Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Valentine's Day I got a...


(He has no idea that I call him Monkeyboy, by the way.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about how shitty the field of education is recently, ever since I heard that a friend received a bad job performance review and is likely losing her job. I think about how shitty the field of education is on a regular basis anyway, but still, this kind of news fills me with rage.

When I first started doing my student teaching, I was enamored of it. I was working in a second grade class with a darling group of kids from all over the world, and I adored my cooperating teacher. She was so patient and kind with them. After three years in front of a computer at a boring, dysfunctional office where my boss dictated emails to his lover over the phone to me and spent most of his time in the office snoozing, I thought nothing could be better than being a teacher. After all, people who want to get into this field love kids, right? They want to set a good example for the children, so they believe in treating each other with respect.

I first realized that not everyone believes in treating kids with respect shortly before school started at my first real teaching job. I was instructed to treat the kids as though I were a drill sergeant: make them practice the routines over and over until they got it right. If necessary, make them practice during recess. Do not smile at them.

Shortly thereafter, it dawned on me that, just as we were expected to treat the kids without respect, the administration did not believe in treating us with respect. My principal announced a new rule during the first staff meeting: "No one but the office assistant should touch the photocopy machine," she instructed. "I love you guys, but I don't want the photocopy machine to get broken." Wait, what?? A bunch of teachers with an average of 1.4 master's degrees per person is not intelligent enough to use a photocopy machine without breaking it?? Clearly, the 19-year-old assistant was the only person who could be trusted.

My principal believed in humiliating kids in front of everyone. She punished children by taking their school lunches from them (I heard, I never witnessed this myself since I didn't do lunch duty) and consuming it in front of them. She made a special-needs child stand in her office until she pooped in her pants, ignoring her requests to go to the bathroom. And she humiliated us, too: Whenever one of her frequent disciplinary letters was delivered, she made sure to deliver it when we were in the middle of teaching a lesson, forcing us to fight back tears in front of our students and try to go on teaching like nothing had happened. It was like something from a Roald Dahl book.

I've never seen anything quite that bad since, but I have continued to notice a parallel between the way personnel are treated and the way kids are treated in schools. Some schools believe in giving kids a lot of autonomy, encouraging creative thinking, and treating everyone with respect. I believe this is the kind of school that creates the most successful children long-term. They are taught to think for themselves and to be good, upstanding people. Unfortunately, this is not the way that schools are judged; they are judged by their test scores, which focus on an entirely different kind of thinking. I've seen the kinds of kids who do great on tests. They've learned all the test-taking strategies, so they can figure out the right answer even if they don't really understand the question. They've memorized the right equations and know how to rephrase the essay question into a topic sentence. The school I taught at last year believed teaching should be rote, and teachers should not think for themselves. Likewise, kids were encouraged to fill out worksheet after worksheet, never using the creative parts of their brain. Will these kids be successful in life? Perhaps, but certainly not because of their early education.

Education in this country has become a joke. Teachers are criticized right and left for all the "bad teaching" that is occurring, by everyone from President Obama to teachers themselves. If teachers were respected and given support and autonomy, I believe most would rise to the challenge. Why not focus on helping teachers to learn to be better at their craft instead of focusing on getting rid of all the "bad teachers" that are around?? Frankly, I have witnessed some bad teachers, and they are not the people who get fired when it is time to purge the "bad teachers." Instead, it's people like my friend who get cut, people who are smart and thoughtful.

The Onion published a hilarious article the other day entitled, "Report: Increasing numbers of educators found to be suffering from teaching disabilities." It's funny and silly to imagine teachers getting special teaching accommodations. But it's also not completely off the mark. If we believe kids learn in different ways, and we believe in supporting all kinds of learners and helping them to be as successful as they can be, why don't we believe in supporting teachers and helping them be as successful as possible? Teaching is a learned skill, not something we're born with.

Over lunch on Friday, one of my co-workers made a joke about the news that NCLB has been waived in Massachusetts: "As of today, we can start leaving children behind again!" Again, it's a joke with a ring of truth to it. Not that we ever stopped.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


This has been my year of falling in love with kindergarten. I teach a lesson every morning in a kindergarten class, and I find those little munchkins to be so darn sweet and charming. They are excited to see me every day; sometimes I pass one or two in the hallway as they are taking the attendance to the office, and they'll say things like, "Oh, no! I'm going to miss the beginning of phonics!" It's quite a stark contrast to the fifth and sixth graders I work with, who tend to give me a strange look when I say hi to them in the halls.

The past couple of weeks, the kindergarteners have been studying ocean animals. The kids chose which animal they were most interested in -- the options were sharks, manatees, sea stars (apparently they're not called starfish anymore), whales, jellyfish, etc. I worked with the shrimp group. As you can imagine, it's not every kindergartener who will choose shrimp as the animal they find most fascinating. I had myself a pretty special little gang of shrimp enthusiasts (including Ethel from the class I work in, who frequently calls out to me as the class is saying goodbye to me, "I love you, Ms. Heathen!!!").

We learned all about shrimp: what they eat, what animals are similar to them, what body parts they have, how they grow new legs when one falls off, and how much protein they have (a lot, making them a delectable dish; I suspect the kids may have been more passionate about eating them than anything). The kids made books and labeled shrimp body parts. We made a very creative Cray-Pas poster of a shrimp. They wrote facts about shrimp and practiced reading them out loud.

Finally, Wednesday was the big presentation for the parents. The task: to present their shrimp poster and read shrimp facts. My little shrimp-lovers are pretty self-aware, so not everyone volunteered to read a fact, knowing they'd feel nervous about it. Two of my little guys said they only felt comfortable reading a fact together, and suggested they alternate reading words. I quickly dismissed this suggestion: "They'll be able to hear you better if you read it together," I instructed.

After the whale group, it was our big moment. Ethel spaced on her fact, so I whispered it to her, trying to avoid whispering into the microphone and partly failing. Then she handed the microphone to the two co-readers. "Shrimps," said the boy alone, and I thought, oh no, she's too nervous to chime in. But instead, she said, "eat,' into the microphone, and it continued: "dead," he said, then she said, "and," he said, "rotten," and she ended with "things." For a moment I was annoyed by their insurrection, but frankly, it was adorable (and not at all difficult to hear). The parents laughed, then erupted into spontaneous applause.

"You changed it!" I said to them.

"Well, that was the way we really wanted to do it," the little girl explained, smiling up at me. So I told them it was fantastic, and made a mental note to myself to be less bossy next time, and to stop assuming that teachers know best.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Manly Boy, or the Boyish Man

Monkeyboy and I are in like. We had another long date over the weekend, followed by a shorter date the next night, and now we're a little bit smitten with each other. It's fun.

The past couple of months, as I've been Internet dating again, I've been somewhat purposefully seeking men to date who are more manly than boyish. Manly types have their lives together; they know what they want to do with their careers, and live by themselves in nice apartments. They pay for dinner, and suggest dates in nice restaurants or jazz clubs. The boyish ones are endearingly cute and can be more emotionally accessible. They live with roommates, or occasionally, in dorms (in Boston at least). They eat lots of takeout. Often, they're still in grad school, and they sometimes have the bad habit of taking you for granted.

Dreamy was most definitely the boyish type, and I got sick of it. By the end, I longed for someone who was more together, more thoughtful, who knew better how to navigate life.

With Monkeyboy, I've come to realize that it doesn't have to be a dichotomy. He's got lots of charm like the boyish types, but he also has his life together. He lives by himself in a tastefully decorated duplex apartment; his kitchen looks decidedly grown up -- apart from the murdered man knife block. On Friday, during a visit to the Museum of Science, he oohed and aahed over dinosaur lunch boxes and rocket kits in the gift shop. When we arrived at the glow in the dark stars and planets section, he mentioned that his bedroom ceiling is already adorned. He offers a wide range of date ideas, from jazz to a home-cooked dinner (cooked by him) to a planetarium trip to laser tag to fondue to archery (!). And then of course there was the skating date, his idea. He pays for all our dates, and isn't afraid to take charge or to let me do the leading, like when I offered to pick him up the other night and drive us to the Museum of Science.

Like I said, it's fun. And now I gotta go get ready to head to Monkeyboy's in a bit for an episode of the Daily Show and a nightcap.