared about P. Diddy or Sean Combs or Sean John or whatever he goes by these days.

The back of the room had seating shaped like big Legos. They were blocks the size of milk crates and double-sized milk crates that locked together. Boys and girls argued about armrests and footrests and who was hogging what. I couldn’t believe that I had to negotiate seating. One female student observed and said to me, “This class is really selfish.”

One boy had crutches. He and a friend each picked up a crutch and pretended to shoot their classmates, complete with quiet machine guns sounds, pretending they were playing the video game “Call of Duty”. I wondered (feared) if my son would act this way when he reached ninth-grade.

A girl said, “They’re being so annoying. Stop them.”

“Boys, you can’t pretend to shoot your classmates.”

“Why?” (As if he didn't know.)

“For one, these girls will never date you.”

“We don’t want to date them! They’re not our type.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they probably weren’t any of these girls’ types.

I added, “There’s also a no weapons policy in this school.”

After that, they went back to bothering the crates. This class had an odd schedule because the students were in class for forty-minutes, left for lunch, and returned for thirty-minutes. (I have no idea why.)

I said to the boys, “If you leave these cubes alone, you can come back before lunch is over and build a fort, as long as you can see the TV.”



They returned early from lunch and built their fortress, which reminded me of "The Simpsons" episode when Lisa and Bart fight the UPS-type delivery people in the style of “Lord of the Rings”. Did you see that episode? Here’s a clip:

The rest of the class ran smoothly, though it was funny to see the girls (who scoffed at the boys earlier) liked the fort too, so about eight boys and girls sat inside (sort of) watching the movie. Just before class ended, we dismantled the fort.

* The recent role model story:

** Another experience at the Freshman Academy:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Chances

“Think of how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”

- Jacob M. Braude

In the spring, New England rain is incessant. Since it was a warm winter, we had much more rain than snow, so I’m sick of rain at this point. I was glad to be off yesterday because it poured all day and it had been many days since I had time off to write. I was productive – even virtually dusting off an old manuscript – The Disappearances, which I wrote last winter. Right after I completed it, I got the idea for Aura, so I abandoned this manuscript after a few changes and never looked back… until now.

But today wouldn’t be an editing day because I was called for a Special Ed. job at the behavioral high school. Truth be told, I forgot there was a behavioral high school. This is a place for second chances, for students who would otherwise drop out or get expelled. A couple of years ago, I interviewed there for a Social Studies job, but (obviously) didn’t get it. In fact, that Social Studies position had opened every year for the first four years – not a good sign.

Classes are small so that the teens get more one-on-one attention. Some just stay for a semester, but others remain for all four years. Another sub told me it was “hard” to work there. I’d soon find out if it were true.

The last time I was called for Special Ed in the regular high school, I foolishly thought it would be for support, but I was actually in charge of teaching Math*, which was a DISASTER. This time I hoped it would be for support, but couldn’t be sure. I decided to get to the school to get my bearings and find out my fate.

I arrived early and said the absent teacher’s name. “She doesn’t work here,” the secretary replied. Oh no – I had driven to the old behavioral high school location, which is now the freshman high school. I had forgotten that it moved and, even worse, didn’t remember where it had moved. (So much for being early.) After receiving vague directions from the secretary, battling with my GPS (and losing), and calling my husband for directions, I found the school. Did I mention it was raining? It’s still raining.

Believe it or not, I made it with a minute to spare. Turns out that I would be support. Apparently, there are a lot of absences at this school and as the morning wore on it became clear that most of the students the absent teacher worked with weren’t showing up.

But I did have some students to assist in the writing classroom because other kids who had study period came in too. First, I worked with a student who had to answer questions on adaptation, layers of soil, and carbon dating. The only two Science classes I took in college were about geology and evolution, so I actually knew something. Another student needed help with vocabulary – synonyms and antonyms. Then a student was writing an e-mail to set up an interview, so I helped her.

The students did quiet work with support, which probably kept them from acting out. Dealing with the students one on one in a casual setting, they were nice to me and the other teachers, and teachers treated the students with respect.

What separates a behavioral school from a traditional school, you ask? Here are a few perks to being a bad kid:

  1. You can wear a hat
  2. You can listen to your music player with little chiding
  3. You can visit another class with alleged or real permission
  4. You can check a text and take an occasional call
  5. You can show up over an hour after school begins

“I couldn’t get up. I was up until two in the morning,” one young man explained.

Things overheard:

“I have a kid because I used to be a bad girl.”

“My mom was in my face when I got up this morning. She says I give her a hard time. She doesn’t know how much I put her on a pedestal. My friends? They smoke and drink right in their houses. My mother’s pedestal is higher than their mother’s pedestals.” Then she asked, “Can I use the loo?”

Later, this same student looked up information about her possible career choice on the Internet as part of her assignment.

“Pediatricians make dirt! I can’t live on that.”

“How much do they make?” I asked.

“Dirt,” she replied.

“What’s ‘dirt’?”

“$185 thousand.”

I laughed. “That’s not dirt.”

“How much is it? What can I buy?”

“You can buy a BMW,” the teacher chimed in.

“And afford to live in Harvard Square,” I added.

I think her career choice was back as an option. She looked up neurosurgeon, and although the salary was impressive (not dirt), she didn’t want to get in trouble if she made a mistake drilling into people’s brains.

Near the end of the period a young man sauntered in.

“Where are you coming from?” the teacher asked.

“Art. I just took a test.”

“How did you do?”

“I didn’t take it.”

“You didn’t take the test. Why didn’t you take it?”

“I didn’t feel like it.”

“But you’ll fail if you don’t take it.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

A former student came in and I could tell that he gave these teachers a harder time than he had when he’d been in the fifth-grade. It made me wonder about the success of the school. I’d heard that the drop out rate was lower, but did that translate to them being able to better cope in the real world once they left the school? I’d like to spend more time at the school to find out.

* I’m pathetic when it comes to math and this post proves it:

Monday, March 29, 2010


“I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.”

- Harold Kushner

Last week, when I worked at my old school, with the kindergarten class in the library, gingerly eyeing “freak out” boy*, a middle school teacher came running over to me. She told me that she was on a field trip earlier in the week. When they were looking at a tomb, a question was asked. One of my favorite students** answered, “The Bill of Rights. Thanks, Ms. Milstein!” “I thought you’d want to know,” she said. It was one of those moments that make me feel good that I’d affected him so and yearn for my own classroom at the same time.

The next day, I took the day off to go on a field trip with my daughter’s class. They were doing a unit on economics for Social Studies and had plans to set up a “store” in the classroom. Since they needed to know how a bookstore ran, what better place to find out than a local bookstore? Since the school is a half-mile from Porter Square Books, two groups would be walking over – one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Porter Square Books is one of my favorite places (Sephora is a close second). Not only do they have a pretty impressive selection of books, but they snag wonderful authors – Kate DiCamillo, Tomie DePaola, and Mike Lupica to name a few. When Tomie DePaola autographed my kids’ books, it was difficult for me not to fawn. And they threw a great Harry Potter party when the last book was published***.

My daughter’s teacher thought of everything. Each child had a clipboard with a question that the student had written. Then the students were to do a scavenger hunt to answer more questions and then draw a picture of a section of the store. My job as a chaperone was to help the children safely cross the street, keep them quiet and orderly, and make sure they answered all of their questions. With two small groups, this was pretty easy.

Not only did we learn how the store ran, but we also got a tour of the tiny back room. Afterwards, the children had ample time to check out the store and the books. It was a perfect opportunity for me to observe a class of second-graders to see what books they gravitated toward, but it wasn’t always what I considered literature (Batman, Puppy Place series, Where’s Waldo).

It was sad that one girl was disappointed that the field trip would be to a bookstore and I was even sadder that quite a few kids had never been there. I know a lot of these children only read the books at school that they’re forced to by their teachers. But no child left the store without having fun and that gave me some hope.

Since I spent four hours in the bookstore – more than any other time – I also had many minutes to peruse the new books. Whenever I go to this store, I try to buy a lot of books. It’s easy to click my computer a few times and order books at a hefty discount from Amazon. But Cambridge has three independent bookstores and I want them to stay in business. This store, in particular, reaches out to the community with field trips for author visits and they’ve even begun a book group for middle-grade children. You can’t get the same experience on a computer.

This trip made me think about the purpose libraries and bookstores serves in a city like Cambridge. Many kids rarely leave the city. Once as an assistant, we took our class to the beach. It was one eleven-year-old’s first time seeing the ocean. For a couple of hours, this tough guy became the kid he was meant to be. Books are a quick way for children like him to experience worlds beyond our city’s borders. They serve many purposes. We learn about people who aren’t like us, only to find out that they’re not that different from us after all. And all reading makes us better readers, writers, and people.

That’s why I love to write. I want to reach out and touch others - especially those who are figuring out who they are. When I look at my list of favorite books in my Google Profile, it’s not necessarily the ones that are the most critically acclaimed, but it’s the emotional and cognitive place I was in when I read them. Books help us work through questions we have and understand more of ourselves.

Hello Aurora**** made me realize that there were alternatives to how children could be raised when I was a child. To Kill A Mockingbird opened my eyes to injustice and standing up for what’s right even when you stand alone. Accidental Tourist was read when I was in my late teens and in a destructive relationship. I had sworn not repeat a family pattern, but did just that. It was difficult trying to figure out what made a healthy relationship because the real-life ones around me were (to say the least) lacking, so I couldn’t find the answers there. Along with therapy, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the book changed my life.

Which books made an impression on you when you needed them?

Freak Out Boy post from the other day:

** A story about this student and my favorite post:

*** Harry Potter post:

**** Hello Aurora post:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dancing Queen

Jim Baker: "That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.”

- Film “Sixteen Candles”

Since she as a baby, my daughter has loved music and dance. I don’t know if it’s because she’s grown up in a city with loud music blaring out of neighbor’s windows or because I used to play "The Rockafeller Skank" by Fatboy Slim when I was pregnant and in the delivery room. Whatever it was, she’s has a rhythm I’ve only dreamed of possessing.

I try to encourage it. My daughter started taking ballet classes when she was four-years-old (something I wasn’t allowed to do when I was a girl), I’ve taken her to Boston Ballet performances, and (even cheaper) I’ve brought her to several high school dance recitals. This is our third year we’ve attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school performances. The first year, when my little girl was five, there was a teenager with blonde, curly hair on the stage. My daughter was smitten with her. The second year, we saw the dancer again. During intermission, my daughter told me, “When I go to high school, I want to be in the performances too!”

After this school year began, my daughter constantly asked when there would be another performance. Gently, I explained, “We don’t know how old this girl is. She may have graduated.” We had to miss the first show and I was careful not to mention it. When I was subbing around that time, I saw the dancer in the hallway. I told my daughter that I’d seen her. Brightening, my daughter said, “If you see her again, tell her I want to dance at the high school because of her!” Hmmm, that would be embarrassing so I hoped I wouldn’t see the dancer.

Within weeks, a teenage girl walked into my Social Studies class*. In case I wasn’t sure it was the dancer - she sat down and pulled out point shoes from her backpack. Reluctantly, I walked over and relayed my daughter’s message. I added, “I think she likes you because both have similar hair. “You have a fan!” one of her friends teased while I showed the dancer a picture of my daughter.

Last Friday was the next performance, which, because of the high school construction, was moved to a Harvard Theatre. We ate dinner at home and headed to Harvard Square. When we got to the box office, we were told, “It’s sold out.” Apparently, it’s a much smaller space because the high school never sold out.

Without looking at my daughter, I knew that her eyes were already welling with tears. I’d have to act fast or she’d be hysterical, so I pulled her to the side of the window and hugged her. “We can try to come tomorrow,” I soothed. Except that my in-laws and nephew were visiting the next day, so I didn’t know if that would work. I tried calling my husband to see what he thought about going the next day. A woman saw my distraught daughter and asked if everything was okay. I said that my daughter was disappointed. “Can’t they make an exception?” she asked. “Fire codes,” I reiterated.

I returned to the box office window and asked what time I could come to get tickets the next day, since I couldn’t (inexplicably) get them the day before. Then I happened to mention that my daughter was anxious to see the show because she had a favorite dancer. “Who’s the dancer?” she asked. I gave the name (I only knew it because I had the girl in my class that one time). “That’s my daughter!” the woman exclaimed, surprised and flattered. She asked if my girl would take her ticket and then she’d smuggle me in, since she was thinking of sitting backstage anyway and she still had to man the ticket counter (to tell people that they couldn’t get tickets). After a couple of minutes of working out seating, my daughter and I were seated and we watched the show.

My daughter made me check the program to see which dances would feature her favorite dancer. As each dance with her favorite dancer would begin, she’d whisper, “There she is!” or “I see her!” During intermission, the mother asked if my daughter wanted to meet her daughter after the performance. I think you know that answer to that.

After the show, we waited in the lobby, and my daughter was in awe of all of the dancers who milled about - they were easy to spot because they had on more makeup than everyone else. Finally, the dancer came over. It was a little awkward for everyone. The curly-haired girls shook hands. My daughter said, “You dance great.” I was relieved that she forgot to ask for an autograph.

Little girls have crushes. Adult girls have crushes too. One of my blog friends, Lora has a crush on someone she sees at the bus stop and she wrote the funniest post about it:

There are the females we wish to be. Perhaps they’re a prettier version of ourselves. Or maybe they’re so different from us that all we can do is look on in awe. Has this happened to you?

My female protagonists are always awkward (I wonder where I get the raw material for that idea?) and there’s always some fabulous female that either coaxes them out of their shells or they play the perfect ice princess. Girls - big and small - observe other girls, strive to be like other girls, envy other girls, compete with other girls, dismiss other girls. Do these complicated relationships between females appear in your manuscripts?

I didn’t analyze the dynamics between girls’ relationships I'd created in my manuscripts until the “situation” at the performance. In this female dancer, with the blond, bouncy curls, my daughter sees an appealing older version of herself. And it’s not a bad or unattainable goal. My daughter’s crush dances well, does well in school, and seems like a nice person. She’s a pretty good role model.

Here’s a post that demonstrates what a mess I can be:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Surprised

See the pieces of rooftop?

“There seems to be a kind of order to the universe, in the moving of the stars and the turning of the earth and the changing of the seasons, and even in the cycle of human life. But human life itself is almost pure chaos. Everyone takes his stance, asserts his own rights and feelings, mistakes the motives of others and his own.”

- Katherine Anne Porter

When my children have Taekwondo, it’s a two-hour commitment. Last night, I was happy to be out of the rain and anticipated one more jaunt outdoors on the way home. Then my husband called and wanted to go out to celebrate my “birthday week”. I didn’t even know my birthday week had begun. My son has been advocating eating at a tapas restaurant in Somerville, Dali that his Spanish teacher recommended, so we decided to go there.

Besides the fact that my daughter is a picky eater, we had fun. Even when the wait staff embarrassed me by singing Happy Birthday, while blowing bubbles at me and forcing me to blow out a candle perched atop a giant frog candelabra, the (almost evil) glee my children got from the scene made it all worth it.

We returned home in the rain and I checked the answering machine. There were three messages waiting for me, so I knew one of them would be a call to sub. I was correct. The job was at my old school to teach art. I’ve always liked this art teacher. She started as a sub after raising her kids, and then became the building sub, and eventually got the Art teacher position. Her story makes me hope that I won’t be a sub forever.

I arrived at the school, burdened with bags. As I was signing in, a former coworker asked me whom I was subbing for. When I replied, this teacher said, “But she’s here. She’s right in the hallway.” Was I given wrong information two days in a row? I located the teacher, who wound up having a workshop in the afternoon, so she’d be teaching that morning. “We didn’t want to call you for just half a day,” she explained. The principal was deciding what to do with me. For ten minutes, I awaited my fate.

Finally, I was sent to a kindergarten classroom since the assistant was out for the day. I was warned about one particular boy who tends to “freak out”. I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t want to find out. Apparently this was no ordinary erratically behaved five-year-old because when the class went to the library, he wandered off during story time. Another assistant told me to watch him to make sure he didn’t leave the library, but to make sure that he didn’t see me watching him or he was liable to… you guessed it… freak out.

I’ve never seen teachers and support staff so frightened of a child before. I had to admit that I was curious to see what would happen, but not so much that I dared to test him. He was watched like a hawk (the kind of hawk that pretends not to watch), but behaved like other kindergartners, for the most part.

For morning meeting, one student got to choose the greeting (“Hi” in Japanese) and accompanying hand movement (Thumbs up). A couple of the students wanted to make sure I was included in the greeting. Then we did The Hokey Pokey. The teacher called on a kid to say which body part we were doing first. He chose, “backside”. Yes, we did put our backside in, we put our backside out, we put our backside in and we shook it all about.

When the other assistant who is from Ireland read, Corduroy, and explained that a night watchman makes sure a store doesn’t get “burgled”, a laugh almost escaped me. The term isn’t used in America, though I don’t see why not, and I love the way it sounds. During the story, Freak Out Boy said he couldn’t see the book although he was in the second row. The teacher told him to move closer. Then she whispered to me, “He wears glasses, but they broke. I’ve told the family to buy new ones over and over, but of course they haven’t, even though I said that he’s squinting all the time.”

The story didn’t surprise me. In my challenging fifth-grade class as an ETS, I had FOUR students who needed glasses. Of the four, only one got a pair by the end of the year. The problem was that some families didn’t have insurance, so they couldn’t afford them, while others were on Medicaid, which only allowed for one pair a year. One pair of glasses allotted to a child living in poverty and often, a chaotic home. Then these kids can’t see, which interferes with learning, and then act out – shocking!

During station time, when students work at different desks doing various activities (writing sight words in sand, stamping letters on paper, observing a turtle, and writing and drawing about in their journals, fitting puzzle letters to form words, and putting shapes together to form letters), I took pictures of them and assisted when needed.

For my first art class, I got this kindergarten group back. A concerned looking teacher came in to watch Freak Out Boy. When she thought he wouldn’t freak out, she left. After she was gone, there were a few incidents:

1) A kid borrowed his red marker and was still using it when Freak Out Boy wanted it back.

2) Freak Out Boy wanted to wash the marker off his hands and became enchanted with the water. I had to count down when the water would be shut off, but he took it in stride.

3) He had to be asked to not write gibberish on his paper, but put his actual name.

4) When he thought his picture was finished, I told him to add more detail.

I was glad that he held it together because nobody had mentioned what I should actually do if he did lose it.

Fifth-graders came in next. I offered my Bose as the carrot to behave, which worked like a charm, even when I warned them that most of my music was the kind only an, “old, white girl,” would listen to. They were happy with Michael Jackson and The Black Eyed Peas for the period.

Before I left, the librarian told me that a former student of mine, who is in eighth-grade now, and no longer lives in Cambridge, is pregnant. Sadly, this didn’t surprise me. In sixth-grade, she spent almost every day in the office, while her fifth-grade sister (whom I had) was a similar nightmare, her second-grader brother had a kidney defect, and her infant brother periodically stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. There was also a nineteen-year-old sister who tried to commit suicide that year. The mother wasn’t fit to raise them and the father was in prison, so they were shuffled from one set of grandparents to the other. There was an accusation of incest. In the midst of the grandparents threatening to sue (for what, wasn’t exactly clear), the principal had proof that the students actually lived in another town and got the kids removed from our schools. But their lives always stayed with me. Sadly, the mother of this crew of children had her first child at fifteen. Another cycle continues.

On the way home, I noticed the trees that line Hampshire Street are budding. A little bunch of crocuses on my patch of dirt had bloomed. All that rain along with the warm weekend brought spring.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


“One, two three, four

Can I have a little more?

Five, six, seven eight nine ten I love you.

A, B, C, D

Can I bring my friend to tea?

E, F, G H I J I love you.”

- Lennon, John; McCartney, Paul. Song “All Together Now” The Beatles

The last two days I’ve been a P.E. teacher. I’m beginning to get the idea that substitute teachers are petrified to teach Gym and Spanish. The call came Sunday night, so I had my workout clothes all ready for work.

I’d subbed gym at this school before* for the same teacher, so I knew what to expect. Since this was a hybrid Montessori school, I was going to have a plethora of three to five-year-olds in the afternoon. The co-teacher is funny to see in action, but he’s not interactive with me. “Follow my lead,” is what he said to me at the start of the day. There was no schedule printed anywhere, so he let me know which class was coming just before they arrived and when I had a break just before the break. Because of the myopia, I ate my lunch at 11:00 am, not realizing we also had a thirty-minute break at 12pm. As if the job ain’t unstable enough…

For almost every class, the students were doing endurance run testing. Sounds easy, right? Everything with children is complicated because when there are multi-step instructions, they don’t listen carefully. Two chairs, one crate, one bucket filled with beanbags, three kids. One child was to sit on the chair, holding an empty crate. The other was to sit between the bucket and chair across the room. The runner started behind the chair. When the whistle blew, s/he was to run to the opposite chair, grab a beanbag from the chair, run back and place it in the crate, run around that chair, and repeat for six-minutes. At the end, beanbags are counted to show how many laps were run. What could possibly go wrong?

  1. Students forgetting to replace beanbag on chair or throwing beanbags to one another
  2. Students handing out two beanbags at once, even though they know it’s cheating
  3. Students wandering from their stations
  4. Students dropping their crates
  5. Runners taking two beanbags, even though they know it’s cheating
  6. Runners not running around the chair after they place the beanbags in the crate
  7. Holders of crate running to dump beanbags in the bucket before they’ve been tallied

By the way, remember the spitter in Spanish? He didn’t spit, but he did commit sin #7. In the same class, a girl spit on another student. And spitting isn’t even on her Ed. plan.

The next morning, the phone rang so early that I was contemplating whether to do a plank pose after my pushups. I was to work for the same P.E. teacher, but this time I was beginning at the school, which is three blocks down the street and at some undetermined hour, I’d be driving to the original school I’d worked at the day before. I had done a two-school schedule for another teacher last spring, so I knew what to expect. I’m sure there will be no problems…

I arrived at the school ten-minutes early so I could sort out my afternoon schedule when I was told that the particular gym teacher no longer worked there. She did last year, but now she was at another school clear across town. At least, that’s what they thought – I should check with the other gym teacher and the gatekeeper. I’m sure that will clear things up…

The P.E. teacher was surprised that I’d been sent there, so I left a message for the gatekeeper. She called back a few minutes later, saying that the absent teacher had told her to send the sub to this school. I told the gatekeeper the other school that had been mentioned. She said it was too early to verify, so I said I’d just head that way. Did I mention that it was pouring rain? Things are going to look up – I just know it.

I arrived at the allegedly correct school, but the principal couldn’t tell me if I was supposed to be there. Yes, that is correct. So, I made my way to the gym and spoke with the other teacher, who said, yes, I was in the right place and I’d be there until 11:00 am, when I’d head over the to the other school, but he didn’t know my schedule. Not to worry because the second gym teacher will fill me in on a “need to know” basis…

My stint at the first school wound up being wonderful. The two kindergarten classes that came in were adorable. I got two hugs and I ran Simon Says with each group. The gym teacher told me, “You make Simon Says more fun than I do.” “You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself,” I replied. He made the warm ups fun, counting in lots of different ways – singles, by twos, in Spanish, and by reciting the alphabet. He also gave the students a variety of nicknames: Stretch, Big Willie Style, Lower-case C, and Waffles. His trick was to keep them moving and when it was time to dance, he told them that I said another school’s kindergartners danced better, so they had to prove me wrong. When they were done, I told them, “You are the best of all the kindergartens in the city.” They beamed.

In the first kindergarten class was a girl with Down syndrome, whose assistant couldn’t be there, so I was in charge of keeping an eye on her. There were two girls in particular who always looked out for her, holding her hands and encouraging her to participate. But other kids came over to hug her or to show her how to do the routine - “Watch me!” or “Try this!” When she was It, they’d stop in front of her and say, “Tag me!” Then they’d fall on the floor like a turtle in its back during Turtle Tag. Watching this class choked me up.

Then I returned to yesterday’s school. The three-year-olds have seen me enough, that I got quite a few hugs and requests to hold my hands while they jogged (which meant that I had to jog). In fact, a few began fighting over my two hands, so we ran in a chain and periodically rotated. That was the upside.

The last two classes had to do the endurance test again, which caused all the above problems. One group of three colluded to steal beanbags, which I didn’t notice until the race was nearly over. Instead of having the normal fifteen to twenty-two bags, this one had thirty in the crate. The part that bothered me the most was that I’d missed it because I had been running in every direction to keep students doing what they were supposed to do while the other teacher sat on a chair with his head down or periodically left the room. If he didn’t care about the rules, why should I?

Between Montessori in the fall, Spanish this winter, and a few days of gym this year, the young ones at this school not only recognize me – they actually know my name. A couple of the Montessori teachers go out of their way to include me during lunch, so there is one place I’m feeling more comfortable. For now.

“Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came.”

- Portnoy, Gary; Angelo, Judy Hart. “Cheers Theme Song”

* My first P.E. experience at this school:

** My first P.E. experience at this school:

Monday, March 22, 2010


“Went to school and I was very nervous

No one knew me…

Hello teacher what’s my lesson

Look right through me

- Gary Jules. Song “Mad World”

Thursday morning, I received another call to teach Spanish – this time for a middle school that I hadn’t taught at much. In fact, I’d only been there three times: my second sub job ever for Music (no plans were left); Spanish, which was a challenging day, to say the least; and a rambunctious preschool class. Since it was a difficult middle school, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

When I arrived, the teacher was there. He explained that he was going on a field trip, so he’d still be there to teach first period and I’d only have a few classes to run. Not too bad, right? The bonus of this school’s location is that it’s near a Starbucks, so I made my way over for a cup of coffee and did some reading.

The teacher warned me about the eighth-graders, but getting through the class was another matter. While they weren’t killing one another or being disrespectful to me, all but about five students could care less about the class or doing any work. Fifty-minutes were spent nagging and warning that they wouldn’t accumulate the five tickets they needed for this class. Once they reached 100 from all the teachers, they’d get free time and once they reached 500, they’d get a pizza party. In my class that day, they received ZERO tickets. Did they care? No.

Fourth-grade went much better and fifth-grade was a dream. Even with the light schedule and fairly easy day, I was wiped out. I chalked it up to staying up late because of the Celtics game the previous night.

When I came home from school, there was a call to sub music the next day. It was at a school where I’d only taught PE twice before*. I was relieved that at least it wasn’t Spanish.

When I arrived to the classroom, I thought there were no plans, which made the large number of papers and Bose speaker (along with my usual handbag, lunch bag, and laptop) worth carrying as I commuted on bicycle. But in the far corner of the room, I found a DVD, a video, a couple of picture books, and plans. I was going to have four 1/2-grade classes and one sixth-grade class.

The television and wires into the DVD and VCR were a mess, but there were instructions to switch wires to get each player to work. As I carefully moved the television closer the rug where the students would sit, the power strip that held a bunch of chords separated, making me feel like when the same thing happens to the scientist at the clock tower in the movie “Back to the Future”. In fact, I may have sounded a similar, Aaack!

When I finally figured out what went where for which and when, I was ready. The first and second-grade classes ran the gamut from easy to difficult. Throughout the day, I had autistic, and mentally handicapped children mixed in with the mainstream students. Some kids required their own aides, while others needed support, which I had to provide. On top of that, there were the usual behavior problems. I made sure to sit next to those students, sending them to the other side of the room if they talked too much.

Here are some of the highlights from the Disney video:

At some point in the video, Johnny Appleseed wades through a river.

“Is that Jesus?” a girl asked.

“No, that’s Johnny Appleseed,” I explained.

“Oh, because Jesus can walk on water.”

“Johnny Appleseed is just walking through the water.”

In another clip, two skaters kiss.

“EWWWW!” There was a collective shout, mostly by the boys.

One girl turned back to face the shouters. “That’s not gross!”

“Yes it is,” responded one boy.

“No it isn’t. I kiss my mom on the cheek.”

Toot the tugboat toots out a distress signal.

“What’s S.O.S. mean?” asked a student.

“It means, save our ship,” I replied.

“I know what S.O.B. means,” a boy said.

The sixth-grade class would’ve gone off without a hitch if, when I opened the case, I hadn’t found the DVD cracked in half. (Swell.) A student recommended another DVD, which wound up being so boring that most of the class wandered away from the TV to talk in clusters. I didn’t blame them.

By the time the day ended, I was wiped out, though there was little reason to be. I’m burned out. Having to anticipate what a day will be like and constantly switching gears midstream as I figure out the students and little wrenches get thrown into the mix is mentally challenging. I’m at the point where I need a good, long break, but our spring break isn’t until the week of April 19th (Patriot’s Day is to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord. I swear this is only other holiday we get for the American Revolution).

Being a substitute teacher is to have a job that is constantly in flux. I rarely teach the subjects that I know well. I have little choice in where I go and what type of class I get. But more than the new situations and figuring out the students, subjects, and routines, is that my job is a little lonely. I don’t have camaraderie with the teachers or the students like I used to as an assistant. Even on the days that I write, which many might consider solitary, I can reach out to fellow bloggers or talk to family and friends on the phone. Being a substitute teacher is about as isolating as I felt being a new mother before I reached out to other mothers.

Once I’ve been to a school a number of times and have started to get to know the teachers and students, I don’t get another assignment there for weeks or even months. More and more, I find myself retreating to the classroom during my breaks, instead of going to the teachers’ room. I don’t know anyone well enough to have more than polite conversation, and at this point, that takes a mental stamina that I don’t want to exert. So, I microwave my food, and then return to the room to work or read.

There are a lot of good aspects to subbing, but these days I’d like some stability with students, subjects, and coworkers. Do other subs feel this way? How about other teachers? Writers? Parents? What do you do to connect with other people?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Celtics, Walt Clyde & Gino

The lighting is bad and I don't know why I'm clenching my fists. Itching for a fight?

“I like Slam dunks take me to the hoop

My favorite play is the alley oop

I like the pick-and-roll, I like the give-and-go,

Cause it's Basketball, uh, Mister Kurtis Blow”

- Kurtis Blow. Song “We’re Playing Basketball”

The best part of St. Patrick’s/Evacuation Day is that it was finally time for me to see the Celtics-Knicks game as an early birthday present. These were the best seats I’d ever had – we were in row G, seven rows behind the basket. I’d never been in horizontal seating. When I used to see the Knicks in New York, the seats we could afford were up so high; they were practically vertical. I’ve sat in the last row for a few games. George and Weezy may have moved on up, but with basketball seating, the trick is to move on down.

Going to the Irish city of Boston to see a basketball game played by a green team (with a leprechaun for a mascot) against an historic rival, I expected to see some pretty fantastic getups. I was not disappointed. Besides virtually everyone being dressed in emerald, there were many painted faces, from masks of green and white to sparkly green clovers. Green and white striped hats were standard. For the occasion, banners with “Go Celtics” on one side and “D (picture of a fence)” were handed out to all attendees. It was a festive atmosphere. But nothing prepared me for two women sitting in the first row, just six rows ahead of me.

I’m afraid that my hastily snapped photos don’t do them justice. Their getups were more impressive from the front, but I didn’t want to be obvious. Also, because the pictures aren’t crisp, I think you’re missing the full effect – from short-shorts to bustiers to gold tights to fishnets to towering high heels.

The couple in front of us kept distracting me. The man had homemade lettered tattoos that ran up each forearm. My husband thought the right arm was written in Chinese characters, but I couldn’t read he left arm and I think that one was in English. I would've taken a picture, but I was worried that he'd gotten them in prison.

His woman was the one who was really distracting. She took photos and video the entire first quarter. Since she was my height (short), holding her arms to snap and record kept blocking my view. It was so constant that she drained her batteries, and so she left to buy more.

I couldn’t see the point of watching the game through a lens. And after a few pictures, you can prove to everyone that you were close enough the mop the sweat off of Kevin Garnett’s brow (If you can reach that high). My advice would be to just use the DVR at home. And with the basketball stand and backboard partially obstructing the view, how good were the pictures anyway? By the beginning of the second quarter, I could take it no more, so I said in my nicest voice, “Do you mind keeping you hands down a little? It’s a bit distracting.” She stopped for the rest of the game.

The funny part about sitting near the court is that you get to see all the action. The Cambridge City Dancers, little girls dressed up as princesses, and some green-faced hip-hop dancing young boys and girls came in and out just rows in front of those seats. Sitting near the court also meant that I could get a good view of the players, coach Doc Rivers, and former NBA star Walt Clyde Frazier, who may be the most entertaining commentator EVER. Some of my favorite lines:

“He’s swishing and dishing.”

“Five minutes is an eternity in the NBA.”

“Five seconds is an eternity in the NBA.”

Walt Clyde is awesome. One of things I miss most about living in New York, is having the MSG channel so I could listen to him during games. Please see this link for quotes, a commentating clip, and one of his fancy suits:

Being close to the court also means that you can see when the camera crew plans to shoot the audience for the JumboTron. This also means that people in the audience in outrageous clothing jump up and perform every time they see that camera nearby. One such couple sat one row over and about three seats to the right. They got shot a couple of times. Why people want to dance like fools to get on camera, I have no idea, but they’re fun to watch.

The JumboTron in itself is entertainment. I saw a woman napping, a little boy who had moves like Michael Jackson, an older gentleman with white hair and a bushy beard, who was dressed like Chevy Chase on the TV show "Community" getting down.

By the third quarter, it was clear that the Celtics would have to implode to lose the game. (Sadly, this actually happens a lot this season.) At some point they were ahead by 29 or 31 points. One of the things I liked about the seats is that on my side, the Celtics would be playing defense in the first half, but offense during the second half. I was ecstatic that I’d get to see my favorites – Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce shooting for the latter part of the game. But the Celtics were so far ahead that the BIG 3 were pulled out by the fourth-quarter. I guess it was a small price to pay to see my team win.

In the last quarter, Boston Garden has been showing a clip from the TV show “American Bandstand” from the seventies, where people are dancing to the song “You should be Dancing” by the Bee Gees. If the outfits, the dancing, and the hair aren’t enough to make you laugh, there's Gino. I don’t know if that’s his name or it's just happens to be on his t-shirt. Throughout the song, they veer from showing the clip, the audience at Boston Garden, and Gino. Gino gets the most laughs.

Here’s the one from the game I was at:

Here’s one with a wider view of the Boston Garden:

The game ended with the Celtics winning. As my husband and I exited Boston Garden around 10:15pm, I overheard a goal-oriented gentleman declare, “We have four more hours to get drunk!”

The green line (fitting for the day) took a long time to arrive. Once we got on the train, I sat near a young redheaded woman relaying a problem with her man to her friend.

She wanted to text him to tell him about a guy she saw, but, as she said, “I’m not that girl.”

She was not going to be the one to call him because, as she explained, “I’m not that girl.”

She was going to give the cell phone to her friend to stop herself from calling because, as she repeated, “I’m not that girl.”

After the sixth declaration, I couldn’t look at my husband or I would’ve started cracking up. By the time we arrived at Lechmere Station, I lost count of how many times she made that assertion. As we exited the train, my husband said, “She is that girl!”

If I’d stayed in Boston to take part in the four more hours of drinking, I’m sure I would’ve had even better quotes and pictures, but my alarm was again set for 5:25 am.

Sitting close to the action was a nice splurge. For my next Big Birthday, I'm hoping for seats at center court.