I was going to write the great American novel
and bake the great American pie.
I was going to rid my home of every piece of clutter,
every unnecessary item of clothing,
every duplicate ladle (because really,
how many ladles does a person need?).
I was going to learn to sew
and learn to sing
and learn twenty new ways to cure the hiccups.
I was going to wash the windows and the dog
and find out, once and for all, what that one weird
vacuum attachment is really for
(because I’ve only ever used it to reach
behind the fridge for the magnet that fell off).
I was going to clean behind the fridge.
I was going to clean under the fridge.
I was going to buy a new fridge
and new fridge magnets
and rearrange them daily
to see if my husband noticed.
I was finally going to exercise.
And organize my computer files.
I sit here
with my eyes
and my face
toward the sun
the last time
Several years ago, at 4:10 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, I found myself running up some stairs, down a hallway, through a break room, and into an office, yelling, “THE EAGLE HAS RINGWORM!” Why? Because teaching is a really weird job that often makes you say words you never thought would come out of your mouth.
That afternoon’s strange vocalization was brought on by a case of Hindsight Hearing. Hindsight Hearing is when you realize, after the fact, that you heard something that concerns you, and it happens a lot when you’re a middle school teacher. For instance, maybe your students are working in groups. The classroom is loud, but it’s loud in that we’re-being-productive-and-learning sort of way, so you let it go. You’re wandering around the room, checking in on each group, but while you’re talking to one group, your super-teacher hearing is registering, on some subconscious level, what the group next door is saying. Later, during your conference period, while you’re taking ten deep breaths in a row and trying to convince yourself that the stack of grading on your desk won’t eat every minute of your personal time this week, you hear it—that snippet of conversation from three hours ago that lodged itself in your brain.
“If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll stay home tomorrow, because [Name] isn’t messing around.”
And suddenly, you realize there’s a fight planned for tomorrow after school. And you know you now have to spend the rest of your conference period talking to the counselor and the AP instead of making a dent in that pile of papers.
This is Hindsight Hearing. It’s kind of awesome and kind of just really annoying.
In the case of the eagle and the ringworm, it was actually two separate snippets of conversation that floated into my brain during the day and waited until just after the final bell rang to dislodge themselves and make sense.
Student A- “How is that kitten you rescued?” Student B- “Ohmygod, it’s so cute! Oh, but it gave me ringworm…”
Student B- “Guess what? I get to wear the mascot costume at the football game today!”
Cut to me standing in my principal’s office, out of breath, telling her our soon-to-be-mascot has a highly contagious skin condition.
Seriously. You can’t make these things up.
Other Things You Don’t Expect to Say at Work:
“Could you please ask the principal to come to the seventh grade hallway? One of the lockers is vibrating.”
[It turned out to be an electric toothbrush.]
“Emma, will you please cut Patrick’s heart out?”
[Well, he couldn’t cut his own heart out. He injured his hand.]
[Smiles. Types some more. Backspaces to fix typos. Curses. Types again.]
[Checks Facebook. Goes back to typing.]
This is all just to say… I know. It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything to my blog. It’s been so long that WordPress is sending me emails like, “We recommend you post at least once a month!” and “It’s been a while since you posted,” and “Hey, you still have a blog, right?” Even my adoring fans* have started asking when I’m going to post something again.
* Ok, mainly just my dad.
So, here I am. I’ve clawed my way out of the piles of student papers and located my cute little office with my cute little computer with its cute little keyboard, and now that I’ve dusted off the cobwebs and sent the spiders scurrying, I plan to visit more often. I’ve missed it.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
At school mainly. And at home grading papers. And at coffee shops grading papers. And sitting in my backyard grading papers. I graded, among other things, 174 expository essays, which took me roughly… hang on… carry the one… subtract the sleeping… FOREVER.
It wasn’t all bad though. Some of the essays were quite good, and others were funny. One student wrote in her introduction to an essay about benefits of learning from your mistakes, “Why does failing feel like climbing up a giant mountain, but when you get to the top, the view is nothing but bricks and bones?”
Nothing but bricks and bones? That’s some creepy stuff from a seventh grader. I may have to borrow that image for a short story.
My students also learned about procedural texts by writing how-to manuals. They had to write the step-by-step procedure for any simple task that could be done in less than fifteen minutes in the classroom. When they were finished, they brought all the necessary supplies for their task, swapped booklets at random, and proceeded to follow the instructions. That was a very amusing day. There were students making origami, braiding hair, doing push-ups, eating cereal, drawing penguins, and learning to throw a softball all at the same time.
The most unique manuals were:
How to Clean Your Teeth (complete with toothbrush, paste, floss, and mouthwash)
How to Make Cookie Dough (This involved a LOT of supplies and other students kept having to be shooed away from it, like flies.)
How to Do a Perfect Plié (This involved extremely detailed instructions about “squeezing your butt” so it didn’t stick out.)
How to Reverse Dab (described as “the move that took the world by storm”)
How to Play the Cello (yes, she really brought her cello)
How to Tell Time in a Room with No Clock (This manual gave step-by-step instructions for raising your hand, asking to go to the restroom, and then using the break to check the time on the clock in the hall.)
How to Get a Girlfriend (which was adorable)
How to Annoy a Teacher (This one was well-researched, thorough, and expertly executed. My “favorite” step was #3: “Raise your hand. When called on, pretend to think about a question for about 6 seconds, then say, ‘I forgot.’ Repeat this step 3-5 times.”)
[Note: This lesson was not my idea. I got it from one of my awesome coworkers.]
However, it hasn’t all been red pens and progress reports. Last week, for spring break, my hubby and I spent a few days at a cabin in Montana with no TV, no internet, no papers to grade, and no SCHOOL! Er… sort of. Actually the cabin was renovated from an old one-room schoolhouse, so it did have a chalk board, and some of the original desks, and pictures of the students, and several vocabulary flashcards. Yeah, now that I think about it, that was a strange choice of spring break getaway. But it was beautiful and severely lacking in stress. We saw lots of elk and bison, and I read a lot of books and made my first snowman. It was wonderful.
ANY WRITING NEWS?
A little. Back in January, I forgot to share the link to my story “Reap,” which was published at Daily Science Fiction just after the new year. You can read it for free here.
And last month, the nonfiction beginning reader I wrote about octopuses and squids came out through the Scholastic Reading Club. If you have a kindergartner or first grader who’s interested in the ocean, you should check out the Smart Words Beginning Reader Pack #6: Ocean Animals in the April Seesaw catalogue because it includes my book and four others!
ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?
Um… Staedtler Triplus Fineliners make excellent grading pens. And lukewarm coffee is better than no coffee at all, especially when a student is following detailed instructions about how to annoy you. And you should always stay on the path at Mammoth Hot Springs so you don’t accidentally get boiled alive. And the next time I blog, I’ll try to be a little more focused and a little less covered in dust and cobwebs.