Superhero Teacher or Super Fun-Sucker?

Every night when I exit the school building, I leave perfectly planned lessons on my desk. They fit the state and federal standards, have some sort of an attention grabber, an objective, guided practice, and independent practice (homework)…except of course, for Fridays. (Who wants homework on Friday?) Anyway, by the time I get to class, my lessons have completely changed…nothing is as I had planned. Some little crumb of an idea begins irritating my brain until I finally give in and everything I had planned has completely fallen away.

Take today’s lesson for example. I was supposed to introduce exponents…you know 4 to the power of 3. Well, I had this great lesson all planned out when something on the shelf behind my desk caught my eye. (Keep in mind that I am abstract random, ADHD, and a whole series of other things that aren’t necessarily perfect teacher qualities.) Anyway, I immediately scooped two volunteers out of their chairs, grabbed a loaded brown paper bag from my shelf, and dragged both bag and “victims” into the hallway. Quickly explaining my directions to the two students…I dashed back inside to “set the stage”.

I leapt up onto the wooden box that sits in the front of my room, and grabbed a whiteboard marker (a makeshift microphone) from the ledge up front, and began shouting. “Alright you guys! We have a couple of visitors who have just flown in from across the country. Give it up for “THE BASE”! The kids, getting caught up in my spirit, clapped and hooted wildly as one of my “visitors” flew into the classroom wearing a green and silver lame’ superhero costume. He landed in the front of the classroom and in a loud and extremely low voice announced, “I am THE BASE! I am a superhero, and I am here to fight the evil-doers of the world.” Again, the kids cheered as he continued. “Periodically, I need help from my superhero brothers.” Hearing this, a second superhero flew into the room and landed next to the first.

To make a long story short…the BASE BROTHERS were the superheroes, and the “secret number” (the exponent) was the number of extra superheroes needed to destroy the evil-doers in any given situation. (The power is a secret…therefore written very small…so the enemy doesn’t know how many BASE BROTHERS will attack.)

After a few minutes, the kids completely understood how to lay the problem out and how to calculate the answer. Monday, I will introduce the Powers of 10…and the evil villain who, when multiplied by a decimal, sends us sprawling backwards a bit.

So much for my originally devised lesson plans: Exponent Baseball and Extravaganza Challenge. THE BASE superheroes stole the show.

Anyway, I was telling my husband (an elementary principal) about the impromptu powers lesson. He laughed and said, “Where in the world do these ideas come from? Do you just pull them out of your butt?” I hope that’s not where they come from, but maybe if we could just harness a little bit more teaching fun…and a lot less drill and killwhen teaching…kids might actually start seeing us (their teachers)  as superheroes instead of evil villains. They might see us as fun rather than fun-suckers!

So, go out there and find a superhero costume or two. Leave it in your classroom. Wear it occasionally…the kids won’t recognize you behind that goofy mask and shiny lame’. But best of all, they might just have some fun while learning something important.

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

Life Needs a Delete Key!

You know, they aren’t calling it the Swine flu anymore; it’s now called H1N1…or, as my kids refer to it, “The Hini (high-nee) flu”. I figure that is probably the most accurate name!

Well, needless to say, I didn’t get the Hini flu, but I got something else from one of my little darlings: the worst cold imaginable. It started with a sneeze…not mine, a student’s. Those little germs marched up my arm, across my shoulder, up my neck and face, and into my nostrils. And, there, they set up camp. I’ve tried to cough them out, sneeze them out, blow them out, and they will NOT LEAVE! (Just like children who return home after college!) 🙂

Well, today, I went to school, anyway…feeling a bit like I was dying. Why? Because sometimes it is harder to write plans for a sub than it is to just be miserable for 8 hours. Ah, but you ask, “Weren’t you afraid you’d make your kids sick?” You know, I thought about that…but then I realized that the kids you want to be gone a day or two, have immune systems made of iron, and those who are chronic absentees…were already gone anyway. So, I figured it was pretty safe to spend the day at school.

Okay…so, now you know just how sick I am…except you don’t know what happens to me when I am on Sudafed and other cold medicines. So, let me share some of my past history with you. A couple years ago, I created a worksheet for my World History class. I made it quickly (for my sub)-on my deathbed, as I was certain I was dying.  Seriously…dying! I probably should have after what I did. The worksheet…which was supposed to be titled “The Roman Public Forum”…wasn’t! Across the top of the worksheet in all capital letters was “THE ROMAN PUBIC FORUM”. Obviously, in my medicated state, that was one important letter I left out! The kids didn’t know if they were supposed to be learning about Roman history or Roman Family Life.

Again, a couple of years ago, and again on cold medicine, I was talking to the kids in math class about Function Tables. A good topic, but not for someone who was probably overdosed on Sudafed. I missed the N in function…and the word took on a whole new meaning…FUC-TION! Again…MATH family education.

Last year, in the same stupor, we were doing an activity in which all the kids would answer a question that had been placed on their desk. Then, they would get up and move to another question, and so on and so forth. It was a great lesson to get them up and get them moving. Except, as I was trying to explain to them the order we would move, I said, (with the door wide open…and other classroom doors open) “Okay, now shit to the left.” I meant SHIFT to the left, but it was worth a few laughs…from all of the classrooms.

Cold medicine and teaching is just not a good combination. As I write this, I am on a heavy dose of meds…and I can feel the white lights and the floating feeling. It’s a good thing computers have a delete key, as I have been using it all night. I sometimes wish life had one. There are several moments out there that I wish I could have deleted…above is only three of those instances. DELETE! It’s my best friend.

So, here’s hoping you are not sick, not taking cold medicine, and can function a lot better than I can if you are. (Notice I remembered the N.) So, I am heading off to bed, as it’s the only place I feel completely safe on these meds. (I am a sissy. I cannot hold my cold medicine!)

Mary…the Phat/Fat teacher

Real Teachers…

So, here we  are with 19 days of school in. (Wow! It seems like I’ve gotten up at 5:00 a lot more days than that!) Of course, look at the bright side: we only have 154 more to go.

Anyway, in those 19 days, we have experienced a full moon, a serious drop in barometric pressure, and several “tech meetings” at the local pub…and every one of those makes the kids go crazy. The first two are for obvious reasons, but the last one just doesn’t seem to have a good reason. It’s a well known fact that the volume of their voices somehow seems to correlate with the intensity of your headache. (I unboxed a 500-count bottle of Advil and a 1000-count bottle of Tylenol, today. I also opened a 5,000,000-count bag of M&Ms. I should be good for the year!)

Anyway, at this point, even the new teachers have muddled through the honeymoon period and are headed directly into the fire. Therefore, they are now REAL TEACHERS. Even perky little Linette from workshop week has lost a bit of perk!  She’s getting wrinkles…and she’s earned every one of them! She’s a real teacher, now!

And so, that being said, the following is my take on what makes you a REAL TEACHER.

1)     Wear clothing that repels fluids!
2)     Ingest mega doses of caffeine daily…pumped intravenously!
3)     Use school appropriate language…when in earshot of children.
4)     Eat an entire meal…and use the bathroom…in 13.7 minutes or less.
5)     Can tell there’s a full moon without ever looking outside.
6)     Understands the statement “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”
7)     Can fend off the attacks of angry parents without a club!
8)     Own stock in Advil, Tylenol, or Anheuser Busch.
9)     Shop at the “Lost and Found”.
10)   Play well with others!

So, congratulations! We’ve all made it through the first month of school. Just think, we only have another 8.5 to go! But if you take out prep time, vacation days, sick days, workshop days, and trips to the coffee shop…that only leaves about 8 months! That’s doable! 🙂 Just make them good ones.

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher


Playing Monopoly the other day, I was thinking about the “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. What a great idea…not really the jail part, but the whole idea of a “Do Over!” Think about it…we’re human…we screw up! It’s plain and simple and it seems like there is never a do over once it happens. You have to find some way to “make up for it”, but you don’t get a do over. Why not? Okay, mistakes are huge, some are repeated mistakes in which the person doesn’t learn, and some are just too catastrophic to allow do overs. Those ones just have to stand as it…but what about those little mistakes?

Picture this, a student in your class absolutely screws up…well, we forgive them and move on…DO OVER! They leave the classroom without signing out…DO OVER! They call someone a name in a fit of frustration and anger…DO OVER!  DO OVER! DO OVER! DO OVER!

All of this has gotten me thinking about the other things students need. For example, if theydon’t make an assignment due date, maybe they should get a DUE OVER! card. That makes sense…a different due date. And maybe there are other things they should get as well.

At the beginning of the school year, I pack a survival kit for all of the students in my advisory. It includes snacks and notes and pencils and paper and all the other things they might need to make it through the first few days. But what about if that survival kit also included a deck of 52 cards…each labeled with some kind of message.

DO OVER cards & DUE OVER cards

And of course, what about including some of these cards:

I am sure you could think of a million more that I have not addressed. Your challenge, send them to me…and I will add them to my list when I get a bunch more. This could be rather fun!

Thank you to all of you who are writing comments. I haven’t let all of the comments through, some are more personal, or are issue related, but they are still very important.

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

LD or DL?

Okay, the week is over…and I can breathe for the first time in nearly five days. I came home, tonight, with about 30 minutes worth of school work instead of my usual 5 hours. This will be the most “time-off” that I have had in almost four weeks. I am not complaining…oh, hell, yes, I am! Can you say stress?

Alright…onward and upward.

The beginning of the school year is always filled with a whirlwind of meetings for kids who are ELL (English Language Learner), ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), EBD (Emotionally Behaviorally Disorder), TAG (Talented and Gifted),  OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), DHH (Deaf/Hard of Hearing), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), and DAPE (Developmental Adaptive Physical Education), and of course, OHI (Other Health Impaired) for all students who have something wrong with them, buuuuuuuuuut…you just don’t know what that might be. (NOTE: As a teacher, I have labels, too. Sometimes they come from the kids, and sometimes they come from other people! Most aren’t really nice…and the letters spell bad words. :))

A while back, I was talking to my son about all of the labels we put on kids. It seems that if a kid looks at you wrong, they are tested for Special Education or EBD and placed on an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan). And…if they can fart and chew gum at the same time, they’re labeled gifted. My classes are gradually emerging as “half gifted”, if you know what I mean. 🙂

Anyway, as we were talking about the fact that kids have all of these labels…a complete combinations of all of the letters of the alphabet…and even some new ones letters that haven’t even been invented yet, I mentioned that many of my kids this year are labeled LD (Learning Disabled). 

He thought for a moment and then spouted off information about labels. “Well, you know, Mom, when I was in school, most kids were either labeled one of two things: LD or DL. I was puzzled; DL was something I had never heard of, and since he is an IT (Information Technology) Guy, I figured he might have just gotten the letters wrong. So, I lorded over him my “teacher intelligence”. “Yeah, well, son, there are a lot of labels in teaching, but DL isn’t one of them.” I grinned to think that for the first time in many years, I was “smarter” than him. He smiled and said, “Ahhhh, but that’s where you’re wrong. See, your kids, as you have described them, are either LD or DL: Learning Disabled or Dang Lazy!”

And so, it seems we now have a new label to attach to kids who seem to show little or not effort in the educational arena. DL…Dang Lazy! And just for the record, my label back then would have been DL, too!

I challenge you to the assignment of a lifetime. Find a child in your classroom who is DL, and find a way to help them overcome their disability.

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

The Oxygen Settles in Your Butt!

Friday was one of those days, at the end of the first week of school, when you wonder if the day will every be over. The kids were great, but the day drug on longer than usual…until my students made me laugh the hardest I have laughed in a very long time. It made me realize just how much I miss them during the summer months.

Anyway, during Comm Arts, the conversation was centered on things you can do to increase your learning. I was telling the students that crossing the center of your body (the mid-line), helps get both sides of your brain working together. We played a quick game of DO THIS! DO THAT!so I could show them an entertaining and fun way to cross their mid-line…and so I could get them up and moving!

Once we settled back in, I asked them when they feel the most tired in class. They told me it was when they had to just sit and listen for long periods of time. I said, “Of course! By sitting, the oxygen disperses itself to the part of your body that is doing the most work. Therefore, that would be you backside!” Most kids laughed, but there was one child in the front row who instantly had his hand flying back and forth in the air, grunting and oohing like Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter. When I called on him, he wasted no time telling the rest of the class what he had figured out. “Mrs. P! Mrs. P! No wonder when I sit for a long time, I have to fart really bad!” Laughter erupted from every corner of the room, and just when it began to die out, it started again! Finally, one of my other little darlings said, “Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but sitting could be dangerous!”  I giggled with the rest of the kids, then let myself go down the slippery slope of asking him to explain. This was not a good idea, because  the conversation continued with the same 6th grade flavor as it had started. “Well, sometimes that oxygen that pools there is just gas, but other times, it could be a solid!” I had tears running down my face. Where do 6th graders come from, anyway?

Well, here’s a word of advice from someone who has been there: DO NOT allow kids to sit too long. You never know what they could be passing!

 Mary, the Phat/Fat Teacher

What to Do With Those Kids Who Need to Move!

Okay…so, already it’s happened…just three days in! I have a student who continuously needs to move. He can’t sit still, he doesn’t know what a chair is used for, and he talks non-stop. Usually this doesn’t happen until some time around Day 20. That’s usually about the time that the honeymoon is over.

So today, I already had to resort to desperate measures. 32 kids in a classroom large enough to pass for a walk-in closet, is a difficult task in itself, but add in the mad bouncer/jabberer, and we really needed a rubber room.

So, as I said, I resorted to desperate measures. Our school has a long standing tradition called The Whiteboard Stretcher! Remember way back when I told you that we don’t have real whiteboards…just cheap tile board hanging on the walls? Well, that tile board changes shape over the course of the year…warping and twisting…based on the humidity or lack thereof. So, because of that, we needed a whiteboard stretcher. Of course, we know it’s an imaginary piece of equipment that every teacher needs…but the kids don’t know that.

And so, today, I sent my mover and groover out looking for the whiteboard stretcher. Since every teacher knows the story, it’s easy to pull off. My bouncer headed off at a full speed run, out the door and down the hall. He got to the first room and asked for it. That teacher claimed to have loaned it to someone else…on a different floor. So, he took off again, still in search of the aloof stretcher. After a while, one of the teachers asked where he had already been. Since the child had slowed a bit, he told him that he loaned it to someone in a different building. A sweet, calm child returned to my room with the message of the loaned-out stretcher…attentive for the remainder of the class.

Ultimately, it seems like a mean trick, but it works. Not to get rid of the child, but to calm them down enough to really be able to concentrate.

As a teacher, it is our job to make sure we teach, love, and accept each child and help them grow into responsible people. Sometimes a child cannot sit and learn; sometimes they need a break! They need to move, they need to walk, they need to stand. It’s not your mother’s school any longer. Things have changed, and we must face the 21st century with a new attitude and new ideas.

There is a Confucius phrase that goes, “Do not impose onto others what you yourself do not desire.” I live by that phrase in my classroom. I hate sitting still and listening for long periods of time, and I am pretty sure the kids do, too! Get them up and moving about every 10 to 12 minutes, otherwise the oxygen settles in their butts…and I don’t know about you, but with the size of my butt, I’m pretty sure that it already sucks a LOT of oxygen even without sitting!

So, there you have it, another teaching tool to help kids stay focused: the whiteboard stretcher.

Mary, the Phat/Fat Teacher

Day One…Only 172 to Go!

One day down…and 172 more to go! (Not that I am counting or anything!)

When you face a room full of 34 6th graders…who have all entered middle school for the very first time…it brings back memories. In 6th grade, I got a new box of Crayola Crayons, (Oh, how I loved the smell of those crayons!), two new shirts, two new pair of pants, and…a pair of brand new bumper tennis shoes.

The night before school started, my mom and dad went out for dinner and left us home. We played a game called the Shoe Game. Our front yard was huge. Each of us would put our shoes in one corner of the yard…and hope they stayed there. The object was to protect your shoes while stealing someone else’s and flinging them as far as possible. (It had to be the stupidest game in the entire world…but we still played it.) The very last words out of Mom’s mouth were, “Do NOT play this game with your new shoes!” Obviously, we didn’t listen. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Within minutes, one my shoes was gone, never to be seen until the following spring when it reappeared in the cow pasture across the road. And so, I wore one new shoe and one old shoe…which were almost identical…except for the number of eyelets and the massive amount of dirt and wear and tear on the old shoe. I spent the entire first day of school sitting on one foot…smelling my new crayons!

It seems that as kids, no matter how many times we are told to be careful, we don’t listen! We make bad choices that may affect us for just a little while or ones that affect us for an entire year or longer. Research shows that most kids don’t truly understand the consequences of their actions until they are between the ages of 18 and 25. I have passed 25…and there are still those moments of judgement lapse.

Well, back to my little 6th graders who looked like deer caught in the headlights, today. For the next 172 days, I get to impact their entire day. I get to say things that may or may not “stick with them”. I get to tell them things like, “Don’t play the Shoe Game or the Fork Game.” (Don’t even get me started on the Fork Game! I still have scars from that one!) But even with those types of warnings, kids will still make their own decisions! It’s the weighing of the consequences we need to teach them. If we can teach them that, we have definitely made an impact on the future.

Have a great day…and if you ever play the Fork Game…use plastic forks!

Cash For Clunkers!

Today, I looked in the mirror before I dashed off for yet another day of workshop…Day 3. I dabbed a little concealer on the new zit that had formed overnight on the tip of my nose. (By the way, at what age do you quit getting zits? I thought that was a bonus of getting out of your teens! Ugh!) Anyway, I thought I looked pretty presentable…for me!

I dashed into the meeting and sat next to a young teacher I had never seen before. I introduced myself and asked about her. She squared her shoulders and turned to face me…head on. Dang if she wasn’t the perkiest little thing I’ve ever seen. You know the type: cute voice, perfect hair, and no fat anywhere . She looked like she could actually run the length of her body without stopping because she was out of breath or to get a drink! (I’m not  necessarily talking water, here!)   Well, she practically bounced as she introduced herself.

“Oh, I’m Linette. I just graduated from college, and I am sooooo excited to be here. This is my first teaching job! Can you tell?” (No kidding! We were sitting in the front of the room where the Newbies and the late arrivals sit.)

I watched her for a second or two, then tossed back my Geritol and washed it down with a swig of Ensure. I licked the chocolate off my lips and said, “Great! Come see me if you need help. I know the ins and outs of this school.”

She clapped twice…something like a cross between a cheerleader and a Paula Abdul clap…and told me, “Thank you so much! My mom told me to find a grandmotherly-type person when I started. They are always so helpful!”

I smiled (or rather grimaced) at her and turned away. I prayed for the meeting to start…quick!

Grandmotherly-type! When did that happen? I swear, I was just a perky little thing not that long ago! What happened?

Anyway, the Cash for Clunkers program went so well that they are planning on expanding it to get rid of old appliances. Maybe it’s time they hold a Cash for Clunkers for teachers! I think I qualify. No, after the Grandmotherly statement…I KNOW I qualify!

So, here’s to the perky, young teachers, everywhere…and to those “Grandmotherly-Types” who mentor them along! The drink that I have in my hand right now…is for you!

Mary…the Phat Fat Teacher

Monogrammed Chairs

Last week, I took my daughter to orientation at the brand new, $95 million high school that is opening this fall in the district in which I teach. My husband, daughter and I walked around in awe of the AstroTurf on the football field, the 3+ huge gymnasiums, the student lounges, and the big screen TVs hanging on the walls. But I think I was most swept away by the monogrammed clocks, carpets, chairs, etc…including the leather recliners in the athletic training first-aid room. Literally, everything was monogrammed.

About an hour later, I returned to the middle school in which I teach…the oldest building in the same district. I sat down at my second hand desk (a cast off from a local business), and noticed the bowed tables with the missing edging, the broken blinds, the 35 year old carpet with the mystery stains, the broken Formica counter-top, and best of all…or at least I thought it was…the lime green built-in bookshelf. See, I only thought that was the best, until I bent over my computer to adjust a cord in the back of it, and felt water dripping onto my head…from the rain soaked ceiling tiles above my desk. Now, that was the best! 🙂 I sighed and plopped down in my chair, wondering what it would be like to have everything new. And that was when I realized that I do have one thing that the HS has…monogrammed chairs. Although, mine are all monogrammed with the “F” word that has been carved into them rather than the name of the school. This was compliments of an 8th grade German class who once shared my room. (You’d think they could have at least written it in German. It would have been a bit more classy!)

Next, I wandered around the school and noticed the patched sections of walls that were repainted with the wrong color paint; the gum, staples, and paperclips that got waxed over; and the half-inch layer of dust that seemed to have settled just above eye level…making it seemingly invisible to anyone cleaning. But as I made my way back into my classroom, I stopped in my doorway. I stood there for a full minute, picturing the room packed to the gills with students. My heart soared and I actually felt the tears fill my eyes. (Could have just been the dust!) But that picture…the imaginary students seated in my room…was what reminded me that good teaching isn’t about the “things” you have, but about the “love” you share. It’s meeting the kids every hour with a high-five, and dismissing them the same way at the end of class. It’s financing their “low-balance” lunch accounts so they don’t have to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of hot lunch. It’s the secret notes you leave in their lockers and books telling them how amazing they are. It’s about singing them HAPPY BIRTHDAY…several times during the day…even when they are in the bathroom or have just gotten on their bus to go home. And it’s about getting to know them as a person; going to their ball games and dance recitals…knowing what makes them tick. That’s what good teaching is!

So, I say, the high school can have their AstroTurf and their leather recliners. I don’t need those things to be a good teacher. I just need kids…and a great, big heart!

Mary…the Phat/Fat Teacher

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly…and Definitely the Funny!