because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Hidden Potential: Guest Post by Saucy B.

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Saucy B

Do you wear reading glasses? If so, don’t forget to enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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My guest blogger today sharing her teacher memory is Saucy B. She pretends to be tough — she lives in northern New Jersey and claims if you call her a Jersey Girl, she will kick you in the shins — but for all her attitude, Saucy B comes with an enormous side order or good old-fashioned mama love.

I can relate to Saucy B’s story on one hundred levels. When she wrote this post and discussed how she was described by family members as “precocious” but school was academically challenging for her, I totally got it.

@SaucyB is currently taking a break from her blog, but I hope she will drop by to moderate comments. Her post speaks to so many people who have children who are struggling with school.

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Hidden Potential

I was late bloomer when it came to academics. I was young for my grade; in fact, by today’s requirements, I wouldn’t have even been allowed to enter school when I did.

But, since I was rather precocious in nature – often described as being four going on forty by my relatives – my mother didn’t hesitate to enter me into kindergarten.

It’s not that I didn’t get good grades; it’s just that those good grades came as the result of a lot hard work, a little bit of sweat, and certainly a few tears.

I was in my comfort zone with reading and language arts. But math. Oh math. There’s a reason that when I entered college I was an English major with a minor in Communication. (Dear Rutgers University, thank you for dropping your quantitative requirement the year I entered your fine institution.)

Anyway, it was in fifth grade that students in my school system could be chosen to participate in a Gifted and Talented program that met on Saturday mornings called C.A.T. (I haven’t the slightest idea what that stands for anymore.)

While I recall being slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to participate in fifth grade, I wasn’t completely surprised either. I was doing well, but I certainly wasn’t pulling down straight A’s.

Things changed when I entered sixth grade and was in the class of the school’s only male teacher at the time, Mr. Adubato. This teacher really tried to bring new ideas and other ways of learning to the table. He recognized and encouraged my creative writing in a way that no one else had. And after the first marking period, he got me into the C.A.T. program.

I remember being so proud that as part of the program I got to “publish” my own book of short stories. In reality, my work had just been bound with a nice front and back cover by the school librarian. But, to me, it made me legit.

Today, I see my son, who is also young for his grade, struggling as well. Kindergarten was not an easy transition for him. He received basic skills help and was evaluated this summer by the school’s Child Study Team.

At the beginning of the year, I told his teacher, “There are no rose-colored glasses in this house.” And while I’m very much aware and recognize that my son has challenges, I also know that he is extremely bright and articulate. Collectively, we just have to figure out how to unlock the potential that I know is sitting poised and ready in his little body.

How am I so sure of this? Last weekend I had the privilege of transcribing a story that my son made up to go with a comic book he had drawn. He had numbered the pages, established heroes and villains, and formulated a plot with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

He just couldn’t write it.

Apparently, kids his age are supposed to be able to write some semblance of words based on how they sound. My guy isn’t even close to that yet. So we sat. And I told him the letters to write so that he could bring the story out of his imagination and onto the page.

I strongly suspect that things may get harder for my son before they get easier when it comes to his school work. But I hope he is fortunate enough to have a teacher that recognizes his unique capabilities the way Mr. Adubato recognized mine.

How much do you think a child’s age influences his or her academic performance? And what do you think about “gifted and talented” programs?

If You're Lucky: Guest Post by Chase McFadden

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Enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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Today’s guest blogger sharing his teacher memory is the amazing Chase McFadden from Some Species Eat Their Young. Chase shares another blog with Leanne ShirtliffeStuff Kids Write. I don’t know how I first stumbled upon Chase’s stuff, but I subscribed immediately.

I honestly get giddy when his stuff rolls in. Chase is a comic genius. He’s got like forty-two kids, and he lives on this farm where everyone is always filthy all the time. Or else they are wielding light sabres. Or trying to dig up enormous rocks. Excellent, right?

I think somebody in that family is doing laundry at all times, but I’ll bet Chase is a good sport about it. He manages to find the rainbow behind every cloud. Or the pot of gold at the foot of every rainbow. Chase probably finds the leprechaun. You know what I mean? He’s that guy with the positive outlook. You should follow him on Twitter @Chase_McFadden. Don’t forget the underscore. If you don’t get it right, you’ll be following another dude.

And that would be unfortunate. And creepy.

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If You’re Lucky

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education.

That teacher who genuinely believes she teaches people first, a subject second.

That teacher wise enough to realize that if you’re treated with basic human values — respect, empathy, and love – you’ll drink the Kool-Aid, no matter the flavor.

That teacher who takes a vested interest in you, outside of your ability to compose an expository essay or identify a poetic structure.

That teacher who is in the stands one Saturday when your team takes down the mighty Camels.

Luck is good.

That teacher who greets you at the door Monday morning with a smile and asks about your weekend fishing trip.

That teacher who talks less and listens more.

That teacher who you don’t want to disappoint, which is powerful, because when you’re 17 or 18 you oftentimes aren’t thinking about disappointing yourself.

That teacher who instinctively understands that disappointment is a much more meaningful motivational tool than fear and crafts relationships accordingly.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who sees strengths and aptitudes in you that you may be unable – or unwilling – to recognize in yourself.

That teacher who gives you the freedom to explore.

That teacher who asks, “What do you want to write about?”

That teacher who hands back your collection of humorous fictional stories, the stories you worked on for the better part of your senior year, with a simple note attached: These are wonderful. You’re going to have the best-written reports in your firm.

That teacher who tries not to cringe when you tell her you are going to college to study engineering.

That teacher who knows that isn’t what’s in your heart, in your soul, but encourages you just the same.

That teacher who knows there are some things a person just has to figure out for himself.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.

I’m lucky.

I had Ms. Watne.

What did you think you wanted to be when you were in high school? Are you doing it?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can 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, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

Not To Be Trashed: Guest Post by Mary Mollica

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That's my girl!

Today’s guest blogger is my old friend, Mary Mollica whom I have known since 1975 when we found each other in 2nd grade.  Mary and I have been in and out of each others lives for over 3 decades, but we really reconnected when we learned that we had both been blogging.

Mary’s professional blog, The Decorative Paintbrush, is a journey where she shows readers how she finds trash and turns it into treasure. (I was recently with her when she found a piece of crap leaning against a building and she circled back to get it, declaring with absolute certainty that she was going to turn it into something gorgeous. I am sure she has. I have seen what she can do.)

Mary’s personal blog is called 2moms5kids and that is a whole different kind of adventure, equally amazing. You can follow Mary on Twitter @thedpb

Today, Mary recalls our most excellent high school art teacher, Carl Wenzel whose work can be found HERE. She’s not lying about his quirky-awesomeness. Note: While I took numerous art classes, I had nowhere near the artistic potential that Mary did.  Some of us are artists and some of us are writers. And some of us are financial guys. 

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 Not To Be Trashed

I remember the first time I stepped into his classroom. There was music playing, and the lights were off. Quel ambiance, right? I remember thinking this guy is either a total nut job or very cool. Turns out he was a bit of both, and I say that with total admiration. He’d probably admit that himself. Mr. Wenzel was, and still is, an amazing artist and, as an artist now myself, I’d have to admit, in order to be a good one, you have to be a bit of both!

Until ninth grade, I had taken art classes along with the rest of my peers. Pinch pots, papier maché, and abstract self-portraits cluttered my mother’s refrigerator. Like most young children I liked art – it was fun – but the first day I walked into Mr. Wenzel’s classroom, I knew things were going to be different. He ignited a passion for art inside of me like no other teacher had before.

Mr. Wenzel introduced me to techniques that enhanced my own creativity instead of trying to manipulate my work into a carbon copy of his own.  He gave praise as well as constructive criticism, which, at first, I’ll admit was not easy to take. But along with the criticism, he always gave a solution that helped fix the problem.

I remember once we were getting ready for the annual art show. We all had to do a piece in hopes that it might be submitted. At the time, Mr. Wenzel was trying to teach us about atmospheric perspective (reducing value contrasts, and neutralizing colors in objects as they recede) and, for whatever reason, I was struggling with this concept.

My frustration started to build.

I wanted to be in the art show so badly, to show people what I could do, to prove I was a good artist, but my piece was not cooperating with me. At all.  

I was irritated as I watched Mr. Wenzel walk around the room casually, giving kudos and words of praise to the other students. I wanted those accolades and looking at the junk in front of me, I knew I wasn’t going to get it. He finally stopped at my desk.

“So, what’s going on here?” He made a circle with his forefinger over my work.

“I don’t know…”(Yes, I was whining.) “I just can’t seem to get the hang of this.” I threw down my pencil in disgust. “I should just start over again.”

“Well you could start over…” he said sympathetically, “or you could try something else.” In one swift motion he grabbed a sheet of rice paper from a shallow drawer behind him, flipped the chair next to me around and snatched a big old jar of Elmer’s Glue.

He plopped down and started humming as he ripped the paper into large random pieces.

I watched him.

“Some of your biggest artistic mistakes will turn out to be some of your best creative work,” he said gluing down random slips of paper to the front of my project.

I had been trying to recreate a landscape from a picture I had cut from a magazine and although the background was wonderful, the fence in front was flat and unattractive. He slapped down the paper over the large fence posts, layering and molding them as he went, until finally they resembled old pieces of wood.

“A paper collé!” He exclaimed.

“A what?”

“A paper collé. A visual and tactile technique you can use to embellish certain areas.” He smiled and his mustache wiggled. “If you add color to these, they will stand out and make the background seem distant, like it should. Sort of 3D.”

I worked feverishly on that piece, falling in love with it more every day. My piece actually took first place in the art show that year and sold for a nice chunk of change. And to think — I had wanted to throw it in the trash.

Mr. Wenzel inspired me for many years after high school and helped me transform my hobby into a lifelong quest. His ability to arouse the imagination and motivate students was astounding. He taught us how to transform the mundane into the magnificent with very little effort. So, now when I screw up on a piece of art (or in life), I remain calm and remember Mr. Wenzel’s words.

This is the kind of stuff that Mary does now!

What are some school art projects that you remember loving? Or hating?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can 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, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

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”