5:50 a.m. I try to wake up and start my run before I realize what I’m doing. Sean stays in bed, letting the sun pink the walls slowly as he eases into the day. Usually by the time I wake up fully, the sun is just breaking over the trees and I’m smiling, halfway down the road. I try to push my distance a little every day, to run the length of that sorghum field, to circle that pole barn, to turn around at that road cut. This morning, I startled a young possum in the ditch and was myself startled by a rattlesnake, as big around as my bicep, curled dead in the road.
I come home, shower, and get dressed in my teacher uniform: usually a skirt, a t-shirt, flats, and earrings. Sean packs my laptop, a waterbottle and a banana in my bag and pops in a bagel for me. At 7:00, we’re out the door.
7:45 a.m. Papers laid out, pencils sharpened, we’re in the cafeteria, watching the kids eat breakfast, breathless from the whirlwind of copying and tidying before class. At 8:00 we walk our groups to our respective classrooms, and teach for two 90 minute blocks with a thirty minute recess in the middle where we supervise the kids on the patio. The first few minutes of class is always a push to get kids settled and working on their do now/bellwork/entry task. The bells don’t ring during summer school, so there’s no distinct start to class, and kids take advantage of that blurred line. Someone is usually singing or building a paper airplane or pretending they can’t find a pencil or paper (I provide them: they’re right in front of you, dingbat), or squabbling about a seat. After bellwork, we get rolling with a discussion or experiment and I get them going on a problem or a problem set within ten minutes. At Lee, I’ve found I can count on about a three-minute class-wide attention span. I’ve got ten at Palestine, but I have more relationships, authority, and reputation up there. I break up the work-time accordingly, so we review problems frequently and I give plenty of opportunities for kids to talk math. It looks like mayhem, but it works pretty well. I did a bangup job of captaining my team to victory over function notation today. The most fabulous disruption of the day was this:
I’m assisting a student on one side of the classroom.
A student asks permission and then gets up to sharpen his pencil.
There’s a commotion on the other side of the classroom from me, near the pencil sharpener.
K: Whoah! he’s getting sexual over here!
R: did you see – he – he – he tried to kiss me!
J: (from across the room) BWAKAHAHAHAHA — HE’S GETTING SEXUAL!
I glare at J and she turns down the volume
M: I didn’t try to kiss him! I was just making kissy noises! (Makes kissy noises)
J: (from across the room) OMG (Makes unreasonably loud kissy noises)
R: He tried to kiss my EAR!
12:00 It’s hot at noon in Marianna. It’s really, really hot. I get headaches and I sweat like pigs would sweat if they could (they can’t). We wait outside on a covered walkway for the buses to come after lunch, and keep kids from hurting each other or sneaking away to do who-knows-what behind the building. It’s a steam-mirage of sneakers smacking the concrete, yellow buses, sticky blacktop, yelling voices, sweat. At 12:30 we get to leave, and it’s a horrible relief to sink into the soft passenger’s seat of the Nissan: a relief because I’ve been on my feet for six hours already, horrible because our car is black and the inside at noon is hot enough to explode cans of soda (true) and melt rubber bands (true). Sean starts the car and we crank the A/C. It roars and sputters and blows hot air like a salon for the first few minutes, then blessed cold. By the time we’re halfway home, we can turn it down to half-power.
1:00 p.m. It’s too hot to work outside. Sean fixes us lunch and I spend a few hours in the afternoon each day working on indoor projects: canning, tanning, lesson planning. I do some dishes, dick around on the internet, read a little, tidy something somewhere, check on the chickens, and suddenly it’s sunset, and well past time to think about dinner. Sometimes, we manage to work in the garden for a while, but lately it has not cooled off until just before dawn, and gardening in the afternoon in these conditions is out of the question.
8:30 p.m. Dinner is usually something wonderful: we rarely visit the store these days, so our meals are almost all Arkansas-grown. Tonight, it’s braised cabbage with green apples and caramelized onions, our cherry and tarragon turkey sausage, and cucumber, basil and mint salad with slivers of red onion. Not from here: red onion, green apple. We eat on the futon under the clicking ceiling fan and watch a movie or an episode of something (Freaks and Geeks, tonight) with the volume up to drown out the window unit that growls in the background.
900 p.m. It’s storming and, inevitably, there’s a crisis. Sean goes down to check on the pigs and I hear him hollering over the thunder. I rush to the porch door and peer out through the curtain of rain, looking for the flashlight.
“are you there, Sean?”
a flicker of light through the six-foot tall jungle of wet grass
“yes but the pigs aren’t. I can’t find them anywhere.”
Sean slumps up to the steps, exhausted at the prospect of the wet, muddy search ahead, and I’m ready to head in and grab my coat when there’s an unmistakable grunt from under the porch, then a chorus of snurfles. The pigs are under the porch, sheltering from the storm.
10:00 p.m. late, cold dinner. Turns out, there’s not a damn thing you can do to move a 150 lb pig that doesn’t want to go out in the rain. Damn. They’ll be there in the morning, the impudent swine.
I am wildly excited about summer school right now.
Background info: Summer school at Lee has turned out to be only fifteen teaching days, and I will teach only eleven of them. Today was my seventh. I am teaching ninety minute blocks twice a day primarily to groups of students who scored below proficient on their eighth grade benchmark assessment. Like most students whom I have taught, they struggle with basics of mathematics like adding and subtracting integers, multiplication facts, long division, operations with fractions and decimals, and reading for comprehension.
On Monday, I nearly lost my stuffing. My lessons had gone poorly, though I’d been on top of behavior, and I was still remediating the objective (order of operations – not even in the ninth grade curriculum) that I had scheduled for the first day of class and my attempt to give them a hands on activity to introduce variables had totally backfired. I’d been gone for four days, my students hadn’t completed the practice that I had left, and they were acting out, tired of doing the same type of problems over and over again. I was feeling frustrated, ineffective, and angry with myself. I felt exactly like someone who was being paid very, very well to knock down a well-built brick wall by hurling herself against it. I felt like an oppressor befuddled by passive resistance (Lee County’s students are students of Gandhi, not of mathematics).
On Tuesday, I kicked my rear into gear and taught a lesson on solving equations, which I love to teach. I tied it so thoroughly to the foundation we’d laid in order of operations that my kids couldn’t help learning a pinch or two of new material.
I had a student follow a set of written directions to walk a path through the classroom, then had the class direct the student back to her starting position. The class intuitively did this by reversing the directions she had followed, starting with the most recent step. I recorded their instructions and had them make observations on the activity (we undid the last thing first – all the directions are backwards!). Next, I had the volunteer rewalk the original path, then scrambled the directions that her class had used to help her navigate back to start. She wound up in a totally new location. We solved some two-step equations for practice.
Yesterday, we practiced order of operations and solving equations for a while, then I had them writing expressions based on stories, which carried us through the day.
“Looks pretty good, but don’t forget to define your variables, D”
“Okay. R = Rufus”
“What about him? His height? His bank balance? How many hairs he has on his tail?”
Today was the bomb, though. I taught a mediocre lesson on function notation, but it had them solving three-step equations with a story. My first period wasn’t so into it, but the second group killed it. They killed it!
“Raise your hand if you can tell me the story of this problem and solution… Okay, A”
“Selena worked ten hours and after splitting the money with her mom, she had $51”
“Awesome, girl. Isn’t it amazing that I can tell you all of that just by writing i(10)=51?”
“What do we need to do first?”
“Figure out what happens to x”
“It gets divided by three, you subtract two, then multiply by negative six”
“Good work with order of operations. Now what?”
“Reverse the steps: divide by negative six, add two, multiply by three.”
“Go kill it. Remember to keep the see-saw balanced”
Crowning moments of the day:
- I had only one student in my second group who didn’t choose to stay after class to finish the challenge problems.
- I overheard two kids arguing about who had done better in my class today. One of them was a consistent underachiever who’d really caught on today.
Days like this make me love my job. Days like Monday make me want to flip burgers. Teaching is awesome, but by golly it’s no cakewalk.
Here’s a snap of Mr. P in action.
Sean has been in a creative mood all week. He’s done some drawing and painting, but, most wonderfully, he leaped up last night and declared “I’m feeling inspired!”
“Inspired how?” I inquired of the grinning fellow, posing like a superhero before me.
“Inspired to cook!” He proclaimed, and sprang to work in the kitchen. These are the best days.
Practical projects make my heart flutter. Anything that simplifies or brightens daily tasks is worthwhile to me. My superhero name is The Obviator. Though it doesn’t really improve the functionality, refurbishing this coffee table was my great accomplishment of the week:
- Crappy old coffee table
- Unwanted maps
- Paint brush
- Elmer’s Glue
- Polyurethane to seal the top
Paint the coffee table, water down the glue a tiny bit, affix the maps making sure to minimize air bubbles, add a few coats of watered down glue to the top, allow to dry, seal with polyurethane. Don’t let your cats jump up there during any of the drying phases.
On Wednesday, we totally pigged out on nori rolls and watched Frozen with Ian. We talked big talk that day about key lime pie and key lime pie ice cream. Since Freckles is our only layer right now, we’ve had to wait a while to accumulate the necessary eggs for these projects. I made the pie a few days ago, and we’ve had to employ great self-control to keep from finishing it off before it can be added to the ice cream (which takes four eggs). Thank goodness we picked up some pullets this week. We are not getting enough eggs.
We were chasing the pullets out of their sequestration in the henhouse one evening (Cappy and Freckles wouldn’t let them out) when a wasp stung Sean right in the nose. His cheeks and top lip swelled up so much that he looked like Hermione’d jinxed him to hide his identity from Snatchers. We drove down to the neighbors’ and Nancy took one look at Sean and sent us on to the doctor. The folks at the doctor’s office giggled over the comparison between his swollen visage and the photo on his license, gave him a steroid shot in the butt and a prescription for an epi-pen and sent us on our way. Sean wore sunglasses in public for a day and a half like a starlet trying to fool the paparazzi.
Yesterday, our neighbors took us for a ride in their party barge on Moon Lake. While we were floating on foam noodles in the muddy oxbow lake, succumbing to our first sunburns of the year and talking about allergies (Sean was still looking vaguely rodentine), Nancy told us the story of her grandfather’s death.
The year was 1921 and my grandfather had just acquired a divorce, a rare thing in those days. He was a bit of a lady’s man, and he’d been fooling around with the secretary in his office at the county courthouse. She was under the impression that he planned to marry her, though he had no such intentions. When she realized that he wasn’t serious, she came to work with a gun to shoot him right there in the courthouse. He didn’t want to get shot, so he tried to take the gun away from her. While they were struggling, her daddy came in, and, remembering that my grandfather kept a gun in the desk drawer, reached in, took out that gun and shot him in the gut. Shot her, too, on accident, but didn’t hurt her. My grandfather, it turns out, was allergic to lead. He died a week later.
In other news, we’re getting ready to teach summer school at Lee. I’ll be teaching Algebra 1 to two groups of kids each day in 90 minute blocks. I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted to teach 90 minute blocks, and I love teaching Algebra. Bonus points: the money is really good and we’re working only until about 12:30, so we still get to work in the garden and get outside in the afternoons. I’m going to try something new where I don’t have rules exactly, but instead I have a poster that reads something like this (shoulda taken a picture: whoops)
In this classroom you will…
Respect, Honor and Support Everyone
Learn from your mistakes
Act like and be treated like a young adult
I like it because it sets positive expectations for the kids and for me. These are better than rules: These are facts. You will do these things. I can give both positive and negative consequences based on these statements. I’m really super-stoked.
As for me, I’m not really allergic to anything, but working out(side) in Arkansas in the summer makes me sweat, and sweat makes me itch and go all bumpy from eczema and before you know it I’m a mess. It’s a great excuse to come in and take frequent, cool showers.