Thursday, August 13, 2009

The noble calling of Teacher

Lest I should offend anyone, I have to say that I have had many wonderful teachers over the years. I have had many who were role models, heroes, and icons. I have had many who gave me caring support and who nurtured me through difficult patches, both academically and personally.

And then there were the others. (Kindof like "the Others" on Lost, only less confusing.)

The unfortunate truth is that there are many people in the teaching profession who should not be teachers. There are some who just aren't smart enough, and unfortunately there are many who have no clue how to deal with OPC (Other People's Children). Because dealing with your own children is a completely separate matter from dealing with your own. And then there is another separate category of people who have no business being around children in any way.

I was at the school district yesterday signing paper work to begin my formal (certificate-in-hand) teaching career, and there were some others doing the same. Suffice it to say that if you can't figure out where to sign on a stack of paperwork (after you've been told specifically where to sign); or which date to use (yes, really), you should be grateful that someone like me isn't across the desk from you. Because in my estimation, such ineptitude would be grounds for revoking the offer of employment.

Here is a brief history of my favorite teachers, good and bad, over the course of my education.

New Orleans Louisiana:

The principal who pounded out the dent in my lunchbox with a paperweight on his desk. The dent was caused when the lunchbox was slammed into my face by a nice little boy who called me "Honkey White Trash" on my first day of first grade. I was told later by my mother that the principal insinuated racism on my part because when I told him who hit me I said "a big black boy." Apparently he was only big to me.

The first grade teacher who accused me of sassing during a spelling bee because I spelled
F-L-O-W, when the answer she was looking for was: "No, girl! The thing you standin' on!" Oh, how silly of me... F-L-O-O-R.

The gym teacher who carried a metal running baton everywhere he went and routinely smacked kids on the butt when they mouthed off. Or, really, just whenever he felt like it.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

The lunch lady who attempted to give me the Heimlich Maneuver when I was "choking" on cake crumbs. The fact that I was still inhaling and coughing had no effect on her brain whatsoever. I think she got some kind of award for saving my life, which tells you how bright the administration must have been. Nowadays I could have gotten a nice settlement and retired.

My Sixth Grade teacher, Mrs. Sonnenfield, who wrote me letters even after I moved away, and was always encouraging and kind.

The gym teacher, who asked me to stay after class on my last day and told me how much he would miss me and my family.

My brother's Sixth grade English teacher, who was always creepy in every possible way. I remember the time we had to go to the library to watch a school related film and I had to ride there in his personal vehicle. Ew.

The principal who was decapitated in a snowmobiling accident (did they really need to tell the kids *how* he died??), and his replacement, who I saw picking his nose on more than one occasion.


The ex-nun turned math teacher who believed that we would remember math solutions if she yelled them at us. "You take all the numbers from the first group, and all the numbers from the second group... THAT - YOU - HAVE - NOT - USED - AL-READY!"

The English teacher, who was also my football coach; who told me it was OK to hate my mom sometimes, and acknowledged my superior wide-receiver skills even though I was the only girl in the club.

The social studies teacher, who we all swore was really a man. She wore her fur coat year-round, on her shoulders, and it actually made her look like a bear. Which is probably why I almost lost bowel function when she yelled at me alone in the hallway for not turning in my notes on "The Importance of the Buffalo".

The science teacher who walked around the room trying to very subtly (and very creepily) ascertain if any of us had B.O. and then gave us a lecture on using deodorant and taking water-conservationist showers. He also told us a story about a friend of his who had a heart attack and died after jumping into a cold pool and warned us to go in knee-deep and splash water on ourselves first. He was the inventor of the dreaded "Red One". Meaning that if we did something really bad or really stupid, we would get a Red mark in the grade book and he would take one point off of our final grade. I remember one particularly bad day, he almost lost his temper but then just turned around dramatically and said "That's a Red One!"

The social studies teacher, who made us all fall asleep every class and insisted on telling us the same story about her friend on the Electoral College at least once a month.

The Algebra teacher who was always more interested in making snarky insulting comments to his students than he was in actually teaching the subject.

The chemistry teacher who never really answered any questions. Or at least, if he did, the answer was lost somewhere in a jumble of irrelevant (although impressively complicated) equations and scientific double-speak.

The English teacher who always talked through her teeth and made you feel as though she were trying to stop herself from losing it and biting someone.

There were, among those crazy personalities, some real people who treated me like a real person. Those are the teachers I admired and emulated. And in honor of the loud echo of rejoicing mothers that will be heard tomorrow morning around 9 am, those are the teachers who I hope will be my guide as I wade through bureaucracy, school politics and gang signs.

Teachers: God be with you.

Mothers: Enjoy the silence while it lasts. Just remember: we get to send them back to you at the end of the day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I hate potty training

You would think that after potty training four children, it would have gotten easier. Sorry to disappoint any of you who are going through it and would like to think that it will get easier. It won't. Why won't it? Because every child, no matter if they come from the same gene pool and are raised in the same household, is completely unique and different. Each comes to Earth with his or her own personality, strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and yes, potty learning time table.

One of my children was ready to go at 18 months. Smart enough, interested in the potty, excited about the grown-up-ness of it all... textbook case of readiness. Which is why I hate books about potty training. No one book could possibly cover all the personality types of all the children and prepare you for every eventuality. The only thing helpful about those books is 1) knowing the signs of readiness and 2)dealing with the inevitable setbacks and accidents. Then take everything they say and use it as a guideline, because there will never be any hard fast rules for getting it right. I know of one book in particular whose title is something along the lines of "Potty Train your Child over the Weekend". It should be burned. It does give some good suggestions, but the only way that method is going to work is if your kid was ready in the first place. If he's not, then you are wasting your time, and annoying the pig. Er, kid. Sorry, I sometimes assume everyone is familiar with the expression "Never try and teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of time and it annoys the pig." The only potty book I know to be 100% accurate is Everybody Poops.

Back to the child to whom I was referring: she was ready, according to all the lists I'd read. She was sleeping in a diaper but waking up dry. She was telling me every time her diaper was the least bit wet or dirty. She would ask to sit on the potty. She was enticed by the bribe of 'big girl underwear' (Don't tell my nieces that, they only refer to girl's undergarments as panties. Underwear is for boys.). I would wake her up every morning at the same time, and sit her on the potty. And wait. I was a corporate drone at the time, so the the mission was to get her bathed, dressed, fed and to the baby sitter's by 7:15. There was not a lot of time for waiting in this scenario. I would usually give up after about 5 minutes and put her in the bath. Where she would promptly poop. Yes, you read that right. Regardless of what happened ON the potty in the 5 minute window, I was inevitably, for about 15 days straight, cleaning poop out of the bathtub. It was so bad for awhile that I had a plastic cup nearby for just such an eventuality. The trick was keeping it hidden form her so she wouldn't think it was for drinking.

She did eventually get through that phase; and so did I, but it felt like the edge of insanity when it was happening. Which is what all kid problems feel like: the edge of insanity. Just keep a little perspective and remember all that garbage none of us want to hear when we are going through something that feels like the edge of insanity. "This too shall pass..." (I think I might step really hard on my Mother In Law's toes if she ever says that to me again). And my other favorite: "Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems." Oh ya, if you think the problems are so little why don't you deal with them! "No, I'm past that stage, I've earned the right to point and snicker and give snarky advice to people who are just starting out."

I often have these little conversations in my head in order to avoid having them out loud.

Then there was the kid that wasn't interested in potty training at all, but would ask to wear underwear just because she knew that I would get suckered in by that; and then I would have to take her to every public restroom in the entire city.

I learned to be patient with my second child. He was not interested, and not ready, but I was tired of going in to check on him at nap time and finding him sitting in a puddle... or worse. It made sense to me that if the kid didn't want to wear a diaper, I shouldn't have to buy them any more. So we struggled back and forth for weeks on end. It was a classic case of my own stubbornness and unwillingness to give up coupled with the fact that if the kid is not ready, there is no power on Earth or in Heaven that will make him ready.

I am writing this partially as an affirmation to myself : I will not try to potty train my child before he is ready. Never mind that he is smart and has enough dexterity to build a 3 foot high pyramid out of paper cups. Never mind that he is plenty old enough, and I have a baby coming in 3 months. Never mind that he loves his "Incredible Underwears" and is perfectly happy (most of the time) to put it on and pee in it. The first day I tried to make it work, he had soaked through about 4 pairs of his 5 pack of underwear I asked him if he wanted to put the last pair on and he said, "No, I will just pee in it." Is it possible for a three year old to be simultaneously lazy and hyperactive?

So the only thing that gets easier is that you learn to expect messes and accidents. And you also learn to expect your kid to deliberately pee on something at some point. And even if you open the bathroom door and find, despite all of your preparedness, that your son has covered the walls and the floor and, yes, somehow, his face in pee, you will be prepared to calmly get a towel, some hand sanitizer, bleach, carpet cleaner, and something for the floor too; all the while reassuring said child that it's ok, and we will try again. Your mothering (or fathering) instincts will take over, if you let them, and someday your kids will actually use the toilet like a grown up. Which hopefully does not mean that they will use the toilet and leave the bathroom without even glancing at the sink. But that's a blog for another time.