because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

A Different Kind Of Punishment #twits

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Save Sprinkles has been a wonderful and constant commenter of my blog in the Blogosphere. When I started following her, I learned she has two daughters and she has a couple of years until she becomes an empty nester.  She also comes with one husband and two lazy cats.

Sprinkles has a cool list titled “50 things I want to do before I turn 50,” but I think she has only actually generated about 40 or so items. One of the things on her To-Do list is “sew something.” I think she needs to sew a pillow and cross that shizzle off her list. But I think she means she wants to sew something elaborate that she could actually wear. Like out. I’m not sure. She also wants to add 10 words to urbandictionary.com and get something published. Okay, so these are a little harder than making a pillow. You can check out Spinkles’s list on her blog “How Can I Complain?” HERE.  Also, you can Twitter-stalk her at Sprinkles1234_.

Here is her teacher memory.

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A Different Kind of Punishment

At nearly six feet tall, Mrs. Larson towered over her fifth grade students. I had never noticed just how tall she was until the afternoon she stood above me on the playground holding the back of my shirt in one hand and the back of Dawn Cooper’s shirt in the other.  She had just separated us from a ferocious girl fight of nameless origins. It may have started because Dawn said my shoes were ugly or because I stuck my tongue out at her in the lunch line, or because Dawn and I just never got along. The starting point didn’t really matter because now we were both dirty, scratched up, and in BIG trouble.  Mrs. Larson stood us both up against the ancient school building and told us to choose a brick on which to touch our noses. As my nose rested against the rough, baked clay, I worried profusely about what my punishment would be. It was Friday and the weather was beautiful. I was looking forward to a weekend of bike riding and I didn’t want mean, old Mrs. Larson to screw things up for me.

Sprinkles in 5th grade

I knew from prior offenses that Mrs. Larson was a “mom caller” and nothing was a worse punishment than a poor behavior call from the teacher.  In my house, if you got in trouble at school, you got in ten times more trouble at home, and I wasn’t looking forward to that!  When playtime ended Mrs. Larson calmly told us to report to her room during recess on Monday for our punishment. I spent the rest of the school day striving for perfect behavior, in silent hope that she would forget to call my mother.

My stomach ached on the bus ride home. Had Mrs. Larson called my mom already, or would she call once I got home?  The entire weekend passed slowly as I nervously anticipated my mother to call me from my play at any moment and banish me to my room. Each time the phone rang, my heart stopped for a brief moment, but Mrs. Larson never called.

On Monday morning I solemnly completed my schoolwork and avoided the sneers and snooty faces that Dawn made at me from across the classroom. At noon, I could hardly touch my lunch. Although it was years before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released The Waiting, it certainly was “the hardest part” of this punishment.

Finally, the hour arrived and Dawn and I made our way back to the classroom walking on opposite sides of the hallway.  Mrs. Larson was poised in the doorway, waiting to usher us in. She directed us to the table where we normally sat for group work, and instructed us to sit side-by-side. As I reluctantly sat next to my nemesis, I noticed two soup bowls of soapy water on the table and a zippered cosmetic case. Not wanting to prolong the suspense, I blurted out, “What are you going to make us do?”

Mrs. Larson suppressed a smile. “I’m not going to make you do anything,” she said. “I’m going to show you how to do something.”  Then she told us to place our fingers in the soapy water.  As our hands soaked in the sudsy warmth, she explained that Dawn and I were going to give one another a manicure. Step by step, she guided us through pushing one another’s cuticles gently back with an orange stick. Patiently, she showed us how to use an emery board to shape each other’s nails. When it was time to choose a polish, Dawn and I chose the same lovely pink color, and with painstaking neatness, each painted it on the other’s nails. As we waited for our polish to dry we found ourselves chatting, then laughing and making plans. When Mrs. Larson was sure that our nails were dry, she sent us out to enjoy the last few minutes of recess.

As simplistic as it was, Mrs. Larson’s punishment stuck with me. I learned far more from it than I would have from a lecture, from a spanking, or from a weekend spent grounded. Mrs. Larson didn’t just show me how to give a manicure.  With her gentle guidance, she showed me how to make a friend.

What lessons have you learned from punishment?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

Last week: Jessica Buttram: “Hard Ass”

School Is Not the Time To Make Friends

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When I was a student at Genesee Hills Elementary School in the 1970s, we had quite a bit of free time during which we actually interacted with our peers: during lunch, recess, specials, sure. But also during class. In 3rd grade with Mrs. Marmillo and Mr. Barnello, we enjoyed an amazing invention called “Boy, Girl and Group of the Week.” A concept that would never fly now, I feel fortunate to have been part of this fabulous, classroom environment, and I know dozens of people who likely feel the same way.

Before I tell you about Boy, Girl & Group of the Week, keep in mind, this classroom phenomenon happened in 1976 — more than 30 years ago — so I could be wrong on some of the basics (so for those who may remember, feel free to chime in).

I want to say that on Friday afternoons, students from our two 3rd grade classrooms gathered together to nominate students as Boy and Girl of the Week. Students who went out of their way to do something nice for their peers were considered, so we said things like:

I want to nominate Jeff F. as Boy of the Week because he lent me a pencil when I didn’t have one.

or

I want to nominate Siobhan E. because she got me a tissue when I had a bloody nose, and then she helped me to the nurse’s office.

Meanwhile, our teachers sat quietly and made hash marks (or something) on a clipboard. Unless, we gave too many nominations to the same kid — in which case they would encourage us to look around the room and notice people who had possibly never been nominated, they were pretty silent.

When we finished, our teachers determined and announced the Boy, Girl and Group of the Week. (Maybe it was predetermined. It probably was.) The prize? Winners got the privilege of walking from our elementary school to Burger King, a little less than a mile away, sometime the following week along with our teachers. To get to BK, we walked on roads – not sidewalks. Yes, there were a few cars, but we walked – single-file in sun and in slush – to get to a hamburger, small fries and a soft-drink. It was heaven.

Imagine teachers pulling off this weekly field trip in 2010. It’s practically impossible.

First off, I have a feeling 90% of today’s parents would say they don’t like the idea because Burger King is fattening, and (in case you hadn’t heard), we have an obesity epidemic in our country. Okay, this may be the case when you are eating BK every day. But we weren’t back then. And we used our lunch and recess periods (both of which were longer than they are now) to walk to and from Burger King. The trek was just under 1.5 miles, but we walked briskly, so it was a good healthy walk.

We used our best manners while waiting in line. I remember standing in the BK queue, preparing to place my order — using my own voice to speak to an adult, “One hamburger, please,” I would say, careful to add, “Thank you.” Eating with my teachers and friends was a most amazing reward! We learned so much about each other during our walks to and from school and while sitting in the big booths together. We learned about our teachers’ families, their children. We learned if our classmates had siblings, what color our classmates’ rooms were painted, and if we liked to play the same games. We learned whose parents were divorced. Hell, we learned what the word divorce meant! We learned to speak, and we learned to listen.

I imagine, these days, most parents wouldn’t like the idea of children walking on main roads with traffic. Because people worry about things like that these days. Because someone could get hit by a car! Or get abducted! Or fall into a ditch and twist an ankle! (The last scenario was probably the most likely.)

As far as I know, my parents signed one skinny permission slip to allow me to go on the aforementioned trip off campus to BK and provided me with the requisite dollar or so to purchase my meal. These days, I imagine there would be a 12-page document that would have to be signed by parents, promising to waive their rights to this, that and the other thing. Back then, nobody worried that we were going to get hit by cars or fall in gulches or get kidnapped. Everyone just kind of assumed giving children additional privileges came with giving us additional responsibilities. People sought to broaden our world experience rather than limit our boundaries.

We had so many opportunities to practice civility in elementary school. It was okay to have a little idle chatter time built into our day. The classroom was the place where we learned our academics, but we also practiced our social skills. Today, I would imagine that most administrators would tell parents that there is simply not time for idle chitter-chatter. A few years ago a school administrator told me that “school is not the place for children to make friends.” She argued that kids needed to get involved in extra-curricular activities if they were interested in making friendships. She explained teachers needed to make the most of classroom time to prepare students for standardized tests, that teachers have more to teach than ever.

In 2010, I would argue “the civility piece” has fallen out of the curriculum — along with the belief that there are benefits to idle time. In 1976, it seemed like there was an emphasis on these things, as well as the other things we learned as by-products: patience (eventually everyone got to be Boy or Girl of the Week), paying attention to the little things, actually making an effort to help out a fellow student in need, being a good citizen (not just because it could get you a trip to Burger King but because it felt good). And a million other things, too.

And in this age of technology, a little more emphasis on these seemingly insignificant niceties could go far to help kids plug into each other and their behaviors. I mean, a student might not bully the kid upon whose vote he depends to get some kind of special reward.

And I would argue that sometimes the greatest life-lessons occur when it doesn’t appear that one is learning at all.

But that’s probably a hard sell these days.

Stuck Behind a Bus

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photo by Thomas Hawk @ flickr.com

Ever been stuck at a red light behind a school bus? Of course you have. You know that moment when the kids suddenly realize, Hey! We’re not moving! And there’s a car back there with a person in it! And then they all start frantically waving?

It’s definitely a decision moment.

There are non-wavers who live among us.

I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Recently I found myself stuck behind a school bus, facing The Rowdy Boys, and I had one of those flashback moments a la Wayne’s World when I remembered my time spent at the back of the bus. These days, most school buses (in these parts anyway) have two parallel rows and an aisle with an emergency safety exit in the back; in the 1970s-80s, on the buses at my district’s alma mater, the back seat of the bus was one long row that extended from one side of the bus to the other. (If there were ever an emergency, I think we were supposed to kick out the rear window with our feet and jump out.) Or something.

A “walker” from kindergarten until fifth grade, I wasn’t introduced to school bus culture until middle school. In sixth grade, I made sure to sit in the front of the bus — close to the driver, but by eighth grade, I was definitely back seat material. I was soooo cool, wearing my cool jeans that pressed against the aged, red cushion where generations of cool kids sat before me. I sat with the smokers and the naughty girls and the angry boys. I read graffiti scribbled on the walls, watched people carve their initials into the metal bus walls, felt the bus move and sway beneath me. We tried to figure out the lyrics to The Sugar Hill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight.” We exchanged dirty jokes. We made plans to hang-out out after school.

But the bus I trailed the other day was peopled with elementary school aged innocents who smiled and laughed  and acted like goofballs, making faces and sticking out tongues. Separated by a little metal, glass, and asphalt, they probably felt like I did in eighth grade: Cool. Maybe a little bit naughty. Waving to a stranger in her car? What would their mommies say?

I made them work for it a little bit. They flapped their arms furiously, and I smiled. Eventually, just before the light turned green, I waved. Because I always wave back. And, of course, they loved it. I saw them whooping it up, high-fiving each other, as if they’d placed bets on whether or not I’d return their advances. (Maybe I am underestimating those elementary schoolers. Maybe they did place bets! Maybe that kid in the red Old Navy shirt won a lot of money because I actually waved.)

For kids, the bus is a buffer, a zone between the world of school and home, and the ride serves a dual purpose. It is a convenience (read: Mom doesn’t always have to be the chauffeur), but the bus-ride also provides time for kids to mentally shift gears from school — the land of increasing independence and increasing work and increasing expectations — and home, the land of dependence, where they are not the boss and there is homework to be done and sports to prepare for and instruments to practice and parents who still want to hear about every detail of the day, even if the kids themselves aren’t interested in sharing.

When you see kids on a bus, know they are between worlds. Time-traveling, if you will. And, if you are stuck behind a bus and the kids actually recognize your acknowledge in a positive manner, be glad. Just like adults, some of them have had fabulous days filled with glitter-glue and rainbows. But some of them have had lousy days. Dark days. Days where they have been mistreated and misunderstood. Maybe they have been bullied or made to feel small.

I say everyone should wave to kids on school buses; it’s such a little gesture, a little reaching out. It doesn’t cost anything, and it can bring so much joy.  Oh, but here’s a quick tip; only do the waving thing if the kids initiate it first. Otherwise, you’re just a creepy dork in the car behind the bus.

What do you remember from your school bus days?