Month: December 2015

The Awkward Business of Receiving Gifts from Students

I just saw a post on a Facebook group about a teacher who placed an ad to sell some chocolates she had apparently just received from students (the picture is of the chocolates on her desk with students in the background –  seriously).  I try not to judge; maybe this teacher needed that $8.  Maybe she was going to donate it to charity.  Personally, I would never sell my chocolates.  I don’t even like sharing them.  As I write this there are four empty chocolate boxes in my recycling bin.  I had a little help but mostly it was all my doing.  The worst part is that there are three more full ones in my cupboard, along with two different kinds of cookies.  I’m probably going to eat them all.  Why must the students give me chocolate?  So much chocolate?  Anyway, this got me to thinking about student gifts.

On the one hand, who doesn’t like presents.  But on the other, a person can only receive so many  candles/ boxes of chocolates/ small home decor items/ mugs.  (The gift cards I’ll never complain about; I am only human.  Don’t pretend like you don’t get excited when you find one of those tucked in a card.)  The thing is, I don’t want families to spend money to tell me they care.  I would prefer a really thoughtfully written card that outlines all the ways in which I’m an outstanding and inspiring teacher or  how I’ve single-handedly changed the child’s life for the better.  (Instead it usually just says, “Merry Christmas hope you have a nice holiday” along the very top, with a total disregard for punctuation or aesthetic spacing.)

Now, before you begin drafting your comments of outrage about how unappreciative I am or how much I am missing the point of Christmas, let me assure you that I get it.  The giver is more important than the gift, and the act of giving more important than that of receiving and so forth.  I make a point of telling the student how grateful I am because that’s all anyone really hopes for when they give a gift, I think.  And I truly am touched that the students and their parents think of me during a busy and special time of year.  But all morals and true meanings of Christmas and things you’re supposed to say aside, it doesn’t change the fact that people adorning you with gifts causes a legit barrage of mixed feelings.

I’ve tried sending home letters to request that no one send in presents, but they always do anyway.  I recognize that people just like to give their thanks this time of year, so I’ve also tried suggesting that in place of presents they make a donation to our classroom library, but even that letter was awkward to write: “I’m not saying I expect Christmas presents, and I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the ones you give, but if you were going to consider the possibility of maybe thinking about reflecting on the entirely voluntary option of giving a gift, would you kindly consider instead making a donation to our classroom library of your child’s favourite book, used or new?”  Even with that letter I think I got one book and the rest were all candles and chocolates.  So I just stopped sending home letters about Christmas gifts.

I’m an awkward gift receiver in any circumstance, but the classroom might be my worst circumstance of all.  This year one of my quieter students handed me a wine-shaped gift bag and before I could help myself I said, “Whoa-hoa, my favourite shape!”  He just gave me a puzzled look and I felt instantly mortified.  I silently scolded myself,  Do not say these things out loud!  Then I looked inside and realized it was hair products (his parents are hair stylists) and I made it worse by saying, “Oh hair stuff! I heard your parents give these!” (because I had – last year’s teacher had told me to look forward to the hair goodies).  The student just nodded uncomfortably like, why have you heard about my Christmas presents? and backed away.

So on the last day before break, my desk piles up with gift bags and the students always insist that I open all of the presents in front of them like it’s a bridal shower.  Everyone sits and stares at me expectantly and even if I genuinely like a gift, I still end up sounding like an overly enthusiastic person trying to compensate for the fact that they don’t like a present.  I really don’t handle it well.

Sometimes I go and make it extra awkward by trying to formulate some sort of appreciative comment about the item I’ve just received.  If a student gives me a decorative object, I feel the need to tell everyone exactly where in my house I will be putting that object (even though it’s usually the closet because my house is already overly decorated with things that, you know, I chose.)  I’ll admit that I once received a candle set that I truly didn’t have a purpose for that I knew was from Wal-Mart, and I debated whether it would be a lesser sin to return it for store credit and buy something for the class.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it so it’s currently still decorating my closet.  But now that I know that teachers are apparently selling their gifts, well, maybe I feel a touch less guilty.  I suppose I could donate the items, but I feel guilty about that, too, because the item was intended for me.  So I keep them all. Ok, almost all.

And then there are those students who don’t give  anything, and I can’t help but wonder, was it something I did?  It’s not that I ever expect a present, but a lack of present makes me irrationally worried that maybe it’s some sort of unspoken gesture to communicate the student’s true feelings about me.  Maybe it’s a passive aggressive F-you.  Maybe in previous years the parents have bought presents but this year they were like, Nah.  There are so many conjectures to be made out of a non-gift.  Of course, sometimes the opposite happens, and the student you’re pretty sure hates your guts surprises you with a $25 gift card to Starbucks and you feel insta-guilty for all the grief you’ve given them and wonder if maybe you were too hard on them on the report card.

Am I the only one who thinks this much about presents?  I don’t know. Merry Christmas everyone.

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The Multicultural Celebration Winter Holiday Assembly Extravaganza

This year we decided to break the routine of the Christmas Concert and in its place hold a multicultural/holiday celebration, since, while our school is not blessed with many things,  we are blessed with a diverse student population and we thought it would be fun.  Each class decided on a multicultural/true meaning of Christmas/love thy neighbour/Minions themed presentation in the form of song, dance, or drama.

In the weeks leading up to the assembly, I think I heard every single teacher agonize over their lack of faith in their students’ ability to pull it together.  There was many a tense rehearsal period, sacrificed lunch break, and plea for use of the gym stage.  I personally decided to take on the overly ambitious task of having my students perform a dramatized reading of a First Nations story.  I decided to do this despite the fact that my class is made up of 17 boys and 8 girls, many of whom from both genders wouldn’t be able to follow instructions to save their lives in a fire.  Like when I blow my whistle loudly three times, the universal signal for emergency, these kids don’t even so much as twitch in response.  They just keep yelling their conversations.  There could be a tornado coming and they would just keep talking through it, possibly while they were being whirled away.  If a plane went down they would definitely be the last ones to know and locate an exit.  I honestly can’t figure out how they’ve survived this long.

To top it all off, I had to find a way to convince my student with autism to participate.  When I first tried to pitch the idea to her, she downright refused in her usual manner by closing her eyes to get rid of my offensive presence and shaking her head slowly, as if to say, I wouldn’t even accept a million dollars from you, woman.  Thankfully, with the help of our E.A. and her mom, she agreed to narrate the second half.  This made for some interesting rehearsals because she did not appreciate being stopped mid-read for me to redirect my “trees” who had started battling with the real spruce boughs I had the brilliant idea to arm them with.  She often just kept reading through the chaos like a train going at full steam.  The other kids were left scrambling to catch up with her which, really, was probably the best thing for them.

So the show went on and it was filled with everything you could want from a school assembly: students singing awkwardly, parents watching judgmentally, teachers dancing emphatically from below while their kids struggle it out on stage, things taking way longer than planned…. It was pretty much perfect.  As my class rushed behind closed curtains to set up for our performance, my students were suddenly very interested in what their cues were and where they should be exactly when, after weeks of rehearsals where I had tried desperately to communicate this.  I wanted to say “Fuck you!” to all of them but I love my job so instead I summoned my teacher super power and said, “You start over there you stand right there you come on when she goes off you don’t move until he does you come on last and you have to remember to howl when you hear the word wolf.”  The whole thing went okay but our narrator skipped a page, resulting in some silent panicked confusion, and my student with autism did a literal mic drop at the end of her part and nobody could use it for the rest of the assembly, making it kind of impossible to hear the last performance.  (Sorry Karen.)

All in all it was another one of those experiences where our staff came together like champions to do something that I think I can safely say was outside all of our comfort zones.  And I would do it again.  Maybe.  Ask me on January 4th.

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The Worst Part of Being an Elementary Teacher Might Be Teaching Dance

I was working on a different post but I felt that I needed to take a break to share with everyone just how much I sincerely hate teaching dance.  It’s probably the part of my job that I enjoy the least.  I can only assume that it’s the bane of many other elementary teachers’ existences, right up there with sex ed and indoor recess.  I would honestly rather have to do art with liquid paint every single day than have to teach dance ever again.

First of all, there’s just no proper space to do it.  Trying to have twenty-five children dance in a tightly furnished classroom is like hosting a rave in a shed, complete with psychoactive drugs.  It’s just really not the right environment for the amount of bodily expression that wants to happen.  So you send a group or two into the hallway hoping to ease the population density of the room, but you do so with with many hovering fears, including but not limited to the principal discovering your blatantly unsupervised pupils, another teacher getting pissed about the ruckus, or students performing parkour-like dance moves that could lead to a liability scare.  And if, consequently, you decide to do dance in the gym like I do, then you have to rely on doing it during your already non-existent phys ed periods, and suffer many location cancellations for assemblies, field trips, or surprise guest speakers (which happened to me today).  It will literally take you three months to get it done.

Even if you have a suitable dancing space, it’s still going to be Richter-scale pain in the ass because then you have to deal with all the drama that inevitably accompanies any sort of group work.  The students will argue about what moves to do like they’re auditioning for Juilliard even though they can’t reliably two-step to a beat.  Today I had to try to keep a straight face while one of my students told me through very intense tears that she wanted their ending pose to be this (arms across her chest all sassy, hip out) but her group wanted it to be this (leg out, jazz hands) and she just couldn’t agree with that!  I actually said, “I’m honestly not sure how to help you in this situation.”

We finally did our dance presentations today, and we had to try to get all six done in a thirty-minute gym period with a ten-minute final practice, because of course all of the groups were in a legit panic about how not ready they were, despite the fact that they spent their five practice periods play fighting, passionately arguing, and doing amateur gymnastics.  I swear some of the groups created their entire performance from start to finish in those ten minutes.  And no matter what, in the end there’s always one kid who knows what the dance is supposed to be, two who kinda do, and one who just has absolutely no effing clue.

Once the torture of running dance classes is over, THEN you’re still stuck with the terribly arbitrary task of marking that crap.  How am I supposed to evaluate something that I have literally zero experience, qualification, or talent in?  I feel like I might as well be judging Olympic fencing.  Who am I to give a student who’s been dancing since they were three anything less than perfect when I can’t even touch my toes?   So I give all the kids who can do the splits an A+ and all the rest get an A-.  Because at least they got up and danced in front of everyone, and that is 100% more than I’m willing to do.

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Dear Parents: Sometimes the Hardest Part About Teaching Your Kid is You

Parents

If I’m going to continue down the path of candor (I did choose the name The Taboo Teacher for a reason, after all), then I think I’ll venture to the next topic that seems to rouse the most animated conversations in the staff room: parents.

Oh, parents.  We are so grateful to you for engaging in the beautiful acts of procreation that guarantee our job security.  We really are.  And if you’re the kind of parent who offers their support, who makes their child do their homework, who writes emails only on an as-needed basis, and who sends in the odd box of Kleenex, then it’s quite possible that we love you.  You make our job so much easier.  But, not all parents seem to understand just what we’re trying to accomplish.  They seem to have no clue what the point of it all is.  The hard truth is that some of you parents are just kind of a pain in the ass.  I’ll tell you why.

You encourage your kid to be an a-hole.

When your child does something that registers high on the a-hole scale, such as being offensive, disrupting everyone’s learning, or just having some sort of serious résistance to authority, we’re not letting you know because we’re bored.  The thing is, we really don’t want to have to phone you at all, for any reason, ever.  So if we’re doing it, something’s definitely up.  We’re telling you so that you can host an intervention before your child becomes that person who leaves their grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot.  We’re telling you because we care.  When your response to our communications is to somehow blame us for your child’s behaviour, we not only suddenly understand why your kid is such an a-hole, but we also no longer have any leverage to help them overcome this life obstacle.  Sometimes it’s hard for parents to have an objective view of their child’s personality, and maybe they truly don’t see the behaviours we’re noticing.  But we wish you’d trust us when we’re telling you we’re seeing them.  We wish you’d consider that maybe we know what we’re talking about, after having worked with literally hundreds of children.  And at the very least, even if you don’t agree with us, don’t tell your child that you think we’re wrong.  Then they just become even more of an a-hole, and we’re the ones stuck dealing with them for the majority of their waking hours.  If your child thinks that you’re on their side whenever they commit tremendous acts of assholery, they’ll never respect our or anyone’s efforts to help them stop, so start saving your bail money.

You do your child’s homework for them.

That really grinds our gears.  We get that you’re trying to be helpful, but, you’re not.  In fact, you’re being whatever the exact opposite of helpful is, but unhelpful isn’t a strong enough word.  When you do your child’s homework, all they learn is that they need their parents to do age-appropriate tasks for them.  You’re essentially grooming a manchild.  You’re going to end up doing their taxes and paying their rent until they are thirty-five.  What I’m saying is we’re trying to help you out, here.  The entire education system is based on the assumption that kids can be responsible for themselves, so if you’re doing their work for them, then you’re causing some serious interference.  Furthermore, it makes it impossible for us to assess their true abilities, and what’s maybe worse, impossible to figure out how we can help them.  And for the record, you’re not fooling us when your child brings back work in perfectly controlled handwriting, or sprinkled with four-syllable words, when they can barely underline a title on a good day.  Let your child do their own work.  Even if it’s shitty, at least it’s theirs.

You’re quick to criticize our decisions.

No non-teacher can fully understand what goes down when you put twenty-plus same aged children in a room and ask them to take on various challenges for six hours a day.  It gets a little intense.  Decisions have to be made, and sometimes they’re impulsive and maybe shortsighted.  Many we regret because we can only understand the consequences in hindsight.  We don’t really get to practice what we’re going to do when a student decides to fashion a turban and pretend to be al-Qaeda.  So your accusatory emails based on whatever incredibly abstract version of reality was given to you by your ten-year-old are frustrating.  It’s hard keeping it all together sometimes.  Have you ever hosted a birthday party?  Now picture doing that with twenty-odd children, except you don’t get to choose who’s coming.  And you have to do it in a room full of hard furniture.  And some of the kids are drunk for all you can tell.  And at least one of them is going to be not so subtle about the fact that this is the shittiest birthday party they’ve ever been to.  And, oh – you have to get them to simplify fractions.  Did I mention that you’re doing this for six hours a day, every day?  Before you host one of these parties, don’t be so quick to judge what teachers do to keep all the kids’ party hats on.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that there are lousy teachers out there who do deserve your snarky emails and passive aggressive agenda comments (“Dylan didn’t know about the quiz, it would have been nice if he had known)”, and teachers who do assign ridiculously tedious projects that they expect you to deal with at home.  But even those teachers are just trying their best to survive the birthday party, and probably all they need are some friendly suggestions.  Because, believe it or not, they  usually just want your kid to have a good time.

 

The Eight Stages of a Teacher’s Sick Day

Here are the eight emotional stages that I believe all teachers go through before hitting the “submit” button in the absence reporting system.

SHOCK OR DISBELIEF

This usually happens after that one really good sneeze that leaves you insta-congested.  All of a sudden you’re wondering, wait…am I getting sick?  No…. Am I?  No. Yes, I am!  How did this happen??  I ate a lot of fruit last week and I went to the gym!  Things were going so well!  Was it because I didn’t wash my hands before I ate those grapes?  Was it that kid who sneezed on me mid-sentence?  Was it because my whistle fell on the floor and I continued to blow on it anyway?  How did it get in me???

DENIAL

Then you try to convince yourself that you aren’t that sick.  Not sick enough to make it worth typing up a painfully detailed day plan (admit it, some of your best day plans are for supply teachers).  You sit and stare blankly for a while as you try to gauge just how badly you’re feeling.  Even though you now have the shivers and your back aches and your head feels like it’s forty feet under water, you’re sure that you can make it through the day.  It’s still easier than the horribly agonizing job of writing out that day plan.  Besides, you have prep, and there’s no way you’re wasting that puppy.  Maybe you’ll do some extra silent reading time.  You got this.

BARGAINING

But if you have to stay home, maybe you will spend the afternoon catching up on that stack of marking that’s been rotting in your bag for a couple of weeks.  Or maybe you’ll plan that social studies unit, or make your math lessons better.  Or maybe you’ll just catch up on vacuuming and laundry so that you can do all that stuff the next day.  Yes, you’ll do one of those things.

GUILT

But you were supposed to run art club at recess, and you already had to cancel last week because you were behind on your report cards.  And now your students will have one less day to review for the math test you’re fairly sure they haven’t even noticed on the calendar yet.  And if you don’t go in, it’s going to bump back beginning the research project that should have been started last week if it’s going to be finished before the end of the term.  Oh, and a parent is coming in after school.  And maybe you’re not really that sick.  How many days have you used already?  Maybe you shouldn’t have used that mental health day last month.  Maybe you just need to suck it up and go in.

ANGER

You know what? Fuck that. Fuck. That. The thought of taking on twenty-five vital little bodies in your weakened state is enough to push you through the guilt. And now you’re just pissed because you feel even worse but have even less time and you still need to come up with that mother %!@*ing day plan! None of your materials are ready at school and your desk is piled with teacher mess and you didn’t bring your work home because you were going kamikaze it in the morning and you just REALLY aren’t prepared for this shit.  Now you’re going to have to spend an hour or two figuring something out that will keep your students busy enough that they won’t wreak havoc in your absence, but also nothing too important, because your supply teacher is probably going to fuck it up anyway.  Sorry supply teachers, but despite your best intentions, you just probably will!  And you really resent the fact that this job makes you work even when you’re in the throes of the common cold.  Nobody else’s job makes them do that!  (Probably not true.)  And, who gave you this cold, anyway?  Was it Michael?  Screw him!  Screw all those parents who send their sick, infected children to school to be babysat so that they can go to work!  Because of them now you have to take a day off work!  And it’s making you RAGE!!!

DEPRESSION

So you slowly start typing your plans but you’re certain they’re really lame and you know your supply teacher is going to seriously judge you because, c’mon, who leaves “make a skit” in all three blocks.  But you’ve simply lost the heart to make them good (because after all, your supply teacher is just going to screw them up anyway) and you don’t have the will to think about it anymore and you just really want to overdose on Nyquil and disappear into your sheets and away from the world forever and ever.  You finish typing your plans with one hand while the other holds up your listless head and you maybe shed a tear because you just feel so, so lousy and this is so much work and it’s not fair and why did you become a teacher.

ACCEPTANCE

You finally finish your plans and you sigh in ultimate relief as you hit “submit” on the absence reporting system.  It’s officially somebody else’s problem, and at this point, you don’t really care if everyone else has to lose their preps to cover for you.  You don’t even care if no one shows up at all and your class turns into a legit Lord of the Flies situation.  You are not going in and it’s too late to change your mind now.  You pop a responsible amount of those Nyquils, make yourself a tea, and maybe even enjoy some t.v. without worrying about your usual 9 pm curfew because you, my friend, are sleeping in tomorrow.  On a Tuesday!

…SLIGHT UNEASE

This stage is not in the standard Kubler-Ross model, but is an emotion unique to the teacher’s sick day.  You will inevitably spend the rest of your time off with the lingering worry that your phone is going to ring because you forgot to put something important in your day plan.  Or maybe nobody picked up your job and your absence is causing some serious chaos on the school front.  You picture your principal having to deliver your lame plans and you feel a little (more) sick.  You instinctively wake up before morning bell and check to see if anyone has messaged you, and you maybe even run to your computer to see who, if anyone (a constant problem in French Immersion), picked up the job.  If you’re lucky, it’s someone good and you can spend the rest of the day more or less relaxing, maybe just glancing at the clock every so often and picturing what your students should be doing at that exact moment.  If you’re not lucky, it’s that crazy lady that your kids are going to yell stories about the next day.  And if you’re really unlucky, it’s a name you’ve never seen before, and you have to spend the day in tormented suspense, wondering what awaits you upon your return the next morning….