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.


  1. Hi

    Good for Freak Out Boy for being well, not so! It's horrifying to think about how money really talks the talk when it comes to health care! A child is allocated one pair of glasses a year! Poor kids. I know what it's like without glasses - especially when you really do need it to get on with life! Poor kids and poor families. The last family you highlighted is so heartbreaking. Why do cycles repeat themselves? I'm hoping that theirs will be broken if not in this generation then the next. Here's hoping.

    Oh spring is so lovely! Now that I've got my brand new camera - I might try it on my pots - they're bursting with buds! yay!

    Take care

  2. p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



  3. Happy birthday week! And I'm so glad to hear Freak Out boy didn't freak out, though I was interested to find out what that would entail. And that poor family - what a nightmare for each one of them, and now it begins again. So sad.

  4. Old Kitty, thanks for the birthday wishes. It's my last day in this decade. I witness what lack of healthcare does to families every single day I teach. If people followed me around at these schools, few would oppose universal healthcare.

    Susan, thank you for the birthday wishes. The fear this kid engendered in these adults reminds me of how owners react to their dogs before The Dog Whisperer helps them. I can only imagine what these freak outs are like.

  5. Happy Birthday week! It's so cute to hear about your birthday celebration at the restaurant with your children. What a great way to start the birthday week.

    It's sad to hear about those kids that need glasses. There should be a government program for that.

  6. Birthday Week here you come! Congrats! That cycle of teen pregnacy always breaks my heart. I have a 15 yo cousin falling into the trap now, what with the way her parents are. It's so hard for them to see they deserve and ARE so much better.

    Tomorrow's the big day, right?!

  7. Aubrie, I just wish that we all had the same insurance so all kids got proper medical, dental, and eye care. I'm sure the boy who freaks out would've been diagnosed and had intervention before kindergarten. The birthday celebration was fun.

  8. Jackee, we posted at the same time. I'm sorry to hear about your cousin. Too many people repeat exactly what they think they're running away from. Sad. Ugh - yes - big day tomorrow.

  9. Happy Birthday week. When is your birthday really?
    Your days as a sub are very hard. I truly understand subbing is not easy. At least though, when you are not home, you still can work. In my district, it is an automatic system and if you are not there, it goes to the next person. That to me can be frustrating because there are times when I am out and I get calls.

  10. I heard this quote the other day, and can't remember who said it, but something like "Any person you talk to is probably in deep trouble." Yes, life is chaos. Love that Katherine Ann Porter quote at the top. I need to write that one down. She's one of my favorite authors. In fact, I should just carry my quote notebook with me every time I read your blog. You have such good ones. Happy Birthday!

  11. Happy Birthday Week! Sounds like you had a great dinner out. Glad that Freak Out boy did not, in fact, freak out. You've got me very curious as to what would ever happen if he did! Maybe he turns into King Kong?

  12. Choices, it's tomorrow. That must be frustrating to miss a call and a job. You can consider giving them your cell phone if you don't mind that type of intrusion.

    Karen G, that sounds like a great quote. If you ever come across the exact wording and author, please pass it on. Thanks for the quote compliment and the birthday wish.

    Talli, thank you. As for the boy, I imagine that he pushes a lot of objects off surfaces. Maybe biting and scratching? They reacted like he'd turn into King Kong!

  13. That's absolutely heartbreaking that such a young former student is pregnant and that there are kids who can't even get glasses. The cycle of poverty in this country is vicious.

    Between the Celtics and Dali, it sounds like you're enjoying a great birthday week and a half! I can't wait to celebrate with you :)

  14. Happy birthday week! I don't think there's anything I can say about glasses that the others haven't said... but it's such a shame if nobody says burgled! What are people saying instead.... please not 'burglarized', I hope!? :)

  15. Kathleen, yes the poverty cycle is sad. See you soon.

    Hampshireflyer, yes I'm afraid it's burglarized instead of burgled. Most of the words we don't share are better on your side of the pond.

  16. Gosh, the story of the family you described at the end is very heartbreaking.

    On another note, I do hope you have a wonderful birthday week!

  17. Shelley, I hope something good happens in that family. Thanks for the birthday wish.

  18. Happy Birthday Week!

    The school I'm subbing at right now has LOTS of teenage girls with babies or pregnant. For me, it's a really sad situation. They seem to be fine with it, though.

    I hope tomorrow and next week is a little less crazy for you!

  19. Aaaaawwww, sad. I love how you juxtaposed the story of the young, soon-to-be mother with your last paragraph. That is, you know? The sad and ugly and beautiful and joyful all thrown together.

  20. Hi Theresa, Excellent post, so sad about the 15year old and the pregnancy, some kids are stuck in such a cycle of negativity. Happens here too.
    Nice to read about your Irish colleague and her colourful vocabulary.

  21. Tiffany, those pregnant girls probably have little idea of what they're in for. So sad. Thanks for the birthday wish.

    Rebecca, I feel so many days are like that. How often do we experience a roller coaster of emotions each day? On the days I work at my old school, this roller coaster of life has more ups and downs.

    Brigid, when I had both of those girls in fifth-grade, I couldn't make them care. They were more interested in fighting than learning. It's a shame when people have already given up when they're ten-years-old.

    I love my blogger friends from other countries because I get bits of your different words and sentences thrown in. Some of them - I don't know why they're different. Why do British say Down's syndrome but we say Down syndrome?

  22. Thanks for doing what you do so well. Susbtitute teacher has to be one of the most difficult jobs...

  23. Slamdunk, thanks for the comment. I liken subbing playing defense. I may get good at it, but I still have to be prepared.

  24. I read a statistic recently that said that a larger percentage of children than ever before are needing glasses. They're way too overpriced. I spent $300 for my last pair and that was choosing a mid-priced frame, and declining scratch and glare coatings. I have no idea what kid glasses cost, but I'm sure that they have to be replaced regularly. Not only does vision change over time but kids lose things and break things.

  25. I feel so bad for the kids who need glasses and don't get them. My husband is practically blind without his contacts and we were talking the other day what his life would be like if he lived before corrective lenses. We're so glad we live now. I think my son will need glasses--I hate the idea of him not seeing the board! That happened to me in middle school and I remember thinking the leaves on the trees were so crisp and clean. I couldn't stop gawking at them.

  26. Vagabond Teacher, I didn't know that more kids needed glasses than ever before, but that doesn't surprise me either. With lack of nutrition and who knows what else...

    Kids love EVERYTHING. I watch the young ones with their glasses - many take them off and tinker with them.

    M. Gray my sister and parents have terrible vision too. Mine isn't too bad, but I also marveled at the crisp leaves when I got mine around the same time. It's good to live in a world with glasses and antibiotics. (And I really love my DVR.)

  27. I remember being ne of those poor kids whose family could not afford glasses. I actually wore a pair of my older sister's old glasses because I just could not see the blackboard. I was getting headaches from the prescription being too strong. My guess is the "freak out" child has to freak out to get any attention in his world.

    It's amazing what the government will spend money on and then so many citizens are left suffering. I can not believe all the opposition to the health bill and how watered down the final product became.

    I hope that young girl in the last story gets help, or else the cycle of abuse and neglect will surely continue.

  28. Pat, I've never heard of hand-me-down glasses before. Your poor eyes. I agree, freak out has a lot going against him.

    Americans have this independent streak and the government is good at spinning what we deserve as "socialist". There's sob story after sob story. Last winter, I heard about Americans not eating to pay for heat during the winter, so doctors could see that those children stopped growing in the winter. The thing is, we pay for it anyway. People wind up in emergency rooms, can't pay the bills - hospitals are bailed out by the government. And the kids aren't cared for, so they cost more in our schools. My sister's health insurance that she pays out of pocket is abominably expensive - going up $100 or more each year.

    Because of the lucky ones who have good coverage from their employers - we don't know how much it actually costs. Imagine if employers put that in our paychecks instead? I'm sure taxes would be less. So many countries do it well - why can't we? I try to refrain from being political, but this issue is important to me.

  29. Wow that last story broke my heart! I'll send up prayers for that family, I'm God knows who they are. :) Thank you for sharing your experience.

  30. T. Anne, thanks for the comment. I hope something turns that family around. If I ever hear anything else, I'll add it to a post.

  31. Gee Theresa,

    I did not realize I had not wished you a Happy Birthday yesterday for your birthday week. "Happy Birthday" last week!!!!!!!!!!! I am glad you had fun at a tapas restaurant.

    How sad about your former student....children raising children. You are so right....the cycle continues. That was the hardest part of teaching in the public schools for me. Watching the inequity broke my heart at times. As much as you want to "fix" everything as a teacher, you can't. All you can do is make sure that while they are with you that they are nurtured and loved even if they are labeled "freak boy". Blessings!

  32. Thanks for the birthday wish, VKT. It was fun.

    I'm sure you've known about a lot of sad situations.