“I’m Going to Poland”

Ever since we returned last month from our visit to Poland, the Boy has been obsessed, absolutely obsessed, with going to Poland. He constantly asks when we’re going back, and when we finally explained that we won’t be going back for a long time, he simply declared, “We’ll I’ll go alone.”

“And how will you get to the airport?”

“Mama will take me.”

Every Saturday morning, when talking to Babcia via Skype, he proclaims, “Idę do ciebie!”

Since then, he’s been packing. He’ll pack up toys into a box and declare, “This is for Poland.” He’ll put things in a pile and explain that “this is for Poland.” The other night we couldn’t find his toothbrush because he’d packed it in with his toys “for Poland.”

When we ask him what he’s going to do in Poland, he explains that he’s going to play.

“You can play here. Anything else?”

“I’m going to Poland to visit my friend Babcia.”

Play Too Much

Dear Terrence,

I watch you walking down the hall, getting upset by the least little thing, and I worry. Someone bumps into you, and you’re upset. Someone says something to you that you don’t want to hear, and you’re upset. Someone doesn’t do this or that, and you’re upset. And then today, you’re about to get into a fight because — because why exactly? I could never get more out of you than, “He play too much.”

Of course, you’re not the first to say that. I hear it a lot. “You play too much.” “They play too much.” “Mr. Jones play too much.” I hear it a lot, but I’m not sure what it means. I’m fairly certain you don’t mean that literally: I don’t think it’s the amount of time this or that person spends playing video games that upsets you. We’re not playing any sport in the hallway, so you’re not referring to that. What you must mean is that the person in question plays mind games too much. That’s the only thing I can figure. But an odd thing about mind games: they take two to play. So if he plays too much, if she plays too much, it only means that you’re playing along too much.

So he bumps you and perhaps it’s on purpose: it’s only “playing” if you play along. So someone says something you don’t like: it’s only “playing” if you play along.

Why not try ignoring the people who play too much? If they have no one to play with, they’ll go look for a new playmate. Simple.

Playfully,
Your Teacher

Out With the Old

If there is one thing I hate more than going to shop for a new cell phone, I don’t know what it is. I hate shopping for just about anything (with a few unhealthy exceptions), but cell phone purchases are at the very bottom of my list. You go into an electronics store and everyone is so excited about the new XYZ and the incredible DEF and the improved KLW — and it just leaves me baffled. It’s a tool, nothing more, nothing less, but I suppose in the age of iPhones and Galaxies, it’s more than that to most people.

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K and I don’t upgrade our phones often. Indeed, we don’t upgrade them ever. Until recently, I was happy to hobble along with my half-broken piece of junk. Then, coming home on the bike, I got caught in a downpour and the phone got soaked in my bike bag, putting it out of its misery.

In a way, I was thrilled. No more phone, period. I don’t have to remember to pick it up in the morning; I don’t have to remember charge it; I don’t have to think about it — heaven. But there are times when even a phone curmudgeon like me has to admit that a phone can be fairly useful. Emergencies, for example. So despite my hesitations and protestations, we upgraded.

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The upshot of that was I could finally do what I always wanted to do to my phone. L enjoyed getting in on it, too.

Yet the Boy was a little upset about it. “Why are you breaking your phone?” he asked, genuinely concerned. I explained that it was already broken and that L and I were just being silly, and so soon he was stomping away too, chirping, “I love breaking phones!” It was at that point that K and I thought a little addendum might be in order…

Our Town

It looked like the Boy had made quite the mess in his room when I arrived home, but he quickly corrected me. “It’s a miasto!” he explained ever so patiently, as usual mixing his languages.

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And it is indeed a city, or perhaps town — miasteczko, but he wouldn’t have said that — complete with fire and police stations, a construction site, and a hospital.

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“That’s over half an hour of work!” K explained with a laugh when I got back downstairs. Half an hour of work, many hours of fun: it’s still up, several days later.

The Jacket

Dear Teresa,

Women-Quilted-fitting-Biker-Leather-Jacket-13-240x340You looked really sharp in that leather jacket, I must say. It really worked well with your tight, curly black hair, and you wore it with a confidence that was surprising. In short, it looked great.

Sadly, it was also a dress code violation.

I know, I know — I get tired of the dress code myself. I get tired of enforcing it. I get tired of policing it. I get tired of dealing with it. But truth be told, we all have a dress code. I can’t wear anything I want to school, and while your dress code as a student is much more restrictive than mine as a teacher, I can sympathize to a degree. Still, it’s my job to police it (I choose that verb carefully and deliberately), and every time I have to approach a student for the first time about a violation, I’m a little apprehensive. I know some students can’t handle that criticism well, and it risks turning into a confrontation that I really don’t want to have.

“No one else has said anything to me about it!” is a common refrain. Perhaps no one else noticed — after all, we teachers have a million and one things on our minds. Dress code sometimes takes a backseat.

“I wore it yesterday, and no one said anything about it!” is another common response. See above.

“I’ve worn it all year, and no one has said a word about it!” is one I hear every now and then. See above.

So when I see a dress code violation, I get a little nervous. I just don’t like situations that could escalate into a bigger issue. I always do my best not to escalate the situation, and I think I do a good job of keeping things calm. But there are some students who are determined — absolutely determined — to make an issue of it.

And then there are students like you: I mentioned the lovely jacket was a dress code violation, and you simply put it in your locker. I could tell from your body language that you were not happy at all about it, but still, you put it away without a word. I was more impressed when we talked about it: you said something like the responses above, with a few new twists, but you waited until the appropriate time to discuss it. That showed a maturity that is impressive.

Thank you for handling an unpleasant situation like a true young adult. It makes me feel even more fortunate to be your teacher.

Still smiling,
Your Teacher

Week One

73fx_blackWeek one is under behind us, and it’s been a start unlike any other. For one thing, I’ve been cycling to work, and except for Monday, which was a workday followed by meet the teacher in the evening, I’ve ridden every day this week. A total of 104 km or just over sixty miles. With my additional evening riding, it puts me at 240 km for the month, with another 120-ish on tap next week. (Add in the walking I’ve remembered to track and it rises to 350 km.) It’s by far the most I’ve ridden in a single month since K and I became parents, and it’s had a tremendous effect on everything else. Starting the day with a good bike ride gets me to the school more alert, awake, and energetic than I’ve ever felt when going by car. Ending the day with a good bike ride brings me home feeling I’ve really accomplished something for the day: not only have I spent my day well, working with kids, but I’ve got my exercise in as well.

Once at school, it’s been a start of the year unlike any other as well. Last year was a bear, a real challenge that left me questioning whether I really wanted to keep teaching. I knew it was only an off year, but when you’re only five days into a 180-day school year and you already see a year of hard struggle with behavior issues stretching before you, it’s enough to make you question your commitment. This year, though, one week in and I see that this year might actually be fun again, not such a struggle.

First Week

Dear Terrence,

We’re nearing the end of our first week of school. Where are you? Three days in and I’d always be able to tell who would be my Terrences and my Teresas this year would be. Last year, I could tell within three seconds. You probably think I’m being hyperbolic (exaggerating for effect), but it’s true: one Teresa (and there were so many last year) introduced herself with her actions and words before she even entered my classroom, and several of the Terrences made clear their priorities just as they’d stepped inside my room. This year, I just don’t know where you are. Granted, I’ve seen a glimmer of you in this student and that, but you — that attitude, that consistently disruptive behavior, that anger, that defiance — are nowhere to be seen.

While that does relieve me for the most part, I must admit that there’s a little part of me that’s somewhat unnerved by it. I’m used to seeking you out and working with you and your issues immediately, and the fact that you haven’t appeared makes me think that perhaps I’ve lost my discerning edge or that perhaps you’ve gotten better at blending in and will pop up later than expected. I enjoy the challenge, that’s true, but the fact that I still haven’t figured out who you are this year gives me a bit more hope about the future than I usually have. Maybe my cynicism and pessimism are misplaced. We’ll see as soon as the honeymoon period wears off.

In the meantime, I just want to thank you for keeping it cool. I’m still fairly sure you’re out there somewhere, but you’re blending in nicely now, and that makes my job a whole lot more enjoyable.

With beginning-of-the-year hope,
Your Teacher

Balance

Since we’ve added a trampoline (free from friends in our Polish community whose boys, now in high school and college, have no interest in it) to our entertainment possibilities, I’ve come to see the whole potentially injurious toy in a whole new way. Sure, there’s the possibility broken bones, I guess, snapped spines, but in truth, I don’t think there’s the kind of jumping going on down there that could lead to such tragedies. And the advantages are overwhelming at times. There is of course the simple fact that it’s an enclosed space that allows the adults to relax while the kids go crazy.

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But what I’ve noticed most is the incredible improvement in both the kids’ balance and, to borrow an eduspeak term, their kinesthetic intelligence. When we first began the jumping and bouncing, the Boy fell quite frequently. All you had to do is jump somewhat near him and the jolt of the trampoline below him would be enough to send him tumbling — laughing often but frustrated just as often. Now, we hop all around him, and he seems simply to absorb it all with a bit of knee action. He’s gone from little timid hops to being able to bound across the whole trampoline with only four or so jumps.

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The Girl seems to enjoy it the most, though. We’ve lately been taking the whole popcorn idea to an absurd — and dangerous, K insists — level. Basically I launch her: she sits near the middle, I take a giant leap and land right beside her, and Newton’s third takes care of the rest — she pops up three, four feet into the air and lands on her feet. And if I get the timing just right, I launch her again at that moment, sending her flying yet again, making her laugh even harder. Which gets me to laughing. Which amuses the Boy. Which is why I ultimately have come to love our trampoline.

First Day 2015

“Goodnight, couch potato!”

I stopped on my way out the door just long enough to turn and give a smirk smeared with a grin. “Couch potato indeed,” I thought. Just because I’d almost fallen asleep while playing cars with the kids earlier this evening doesn’t make me a couch potato. I biked to work, wrestled with all the first-day problems that consume a teacher’s initial planning periods, taught five lessons straight, and biked home in a fairly substantial rain — couch potato indeed. Still, I just gave L a smile mixed with a slight smirk, wished her goodnight again, and headed out.

L had a rough first day in a lot of ways. Now in third grade, she heads upstairs to the classrooms that house the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Assigned a teacher known for being strict, she fretted throughout the evening about the news that they will have assigned lunch seats starting tomorrow. “Last year, we only got assigned seats when we were bad!” she sniffled, and I think I know at least part of what’s going on: L tries very hard to be a good student, and when she hears that they’re getting assigned seats, which she usually associates with misbehavior, she begins doubting her own goodness in class. It’s a fairly natural reaction, I would think, but L chews and chews on things like this until she wears it down or it wears her down.

We talked about it a bit tonight, and in the course of that conversation, one of the real concerns became evident, a concern that I myself remember having when I was in elementary school. “We don’t have a bathroom in the class.” Instead, they must share the facilities with fourth and fifth graders. Who knows what that might lead to, she reasons. And while I certainly think there’s little to worry about, I do recall how we’re seeing more and more news reports that show children younger and younger growing more and more brutal. It’s unlikely, though, that anything worse than a sideways glance from a fifth grader might happen. But I too remember that fear that comes with being thrown in among older kids who are completely unknown.

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The Boy, on the other hand, had a completely different experience. “But Mommy, I’m not ready to go,” he told K when she picked him up from his part-time K-3 (K-3? Is there any limit to this?!) program. The teacher commented on his manners, which consistently imzpress me, and he likely commented continually about the enormous Thomas the Train play station in his room.

And my day? First day back as an eighth-grade teacher is always a bit stressful. I’d already had my visit with the seventh-grade assistant principal to find out which students could be most challenging and therefore which students I need to focus on as I developed relationships with 100+ new thirteen-year-olds. But despite the schedule I feared would be brutal, I mounted my bike feeling I might not have had a better first day in my entire teaching career.

Choices

K walks out the door first today, and we’re chatting in Polish. I turn to the kids and continue in Polish: “Hurry up and finish eating because we’re leaving soon.” Emil responds in Polish: “Not in Polish, Daddy, in English. Mama’s not here.”

A Rainbow, Some Circuits, and Cars

We’ve had rain every afternoon for the past several days. After such a long streak of dry weather, it is certainly a welcome view, even if it does prevent the kids from going outside. But the rain really only lasts an hour or so in the late afternoon, so it’s easy to work around. Today, though, we got an added bonus: our own personal rainbow.

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“Do you think there’s a pot of gold at the end?” L asked, and it occurred to me that we might actually be able to make our fortune if that were the case as both ends the rainbow seemed to be within our property lines. We wouldn’t even have to worry about claims of the property owner once we tracked down the gold. Sadly, though, before we could go out and hunt it down (or perhaps both down — who knows whether or not rainbows have treasure at both ends), the colors faded.

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But the rain really wasn’t even a problem for the kids: everyone had something to do. L was busy loading apps on the tablet she bought for herself with the money she’s been collecting. I won’t quite say “saving” because it’s been burning a cliche hole in her pocket, and she got most of it in one go. Still, she managed to hold off on spending it in Poland, likely because Babcia kept her financed and all the friends who came to visit brought little knickknacks as well

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As for the Boy, he was, as usual, content playing with his cars.

Uneventfully Full Sunday

Mass, lunch, a bit of planning (school year’s starting up soon), dinner at the neighbors’ house — sounds like there’s plenty to write about, but going to bed early is more appealing.