Classroom Tips for the Hovering and the Worried

Dear Parents, In this day and age of instant computer access to your child’s progress in the classroom, complete with specifics as to percentage and behavior, please don’t call your child’s teacher daily and ask for an average, at least, not very often. Chances are pretty messy backpackgood that if you can’t find any graded papers in your kid’s backpack or notebook, he’s not doing very well. Please don’t expect that your kid will be allowed to make up all that missing or poor work.  Sometimes that’s appropriate, and sometimes it is not.

A reasonably good student at almost any level knows how he’s doing in any class at any given point in time. If they show up and take their quizzes and tests and turn in their homework, they’re probably doing well. If they don’t, they aren’t. It ain’t rocket science.

Your child’s teacher has an entire classroom of students, no one child (including yours) more important than any of the others, and if each parent asked the teacher to send home a daily report, the poor teacher might as well put up a cot and start paying rent because there isn’t going to be much of a home life. And yes, parents ask us to do that all the time. At the secondary level, one teacher might have well over 200 students.

At midterm, most schools send out half-way-point standings. Check your child’s grades. If midterms are cominghe’s doing poorly, call the school and make an appointment with the teacher. NEVER just walk in off the street and ask the teacher to give up her lunch or prep without prior notice. (Would you walk into your dentist’s office, or your doctor, or your lawyer, or your accountant’s offices without an appointment? Have some respect.

Please don’t march in like a Teutonic Reichmaiden and assume that the teacher is a psychotic who hates all children and yours in particular, and that your child is innocent, totally innocent, and his straight-A work has been shredded by the teacher so the world will never see it. I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s probably more your child’s fault than anyone else’s. Probably.

Every single night, require your child to SHOW YOU the contents of his backpack. If the papers are wadded up, give your child some incentive to not ever do that again. Require your child to file papers immediately in a pocket folder because you’re going to be looking them over every night. If this interferes with television for either of you, cry me a video games

Do not even turn on that television until this has been done. If there is homework, make sure your child has it finished before the television is touched. Ditto computer, telephone, no TVand any other electronic gadgetry your child has been playing with instead of doing his academics. Don’t, however, deny your children who ARE doing it right just because one of them isn’t. Sometimes, the sound of a sibling enjoying TV or a computer game or a friend can light a fire under a slacker kid. If it makes him vicious, you’ve got problems that aren’t school-related. Call a shrink.

If your kid is an athlete and brings home a bad mid-term report, ask the coach to bench him.student athlete Usually, schools do that anyway; sports are games, and games are only for kids who have done the actual SCHOOL part of their kid-duties. A good coach will do that anyway.

Is your kid one of those students for whom sports are all he has going for him? Is playing ball his life’s priority? Help him change those priorities, because his are all wrong. Don’t EVER argue with a coach for benching your kid for low grades. Even the kid knows he deserves it.

I really don’t have to deal with these issues much any more, because at the college level, I don’t have many parents demanding that I change Junior’s grade, etc. I do have a few, though. It’s incredible and really quite sad that so many parents seem to be living their own lives over again vicariously, through their children.

I’m not a mean teacher. I am, however, a teacher (and a parent) who required all of my students to work, to obey my reasonable requests, and to behave. I still can’t think of a single viable excuse for slacking off on any of those three things. Once those three things were mastered, the creativity could flow. Once students learned that I would not put up with anyone who did not understand the big three, we could have fun. It did not take most of them very long to learn that it was better for all to behave in Mrs. G’s classroom, because for those who did, the rewards were many and awesome, and for those who didn’t, well, okay. . . .I poisoned them and buried them on the playground, under the wood chips. Nobody missed them.

That might be an exaggeration, but will you hate me if I tell you that I thought about it on occasion? Oh, so do you. Don’t lie to me.

Where was I? Oh yes.

I also say things like, “Shame on you!”

Because, you see, I really do believe that people are encouraged from a very early age to believe that they have a perfect right to please themselves in all ways, whenever and wherever they are, that nothing they choose to say or do or wear is in any way wrong or inappropriate, and that their parents are the main ones who encourage it.

Perhaps if we help our children learn that some actions and words ARE shameful, our children will treat each other better, and everyone’s self-esteem (you really don’t want to get me started on that topic) will rise naturally, instead of being inflated with bullshit so it rises regardless of what the child says and does.

Also, I use a red pen. Filled with the blood of helpless, hapless children.

red inkRed is the color of “Stop.”  Red is the color of “Take care.”  Red is the color of “Hey, might I bring your attention to this particular thing?”

Red means “Look at this.  Look closely.”

Purple is the color of cutesy makes no never-mind.

Bring it on.


Nightmare #3, by Stephen Vincent Benet

Nightmare #3Mamacita says:  Nightmare #3: When I did my student teaching, this poem was in the seventh grade literature book.  I’d never seen it before, and it made a definite impression on me.  I absolutely loved it, and I still love it.  Why?  I have no idea.  I just do.

My obsessions with sci-fi, fantasy, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, and all the trappings of geekdom and nerdery have nothing to do with it, I’m sure.


Nightmare #3, by Stephen Vincent Benet

We had expected everything but revolt

And I kind of wonder myself when they started thinking–
But there’s no dice in that now.
I’ve heard fellow say
They must have planned it for years and maybe they did.
Looking back, you can find little incidents here and there,
Like the concrete-mixer in Jersey eating the wop
Or the roto press that printed ‘Fiddle-dee-dee!’
In a three-color process all over Senator Sloop,
Just as he was making a speech. The thing about that
Was, how could it walk upstairs? But it was upstairs,
Clicking and mumbling in the Senate Chamber.
They had to knock out the wall to take it away
And the wrecking-crew said it grinned.
It was only the best
Machines, of course, the superhuman machines,
The ones we’d built to be better than flesh and bone,
But the cars were in it, of course . . .
and they hunted us
Like rabbits through the cramped streets on that Bloody Monday,
The Madison Avenue busses leading the charge.
The busses were pretty bad–but I’ll not forget
The smash of glass when the Duesenberg left the show-room
And pinned three brokers to the Racquet Club steps
Or the long howl of the horns when they saw men run,
When they saw them looking for holes in the solid ground . . .

I guess they were tired of being ridden in
And stopped and started by pygmies for silly ends,
Of wrapping cheap cigarettes and bad chocolate barsNightmare #3, man vs machine
Collecting nickels and waving platinum hair
And letting six million people live in a town.
I guess it was tha, I guess they got tired of us
And the whole smell of human hands.
But it was a shock
To climb sixteen flights of stairs to Art Zuckow’s office
(Noboby took the elevators twice)
And find him strangled to death in a nest of telephones,
The octopus-tendrils waving over his head,
And a sort of quiet humming filling the air. . . .
Do they eat? . . . There was red . . . But I did not stop to look.
I don’t know yet how I got to the roof in time
And it’s lonely, here on the roof.
For a while, I thought
That window-cleaner would make it, and keep me company.
But they got him with his own hoist at the sixteenth floor
And dragged him in, with a squeal.
You see, they coöperate. Well, we taught them that
And it’s fair enough, I suppose. You see, we built them.
We taught them to think for themselves.
It was bound to come. You can see it was bound to come.
And it won’t be so bad, in the country. I hate to think
Of the reapers, running wild in the Kansas fields,
And the transport planes like hawks on a chickenyard,
But the horses might help. We might make a deal with the horses.
At least, you’ve more chance, out there.
And they need us, too.
They’re bound to realize that when they once calm down.
They’ll need oil and spare parts and adjustments and tuning up.
Slaves? Well, in a way, you know, we were slaves before.
There won’t be so much real difference–honest, there won’t.
(I wish I hadn’t looked into the beauty-parlor
And seen what was happening there.
But those are female machines and a bit high-strung.)
Oh, we’ll settle down. We’ll arrange it. We’ll compromise.
It won’t make sense to wipe out the whole human race.
Why, I bet if I went to my old Plymouth now
(Of course you’d have to do it the tactful way)
And said, ‘Look here! Who got you the swell French horn?’
He wouldn’t turn me over to those police cars;
At least I don’t think he would.
Oh, it’s going to be jake.
There won’t be so much real difference–honest, there won’t–
And I’d go down in a minute and take my chance–
I’m a good American and I always liked them–
Except for one small detail that bothers me
And that’s the food proposition. Because, you see,
The concrete-mixer may have made a mistake,
And it looks like just high spirits.
But, if it’s got so they like the flavor . . . well . . . 

Tribute: When The Towers Fell

9/11 tribute Mamacita says: I’m guessing that many most bloggers will be posting tributes today, and telling the blogosphere ‘where we were’ when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Here is mine. This is actually the second third fourth fifth sixth seventh eighth ninth tenth time I’ve posted this on 9/11, so if it seems familiar, you’re not crazy. Well, not on this issue, anyway.


The morning began like any other; we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat back down to watch Channel One News, which had been taped at 3:00 that morning in the school library, thanks to the timer. But Channel One News didn’t come on.

Instead, the secretary’s voice, over the intercom, told the teachers to “please check your email immediately.” We did. And we found out what had happened.

I scrolled down the monitor and read the end of the message. The superintendent had ordered all teachers to be absolutely mum all day about the tragedy. We were not to answer any questions from students, and we were especially not to offer any information to them.

The day went by in a blur. Many parents drove to the school, took their kids out, and brought them home. Between classes, frightened groups of students gathered in front of their lockers and whispered, gossiped, and cried, and begged us for information. By that time, the superintendent’s order had been seconded by the principals, and we were unable to give these terrified kids any information. In the computer labs, the MSN screens told the 8th graders the truth, but they, too, were instructed NOT to talk about it to the other students. Right, like THAT happened. The story was being repeated by 8th graders, and it was being told bloody-killing-deathtrap-you’re next-video-game-style.

At noon, many of the students were picked up by parents and taken home or out for lunch. Those few who returned had a big tale to tell. The problem was, the tale was being told by children, and few if any of the facts were straight. The tale was being told scary-style, and the atmosphere in the building got more and more strained. We are only a few miles away from an immensely large Navy base, where ammunition and bombs are made, and we’ve always known it was a prime target, which means, of course, that we are, too. Many of my children’s parents worked there. The base was locked down and those parents did not come home that night.

Reasonable questions were answered with silence, or the statement: “You’ll find out when you frightened childrenget home.”  This, to children who weren’t even sure they still had a home to get to.  A rumor mill can be a horrible thing.

This, added to all the rumors and gossip spread by children, turned my little sixth graders into terrified toddlers.

As teachers, we were furious and disgusted with the superintendent’s edict. We wanted to call all the students into the gym and calmly tell them the truth in words and ways that would be age-appropriate. We wanted to hug them and assure them that it was far away and they were safe. We asked for permission to do this, and it was denied. Our orders were ‘silence.’ We hadn’t been allowed to hug them for years, of course, but there are times and places when hugs ARE appropriate. No matter, the superintendent stood firm: no information whatsoever.

The day went by, more slowly than ever a day before. The students grew more and more pale and frightened. We asked again, and again he stood firm that no information whatsoever was to be given out.

By the end of the day, the children were as brittle as Jolly Rancher Watermelon Sticks.

A few minutes before the bell rang to send them home, a little girl raised her hand and in a trembling voice that I will never forget, asked me a question. “Please, is it true that our parents are dead and our houses are burned down?”

That was it. I gathered my students close and in a calm voice explained to them exactly what had happened. I told them their parents were alive and safe, and that they all still had homes to go to.

The relief was incredible. I could feel it cascading all through the room.

I was, of course, written up for insubordination the next day, but I didn’t care. My phone had rung off the hook that night with parents thanking me for being honest with their children. That was far more important than a piece of paper that said I’d defied a stupid inappropriate order meted out by a man who belonged in the office of a used car lot, not in a position of power over children’s lives.

The next day at school, in my room, we listened to some of the music that had been ‘specially made about the tragedy. I still have those cd’s and I’ve shared them with many people over the past few years. It is true that kids cried again, but it was good to cry. It was an appropriate time to cry. We didn’t do spelling or grammar that day. There are times when the “business as usual” mindset simply is not appropriate.

I wish administrators would realize that kids are a lot tougher than we might think. Kids are also a lot more sensitive that we might realize. It’s an odd combination, and we as educators must try our best to bring the two ends of the emotional spectrum together and help these kids learn to deal with horrible happenings and still manage to get through the day as well as possible.

9/11 tribute torchIgnoring an issue will not help. Morbidly focusing on an issue will not help. Our children are not stupid, and to treat them as such is not something that builds trust. Our children deserve answers to their questions.

How can we expect our children to learn to find a happy medium if we don’t show them, ourselves, when opportunities arise?

I’m still so very sorry, children, that I was forced to participate in that dreadful conspiracy of silence when just a few spoken words might have eased your minds.

September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2014. God bless us, every one.

The Time of the Season *

back to school Mamacita says: Remember those scenes in You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan is talking about how, even at her age, she still loves the time of the season when the leaves are colorful, the weather is divine, and every store has school supplies. And then she’s swept off her feet when Tom Hanks, who doesn’t know Meg loves school supplies, says this:

bouquet of pencils

As adults, we take seasonal indicators/decorations for granted. We like to mark the season with a centerpiece or bouquet or display, but the days when we were struck voiceless by the miraculous representation of a season, in public, and that’s a shame. We expect store windows and school bulletin boards and office tables to remind us of what season it is, and unless it’s our job, we don’t do a lot of thinking about how that tiny trimmed tree or vase of mums or patriotic display or heart-shaped window cling or carved jack-o-lantern got there.

To a small child, these things are part of the miracle of the universe.

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie Nolan knew that summer was over and autumn had officially arrived when she saw the vase of autumn leaves and bittersweet on the librarian’s desk. Francie would look at the display and her heart bittersweetwould ache with happiness and sadness and nostalgia and glowing joy and all the other emotions we don’t usually think small children could possibly feel. Francie didn’t have any labels for her feelings and thoughts; she just looked at the display that represented the shifting of the seasons and loved it.  And it told her that the seasons had changed.

Years later, when Francie was grown up, she returned to that library and that same librarian and mentioned the vases of seasonal flora, and was devastated to learn that the librarian hadn’t even noticed them and thought the janitor must have done that.

As adults, we simply must start paying attention, the way we did when we were children.

To what? To everything. We must pay attention. If we don’t pay attention, things happen and change and we miss it.

Leo Buscaglia’s papa knew. Every night at dinner, the same thing would happen.

Papa, at the head of the table, would push his chair back slightly, a gesture that
signified the end of the eating and suggested that there would be a new activity. He Richard Byers, Phyllis Byers, Jane Goodwinwould pour a small glass of red wine, light up a thin, potent Italian cigar, inhale deeply, exhale, then take stock of his family.

For some reason this always had a slightly unsettling effect on us as we stared
back at Papa, waiting for him to say something. Every so often he would explain why he did this. He told us that if he didn’t take time to look at us, we would soon be grown and he would have missed us.

Peter Banning’s wife Moira knew, too. She tried to explain to her husband:

Peter, Moira Banning, HookYour children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? Soon Jack might not even want you to come to his games. We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. After that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. It’s so fast, Peter. Just a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.

He may have been a grown-up Peter Pan, but he needed a drastic reminder.  Remember, just a few hours before, he had yelled “Stop acting like a child!” at his son, who replied, “I AM a child!”

As parents, we have the power to make ordinary days extraordinary.  Let’s use that power.  It’s a magic so strong that, done right, it will help create children who are full of light, full enough that they’re better able to drive out the darkness than are the poor children being brought up in families who don’t know the difference between one day and the next, let alone one season and the one following.

Use your super powers for good, parents.  Cultivate the noticing.  Cultivate it in yourselves AND in your children. It’s the time of the season every day.

. . . So I Blocked Her on Facebook

Take A Stand Mamacita says: I had to block someone on Facebook last night. I’ve only ever done that a few times, and it always makes me feel like I’ve failed somehow, even though I tried my best to be nice. Mom used to say that there are some people you can’t BE nice too, and I thought she just wasn’t trying hard enough, but she was right.

I still hate it, though.

Even though this person was a complete and total stranger – someone I’d never even heard of – her opinion of me, and her harsh words, and the awful website she said reminded her of me, made a mark. What if some of what she said was true?

My friends assure me that she was just a crazy person looking for a target, but even so. Being a chosen target isn’t pleasant.

It hurts.

But let me tell you something, stranger-named-Maria, you are wrong and I am right and I’m not backing down just became you happened upon my writing and decided to be offended. Being offended is easy. Defending takes brains, and all you did was attack. I’m sorry you were offended, but. . . . no, wait. I’m not in the least sorry you were offended. I have no control over your fragile sense of what’s offensive and what’s not, but to attack a stranger as you did was uncalled for in any circumstance. So you’re blocked. I understand from friends of friends of friends that you’re furious and are trying to comment via other means but I don’t care.

raspberry tongueTruth be told, I don’t care what you have to say because your words are not well thought out and they are not coherent and your spelling is atrocious and your logic is non-existent and you are a mean person.

So here, from me to you, is my last farewell.


temper_tantrumHave a nice life. You’re probably going to have an apoplectic stroke at age 28 because of that dreadful temper and lack of vocabulary to express yourself. So be it.

Our Bright, Gifted Students Have Rights, Too!

Mamacita says: I was remembering my first teaching job, which was in a school that used the modular system and gave hope to our bright, gifted students. It was fantastic.  Of course, it’s gone now.


My very first teaching job was in a brand-new high school that was set up in a non-traditional way: some of you may remember the “mod” system? No? I feel old.

Twenty-two 20-minute periods, or “mods” a day. A week was 6 days, and most classes met every other day. A regular class was usually two mods; a study period might be any length, from one to four mods; labs were four or five mods, etc. Academic classes were divided into large group/small group, just like college. For example, a student might have English on Days 2, 4, and 6 during mods 9 and 10. Day 1 wasn’t necessarily Monday; it was simply the day after Day 6. Attendance was taken first mod and wasn’t taken again the whole rest of the day. Students had a huge commons area for ‘free time.’ There was a SMOKING AREA on the side of the building, and teachers had duty there! The sense of openness and freedom and personal responsibility was tremendous.

Except for the smoking area, I loved it.

All the kids loved it, except the ones who couldn’t adapt to the freedom. Kids who desperately needed, REQUIRED, a rigid routine, just couldn’t cut it. But for the above-average kid, it was heaven.

Unfortunately, above-average kids weren’t the majority.

The experiment was ruined by those kids who just cut classes every day and hung out in the smoking area or the commons, or who left the open campus at noon and never came back, day after day, or who wandered aimlessly, lost and confused, trying to figure out where they were supposed to go on Day four, Mod seven. Even though they had a schedule in their hand.

Many parents never quite understood the concept either, and objected. Mostly the parents of the kids who never quite understood the concept.

At the time, I really did think I’d died and gone to school-heaven. I envied the students. For someone like me, that kind of ‘schedule’ would have been perfection. For many kids, it WAS perfection. For the first time, a school was actually catering to the bright trustworthy kids.

It didn’t last long, of course.

It lasted only a few years, and then the school board decided to go back to ‘traditional’ scheduling. Unfortunately, the new building had not been designed for anything traditional; it was too open.

So they cut up all that lovely open space into little cubicle classrooms with no windows and turned into a traditional six-period high school.

The building was planned and built for grades 10-12. A few weeks before it was finished, the board decided to send the freshmen there, too. And then they wondered why it was too small from day one.  (The building has recently been remodeled and it’s beautiful now.)

It’s a shame. Even though it was too late for me as a student, for the first time in my life I had been exposed to a concept that catered to the smart kids, the reliable kids, the GOOD kids, the funky kids, the quirky kids, the kids who could be trusted with a little time.

But, as usual, because of the other kind of kids (and their parents) we lost it.

I am thinking as I write this of two famous writers and their philosophies. One is Plutarch, and the other is Mark Twain.

It was Plutarch who said, “Being about to pitch his camp in a likely place, and hearing there was no hay to be had for the cattle, ‘What a life,’ said he, ‘is ours, since we must live according to the convenience of asses!’ ”

And it was Mark Twain who said, “”In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Of course, Twain also said “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

I have friends on school boards, so I don’t entirely agree with Twain’s sweeping assessment; after all, it was a school board that decided to use the modular system.  Smart, funky, awesome board, that one.

Aaaaand, it was a school board who decided to take it away.  Boooooo, Twain’s school board.

I’m really glad that in our country, school is for everybody.  You all probably know that originally, school was for academically promising kids only.  High school used to be more complicated and difficult than college is now.  The emphasis was on the word “high.”

“Mom, Dad, I’d like to go on to HIGH school.”  And everyone was either so proud their hearts burst or so puzzled they ran out of duh’s.  Real high school was hard.  As it ought to be.

And please don’t think I am heartless, although I’m sure many of you do. I firmly and thoroughly believe in a good sound remedial program; that’s what I teach now.

I just don’t believe that the remedial and special programs should dictate or slow down the programs for the entire student body.

For just a little while, the bright shining brilliant stars were allowed to sparkle and send their light out into the universe.  Now, our brightest and best are once again trapped under layers of mediocrity, much of which comes from the state in the form of standardization.

Our bright and gifted students are sadly and sorely neglected.  Why are we letting that happen?