So today started out just about right for Valentine’s Day. I’m not a huge fan of the day, actually. I figure if you aren’t telling someone you love that you love them throughout the year it’s pretty fake and shallow to get all demonstrative on V-Day. But Hubby doesn’t have that issue so when this came into my line of view (after I’d rubbed the shampoo out of my eyes and found my glasses…) this was a welcome sight.
Of course it’s Friday and that means Muffin Morning at school. This is when the fine women in Student Support Services provide muffins for anyone in the building. Every Friday morning. It’s pretty awesome. We have one student who has made it her duty to come barging into the room every Friday sometime around 8:30am, slide (like the penguins in “Mary Poppins” dancing with Dick van Dyke) into the center of the room, fling wide her arms and yell, full volume, “Muffin Morning!!” The good women smile, (like this is normal, and it really has become quite normal, actually) and offer up her usual selection. This Friday morning tradition is so entrenched in our building that the ladies who work it know their clientele’s preference by heart. I’m not that consistent: Hmmmm….. Cinnamon Apple? Pumpkin Spice? Maple Walnut? Double Chocolate? This morning was a Double Chocolate kind of day, it being Valentine’s Day and my having not broken into the boxes of chocolate pictured above and all.
So I was breaking the top off my muffin, as per standard muffin-eating procedures, and setting it aside for later, when the bottom cakey part is consumed. I was just breaking the top off, carefully so that it doesn’t crumble, a perfectly preserved inverted Portabela Mushroom Wannabe, humming the song that’s been in my head since going to see “Saving Mr. Banks” with friends on Tuesday. I was humming and preparing my muffin for best eating practises when one of my students called me over to her table where she and her friends were munching on their muffins. I sat with them. She palmed her phone to my face and said, “Say something.”
This is not normal student behaviour. So I was immediately suspicious. But, being in an adventurous mood, and having eyed them squintily for signs of mischief, I threw caution to the wind, or floor in this case, it being indoors and quite unwindy, I started singing the song I was humming right where I was in the middle of the chorus:
“…Up to the highest height…”
The girls all burst out laughing. I paused. Not knowing what’s up, quite, but thinking, “How bad can it be?”, I kept singing.
“… Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring …”
M. says, “I don’t know how this is going to work with you singing.”
I pause and between phrases ask, “What is this?” meaning, ‘what is this I’m getting myself into?’ or ‘what app have you got me messing with?” But there’s no time for them to answer. I’m into the next phrase.
“…Up to the atmosphere, up where the air is clear…”
M. moves to take her phone back but I’m all into this now. So I jump up and move a step away. The girls are madly giggling and choking somewhat on their blueberry muffins. I say quickly between lines, “We just have to finish what we’ve started now!”
“Let’s go fly a kite!”
And I hand the phone back. M says, “I don’t how well this will work with you singing. I just got the app and haven’t tried singing into it yet.” “Which app is it?” “Just wait. You’ll see.” The girls all stop eating to listen. In fact, the whole room has stopped what it’s doing to listen.
M, not knowing the song, titled it “Muffin Morning”. And she played it. The room roared. Did you listen to it? Go back and open that link and give that a good listen! We were killing ourselves over it. I’m not sure how Disney and Company would feel about what autorap has done to their song but in reality my voice isn’t exactly silver so I wasn’t doing the song much justice in the first place. And then they had it playing over the intercom all over the building. It became the commercial, reminding people to come to Student Services for their muffins. Can’t you feel the love in that?
After that the day was a blur. Talk to me any day and I’ll tell you it was a blur. But today seems particularly out of focus. Even in retrospect.
There was something in period one about students though … (Duh! It’s a school!) It’s my grade twelve English class. I love these guys (I love all my kids!) and they’re reading novels having to do with either scandalous or glorious themes within a Canadian context. Three Day Road (Boyden), Halfbreed (Campbell), Broken Circle (Fontaine), Piece by Piece (Toten), The Secret Lives of Sgt John Wilson (Simmie), In Search of April Raintree (Mosionier). They got into their groups – today’s grouping was based on the novel – all the kids reading the same novel got together to talk about themes and ideas: scandalous or glorious? And how is what they’re reading reflecting on Canadian culture, values, norms? They had to make notes on their discussions and hand their thoughts in. But while they were doing that I was calling kids out, one by one, to talk about their learning goals for the unit. I like this. This is the part where I get to meet each kid where s/he’s at. There’s never time for everyone. I got to five students today and that’s pretty darn good, given they sucked me into wasting time, playing the youtube segment in which Mr. and Mrs. Banks take their children out to fly kites and Mary Poppins watches wistfully from the upper window, moving lacy curtains aside to let the sun reveal her eyes filling with tears.
Anyhow, I got to talk to J, a student who moved to Canada from the Philippines six or seven years ago. He wants to be able to listen more closely, without daydreaming. How awesome is that?? This teenager not only has noticed that his mind wanders off, but he realizes it’s a problem and is looking for solutions! I am thrilled. I talked to B., the Muffin Morning Penguin Slider described earlier. I haven’t taught B before. Her goal is to bring creativity to everything she does, even essay writing. Awesome! Love it. W wants to become a more confident speaker, not stumbling over his words when he tries to explain his ideas. Another E is interested in expanding his ability to infer (he didn’t know that word, but he knew what it meant and he knew he wasn’t as good at it as he’d like to be which means he knows how important it is to reading comprehension). By the time I was done talking with these five kids I was ready to love the whole universe of high school students. Lotsa love there.
And that was only period one!
In period two I have grade nines. A rowdy, happy, rambunctious group of kids. Typically some kids love English as a subject and some just hate it. Most are somewhere in between. This group is typical that way. What’s atypical about these ones is how amiable they all are. Pleasant. Really really pleasant. I quite like them. We start out every class with me reading to them. Currently we’re reading a novel (Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. See several posts back for more information.) – I read and they interrupt me to talk about what I read. It’s quite lovely. Today we’re at the point where we’re just really getting to know the Hempstocks and how weird they really are. Several times over I have kids raise their hands and at some points I can’t get through a single sentence without three or four interruptions. “Are they psychic?” “They have to be, they can read minds!” “Witch!! She’s making them do things. Mind controllers!” “What?? How can they see electron? Magnifying glass eyes?” It’s very delightful.
This morning I was in the middle of all this when I heard a key in my door. I keep my door locked at all times – partly to facilitate lockdown procedures, should there be a violent intrusion into the building, and partly so I don’t have to remember to lock it when I leave with my hands full. And I keep the door closed because the teacher across the hall and I have a friendly competition going to see who can interrupt the other’s classes more often. The students at least think this latter competition is quite entertaining (“Hey! Keep it down over there!”). Anyhow, I’m perched on my stool in the front of the room and there’s someone with a key entering my room. I ignore it because if they have a key and they want in that badly I’m not going to stop them. So I continue reading. The students also notice, but they sit quiet, listening now to me and the key-inserter-door-handle-user.
It’s Ms.A., the principal. She pokes only her head in, and I pause and gesture her in. She comes in, “What are you doing?” The students fill her in on all the weirdness: an ocean in a bucket, a buried jar of coins, a house listed in the Domesday Book, a woman with a purple tongue, a dead man in a Mini… She leans against a wall and I proceed to finish the chapter, all of us stopping to discuss the growing weirdness. The whole room comes to a silent breath as I close the book before gathering ourselves up to live in this world again. She says what she came to say and leaves.
We proceed to rewrite the Prologue from “Romeo and Juliet” into modern language, keeping the sonnet form. Some students chose to work in partners to a) bear the burden of having to write weird (note the continuing theme) poetry, or b) sit with someone upon whom they happen to be crushing (it is V-Day!), or c) to actually work and put two minds together. But everyone (almost, but more on that in a second here) is working. And I’m putting on hand lotion, rubbing my fingers into each other as I wander around chatting about their work or peering over shoulders. Someone comments on the smell of the lotion. I get the bottle and offer it to her. She puts it to her nose and sniffs deeply, then drops some into her hand and gives the bottle back. I continue around the room, offering it to each student as I go: “It smells pretty strong. You’ll smell like a field of flowers all day! Just so you know what you’re getting into here!”. All the girls in the room accept, smiling, shy, whispering thanks. The first boy declines, smiling, but the second boy shrugs, smells it, looks at the girl beside him who nods, and he puts a few drops in his palm. Then the next boy. And the next. Until all but three of the boys are rubbing fragrant floral hand lotion into their hands. Probably a ruse to get out of writing for a minute or two. But who cares? I loved loved loved that they didn’t care that they’d smell like a girl’s locker room, they just jumped in and tried it. Even R, my rugged very boy football playing roughguy: rubbing pretty pink lotion into his calloused hands. How could you not love a class like this?
And L. You’ve met L if you’ve been following my posts. He r*e*s*i*s*t*s learning. He resists looking like he’s learning. He resists the very idea that learning might be acceptable or appropriate in any form. L is not working. He’s making jokes, he’s rubbing lotion, he’s leaning over to see what the other guy’s writing. T., whose desk L pulled up to, is ripping off a rap-sonnet smooth as can be. He’s got rhymes and rhythms going on like a crazy rapper dude. L has a blank page and red pen sitting on it. I remind L that his Exit Ticket getting him out of class today is going to be a sonnet which he must submit to me before I will let him out the door. He’s clever this one. He notes that he doesn’t like the sub who’s in for the math class he has to go to next, that I’m on a prep and have nothing better to do, so he can just sit here until lunch and miss math! He grins. Uh, just no. I grab his hat (which makes him quite defensive): “Can I have my hat back?” “Are you going to get to work?” “Maybe, if you give me my hat back.” “Maybe I’ll give you your hat back if you get to work!” The class guffaws, “She got you, Man!” He looks at me; I grin and plop the hat back on his head. He picks up his pen. One stanza completed with five minutes left in class. “Two more lines, L, and I’ll let you go.” He declines. The little weasel really does want to stay. And I’m good for my word. He needs two more lines. The class leaves and he doesn’t budge from his desk. I slide into T’s desk and wait for L to begin. He looks at me. I smile, sitting there, six inches away from his elbow, my chin in my palm. No words. No need. He picks up his pen. Two lines later he hands it over, puts his desk back and tells me he’s going to skip the next class. It’s a bid for attention and I know it. But he gets his way and I escort him to period three.
On my prep I help the girls from the SLC organize the Crush cans for the V-Day activity. All week the Student Leadership Council has been selling Crush grams – come buy a soda-pop for a dollar, pick a colour crush (pink- Cream Soda, purple- grape, or Orange), write your Crush a note and let us deliver in period 5 on Valentine’s Day. We had about sixty cans of pop to organize: tape the Crush Gram to the can, figure out who’s in which period 5 class, organize the cans by class in the fridge, put a sticky note on each row saying which class this row belongs to, and highlight the names on the class lists. Sweet girls. Not terribly strong in the organizational department, but sweet. It was fun to work with them.
Lunch time! The grade twelves decided at their last grad meeting to buy the staff lunch for Teacher Appreciation Week this week! Lovely sandwiches and olives. And the SLC bought dessert! The whole staff made it to the staff room at least to grab a bite and say hello. We actually had lunch together. Kind of. In a ‘HihowareyouIneverseeyouherehmmmthesearegoodokgottagosupervise’ kind of way. I head to my room and page A over the intercom. He comes from the computer lab, homework in hand, and gives it over. “It’s all done now? Finished.” He nods. We have our very first ever personal chat. A is often not at school. Something about his home life (which we haven’t quite sleuthed out yet) which keeps him there instead of here during the day. He’s a smart boy though, and when he’s here he works hard – very hard – to at least sort of stay on top of what he misses. We talk about this – about this struggle. He admits that he’d like to be here more. We make a gentle
Period four: Poetry. Browning and Sandburg and irony and satire. Awesome. I love these girls. They just jump in and make discussion happen and are actually interested in what they’re learning and make teaching sort of easy because other than nudge them in the right direction it’s like there isn’t much for me to do! Except enjoy. Which I do.
Period five: Psychology. Group work – they’re working on the various perspectives: Humanistic, Cognitive, Psychoanalytical… Kids in the hall sprawled on their bellies, kids at the computers, kids taking over the tables, kids needing markers, kids actually reading (I kid you not!) text books! But also …. Rowdy kids. Noisy. Too much energy. Last class of the last day before a week long break. And, the Crush Grams are being delivered (“Mrs. G can we drink pop in class?” “Oh, fine. Just this once. But don’t let me find pop or cans all over the room!” I didn’t either. 🙂 It’s all sort of mayhem if you’re just looking in and you don’t know what to look for. Posters being made and brochures, one boy’s making a video presentation, small arguments about who’s better at making power point slides, conversations about who’s going to do what over the break.
And then the bell rings. And they’re gone. At least that class is. M is in the room doodling on the board lazily, waiting for N. The two of them are going after school over to the Legion Hall to deliver the old fashioned Valentine Cards we made for the veterans. Two hearts glued together to look like butterfly wings, with little messages on them, and a lollipop stuck in the middle for a body and a head.
Nick shows up panting. He runs everywhere he goes and if he’s on time ever it’s just barely. He is trying to get out of this commitment without looking like he’s getting out of this commitment. He’s trying to explain to M – very very tactfully – I’m watching him carefully choose his words and his tone and his facial expressions and body language. She’s just as skilled, listening, leaning into his explanation, posture open. Finally she says, “You know I can do this. I don’t need you here. Why don’t you go do what you want to do?” On paper this sounds so snarky. Say it out loud, with all sincerity, like what you’re saying is what you mean, without a hint of sarcasm, and you’ll have what she says. What she meant was this: “I understand you have something you feel a lot of pressure or desire to go and do. And I’m quite happy to take this on by myself. I release you from your commitment. Go on your way.” He totally understood her intent and grinned, a huge smile. “Thanks! That means a lot!” And he was gone. Really. It was like he vanished. She wandered over to the table where all the valentines had been spread. N had put them into a large brown envelope and I’d drawn a huge heart on it with “Valentines for Veterans, Love, [the name of our school group]” on it. She grinned. “Leave it to you to get all mushy.” She picks it up, wishes me a great break and is gone.
Then G is in the door, wheezing, from the computer lab where he’s been for the last 45 minutes after school on the last day before the break trying to get that last assignment in so he can get that credit from last semester. G is often quite sick. He is legitimately ill, with some debilitating migraines. He misses huge chunks of school. We granted him the opportunity to extend his semester by three weeks in order to get in enough work to prove he can meet the outcomes, earn this credit, and stay on track to graduate in June. And there he is, homework in hand. How can I not smile? He hands it over, we chat, and he is also gone.
And that’s it. I prep for the Monday following the break. I make sure I put my marking into my bag. It’s quite a bit: drafts of stories about living in Shakespeare’s day (grade nines), imaginative and fictional narratives based on research about Canadian scandals and glories (grade 12), info-grams illustrating how their own lives can be represented by Brofenbrenner’s Systems of Support (Psych 20). My homework over the break.
It’s Valentine’s Day. I am tired. Yawns-can’t-be-stifled, knots-between-my-shoulder-blades tired. But even so, it’s been a great day to feel the love!