Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Mean Green Thief

Buddy, I tell ya! What a week it's been!

Oh, sorry. That didn't sound like me. It's just that all stories in my classroom begin the same way. A six-year-old raises his hand in the middle of the spelling test, and when I call on him, he says, "Buddy, I tell ya! I studied, but I just don't know what to make of that one word!" -- or, better yet -- "Buddy, I tell ya! That dog I seen this weekend, he was somethin' else!" To which I say, "That's interesting, but what does it have to do with your spelling test?" To which he usually says something along the lines of, "What spelling test?"

But let me start again.

Buddy, I tell ya! It may only be Wednesday, but I'm just about ready for the weekend!

Before I explain why, let me ask you this: If you were a teacher and you had a child in your class who loved chocolate, would you leave Hershey's bars laying about all over the classroom?

What if you had a child who adored music? Would you play his music so loud he couldn't concentrate on working? In the background, sure, but so loud he couldn't focus?

No, right?

Okay. So I'm justified. I think.

Yesterday, I de-greened my classroom.

All the green -- and I mean ALL the green -- has been taken. Green crayons out of their boxes. Green sentence strips off the word wall. Green icons off the picture schedules. Green stickers off the sticker charts. I swapped green pencil boxes for blue ones. Green computer tickets for red ones.

And all this green contraband, these confiscated green crayons and stickers and second-grade words, they're all locked in the top drawer of my filing cabinet with the other things too dangerous for the kids to touch. Medications, for example. And push pins.

What would possess a grown woman, and a teacher at that, to rob her students of the color green?

Buddy, I tell ya. I got this one kid, he just don't do his work if there's anything green around.

Oops. Sorry. I've been in class too long. Let me rephrase that.

I am entrusted with the education of a pupil who is so intensely interested in the color green, he is unable to focus on learning if there is anything of that particular hue in his field of vision.

There, that sounded a little bit more professional.

My little green-obsessed student has been having trouble this week. And I mean trouble in almost every area of classroom life. The skills it takes to exist in second grade, those are the very skills he seems to have lost over the weekend. Not flipping your chair over backwards, for instance. And not poking your neighbor in the eye with a pencil. Pretty much all the skills you need to practice if you want to be a successful second-grader and not spend every recess stuck against the brick wall beside the teacher.

Which is not my rule, by the way. The last thing I want is for my most energetic students to not run around in circles for fifteen minutes. But I don't have recess duty, so there isn't much I can do about that.

What I can do -- or at least what I try to do -- is motivate my students using what interests them. If it's chocolate, hey, as long as the parent doesn't mind, that's fine with me. If it's music, fantastic. If it's stickers, or computer time, or a coloring sheet, that's great. And if it's doing all of your work with a green colored pencil, well, does it really matter if your spelling words aren't gray like everybody else's?

I think it makes the place a little brighter, actually. A bright spot of green in my ordinarily dreary grade book.

Only sometimes, if there is green in the room, the child just can't concentrate. And this was one of those weeks. And the other kids were pulling their hair out. And, to be honest, so was I. It's difficult to teach -- and especially difficult to learn! -- your spelling words or expanded notation or your reading strategies if somebody is cantering around the room on all fours howling like a wolf, or squeezing his hands over his ears and singing "Slow Ride," or scooting your chair out from under you and laughing when you fall on the rug.

Not cool, green man. I don't like falling on the rug.

At the end of my rope, I finally reclaimed green. I took control of it. I confiscated an entire color. Kids in my classroom have to color leaves yellow. That's okay this time of year, right? But they also have to color pumpkin stems purple and they have to color green traffic lights blue.

It's just for a day or two.

I hope.

Meanwhile, the little green guy, he's working. He's trying to earn back his green. But in his free time, he's also got a project of his own. He's trying so hard to find his missing color. He's looking in every crayon box and under every marker lid. He's checking under the other word wall words. He's looking in the bottoms of the trash cans. In fact, I think the only place he hasn't checked is in the locked top drawer of my filing cabinet.

I'm almost tempted to give him the key -- and to remove the medications and the push pins, of course. I'm almost rooting for the little guy. If I were seven and some mean old teacher took away my green, I would hunt for it, too. I'm very proud of him for trying.

There is a chance that green will reappear tomorrow. I'm not sure. I haven't decided. I want the other kids to get a little peace so they can concentrate, and if it takes having the little green guy work in blue until he earns a green marker, well, that almost seems worth it. Green's not gone forever, after all.

On the other hand, I haven't stolen chocolate from this kid. I haven't taken away a song he likes. That's all I thought I was doing, but now I realize I've stolen his oxygen. I've moved the earth out from under him.

Not cool, Ms. Dooley. Even if it's not forever.

Buddy, I tell ya. I studied hard in college. But I just don't know what to make of this one kid. He sure brightens up my classroom, though.

As for me, I've got some homework to do. Some decisions to make.

I'll let you know what color they turn out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm home -- and almost home -- in a number of ways.

There is an odd sort of disconnect this week between the environment in which I've spent my days and the one in which I've spent my evenings. It stands to reason, since the two environments are more than an hour and a half's drive apart, but still, the dissonance is staggering.

First things first. I am buying a house. This is especially significant if you refer to this post, in which I list the 42 (it's now 44, though) places I have lived. Owning a home will mean that number 45 (actually, 46, since I've got to find a place to stay next week) will likely stick. At least for a while. And my number might not change so quickly or so desperately as it has in the past.

This little house I'm buying from a family friend is precious. It's a small, sweet two-bedroom house with a quarter acre yard for the dogs to play in.

But once we started cleaning up the yard and hauling trash out of the living room, we learned that the people who used to live in this house lost it because of personal problems. And some of the neighbors aren't happy about the change.

Not that I'm happy about the change either -- at least, not the part where someone else lost a home. But my mother's earliest memory is of her mother sneaking her out the back door of their former home while the new tenants moved in the front. On my birth certificate, my address is simply listed as "General Delivery, Mt. Nebo, W.Va." I have been evicted from trailers without plumbing. I have pulled my panicked cat out of a gaping hole in a hotel wall on a school night. I have shampooed my hair in the Summersville lake. I have lived 44 places in my life and I want to go home now.

All of that is serving a double purpose -- simultaneously making me feel guilty and easing my guilt about someone else losing the home that has become mine.

So what does that mean for my house? It means I should be able to move in next week. It also means the house is surrounded by neighbors who may or may not accept me.

In the meantime, school started Monday.

I am in heaven.

My kids are cantankerous little counry kids with attitudes taller than their diminutive statures. But my partner still works two hours from my school, so we've been staying in a motel and I've been commuting an hour and a half to work. Flood plains and country kids during the day. Hot tubs and 70 channels at night. Dissonance. Fortunately, I'm too sleepy to dwell on it.

Between driving and teaching, teaching and driving, I feel like I've spent much of the week in a fog. I haven't even really thought about the fact that by next week, I will be living in a home of my own.

Instead, I've spent the week having conversations like this:

ME (to second-grader pretending a ruler is a guitar): "If your guitar is going to distract you, I'm going to have to put it out of sight for a bit."
STUDENT (pointing to spelling test): "If my spelling test is going to distract me, can you put it out of sight for a bit?"

and like this:

ME (to six-year-old student): "I love how you came in and got right to work!"
STUDENT: "Lady, that's how I come into this world!"

So I haven't stopped to think about the pros and the cons of home ownership in a community that might not initially embrace me.

I'm not that worried about it, though. The house will be great, and I'm excited -- don't get me wrong. But every time I walk into my classroom, I know I've already come home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pub Date Moved Up!

I've got great news! LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE is now set to be published in the fall of 2010! That's a whole year earlier than originally planned!

Wow, I'd better get cracking on that second book!