Body Language

Dear Terrence,

The fact today that you didn’t know your body language was so disrespectful — not to mention your tone — is only mildly surprising. What is more unexpected was the question you asked next, though it shouldn’t have been.

“You’re going to tell me that my body language is disrespectful even when it’s not my intention?”

To begin with, I’m impressed with that construction. That you would use the word “intention” like that — for some reason, it was surprising. Perhaps that’s because of the way you’ve spoken for the rest of the year.

But more surprising was the fact that you didn’t know that body language can be disrespectful without intention. I work hard to teach my own children just such things: there are things you can say and do that, even though you don’t mean disrespect, show disrespect. In the matter of disrespect, especially when dealing with people in positions of authority over you, it’s the question of interpretation that is often more important than the question of intention.

I don’t think you realized what your body was doing, though, because it’s hard to imagine someone sitting as you sat without realizing how much disrespect you were communicating as I spoke to you.

  • First of all, you were slouched down in your chair. This communicates a lack of effort, that you don’t even care to sit up and pay attention. It suggests you’re just enduring the current moment.
  • Next, you had your elbow on the table with your hand resting on a balled fist. A balled fist always suggests aggression. And having your head down like that communicates, “You are so exhausting me with this nonsense…”
  • Most tellingly, your facial expressions exuded disrespect. There was that scowl: eyebrows slanted downward, a frown. Your nostrils flared occasionally as well.
  • There was also your inability (or unwillingness) to make even cursory eye contact. Refusing to look at someone who is talking to you is about as disrespectful as you can get. It’s also a little immature.

I only mentioned your body language, but there were other non-verbal cues that suggested disrespect.

  • Your tone of voice when you mustered an occasional, monosyllabic response was edged with anger and contempt.
  • Your continual tooth sucking — don’t know what else to call it, so I’ll call it what you call it — suggests that you would say something to me but it’s not worth my time. You start to take the breath to speak, then realize I’m not worth it, and open your mouth to let the now-unneeded breath out.

To your credit, when I pointed all this out to you, you began slowly to change. You sat up, you made a bit of eye contact, and you stopped sucking your teeth.

But here’s the big problem: when you do this with me, I take this to be another teaching moment. It’s tiring, that’s for sure: “Here I go again, having to teach kids things they should already know by this age, things that have nothing to do with my subject matter.” But still, though I feel overworked with such issues, I see it as my job. I teach in order to prepare you for the future, and sometimes, interpreting figurative language seems the least significant subject matter for your success. However, you will soon encounter people who are not interested in teaching you these things, not interested in even dealing with it. These people will probably have the ability to make your life very miserable very quickly. I’m talking about bosses, and they’ll fire you in such a situation.

I know that’s meaningless to you. You say things like, “I’ll just get another job.” Unfortunately, getting other job when you’ve lost one is not like getting another pencil from you next teacher when you’ve lost it in the previous class.

I hope we can get this habit of yours under control before you head off to high school (there are teachers there who will treat you like the aforementioned boss), but even if we can’t, I hope we’ll continue making progress.

Your Teacher

Chasing the Unseen

I know we’re entering a new phase in the Girl’s life: chasing. It’s not just that now, with her birthday last month, she’s in the double digits. There’s more to it than that. She’s not a tween, is she? Isn’t that eleven? Twelve? Yet there she was this afternoon, down on the hammock, talking to her male friend as he sat on the other hammock.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that they were discussing anything more mature than a ten- and eleven-year-old should discuss. She still says that boys are icky. (Hopefully that will last for another couple of years, when they can comfortably become iffy at best. Maybe a blossoming interest when she starts high school?) No, it’s not what topic they were chasing down; it’s that they were talking. They weren’t playing; they weren’t running; they weren’t being silly. They were sitting and talking.

The Boy doesn’t talk with his friends. They play. They play with an intensity that makes me envious, with an energy that makes me wonder if I ever had even a small portion of it. They’re talking consists only of what they’re playing.

“Pretend I’m a policeman…”

“Let’s go to the trampoline!”

If I had to bet what L and W were discussing, I’d say it’s probably Pokemon-related. That’s what they talk about most of the time. That’s their common interest. But still — talking, not playing.

We’ve started chasing her. She’s still a little girl, but that’s ending in the next couple of years. Given my shock when I look past entries from the “Time Machine” widget here on this silly site and think, “Dang, that was three years ago?!” I know that those two years will pass so quickly that I won’t even notice if I’m not careful. And then we will be chasing her. Chasing her growth. Chasing the unseen.

Later in the day, the Boy gives chase in a different way. Playing on the driveway, he crashes to the concrete as he’s chasing a ball. His palms hit with an audible slap, and I could feel the burn in my own palms.

But not a peep, only a little cry of panic as he saw the ball heading to the edge of the driveway, threatening to roll down the hill and into the creek that serves as the boundary between our backyard and that of our neighbors’ yards. He popped back up, scurried to the end of the drive only half a blink too late. Down the hill rolled the ball.

There was a time when he wouldn’t head down that far into the yard without an adult, just as L was at that early age. But today, he didn’t even hesitate, didn’t even look to see if an adult was anywhere around. He just slowed a bit to make it down the tricky part, chasing the ball with the certainty that he could catch it that only a four-year-old could hold.

First Snow 2017

Like most snow storms in the South, this one was the talk of news and neighbors for almost a week before it hit. The possibility of snow grew into the certainty of snow, and the depth of that certain snow increased as well. By the time I went to bed, meteorologists were predicting six inches for our area. That’s like three feet of snow in northern climes — something of note.

The kids grew increasingly excited as the projected storm’s intensity promised to be greater and greater. E was squealing on a regular basis Friday night with excitement about the impending snow.

What we got in our area was somewhat more restrained, though. Probably an inch, maybe an inch and a half, of icy, hard snow greeted us this morning. The Boy was ready to go, though.

“I’m going to eat half a bagel for breakfast, then get dressed, then check the street, then go to R’s house.” By nine, he was out. Shortly after that, the Girl joined him. Shortly after that, the neighborhood joined them.

In the afternoon, with such a gorgeous blue sky, we had to go for a walk, and with the roads clearing, we decided to go to Conestee Park. Wearing his gum boots, the Boy had to walk through as many puddles as possible, and both of the kids had to grab, fling, kick, and toss every bit of snow possible. The result: two wet, tired kids. Exhausted.

Until we arrived back at the house and saw the neighborhood kids sledding. Amazing what that will do for one’s energy.

Twenty Years Ago Today

The dinner was infinite. Every two hours or so they brought out another course. And there were snacks on the tables at all times. We had cutlet for the main course followed later by meat and rice; the egg-roll-type things were served with barszcz; cold cuts stayed on the table all evening, too. And of course there was vodka. The seventy some odd bottles R made certainly did not go to waste.

There was a most interesting traditional dance. E began waltzing with R, then someone would approach them, clap, and cut in. Whenever someone was done dancing with E, he/she/they (often couples danced with E, making a strange circle) headed over to where R was. After dropping money into a hat held by some lady, the shook R’s hand and took a shot which R had poured.

During the dance the band would often stop playing and whoever was dancing with E would make up a verse, often belting it out while another sang the slightly out of tune harmony so common to this area. One lady must have taken six or more verses.

After this was completed, the crowd grabbed E and R and tossed them up and down. R had quite a frightful expression the entire time. It looked like a blast to me, but R solemnly informed me, “It’s dangerous! I could have smashed my head on the floor or the ceiling!”

Joe and I went out for a walk this morning to take some pictures. He did a lot this weekend to help me with my new camera. I feel much more confident in my picture-taking ability now.

Journal entry from my first Polish wedding



Dear Terrence,

I know some of the materials — most of the materials — I give you are merely crossing your desk. I stand here at the hole punch, making three even holes in these Frayer diagrams, preparing them for a long and lustrous life in your binder, but I understand that this paper, like so many others, simply won’t make it there. You don’t have a pencil most days, and you often can’t remember your password to use our Moodle installation, so how can I expect you to keep up with a single sheet of paper? I just punch the holes out of habit, I suppose.

Yet it’s not asking that much. I’ve told you things like this before, but the only really significant thing that separates you from the kids in the “smart” class is not intelligence but habits. I have students in that class, Terrence, that can produce materials I gave them at the beginning of the year. I can say, “Get out the graphic organizer we used for project X because we’re going to add some things to it and reuse it for this project.” And a fair number of them — a majority, I would say — can produce the material in question. That’s why they’re in that class. They’re not smarter than you. They care to be organized, and they are, therefore, simply more organized than you.

For you, though, the materials just cross your desk and often end up in the floor. It’s like so many things in your life . Even your housing situation seems to be just crossing the arc of your life: you don’t speak of living somewhere, only staying. So with so many things in flux in your life, its little wonder that this too is in flux. It seems like yet another example of non-curriculum skills we need to be teaching you, but in the age of testing, testing, testing, it just seems to fall through the cracks for all of us as you guys are crossing through our classrooms on your way to the future. Perhaps we all just need to cross ourselves and try harder.

A bit cross with myself and with you, as well as frustrated,
Your Teacher


The Boy was playing CandyLand with K, and after he’d won the first game, he was eager to play another.

“I’m going to win again!” he proclaimed, and for a moment, it looked as if he were going to do just that. He shot ahead with double color after double color. Then K drew the gum drop and zoomed ahead.

“Oh, I’ll never win!” he proclaimed, frustrated.

“Yes, but you might draw another candy piece and move ahead, or Mama might draw the candy cane when you’re way past it and have to go back many, many spaces,” I reasoned. But as I often remind The Girl, there’s no reasoning with a four-year-old. He continued playing a bit halfheartedly. He drew a candy piece eventually, but K had shot so far ahead by then that his chances of winning really and truly were gone.

And with that loss, his desire to play was gone as well.

I remembered the whole time they played the new buzzword in education: grit. It’s really nothing more than perseverance in the face of difficulty and setback, but educators and researchers in education like new jargon. (I suspect it’s mainly from the latter.) And so “grit” is thrown around in education blogs and educator gatherings quite often these days. It was rewarding to see The Boy showing some of this perseverance. It took a good bit of encouragement, but he finished the game, learned the lesson (?), and we had a nice close to the afternoon.

The next night, The Boy and I are working with Legos. I was building a jail for him, and he was building a mystery. Not having a plan, he found the process a little slow-going and frustrating.

“I just can’t get it,” he fussed as he couldn’t get two pieces joined. He threw them down, and for just a moment, I thought the chances of a relaxing evening of Lego-ing were gone. But just for a moment. Seeing everything as a teaching opportunity — or at least trying to — I showed him how to get the pieces together, then pulled them apart and had him try again.

“I got it!”

Two opportunities to teach that could have disappeared but didn’t. The trick for me, though, is to transfer that to my students. Everything can be a moment to teach, a learning opportunity, for the at-risk kids in my charge. They lack social skills, patience, anger management methods, volume control, grit (there it is again), a growth mindset (another edu-speak jargon term that’s hot now). Every teaching moment can’t bloom — I’d never get to the curriculum some days. The balance must be there, but there’s so much they need before they’re gone off to high school…

Inspired by the Daily Post’s prompt of the day: Gone.


We might be behind the times, so to speak, but K and I have been watching The Crown this week, and it seems there’s quite a bit of moping in that film. Most obviously, there’s Edward VIII, who gave up the crown in order to marry an American divorcee. The Duke of Windsor spends most of his screen time moping about this or that. He mopes about his allowance not being sufficient to entertain as he wishes. He mopes about how his family treats him — they’re all mad at him for the crisis he plunged the country into when he abdicated, but also they’re probably a little angry about him being a fairly open Nazi sympathizer who even went to German in ’37 and met Hitler. He mopes about how his wife won’t be allowed to come to the coronation of Elizabeth. He mopes about the pageantry of the coronation as he mocks with with his friends while watching it on television. And he seems to mope about not being king as well.

Yet in all that moping about, there are some problems of lesser, moral men that he doesn’t have to deal with. We don’t see him moping about his sibling drawing a mustache on him as he slept. The Girl has taken to “mustaching” him at night, and while he thought it was funny at first, he no longer does.

“I hate mustaches!” he declared this morning.

I do, too. They always make a man seem a little creepy to me, a little less trustworthy. I wonder if the Duke of Windsor ever wore a mustache — it might suit his personality. It certainly did Hitler’s.

He probably never moped about having to clean up his room after a play date. The man probably never cleaned up anything in his entire life.

To E’s credit, though, he didn’t mope today about having to clean up his mess.

“But I didn’t make it all!” he began, and I thought it was coming. The fuss. The mope. The crisis.

“Well, you should have asked your friends to help you clean up before they left.”

“I did. And they didn’t help.”

“I’m sorry.”

And that was about all there was to it. He cleaned up half the mess in the late afternoon and the other half just before bedtime, and he was calm the entire time. He might mope later in life about his allowance, but that’s still a ways off.

The Duke of Windsor also never had to mope about a repetitive task like opening seemingly endless bags of chess pieces and putting them into draw-string bags. Since I have waited for that moment for ages — getting chess sets for the chess club I sponsor at school, thanks to the generosity of the PTSA — I didn’t mope about it either.

I guess about the only thing I moped about today was all of the Duke of Windsor’s moping…

Inspired by the Daily Post’s prompt of the day: Mope.

Chores and Jobs

Chores — the Girl unloads the dishwasher, the Boy sorts the silverware. Today, though, the Girl was in a hurry for him to finish so they could watch a little after-breakfast TV, so she was insistent on helping him. He, however, would have none of it.

“L, that’s my job!”

The more restless she grew, the more insistent he became. I stood there watching, intervening as little as possible, a few disparate thoughts running about in my mind.

  1. The Boy is clearly proud of what he’s doing and that it’s his established job. He doesn’t have a lot of responsibilities yet, and often his help, as cute as it is, is more trouble than help. This is one of the things he can do that actually is very helpful. I think he senses that and is proud of contributing to the family.
  2. He has a totally different outlook on work than the Girl. For her, chores are just that: something that must be done, something that is as inescapable as unenjoyable. The Boy, though, loves helping, loves working, loves getting involved. He plays at work: he digs in the back yard, pretends to mow, conducts culinary experiments on the small counter top beside the stove as we cook (which usually involves mixing random things from the fridge).
  3. Sometimes help comes from less-than-perfectly-altruistic motives. Sure, the end result was fine: the Girl wanted to help the Boy. But why? Still, that she finished her job and then wanted to help with his — that’s something.
  4. The thought of having my job (singular) is enviable for a lot of adults, I think — and I’m including myself in that “a lot of”. So there’s an irony: kids look forward to being adults, and adults often look back wistfully at childhood. The truly happy individual is the one always happy where she is.