First Impressions

Dear Teresa,

You caught my eye from the very first moment I walked into the room. You were sitting at the end of one of the two-seat tables your teacher uses instead of desks, talking to your friend. It was obvious you weren’t supposed to be there: the lab tables are designed for two people, not three. When I moved to the front of the classroom, clipboard in my head, obviously ready to take role, you didn’t move back to your seat. I hadn’t said anything earlier because I didn’t want to assume you were being anything other than a friendly student who knew when to move back to her seat. So your behavior from the beginning was something that called attention to you.

When I asked you to move to your seat, you insisted that that was your seat. I’m a patient man, and I thought that perhaps you were just being a typical playful seventh grader, so I calmly and politely repeated that you needed to move to your seat. When you again insisted that you were in your seat, I saw the whole interaction unfold before me. I knew you were going to be defiant. I knew you were going to show an attitude. I knew that you were going to be disrespectful. I knew all these things because I’ve seen people behave like you behaved many times, and I know the behaviors that lead up to it. As I stated, I had my eye on you from the moment I walked into class because of your behavior: you called attention to yourself immediately.

Now, what was most troubling about our interaction was when I asked you what your name was. I asked you, and you said nothing. I asked you again, and you were silent. Your rigid body language said plenty, though. It said, “I will not respond to you. I will not reply.” However, someone in the classroom said your name. The problem with that is simple: I wasn’t asking the question “What’s her name?” to the class. I was asking you, “What’s your name.” So when you didn’t answer, you were being defiant yet again. And when I kept insisting and you finally said, “You hear my name. You hear them telling you,” I knew we were close to the end.

It was our discussion in the hallway that sealed it. You refused to look at me. You answered in a very disrespectful tone. You huffed and puffed, smacking your teeth. You all but flipped me off with your behavior. Your behavior screamed profanity, screamed disrespect. I’m very sorry that you didn’t see that. I’m very sorry you didn’t realize the horrible things your body language was saying. However, it was at that moment that I knew there was no way to salvage the situation. I knew that, if you stayed in the room, you would not have a positive impact on the class. so I asked the administrator to take you out.

Look at the situation from my perspective: I come into your classroom during my planning period to cover for a lacking substitute teacher. I simply asked you to move to your seat. And from that, you have created a very strong and very negative first impression. Should I see your name on my role next year, it will be hard for me to start with a clean slate with you. However, that’s just what I’ll do, for two reasons: first, because I’m an adult. Simple as that. Second, I don’t know what happened to you this morning leading up to our encounter that might have soured your whole day. I don’t think I deserved for you to take it out on me, but still, you’re a kid, and kids often don’t have the cognitive and emotional mental tools yet to deal with such situations. (Truth be told, many adults don’t either.)

So I just wanted to let you know that, should you still be a student here next year, I’ll do my best to let that first impression side. But here’s the thing: if that’s how you always behave, you’ll quickly create that same first impression with every teacher in the eighth-grade hallway, and you’ll find yourself in situation after situation like the one you experienced today. You might say to that, “I don’t care,” and perhaps you don’t. That would be a tragedy. But I think you do care.

If you’d like some help learning how to make better first (and second and third) impressions, I’d be happy to help you out. Just let Ms. Smith know, and we’ll figure out something we can do.

Regards,
Your One-Period Sub

Chores

K is sick — first time she’s really been sick (stay home from work sick) in about two years. This evening, I was upstairs running water for the Boy’s bath when I heard the clank of cups and glasses on the counter top.

“I’m going to kick her!” I thought. “She shouldn’t be doing that!”

I went downstairs to find E, who was thirsty, emptying the top rack of the dishwasher.

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“Did Mama ask you to do that?”

“No, I just did it. I’m a gentleman.”

Planning Help

My students are about to embark on a paired-down version of the short story project I’ve been using for years. Paired down is hardly accurate: it’s radically changed. Instead of reading The Tell-Tale Heart and writing three analytic paragraphs about it, they’re adding on to something they did earlier this year. More choice. Less grading. Seems like a win-win situation.

Less is sometimes more for everyone.

Looking Back

Why couldn’t this have been on a Friday night? Why didn’t the schedulers realize the entertainment value of this debate? Still, I think back over the years and can’t understand how we got here, and yet I understand perfectly how we got here.

Yet how did our family get here?

Ten years ago, we lived in Asheville.

Morning Walk

Fifteen years ago, we lived in Poland.

Lipnica Wielka Parish Church II

And yet that’s just us — the two of us. What matters now is the four of us.

Autumn Sunday

The last Sunday of the month — Polska msza. Among many other things, it means a lazy morning with perhaps a bit of outside time. During the summer, it was the only Sunday we could do much of anything outside because by the time we normally got back from Mass, it was too hot to do much of anything. There was the pool, that’s true, but even that gets a little routine after a while, I guess.

In the late morning, then, L, E, and I headed to the backyard to do some exploring. Our exploring of late is limited, though, by the fact that we have new neighbors whom we rarely see, and I haven’t yet had a chance to ask if they mind us tromping through their backyard. I’m certain they have nothing at all against it, but I still don’t want to do it until we’ve actually discussed it.

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That leaves us limited to our own backyard, which we all know perfectly well — harder to pretend-explore there than it was in our neighbors’ yard. I struck upon the idea of tracing the stream that runs through our backyard. We’d waded up the stream one morning this summer, but we hadn’t gone the opposite direction. The Boy was interested; the Girl headed inside.

We followed where it passes under the road and winds through more backyards, but soon we reached a point where we couldn’t go any further. If we had long pants on, we could have braved the weeds and wild for probably another hundred and fifty feet, but not much more than that. Suddenly, the Boy had a question.

“Daddy, what if we’re lost?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if we can’t find our way home?”

I thought of what we’d just done from his forty-some inch perspective and his four-year-old mental development and realized that he might indeed have no idea where we were. I took him back to the road and pointed out the back of our house.

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“Oh, neat trick,” he replied.

But could he really not know where we were? I doubt it. He has such an incredible memory for the physical layout of things, where things are located in the house, where things are located in the larger environment.

Once, K told me, they were on their way to Nana’s and Papa’s house in the morning and there was a huge snarl of traffic on the four-lane road we normally take to their place. I’d done some exploring on Google Maps before to map new routes to ride by bike and had discovered a way to cut the corner where the snarl was, and once I’d taken it when I was taking the Boy to Nana’s and Papa’s. E remembered it just as K was contemplating where that road off to the left might go and explained that it was a short cut. Between those two events passed probably several weeks.

So it’s likely that he really wasn’t as lost today as he thought he might have been. It’s possible that he could have figured his way back home. Instead, he just took me by the hand and said, “Daddy, let’s go home.”

Zugzwang

I’ve begun a chess club at school. Today was our informational meeting, and around twenty students showed up, including three girls. We set up a meeting schedule — first and third Mondays of the month — and I had them take a little “quiz” to see if they knew how to use algebraic notation, had the instinct to do more than take the “free” pawn in the King’s Gambit, could recognize the next move of the Sicilian Defense, and knew what stalemate means.

One small problem: we don’t have any chess sets. PTSA to the rescue. And as I was talking to someone about how to fill out the paperwork to request the funds, I had an epiphany: why not use chess in the classroom on a regular basis? The benefits are manifold, especially the thought of encouraging such dedicated, focused attention for some period of time, weighting options and making a decision, and overall critical thinking. So with some careful planning, I might actually be able to pull it off.

Coming home, I discovered that the Boy wants to play soccer. A good sign. And out of the blue, he wants to play chess.

Sometimes life gives you zugzwang — a situation in chess in which one player would rather not move but has to move. And occasionally, it gives you the opposite.

Confirmation

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We parents wait for it all our lives, I imagine: confirmation that all the teaching we’ve done has somehow taken root and flowered. It comes sometimes in those little notes scribbled on our children’s school papers or comments on report cards. We hear about it from grandparents or neighbors. And then sometimes we see it.

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A post-dinner recreation

K arrived home with the Boy from a short trip to the grocery store and the pizza place only to find it had started raining. It wasn’t raining hard enough for me to hear it, so I hadn’t brought in the laundry drying on the back deck. (Truth be told, I wasn’t even aware of it being out there, but that’s an entirely different issue.) K rushed in, pizza in hand, tossed the box on the table and darted out through the back door. “My laundry!” Following a few moments behind, E appeared at the door, shopping in hand, car door closed, struggling mightily with the two bags of groceries.

He’d taken the initiative all by himself.

Coincidentally, one of the words in L’s Polish lesson for the evening was “dżentelmen,” the Polishized spelling of “gentleman,” which has the same denotations and connotation.

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In the end, I couldn’t care less about how well he plays soccer. I’m more concerned with how he plays life. And while at the moment he seems destined to be darting around all the action in a soccer game, he seems to be diving right in to life.

Games

The Boy was determined not to play soccer today. “I’m scared!” was the refrain. He didn’t want to get dressed. He didn’t want to leave the house. He didn’t want to get in the car. He didn’t want to get out of the car. But once he was on the field, it was all fine.

His play was better than last week. He ran toward the ball in general, but he often just sort of ran around the edge of the hive of boys and girls kicking madly at the ball, known as four-year-olds’ soccer.

And at home, a bit of badminton.

Dodge

The Boy comes out of the living room just as I’m headed that way. I jump in front of him playfully and block his way. As he shifts to the other side, I shift along with him, blocking his path. A fuss begins to arise. I lean down and whisper as if I’m keeping it a secret: “Push to this side like you’re going this way, then suddenly jump to the other side and run by.” He does so, then turns back smiling.

Why can’t I remember to turn every potential fuss into a teaching opportunity?