Teaching is never boring, for the simple fact that you’re dealing with human beings who are often unpredictable, irrational, and impulsive (and I mean my students and their parents). In my teaching career, there have been several situations that have occurred, when later I am shaking my head, still in disbelief that I had to say/do/behave in a certain way. Here I share the A to Z List of Things I Never Thought I Would...
A Attend a talent show that made me blush. One year, the term “talent show” was used very loosely. Instead, a parent choreographed dance routines that I was embarrassed to watch. Young girls singing about the size of the “rock” they received, shaking their hips and pelvises in very suggestive ways.
B Buy my own - paper towels, pencils, crayons, paper, printer ink, kleenex, and antibacterial soap.
C Clean up dog poop. One year, a kindergarten student unwittingly stepped into dog poop before walking into our classroom. During our morning carpet lessons, we were all very aware of an unpleasant stench. The poop was on her shoes and had left a bit of a trail on our carpet. The custodian cleaned the carpet; I cleaned her shoes.
D Discard a book. Books are sacred and should always be passed from one reader to another. Except when a book has been on the receiving end of a glass of orange juice. Then, there’s really no way to repair the damage, the book is soiled, and must be thrown away.
E Educate a student’s parents on the importance of spelling and learning multiplication facts. One parent endlessly tried to make excuses for her child. Her child didn’t need to know how to spell the fifty states and capitals - that’s what spell check was for, after all. Her daughter also didn’t need to master her multiplication facts because she could use a calculator. Except, students don’t use any of those tools on tests. And, I’m hoping to teach my students not to be reliant on technology but instead, to learn these basic facts so they are well-informed and well-educated.
F Fall in front of my students. For the last few years of my teaching career, I have taught with daily pain in my left leg. An autoimmune disease has left me with legs that aren’t as strong as they once were. And one day, while my fourth-graders were taking a Language Arts assessment and I was walking around the room checking on them, I fell. My leg gave out, and I hit the floor with a thud. Thirty heads popped up to see what had happened. All I could do was try to hide my pain, encourage them to not mind me, and get back to their tests.
G Get excited about office supplies. Funds are tight in public schools, and teachers often buy many items with their own money. However, when a stapler or a box of dry erase markers is delivered to my classroom, I am super-excited (and appreciative!).
H Hoard. School supplies are hard to find. When I first started teaching, veteran teachers taught me the value of hoarding. You always grab more than you actually need, stash the surplus in your classroom closet, and you’ve got yourself a back-up. Because, inevitably, there will be times the school is short of orange construction paper (usually at Halloween), tissue paper (usually in December when students need to wrap handmade gifts), and green paint (usually in March).
I Ignore my students. In September 2012, the space shuttle Endeavor flew through the Los Angeles skies. My students and I were on the yard, hoping for a glimpse. The flyover was later than we had originally been told. They got impatient, and began playing. I stayed, eyes riveted to the sky. Most of my childhood was spent dreaming of becoming an astronaut, and this would be the closest I had ever gotten to see a space shuttle live and in person. I was the child, screaming and pointing, hollering and clapping, and completely ignoring my students while I marveled at the sight.
J Join my students in cheering when our rainy day schedule was cancelled. I always thought I’d be more professional, more reserved. But, truth be told, I was just as excited as they were that they would be eating and playing outside, and not cooped up, with me, in our classroom all day.
K Keep a low profile. There have been moments when I
am grocery shopping or out to eat with my family, and I don’t want to be recognized as “Mrs. Kennar.” In those moments, I am Wendy or Mommy, and I don’t want to go into teacher-mode. So, I have changed my route in the market, and really examined my menu all in hopes of keeping me hidden from a student.
L Label myself a human shield. The longer I’ve taught, the scarier our world has become, with violence infecting all areas of our lives. My students and I have discussed the horrors that have occurred in other schools. They know the procedures in place at our school. And I have reassured them that, heaven forbid, the situation arose, I would be the human shield - someone would have to get past me to get to one of my kids.
M Miss the joy of teaching. Sadly, the longer I’m teaching, the less joyful it has become. There are days when I don’t feel I’m teaching as much as I am preparing my students for an assessment.
N Neglect to remember - a former student’s name and the number of years I’ve been teaching. I entered teaching truly believing I would always remember a child’s name. Not so. And in the event I can’t remember, I use a standby; as in “Hi, sweetie!” And after twelve years of teaching, three different grade levels, and four different classrooms, I can’t always remember how long I’ve done what or in what room.
O Obey a rule of silence. A very irate parent once yelled at me, with students within earshot, calling me a “lazy ass.” I asked him to calm down, suggested we set up a conference with the principal since he was obviously very upset, but because I was at school, I could not react the way I might have if this exchange had taken place out in the world. I needed to control myself because yelling back wouldn’t have solved the problem and certainly wouldn’t have calmed this parent down.
P Pray for a student’s life. Two years after she was in my fourth grade class, M. was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. She spent months in Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, awaiting a heart transplant. My class and I sent her notes and cards and little gifts. I kept her name inside a heart on our whiteboard; she was always in our prayers. (She did receive a heart and is recovering).
Q Question my career choice. There are many parts of my career I like. I regard teaching as a tremendous honor; the opportunity to introduce children to new ideas and concepts. However, the longer I teach, the more I question my career choice. Many days I feel my efforts have been in vain, and I wonder if I have gotten through to any of my students. I feel un-supported by parents, by the administration, by the district, and I admit defeat when I say there is only so much one person can do.
R Remind a student about the purpose of scissors. In kindergarten, I have a big discussion about scissors and safety. By the time students are in upper-grade, that conversation shouldn’t be necessary. However, I once had a fourth-grader cut his hair with a pair of scissors. That’s when I reminded him that scissors are only for cutting paper.
S Sit on the hallway floor. One year, I had a student with severe behavioral issues. He has strong anger and didn’t know how to control it or demonstrate it appropriately. One day, he was so angry he was spouting evil desires, ways to hurt some of his classmates. He allowed me to sit with him, to talk with him, let him vent, and try to calm him down.
T Teach in a “wild kingdom.” At least, that’s how it’s felt (and I’m not talking about my students). One year a bee flew into my kindergarten classroom, another year one landed on my sweater and had to be gently swatted away. A few times some rogue birds have found their way into our school’s main building. One year, my classroom was invaded by rats who found their way into my classroom closet. Traps were set, and I returned from winter break to find that the traps did work. And another year, we learned about insects. For within a short time span, my students and I dealt with an ant invasion, bees in the classroom, and roaches crawling on the walls and floor.
U Use a walker at school. I once had a muscle biopsy performed on my left calf. I wanted the surgery done during my winter break so it wouldn’t interfere with my teaching. But because of the holidays, the only day the surgeon was available was the last Friday of my winter break. He had told me I’d probably be okay to go back to work on the following Monday. I wasn’t. I stayed home for a couple of days, and returned to work with my walker.
V Visit the dressing rooms at the Hollywood Bowl. One year, my students and I were fortunate enough to take a field trip to the Hollywood Bowl. Some of the highlights included visits to the dressing rooms and the opportunity to stand on stage.
W Wrap presents, blindfolded. In an assembly. In front of several classes. As part of our fundraising kick-off assembly, two teachers were selected to participate in this “fun” activity. I was one teacher. My gift wrapping wasn’t attractive, but it was an honest effort.
X Exchange learning the alphabet for learning to write five-paragraph essays. I was a kindergarten teacher for five years, and each year, I enjoyed my job more and more. Year six I was moved to fourth grade, a move that was out of my control due to my low seniority at my school site. I exchanged happy faces for actual grades, weekly show-and-tell for weekly quizzes.
Y Yell and scream, asking to be rescued. Early one morning I became trapped in the school elevator. I felt infinitely better once some of my co-workers knew where I was. Still, it took forty-five minutes and a 9-1-1 call to the fire department until I got out.
Z Zone out. I confess, I’m not always listening attentively. I don’t always pay complete attention when some of my students are recounting their lunchtime drama or their success on the latest level of the video game they just played. Likewise, I don’t always listen when some of my co-workers are complaining, again. Complaints don’t get us anywhere, unless they’re followed by actions.