Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 kinds of footwear I own (it's winter, what can I do?)

It's winter. Not a bad winter, not like last winter, not like New England right now this very second, but it's winter and it makes me a little hypergraphic. This showed up in my inbox and I thought, hey, I've got shoes.

Ten Kinds of Footwear I Own

1. Lined winter boots. When my parents gave them to me, I thought, well, I'll never need these. See, Jake and I have the same size feet. We have one pair of boots. I hate winter. I'll always just slip his on to do the few things I do outside in the winter--shovel the porch or take out the trash, those sorts of things. And then I went back to work. And then last winter happened. I like my winter boots now.

2. A pair of German combat boots. Army surplus store on Galveston Island. Somewhere in the piles of spooky leftovers (complete MREs not so ready to eat anymore, alongside standard issue underwear and sailor hats and the German army coat I wear in the winter) were this pair of combat boots, different from the GI versions I saw everywhere in the early 1990s. And they fit--one of the advantages of having feet big enough, well, like I said, Jake and I have the same size feet. I put them away through my stay at home days, but brought them out last fall. Yay.

3. Shoes designed to hide, or specifically to not hide, tattoos.

4. Hiking boots. My current pair I picked up in 2009 and have hiked in 6 national parks and all over Missouri and southern Illinois in them.

5. Danskos. My go-to teaching shoes.

6. Shoes that make middle schoolers comment. I took off a pair of high heel wedges on Thursday after lunch. In Algebra class, Patrick was sitting at my desk for a bit and picked one up. "These look painful," he summed up. But they're so much fun to wear...

7. Birkenstocks. My go-to teaching shoes when I make errors in judgment about how long I can wear those fancy shoes I started the day in. And when I wear winter boots. I also spend most of the summer in them, sitting on the stoop with neighbors. Unless I'm barefoot.

8. An ancient pair of Keens in which I mow the grass, weed the garden, clean the alley, fight with terrorists.

9. Workout shoes with laces.

10. And workout shoes without laces. For biking. I have an unnatural fear of a shoelace getting caught in the chain somehow and killing me in the process. Usually the negative fantasy involves being on the Chain of Rocks Bridge or somewhere on a levee and I fall into the Mississippi and drown horrible, entangled in my bike.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #17: Meta

So 8B's religion class began with two boys asking me what their names were on my blog. And then a few others joined in.

"Why am I not on your blog, but Ian is?" one boy asked. "You've known me longer, he's only been here this year."

This makes Ian stand up and makes those teenage boy aggression gestures towards the others side of the room. I put notes up on the board and tell them there's a quiz tomorrow on chapter 11. I tell them it's open notes.

"Open notebook? Or open book?" Dmitri asks.

"Open notebook. Your notes."

"But I don't have those notes," Frank protests.

"You were here," I assure him. I remind them of the day when they went through the book and created their own notes, writing their own questions for the quiz. Vague recollection.

"But I wasn't here, either of those days," Patrick reminds me, which was true. I start to tell him that it'll be fine, and he says, "I'll just copy Jason's notes."

"But it's open book?" Ted asks again.

"Yes, open book," I say again. You have to understand--it's a room of 26 almost-adults specially trained to avoid work at all costs. It is also loud, which leads me to close the door, leaving us in the dark with the smartboard notes.

"But is it book, open book, or open NOTEbook?" Avery asks yet again.

"Open NOTEBOOK," I repeat.

"The next person who says open book," Patrick begins.

"Open book," Renee immediately replies. He lunges towards her. I have to laugh. The whole class--these people are some of my favorite parts of my day. And these days, I need that. It's becoming a little symbiotic. I need to teach them and listen to them and talk to them and I think they need a little bit of what Bridgett brings to the table as well.

Reigning them in, the boy in front of me asks why he isn't on my blog yet. "But we've had lots of conversations," he tells me.

"True," I agree. "I will consider it. I mean, I'll have to think about what we've said. Most of the time it's stuff that sticks in my mind because it's too funny or weird."

"I have a picture of Australia on my hand," he offers. There's an ink drawing of the continent.

"Well, that'll do it," I tell him.

"I should have some sort of Spanish name," he muses. "Like Jorge."

"Ok then. Jorge it is."

The boy a couple of desks down then demands a name. "I want to be Pablo, then. Pablo Junior."

So before I named him Pablo, Jr., I needed to check to be sure that wasn't the name of, say, some porn star or NFL player convicted of some crime. I googled the phrase and found this picture.

It's some sort of free-form art building mini-kit.

I decided he could be Pablo, Jr.

I read them a couple of stories from my blog while they take notes. I read them from the my 40 things in 40 years--they are going to write 14 things they've learned in 14 years this semester and so I'm bringing a little of my wisdom, or whatever, to the table.

And somewhere in all that we took notes and discussed the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. Which involved Frank blurting out, "Ooh, nailing it to the church door!" and Jorge comfirming: "The 95 Theses."

"Feces?" came the inevitable retort.

Dear Lord.

We settled on Thesis's. Because otherwise there would be no conversation to be had.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Texas Memories

Just the other day I mentioned to Mike that I was ready to learn how to dance. Of course, that's only half true. I know how to dance. It's just that the way I know how to dance requires things that I am not likely to find in St. Louis, in the circles I find myself traveling.

 It would require, of course, to start, an ice house.

An ice house that smells like beer and sweaty construction workers. And exhaust fumes from the trucks outside. Skinny men in too-tight jeans. Girls with big hair who can't seem to get it through their heads that those men are no good for or to them.

Staying out too late and Megan losing an earring. Searching the parking lot with her. Witnessing her boyfriend beat up some Mexican guy. Watching the Mexican guy bring back his ten thousand friends to get even. Tires squealing as we leave the gravel parking lot onto Telephone Road. Laughing, mostly because we're so damned glad nobody got killed. Winding up at Whataburger at 2 in the morning. Flypaper on the walls of the kitchen. Smell of raw beef everywhere. Jason and John and Matt and Louis (not that Louis) playing stupid practical jokes on each other. Going home in Megan's car because the Mexican guys followed us there and slashed John's tires. He's mad and I'm not interested. Police are on their way, and Megan and I duck out.

Vow on the way home to find better boyfriends.

Totally renig on that promise the next week after the football game when Tom says how he'd like to go dancing. Megan and Michelle and Ann and her boy Wenzel and Jennifer and Jennifer and Jennifer and Jason and John and what the hell. Might as well. Staring down at the football field for just a moment, trying to catch the other Louis' eye, thinking there must be something better for me to do tonight. But I'm seventeen and it's been a long time since he's seen 17...and Jason has offered to drive and gotta love that jeep on the big monster truck tires and so I say ok, knowing in my heart when we get to Spanky's or Beer Here or Miguelito's or wherever, that I am not spending one more minute in Texas than I am required to do so by law.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #16

End of the day, typical afternoon.

Eighth graders come and go, waiting on play practice, avoiding play practice, coming in from patrol. Most of them scatter after hot chocolate is poured and shared. This afternoon involved a big group of girls, along with Ian and William. As I poured the hot water, Renee made a comment towards Ian, about how she'd dumped him and they weren't dating anymore.

"We weren't dating," Ian insists.

"Oh yeah, then why did you give me that necklace?" she asks, glancing between him and me. "It said 'I love you to the moon and back'."

Ian turns to me. "She found it in the gym and started telling people I gave it to her."

I let this unwinnable argument continue and I head over to my desk to grade papers.  Renee describes hearing me sing from across the hall and how they all crept out of their desks to check out what was going on. As they head out towards practice Ian insists again that they weren't going out.

"Yeah, I made it up," Renee giggles as she leaves.

"Thank you!" Ian says, following them out.

A few minutes later, Pete walks in and sits down by my desk.

"Did you write a letter of recommendation for Patrick?" he asks.

I nod. "Yep, gave it to him this afternoon."

He gets his kind of grim smile on his face. "I wanted him to switch to somebody else, you know, because you and her," he nods across the hall, "are the only two teachers who like me." We were instructed to write only one letter for this competition. Patrick asked me moments after they got the forms; Ted asked Sally. I would write one for Pete in a heartbeat otherwise.

"Oh Pete," I sigh.

He leaves, I make copies, I come back, Sally joins me. Pete comes back  (does he ever go to play practice?) and says, "Hey guys," to us. We have to laugh.

"I've read your blog, last night," he announces.

"All six years of it?" I ask him.

"Wait, you READ something?" Sally interrupts before he answers.

"Yeah, there's pictures on the side there, so that's ok."

"You really don't like to read?" I ask him.

"No, reading's gross," he sums up. Gross. But maybe he'll read a little of this.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Right Now (a semi-regularly recurring post)

Right now I'm watching old Star Trek Voyager episodes, serially, with Jake. It's better now that I'm older, somehow.

Right now I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have eaten the breading on the fish.

Right now I'm worried about a friend, quite worried, but can do nothing tonight.

Right now I'm planning out a costume for the volleyball game we're playing against the 8th grade next week. It's a little...unfocused...at the moment.

Right now I'm trying to send telepathic messages to Jake to go to the kitchen and get me a cup of tea. Perhaps hot chocolate. Hmm.

Right now I'm also trying to figure out a way to get out of town in February. Just for a minute.

Right now, I'm thinking about an airplane quilt.

Right now I hope my people are ok.

And right now? Glad it's a weekend. I need to recharge before I head into Catholic Schools Week and all that it brings. Hoo boy.

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #15

From 14 years ago.

I sat at my sewing machine talking with Rachel about seam allowance. Each 7th grader had the task of creating a quilt patch with several different angles. They could pick the fabric from my vast quantities of hoarded fabric after they drafted the pattern. Some still had a hard time with the seam allowances and fractions and angles, which is of course why this fit into a math course. The plan was to bring me pinned pieces and, sweatshop style, I would sew straight stitches and then they would cut them apart and pin again to form the quilt blocks. It took many Fridays. It was enjoyable and easygoing.

And then Bao walked in one day, about three weeks in, with two completed blocks with perfect corners and beautiful fabric choices. I looked at him, puzzled. Richard had his done as well. And Phu.

"What's up with that? How did you guys get this done already? You sewed this?" I was incredulous. If they'd had their mothers do this? I'd be pissed.

They looked at each other, puzzled by my questions.

How did you get this done already? Did you sew this?" I reiterated.

"Umm," Richard searched for words. "We're Vietnamese?"

Bao and Phu nodded vigorously. They left the blocks on my desk and went back to their pokemon cards and chat in a language I never grasped, not ever.

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #14

It's a good place to work.

Last fall, sometime around the point I brought a group of 8th graders outside and shot some arrows at a target, when one of my bosses found my blog and urged me to share it, share my writing, share who I am, with my kids, it was impossible to even envision it. More than that--it was impossible to see how it would make my job easier/better/more fulfilling/fun.

But it has. Truly. And here I am a year and a half into this job and I'm finally comfortable enough to sing about it.

Which is what sort of happened.

One of my students, a couple of weeks ago perhaps, asked me if I sang. It was either completely random (we are talking about middle schoolers here) or perhaps had heard me at church; I'm kind of loud. I shrugged. "At church," I replied, and went on to teach whatever it was I was going to teach.

But I do sing--randomly, here and there, mostly in the car and the kitchen, as I am inspired, nothing more. And today I was kind of inspired.

I had my pandora station on, it was my break, I was working on a rubric for a writing assignment I have high hopes for (it's that 8th grade religion class). And on it came, that Ray LaMontagne song. That Ray LaMontagne song I love. And I sang along. Right there at my desk in my empty room.

My end of the hallway is quiet most of the time--I leave my door open for a variety of reasons (culpability is actually one of them, but more than that, I like being able to hear what's going on, what's coming, having worked in places far less safe than this), but most of the teachers in my little pod close their doors more often (actually, probably because I don't and my classroom is loud).

And so I sang along. About halfway into the second refrain, I glanced out my door. All of 8B was out of their desks in Sally's room, hovering in her doorway, listening to me. I giggled, a little embarrassed, and then Renee calls across the hallway, "Keep going!"

And I did. I love this song. It's a love song, but it's also a pledge of loyalty and a gift. It sums up a lot of my relationships. I sang it. Loud enough to hear. Loud enough to know I'm here for a while.

When all of this around us falls over
I'll tell you what we do
You will shelter me, my love,
and I, I will shelter you.
I will shelter you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #13


Last year, this was my third-favorite class. My favorite was pre-algebra, with 7th graders. In between was my standard 7th grade math class. I liked them enough I changed the schedule to keep them as 8th graders. I refer to that class as a sort of tenement apartment building, but with math. It's crowded, 26 adult-sized people, almost every single one of them strong personalities. And I love teaching them. I like my 8th grade religion class too--several folks I don't get to teach math to, but I love to read to them and read what they write.

Algebra, though, is an exhausting exhilarating powerhouse.

They worked on complicated polynomial factoring, writing around the room on the white boards and the windows. I throw some problems up on the board and this happened:

"So then you un-distributive-property this piece of the polynomial--"

"That seems like an awkward way to say it," Nate points out. "Un-distributive property it?"

"Well," I lean on the desk, looking at the answer again. "Last year the term I kept falling into using turned into a bad double entendre."

They don't all know what a double entendre is, but a couple of them do and I watch them try to decipher it. What could I be talking about?

I give in. Because I like them. "I would say something like, pull out the x, that sort of thing, and then Kevin would wind up on the floor laughing."

They start to get it. And then, always surprising, always every time she speaks off-topic, surprising me, Esme giggles, saying, "It would be even worse if you used other variables, like 'd'."

"Exactly!" I point at her. "That's exactly what happened! And it was the end of math for the whole day and so now it is always x. Always x. Sometimes y's ok. But always x."

I watch them go through the alphabet to look for other problematic letters. I go back to the board. "What about T?" Patrick suggests.

"That's another good one," I agree, writing a bunch of x on the board.

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #12

"So where were you teaching when we were in 6th grade?" Pete asks while I let folks write down the notes on the board.

"I wasn't, I was home with kids for one more year--no, wait, I was teaching, I had that permanent sub position teaching art in St. Charles."

"How did you get this job? Did you apply for it?"

I nod. "I applied all over the place. On the archdiocese website this job was listed and I wrote a letter to the principal and they called me that week. I came in and interviewed." I watch the board, I watch the other students, see where they are in the process.

"How long was the interview?" asks Frank.

"Forty-five minutes?"

"Were you scared?" Harry joins in.

I shake my head. "Nah. I'd been a tutor for 17 years by that point, I knew how to teach, I just sort of was like, 'Hey, I'm Bridgett, you want any of this?'"

They laugh, imitating that last sentence.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #11

Ian brought his mom's ultrasound pictures, which was very endearing to me because I am pretty sure when I was pregnant with Billy, Fiona ALREADY wanted nothing to do with the idea. Of course, if she had been in 8th grade, maybe it would have interested her again. No, who am I kidding. I meant to get to it during one of the 3 classes I teach Ian on Wednesdays, but time got away from me. He was on patrol after school and I called his name from Sally's room. He came back and I asked to see the pictures. Benedict and Burton came in with him and made themselves at home.

Talk turned to high school choices, math classes, and siblings. Each boy is hoping to head to a different place next year. Each has older siblings well ahead of him doing their own things. I have lots of hope for them next year. They left after a few minutes later, headed home, and I replaced Burton on Sally's stool to sit and chat a bit.

In the hallway I saw two tall boys looking into my doorway across the hall, and I called over to them, thinking for a moment they were 8th graders looking for someone, or maybe hot chocolate.

"Mrs. Kennedy!" the very familiar voice of Jonas called out to me, as he and another graduate bounded across the hall towards me. Jonas gave me a hug and started a long animated monologue about life in 9th grade, reminiscences about last year in my math class, comparing and contrasting his current life with life at St. Drogo's.

I love him.

Soon it was seven 9th grade boys in Sally's room entertaining us. Seven huge 9th graders.

They left and Sally turned to me. "When they were in 8th grade, were they that big?"

I think back. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, when those boys in 8th grade right now, when, say, Pete or Patrick or Gabe comes back to see us, will they be so huge? Those boys were over six feet tall, almost all of them."

I think back, and concede that last year's 8th graders were especially tall. I think back, too, to when I taught at St. Pius. Students didn't come back. Graduates didn't visit--I know a few of them because their families still go to church with me, but there were others I never saw again, especially Vietnamese boys who weren't Catholic. I count on my fingers with other students I taught--how old would Darrell be now? What could Ahmir be up to? And I realized that one benefit of stability is the flip side of the worst part of stability.

People leave.

But sometime they come back. Come back grown up and full of life and beautiful. If I stay, they can find me again.

And that is one of those things that makes this worthwhile.

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #10

I got my hair cut. Cut and colored and it's different and I really like it but I teach middle school and change is hard.

Many students asked, "Did you get your hair cut?" and when I said yes, simply gave me a weird look and a nod. That's fine--I don't live and die by their opinions--but it made me smile a little because, again, change is hard.

But some of my eighth graders were more enthusiastic. Corey told me he really liked it. So did Christy and Ursula. It's about as different as you can do without being freakish, as short as my hair already is. And one of my eighth graders asked if this new style would still involve bandanas.

See, I wash my hair every other day--if I washed it every day it would be a gigantic puff. But sometimes that second day hair is hard to tame down, so I tie it up in a scarf or bandana in some fashion, usually trying to trend towards rockabilly/Rosie the Riveter instead of tired housewife. Trying. This became something of a thing. What bandana. What color. Whether I wore one the day before and so it wasn't right to wear one two days in a row.

I remember doing this with my teachers back in 8th grade. I remember Amy and I keeping a chart in the back of our notebooks to figure out Mrs. Horne's rotation of outfits, among other things. It gets so bone-crushingly dull to be a middle schooler sometimes. Your life is a lot about waiting for the better thing (high school) to finally arrive. Never mind what high school is like, because it is both better (wider open, new) and worse (like a tiny boat on the giant sea without homerooms or small numbers or known knowns). Middle school is waiting and pushing your way out of the comfortable, and until that pushing comes to fruition, more waiting. If you're too smart to get enchanted with (and bogged down with) gossip and small matters, you have to find your own ways to entertain yourself through long days. Through long math classes. Through...all of it.

I told the student I hadn't worked it all out with the new hair. I didn't know if I'd need second-day tame-it-down bandanas or if I would be able to get away with it.

"I need to know now," he demanded, grinning.

"Ok, I've got one in my purse, I'll get it on right away," I concede, both of us knowing I will do no such thing. I run down to the copy room for the math work that I hope is entertaining enough to keep them from dying a little inside. When I get back, it's time for class.