Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #38

8B Religion. Let's just say it went kinda badly. Ok, not badly--actually it was really productive. But chaotic, and of course my boss observed me during that whole class period. Yikes. But I think it was ok in the end. Of course Oliver threw darts at the magnetic dartboard while the ipads were out (it's like, the ONLY RULE peculiar to my room--don't throw darts when the ipads are out). And pretty sure Pete spent the whole class doing his English homework. AT MY DESK. And other students who were supposed to be taking videos with the ipads instead wandered over to Sally's room to chat with her. It wasn't the greatest. I feel like they really understand missions during the age of exploration, and really I only needed to take about half the class I did take...anyway. I had a break afterward and then 8 Math came in...and several boys and a couple girls just talked right over the lesson. So done with that. So done with all of it. It's winter and it's still winter and more snow tonight and I turned the music on loud and ate lunch in my room.

Because I knew if I went into the teacher lunchroom I would vent. V E N T. And I didn't need to do any of that. Because I have zero filter once I open my mouth. So I didn't go. I stayed in my room and ate my rice cake with almond butter and jelly, my carrot, my dried fruit.

And Pete was at my door then, suddenly. "Rocking out?" he asked. I just nodded at him. Then he walked towards me.

"Want a cutie?" he held out a tiny orange.

"I would love a cutie, yes," I gave in. He tossed it and I caught it.

The next song up was "You are the best thing" by Ray LaMontagne. And there was Patrick at the door next.

"Glitter," he said, pointing at the speakers.


"Glitter. Once you thumb something up on pandora, it's everywhere. Like glitter."

Later, he and Pete and Harry and Ned came into the room (after Sally kicked them out). It's post play. There is no reining them in.

And I left lunch in a better mood than I walked in with.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My garlic and onion problem

As you know (here I go talking about food troubles again), my diet has been oddly restricted lately. Wheat is one of the things that is a problem--not gluten, but a sugar found in wheat. So I can take (soy free) gluten free flour and actually add gluten to it...which I'm going to experiment with this summer. Anyway, soy and all beans are on that list, too, which are tricky (the soy is tricky). And then there's onion and garlic.

I miss garlic. I grow garlic in my yard. It is, in fact, a wild plant in my yard. It grows on its own accord all summer long and I make it into pesto and add it to everything I cook. Until 3 months ago.

I don't miss onion one way or another, but I miss garlic. The two of them, though, are hard to avoid when you go out or have dinner at a friend's house. Onion and garlic powder show up in almost all processed foods (because they are durned tasty after all). And they are in every soup, every Mexican and Italian dish, all over the Irish food I make genetically, everywhere.

They are the worst culprits in my diet (along with soy). I can eat a little breading on chicken, I can probably eat the rare brussel sprout, but I just can't cheat with the onion and garlic.

The worst part of it? ALL OF YOU SMELL LIKE ONION AND GARLIC. Everyone does. I can tell when people are behind me now because they smell like onion and garlic. It isn't entirely unpleasant, but it is disconcerting. Always there. Always oniony garlicky weirdness. Always. I thought it was just my family...but no. It's at my job, it's at the library standing in line to check out books, it's at the store, at the DMV, at church, everywhere.

You can't help it. I'm not telling you that you smell bad. You just smell like something. Which is weird. I have actually started to appreciate young men who bathe in Axe or older women who overdo it with Chanel. I love the smell of mothballs on your old wool sweater. Cheap fabric softener? You're awesome. Because the default is everyone smelling like garlic bread topped with onion rings. Weird but true stories...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #37

I showed my algebra class videos in class on Friday.

It was Friday. The Friday of the play. They were all tightly wound and all but two had finished their house model projects the day before (which was the day a foam board and construction paper BOMB went off in my room; I now hate Thursdays). We had essentially taken the week off in both 8th grade math classes--not exactly, I mean, they were working on a graded scale model project. But it was a week off from book learnin.

I turned on Vi Hart's youtube channel. She's the math gal who makes the videos about Pi vs. Tau and hexaflexagons. She is chipper and lovely and funny and way over all our heads. I showed one about Spongebob's incorrectly designed pineapple house. And that led to a series of folk songs she wrote about a snail and then I said, "Ooh, I have a video I want to show you."

I don't know how my brain went from folk songs about a snail to Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, but it did. I'd been meaning to show them some of this anyway, somehow, at least on our own time, videos in which the band and guest singers take pop songs and change the era/style of the song. Like a ragtime "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore, or a smooth jazz bass version of "All about the bass" by Megan Trainor. They are fun (and always clean versions of the songs) and they totally got it. I finished with a crazy over the top version of "Royals" by Lorde, just sung by a seven foot sad clown.

They loved these. Don't worry--next week we are back to radical functions. But they loved this, and then went down the hall to Spanish, where Teresa was making pancakes with them. Before they left, they told me I HAD TO show these videos to 8 Math. "It will be our gift to them," they told me. So funny.

Patrick and Nate reset the video to the start before they went down the hall. I stood waiting for 8 Math students to arrive from pancake Spanish day. I told them to go on in, that Algebra had a gift for them, a video.

I played them the clown singing "Royals."

They totally didn't get it. Totally. A few of them asked why it was happening (a valid question). A few admitted he was a good singer, but why was he a clown? I tried another. The boys in the back started talking. It was a free time, a break, don't have to engage.

So I turn it off and they get started on the house project. It's fine. Puzzling but fine. After class I step into the hall to monitor folks moving from place to place. Patrick asks me how it went.

"They didn't get it," I report.

"They didn't get it?" he's puzzled.

"Nope." I describe their reaction and he, along with the other algebra kids listening, obviously don't understand.

But I do. Which is why I love those algebra kids. And also why I love the 8 Math kids, in a different way. They are like gnocchi and demin blankets. Totally different things. And I love them both.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #36

"Can you put me on your blog?" the student behind me asked. I thought it was one student, but when I turned around, it was a different one. All voices sound alike during project days with a cacophony of 8th grade sounds.

"It's been like a month," he points out, although this can't be true.

"Yeah," I smile at him. "I'll come up with something."

I think about these 8th graders, heading off to high school in six months, off to their own lives after so long of being a part of this class--whether happily or otherwise--part of their identity is coming to an end and it's exciting and tiresome and circus music playing the background and oh, there's the 8th grade play coming to an end and soon enough it will be 4th quarter and everyone will know where he or she is headed, what classes await them, get to try on the idea of being in a larger space than this little school, another rung on that ladder to adulthood to step onto. Soon.

At mass, Ash Wednesday, I looked over across the nave at the 8th graders sitting with their kindergarten buddies. I watched them playing rock-paper-scissors before mass began; later on I watched this student helping his buddy with the kneeler before communion. They're good people. They're going to be good people.

I wrote, and then read, a letter to my 8B Religion class last week, about my 8th grade year and comparing it, a bit, to theirs. I ended it by saying "go, be good, do good, and then come back and tell me about it."

I hope they do--I hope he does. I am another rung on that ladder, I know, and they are stepping onward, upward, but I do hope they let me know, sometime, how it's all going for them.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For Patrick and the 8th grade during play week

Ok I just had to.

It's the worst!

Conversations with Teachers in Middle School #36

It was Mardi Gras. Crazy hat and sock day. So I wore one of Bevin's wigs and Mike's blaze orange hunting stetson. And those sunglasses. And silver platform heels. Just cuz.

Here's my selfie.

Teachers did a double take in the hallway. In the morning, several students refused to make eye contact with me, it was just too weird. Others said they just didn't want to know why I would do something so weird. I laughed a lot today.

On the way to the office on my break, one of the resource teachers stopped me and made some joke about the red hair and shoes and so forth.

"You know, at least you know that they'll remember you," she offered.

"Yeah, they better," I agreed. "And I'm having fun--it's middle school, you have to have fun with it."

Because why else would you even bother?

Kids flinched when they walked in the room. My new 7th grade class kept smirking and looking away, as if I wasn't aware I was in gigantic silver heels and an Ariel wig.

Of course it was all fun and games until Benedict smacked Ian across his head with his school books. But that was a misunderstanding and we chatted about it.

Which reminds me that Patrick hasn't returned his demerit, signed, yet. It's going to turn into a speeding ticket from Bella Villa, Patrick. You'll get another, and then another, and then suddenly you're in the workhouse for 3 days to pay off your fines.  Hmm. But now I'm off track.

It's a hard year, but I'm loving most of the minutes. My partner teacher made me dinner and once I read the Respect Life essay contest entries, I realized that the best one probably won't win, but indicates a depth of thought and, frankly, maturity, that he probably wouldn't admit even under duress.

I like them. They're my favorites. All of them.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things I'm looking forward to right now

1. I'm going to my monastery in March, during spring break. I haven't been in a year and a half and I'm overdue. I need to shift my brain back to where it belongs.

2. My 8th graders are writing the 14 things they've learned in 14 years, based on my 40 in 40. And they've turned in between 2 and 4, each, so far, and it's so good. I can't wait to see the rest.

3. Tomorrow is mardi gras. It is crazy hat and socks and beads day. I'm wearing some fun shoes. And a fun hat. And it is going to be fun.

4. Bike season.

5. We are planning a summer trip to Shenandoah National Park and the Smokies (again).

6. Girl scout camping is right around the corner. It will be good to catch up with girls again and get some archery in, if it's not too cold. If it is too cold, it will be good to sit in Bright Star and knit.

7. Easter at my parish.

8. Porch sitting weather. Because this is the year we get a new porch. Finally: after 17 years of this brokedown deck, we will give our house the porch it deserves.

9. Line-drying weather. I know that "porch sitting" and "bike" and "line-drying" are all the same weather but I'm looking forward to different parts of that weather for different reasons.

10. My fingerless mitts are half done (meaning, I have one of them done and now have to start on the other). I made them out of yarn I spun myself out of mill ends (Which, alas, are no longer available from brown sheep or wherever it was I got them from years ago). They will probably be done right about the time all the seasons I'm looking forward to get here, but they will be ready for next Christmas.

11. Ooh, one other. I got two paper patterns for quilting. A small plane and a passenger jet. I can't wait. Billy's next quilt.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #35

I am often in two places at once. This is an unsustainable situation, but there's been some transition at work and I'm helping one person transition into being my partner teacher for the rest of the year, transitioning one of the 7th grade math classes into being my 7th grade math class for the rest of the year (and they will then be my 8 Math class next year, so it's in my best interest and theirs to have a smooth transition), and I'm running an after school math lab, of sorts, to help all the students stay on track.

It's been a big month. That's really all I can say, but it is definitely transition and change and adaptation and the phrase "unsustainable situation" keeps popping in my head. But I'm working as hard as I can without losing my cool in the classroom--although the 8th graders have found that it is easier, perhaps, to get me off the rails a bit. They know me too well. And I like them too much.

Thursday, a couple of the boys walked into Algebra and one of them said, "if today is wild, I'm going to lose it" or something along those lines. More of them walked in and I could see some of them were aiming for wild.

So I threw some math on the board. No Olga and Ekaterina and fake Russian accent and goofing around. Simplifying radical expressions.
For real, not with the radical expression answer there. And they lock-stepped in line with me and worked problems out and tried harder ones and it was good. Good after a couple of days of not so great.

After school, though, I found myself in two places at once. I was needed in a parent conference--Sally was part of it, too--and I needed to run the math lab in my room. I had five minutes before either of them began, though, and I sat on the desks in Sally's room for a second to get myself together. And of course Ian and Pete and Patrick found their way in there as well, on their way to slowly making it to play practice. We talked for a brief moment and I went in to start the math lab; they followed. Pete and Ian sat in the back and left things alone. I got the 6th graders started on cross multiplication to solve proportions, and the 7th graders needed practice on that as well so it worked out. I told Patrick to throw some more up on the board if he could. I went over to talk to the parent a moment.

When I came back to get started more in depth, Patrick was simplifying a radical expression he'd written himself. I ignored him for the moment, concentrating on the people there for reteaching. We solved some proportions and I gave them some unit rate comparisons. My 6th graders worked. My 7th graders talked to each other to solve something.

And then I turned to the expression he'd finished on the board.

"Am I right?" Patrick asks.

I read it through step by step. This is the first math, really, that has caught the algebra students, perhaps in the history of their math careers. I looked at him. I corrected something, small, computational, and congratulated him.

"That is super nerdy," I tell him.

"I know, right?" Pete exclaims.

I shoo them out to play practice. I would love to hang out and do nerdy math problems all afternoon with 8th graders, but I need to reteach proportions. And meet with that parent. And get home to my other life. Sigh.