Archive for: July, 2010

We Bring the Farm to You

Jul 15 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Our school deep in East Oakland used to be a farm, and the farmer’s name is still on businesses and housing projects all over the neighborhood. When he died around 1910, the farmer deeded the land to the city on the condition that there always be nothing but a school there. There were two child development centers, two elementary schools, two middle schools, a playground and a softball field on the land, but we still got a nice big yard. Unlike other playgrounds, 6 portable classrooms didn’t really get in the way. In fact they provided a nice barrier between our yard and the middle school’s exercise yard on the other side of a chain-link fence.

Sometime in the spring of my first year there, a pair of big fat floppy-eared rabbits took up residence under Portable A, the first in the row of portables. They got in and out through a hole in one of the vents beneath the classroom, drank out of puddles, and spent all day sitting ten feet back from the hole staring back at the succession of children who laid down on the ground and reached through the hole up to their shoulders whenever the coaches were on the other side of the playground breaking up a fight. Within about a week you could follow the trail of cafeteria-issued baby carrot wrappers across the playground to the hole, but not everyone knew about the bunnies.

At this point in the year I was meeting frequently with my boss Lidia trying to wrap up the evaluation process for a couple of my students to see if they would qualify for special services. She mentioned one afternoon that the rabbits were going to be dealt with the next day; Animal Control was going to provide a trap. One of the rabbits had died, probably because an early-spring heat wave had dried up the last of the puddles, so it was cooking under the portable and it was only a matter of time before that attracted other nice plague-bearing animals.

The other rabbit had produced a handful of small rabbits.

We had an ancient PA system whose wires were one with the plaster inside the foot-thick walls. When the large elementary school got reconstituted into two smaller schools with two principals and two office staffs, there was no cutting of wires and giving each school their own PA system. Everyone had to listen to everyone’s announcements, which often came right before the end of the school day.

The other school started and finished their day 25 minutes ahead of us. Our dismissal was at 2:55. At 2:53 the next day, Lidia got on the PA.

“Please pardon this interruption. Boys and girls, as you know there are rabbits living under Portable A. We all love rabbits and I know some of you have been feeding them, but we need to leave the bunnies alone. We need to not feed them carrots, we need to not leave water for them. We shouldn’t try to reach through the hole to them. Mr. Jacques is going to be setting out a cage for them so we can take the bunnies to find a home. Please stay away from Portable A when you leave your classrooms. Have a good afternoon!”

This is what the children heard:

Blah blah blah blah blah RABBITS blah blah PORTABLE A blah WE ALL LOVE RABBITS blah blah blah BUNNIES blah blah blah FEED THEM CARROTS blah blah LEAVE WATER FOR THEM blah blah blah REACH THROUGH THE HOLE blah blah blah TAKE THE BUNNIES blah HOME blah blah blah HAVE A GOOD AFTERNOON.”

Then the bell rang.

By the time I had checked all twenty cubbies, shut the door and crossed to my bank of windows facing the yard, all two hundred sixty of our children and about 50 kids from the other school’s after school program had sprinted across the playground and crowded around the side of the portable. Mr. Jacques was trying to swim through them, holding aloft a medium-sized Havahart trap. After several minutes and a lot of whistle blowing enough kids dispersed that he was able to affix it to the portable’s frame.

Early the next morning the other principal’s truck and Animal Control were parked on the playground to block everybody’s view of the box full of live rabbits and the disposal of what was left of the dead one.

Ever wonder what teachers do when they get together for holiday parties? We drink pitchers of margaritas and re-enact this stuff. Including the crowd-surfing.

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Don’t Call it Cake

Jul 14 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

This is the story of what happened the very first day I had a sub. Which means the following adventure was related to me by my principal.

It was sometime in October. Because I had been hired so late, I had to do about 40 hours of trainings on the weekends the first several weeks of school in Sacramento, two hours away. These trainings were essential for brand new teachers who needed to get familiar fast with entire shelves full of curricular materials, but they were exhausting. Many, many first-year teachers had to do these weekend trainings on top of the seventy hours per week they were already pulling as first-year teachers or the fifty hours per week you’d pull if you were experienced but new to your grade level. My language arts coach Naomi told me I should take a personal day once the trainings were complete, so I sweated out some overly detailed sub plans and slept all day Tuesday.

When I came back on Wednesday morning there were 17 names on the board, but I had sort of expected that. I had a pretty active group (euphemistically speaking) and I hadn’t found my authority yet, so of course they weren’t going to behave for the sub. They hadn’t even made up their minds whether they were going to listen to me yet. But then Lidia, my boss, asked me to step into her office after school.

I never, ever got sent out of class the whole time I was growing up, except for the time I threw up all over my desk, my jacket, Glenys Rodeback’s shoes, and the sheaf of spelling tests I had just collected in 4th grade. So I still had all this principal’s office anxiety stored up, ripening since kindergarten. I don’t know if I’ll ever not freak out when I get called to the principal’s office. This was made even worse by the fact that she pushed the door shut as soon as I sat down.

The people who built that school in the thirties knew what they were doing; the main office at our site was around the corner from the boys’ bathroom. If Lidia’s office door was open and there was skullduggery going on in the boys’ room, she could be there in about four seconds. While I was face-down in my pillow and my sub was wondering why there were suddenly only 14 kids in the classroom, Lidia heard the unmistakable sounds of several boys behaving badly. Recognizing the voices of three of my students, she made the executive decision to walk in and see what the hell was going on.

Boys’ bathrooms have urinals. Urinals have urinal deodorizer blocks, also called urinal cakes, or urinal mints, or (my husband tells me) hockey pucks. A urinal deodorizor block, for all you girls out there, is a thing that sits in the bottom of the urinal trough to deal with the odor, because boys don’t always flush. Urinal cakes don’t sterilize anything or deodorize the pee; they evaporate long-chain esters into the air to block up your nasal receptors. These nasty inventions look sort of like a big bar of crumbly soap, and sort of like a giant chewy Sweet Tart. According to Wikipedia, the most common scent is cherry.

My champion instigator, Aidan, was in there, along with his disciple Noryb. Aidan dropped the evidence as soon as the law arrived, but there wasn’t much of the piss biscuit left to drop, because it was all over both of them. Shirts. Pants. Arms. Faces.


(I should note that at this point in the narrative Lidia and I were both hysterical. I was wiping tears from my eyes and she was in full-on standup mode. We were bonding.)

A small movement in the corner of the bathroom, and Lidia turned to see Matata. He had been standing very still in the (until then realistic) hope that she wouldn’t see him, but he had made the critical path error of attempting to edge toward the door while Lidia was still in the discovery phase. He wouldn’t have made it very far in any case, because he had a nickel-sized chunk of urinal deodorizer block smooshed onto his forehead.

Now, if you were Lidia, would you waste time asking, “WHAT THE CRAP JUST HAPPENED?” Do you think you’d get the same story out of all three of them? So we never really found out whose idea it was to try the peepee bonbon, but my money’s on Aidan. Nothing – nothing grossed him out, and he had a thing for seriously misbehaving in the bathroom. A lot of really super-damaged kids do.

We had a variety of hand-sanitizer products on hand, and because it was the beginning of the year there were extra uniform shirts laying around. Lidia found some extra-long gloves in the custodian’s office, made the three cherry-scented miscreants take sponge baths in her office using Purell wipes, bagged up their clothes, gave them fresh uniform shirts to wear, made three phone calls and suspended them for the rest of the day. Then she had to find the custodian.

I love teaching, and I love schools. I never want to be a principal.

So after I wiped my eyes and staggered out of her office, I ran into the three custodians in the hallway. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a professor when I was getting my credential was this: The custodian is your best friend. Never fall out of their good graces. I told them that the three kids who destroyed the bathroom yesterday were mine, apologized again and again, and made a mental note to pick up a box of donuts on the way in the next morning. They had all seen much worse, and told me not to worry about it, kids come up with incredibly gross ways to avoid class. I began to ask, “What would possess a kid to pick up a urinal cake-”

In one voice, the three custodians cut me off: “Don’t call it cake.”

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The Story of the Name

Jul 13 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

While we were setting up this blog, the guy at our hosting service wouldn’t even say its name. He kept referring to it as, “Uh, your new site.” I think the only fun thing about working at a hosting service would be the permission to say some of those crazy domain names out loud. But since it’s a name someone called my personal self once, I own it. It’s mine. I claim ownership of my retarded crackerhood because it’s true.

About five years ago I was on my second student teaching assignment. The first one had been 17 weeks in Hayward, west of 880. I thought it was a ghetto. I was wrong. Retarded crackers think they work in the ghetto, but if you really work in the ghetto you’re too busy dealing with the ghetto shit to actually stop and think, “Hey, look at me! I work in a ghetto!”

My second student teaching assignment was in Emeryville, which is a little city between Oakland and Berkeley. It’s not a ghetto either. It was originally a giant tax shelter for the railroad. Now it’s where Pixar’s quarter-billion dollar campus is. It’s also where LeapFrog and Peet’s Coffee is headquartered, and the pharmaceutical giant Chiron has a big campus there too.

Nobody who worked at Pixar or Chiron or Peet’s or LeapFrog sent their kids to public school in Emeryville.

I was in a portable classroom with my master teacher and thirty 5th graders. About a week into the school year, we suddenly became a 4/5 combination class, because the 4th grade was over-enrolled. My master teacher, who had seen just about everything and looped back and forth between 4th and 5th grade anyway, rolled with it. But it made me a little frantic.

There was this kid named Clarence, who never smiled. He had the Mr. T scowl down. He was also one of those kids who drew while he listened. (Much later I read some research about fidgeting and doodling. Some people, kids and adults, listen better if they are allowed to move some muscles while they listen. But I didn’t know that then, because I was new.) I decided, on that hot September day, to get on him about the doodling. So I got next to him and whispered in his ear, “Pay attention.”

Clarence rolled his eyes and set down his pencil. But since he was a doodler, he was back at it within a few seconds. So I whispered in his other ear. This time he kept the pencil in his hand and stage-whispered, “I AM.”

Brief staring contest.

I returned to the back of the classroom, but by now neither of us were paying attention to the lesson. I was waiting for him to start doodling again, and he was waiting for me to get up in his grill again. The third time I didn’t even say anything, he just shouted at me “I WAS LISTENING, YOU RETARDED CRACKER!”

They have a lot of student teachers come through that elementary school. It’s possible I was his ninth or tenth student teacher. He was done with them, and he spoke the truth.

Unfortunately the truth didn’t set anyone free that day. The master teacher suspended him immediately. He burst into tears and protested the injustice. It sucked. I fell for the drama and felt terrible. My master teacher lost ten minutes of instruction dealing with it and I made a kid permanently hate me, or so I thought. Retarded cracker indeed.

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