Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school here in this quaint little Midwest town. Of course, I wasn't involved in the first day happenings at any of the schools here since I'm leaving town in a week, but many of my friends work. And given that classes started today, it got me thinking about what the first day of school is like.

For one thing, the first day of school isn't really the first day of school. Now, in the week before the first day, there's Open House. I remember Open House when I was little - it was usually a time to briefly meet your teacher, walk through the school, then leave. Other times, there was no Open House--at least not until after school started, and then a week or two later, Mom and Dad came to visit and see the classroom and the art projects on the wall, because Open House was a time for parents to see what the school was like. Now, Open House is a mini first day. At some schools, it's an evening affair--at the school I worked at, it was a day-long event. Students and their families popped by whenever they wanted, regardless of when teachers were trying to eat lunch, plan, set up the classroom, or trying to go home and escape the frenzy because, by God, we were all off work twenty-five minutes ago. Anyway. Kids show up, meet the teachers, make their name tags, choose a cubby, play with books and toys, make some art projects, visit the playground... all things that, when I was a child, we did on the first day of school.

When the first day of school does roll around, though, the kids still have their nervous jitters. Off they go to school--usually with parents in tow.
Now, I noticed that there were different types of parents on the first day.

1. The Picture Taker
This parent was usually dropping off a kindergartner (preschool parents didn't mind so much - they didn't really consider preschool school, it was just a place to drop off kids for the day) or a student new to that particular school. The camera was out. Flashbulbs were flashing. A constant stream of, "Jack, look over here! Jack, smile! Smile for me, Jack! Jack, look at the camera! Jack, go stand by your teacher--now look at Mommy--yes--yes, that's good. Oh, just one more. Stand there by your cubby. Stand by the window. Smile. Smile. SMILE."

2. The Worrier
This parent fussed. You all know the type: the mother (the fathers never fuss) who crouches down and licks her finger to clean her child's face, fiddles with his jacket, fixes his hair... she attends to any number of minute details on her child before finally, reluctantly, letting him venture into the classroom looking a bit shell shocked.

3. The Questioner
The Questioner parent approaches the teacher with seemingly no regard for the tight schedule teachers keep in their classroom. This parent proceeds to fire off a string of roughly five million questions, ranging from What will you be doing today? to Now, tell me, what happens if there's a fire, an earthquake, and a tornado all at once? It usually takes intervention from another teacher, another parent, or a crying student to allow the beleaguered teacher to escape The Questioner.

4. The Lingerer
The Lingerer, well, lingers. This parent doesn't want to leave his or her child. Both mothers and fathers are notorious lingerers, especially for children who are new to school. Where I worked, since we had observation booths, lingering could get really bad. On the first day, a good fifteen parents would cram themselves into this tiny booth and watch their children sit through morning meeting... and the beginning of Literacy (a glorified reading and writing time)... and sometimes the beginning of recess. The worst of the lingerers would leave for a bit, and then return at lunch time. Listen up, Lingerers: your child will be okay. I know it's hard to cut the cord and leave them alone at school, especially that first time, but you need to do it. Your child needs to learn to be independent, and if you're hovering in the classroom all morning and personally bringing them lunch, they won't learn to stand on their own two feet. They will also be teased for having their mom or dad watching them all day long. Lingering for about ten minutes at the start of the very first day is considered okay, and after that, the teacher wants you to leave. You are infringing on the teacher's authority and teaching capabilities by hovering.

5. And last, but not least, the Leavers
The Leavers do just that: they leave. These are the parents who pull up to the curb, kiss their kids on the cheek, and then drive away. They trust that their child will be fine in school, so after a quick wave, they're off to work or pilates or whatever they do during the day. This parent returns on time to pick their child up at the end of the day, waves merrily at the teacher, and heads home.

While there are many types of parents, the kids seem to be pretty much the same. They're nervous. They want to make friends. They smile a bit at each other and sit quietly in the classroom, listening to the teacher, hoping it's going to be a good school year. They want to succeed. I have yet to meet a child who really wants to fail.

So for the students, when the end of the day comes, they have hopefully survived in one piece and come out of their shells. The second day of school is always easier, and their personalities start to shine through. All they need to know is that their teacher is okay, they have friends, and they're all set.


The Peanut Problem

When I was a child, my younger brother was diagnosed with a deadly peanut allergy. Ingesting peanuts, touching the oil, or breathing in the dust from peanut shells would send him into anaphylactic shock and probably kill him. Because of this, we had a strict set of rules to obey: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich required two knives, one for each jar; everything had to be washed to keep peanut oil off of surfaces. My brother had to ask a friend if something contained peanuts before they traded or shared. He learned to read labels. We went through his Halloween candy and picked out anything with peanuts, which meant more Reese's for me.

And that was how it went. My brother never ran into trouble with the peanut allergy; his asthma and his animal allergies were more of a concern.

Now that I'm in a job that has me back in elementary schools, I've noticed a weird and slightly disturbing trend: the presence of the "nut-free zone." Classrooms are labeled "nut free." Certain isolated tables are labeled "peanut free." While I can appreciate a concern for an allergic child's well-being, why have peanut allergies been so blown out of logical proportion?

I recently had two epic peanut freakouts happen in the same day. The first went thusly:

It was the first day of an AAW where kids are encouraged to bring a snack. The first arrival has a trail mix snack that includes peanuts. Mother says that she knows peanut allergies are a problem and asks if we have an allergic child. Our rosters normally display any of this allergy information. Seeing that we had 22 healthy kids, we allowed the child to have his peanut snack.

Unfortunately, we had incomplete rosters. The second child to come in had a parent bearing an epi-pen and explaining very slowly that her angel has a peanut allergy and if she comes near peanuts she will surely die, and you'd better be trained in administering an epi-pen. We explained that this other child had a peanut snack but, knowing about nut-free tables, we said that we would sit her on the other side of the room and make sure the area was washed. The mother started to hyperventilate and tears filled her eyes. "That's just not acceptable," she said.

Not acceptable? My brother grew up with the same allergy and if I had a peanut butter sandwich, he could sit at the same table as me. He just knew he wasn't allowed to touch my damn sandwich. We were telling this mother that the child would be sitting at a separate table, which is exactly what's done in cafeterias these days. No more, no less.

We then conceded that we would split the room in half and have half the group go into another room to eat snack, while the peanut-contaminated child sat with the other half to eat. Even this wasn't good enough, but we finally got the mom to agree to this. She still looked ready to sob her eyes out, and asked us to make sure everyone washed their hands and the tables were cleaned.

Needless to say, nobody died that day.

I'd think this is just an isolated incident of parental paranoia but that evening I had a similar issue:

I was working the box office for a children's theatre performance when a young mother of a five-year-old girl came up to me. She had the same symptoms of the mother earlier in the day: glassy, watery eyes, shortness of breath, a panicked expression. She came to me to complain about the number of peanut candies that were offered at our concessions stand, and said there were more than last year, and if we're going to sell candy at a children's theatre, how dare we sell peanut candies! Because, she reasoned, if a strange child she doesn't know sits next to her peanut-allergic angel, and that strange child has a Reese's, her child will breathe in Peanut Fumes or the strange child will wipe his sticky Peanut Hands all over her and she will die. She was requesting a peanut-free section of the theater or for us to stop offering peanuts altogether.

Are you fucking serious? Would you go to the Cineplex and tell them to stop offering peanut items because children might be allergic? If your child has a chocolate allergy, do you do the same thing? Where the hell do you get the gall?

I understand that a peanut allergy is a serious one. It can kill your child. It can kill my little brother. I grew up in that environment. Has the peanut allergy gotten so much worse in the last 20 years?

Honestly, I don't think it has. In fact, I'd be willing to bet it hasn't. I'm going to blame the media on this one. Yes, a peanut allergy is deadly. So are a lot of other things. There have been so many horror stories about peanut allergies in recent years that it's sending new, frightened parents into a frenzy. If we were publicizing a deadly horse allergy or a deadly pickle allergy, we'd have a similar problem. Parents of young children are the worst kind of crazy and the media feeds on it. You can't turn on the news anymore without a story of a child dying because of this, that, or the other thing. Parents are scared. Unfortunately, we're also growing up in a time where lawsuits and making the Establishment solve your problems take precedence over personal responsibility. When I was a kid, it was all about teaching a child to read labels and how to handle themselves in a peanut-filled world. Nowadays, it's all about vilifying peanuts and all peanut products. It's about ostracizing kids who are allergic and making them sit at separate tables. It's about making kids who like peanut butter feel like bad people because they might kill their best friend. It's about laying the responsibility on everyone else instead of yourself and your child. Blame the schools, blame the food manufacturers, blame other kids and other parents. You force them to step up but don't take any steps yourself to make your child self-reliant.

It's necessary to tell school employees, camp counselors, and anyone who will be dealing with your child about any allergies your child may have, particularly if they're severe. On the other hand, it is not our responsibility to change the rules for your kid and change things for everyone else unless things are so bad that your kid will die otherwise. And if that really is the case, you might want to consider locking up your kid and never letting her go outside of her sterile, perfect environment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's a-me, the new author!

Hello, hello chickadees! As Kait has already said, I'm Lauren - we went to school together, etc. etc. For the past two years, I've worked at a private school in the Midwest that was, frankly, a pretty interesting location. The school was run by and built on a college campus. Each of the classrooms was outfitted with an observation booth to allow the Education students to observe the children and teachers, thus learning about how classrooms operate. While I wasn't one of the teachers, I was an aide and, over the course of two years, worked in every classroom: three preschool classrooms, one multiage K-5 classroom.

Most of my stories come from the K-5 class or from the preschool room I was stationed in during my last four months working at the school. Unlike the other classrooms, which were full-day 8:00-3:00 classes, this preschool room was two separate classes: one in the morning for 2-3 year-olds, one in the afternoon for 4-5 year-olds who just weren't quite ready for Kindergarten.

Anyway, enough of that. Kait pointed out that neither of us set out to work with children, and that's true. In college, I majored in English with the goal of becoming a full-time writer. This is still my ultimate goal, but in the meantime, I sure like having a regular paycheck. In fact, while at school, I distinctly remember disliking the Education majors, because it seemed like quite a few of them were, well, really dumb. (Obviously not all Education majors are like this, but at my school? Hell yes, they were.)

Regardless, I ended up working with kids, and I'm even planning on pursuing teacher certification when I move down to Texas in a week or so. It's a nice life, I enjoy the sense of helping kids learn about the world in which they live, and really? It's an awesome feeling when a kid comes up to you to tell you that you're their favorite teacher.

While quite a few of the stories I have to share are critical of the US Education system, there are many that aren't. People need to know what it's like for children inside schools--the good and the bad.

That being said, since I did work in one location for two years and bonded with many of the kids and their parents, I won't be using any real names in my stories, whether for the kids, the college students, or the administration. If ever a name is mentioned, it will be fake.

So, that's enough of an introduction, I think. I'll be posting again soon with stories about pretty much everything you can imagine, including magic and dragons. Oh yes. :) For now, signing out.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

End of Summer

Due to a death in the family yesterday, my last camp (overlapping with the 3-day camp I just completed) is being taken over by another instructor. The funeral is Friday, which means he would have done the overlap (Wednesday) and the final day (Friday)... so he's agreed to just do all of it.

So, it's the end of the summer for me. I just completed my last AAW for the year. Unfortunately this means I won't be getting a lot of work until afterschool programs start up in September. Hopefully my other job will keep me able to pay rent and, y'know, eat. The AAWs keep me making a lot of money. Afterschool programs don't pay nearly as well, and there are six-week lulls between sessions. Hrn.

I said goodbye to rockets and aerodynamics camp and to my last crop of kids, the scary-quiet ones. They were less scary-quiet once the 13-year-old egged them all on. He continued to touch shit on my table today, including the combustible rocket engines... sticking them between his fingers like Wolverine claws, sneaking his tennis ball back after I confiscated it, etc. I rarely have a kid that I want to punch so much as someone who just looks me in the eye with this innocent face while he breaks a rule directly after I tell him no.

Other than that, we had a successful day, a good launch, beautiful weather. I'm exhausted, though. My aunt's death and the crazy August heat kept me up until 3:30 AM, and I only BARELY made it to camp for 9 (starting time) instead of 8:30 (setup time) after a snooze-button accident and getting stuck behind a slow truck on windy boondock roads. I'm hopped up on as much caffeine as I can muster which APPARENTLY actually works, and I have to go teach at the youth theatre tonight.

In fact, that's where I'm off to now. I haven't been there in what feels like weeks due to work (this youth theatre gig is volunteer and family-run). I miss it but I feel SO out of the loop. Can't wait to come home tonight and crash.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adding a Co-Author!


While this blog is still shiny and new I've decided to add a co-author. Lauren and I went to college together and were post-college roommates before I moved back to my home state. With a BA in English, she ended up in a similar route: working at a teacher's aide at the college's lab school for elementary-age kids, used to train Education students. Never intended to work with kids, but bam. That's where she ended up. Her situation is intensely similar to mine but she offers another aspect: while I work with extracurricular programs and entertainment, traveling around to all different schools and dealing with parks & rec departments and parents-as-clients, Lauren worked in a school during school hours and observed that single school for a long period of time. I think together we can offer two sides of the same coin.

I leave her to introduce herself, and she and I will post... whenever we can.

- Kait

Boys Like Trucks & Guns... Mostly

It's a long-held fact that little girls and little boys are different. Little girls are supposed to play with Barbies, My Little Ponies, and Easy-Bake Ovens and walk the line between future actress/supermodel/diva and superhousewife-in-training. They like pink and purple. Little boys are supposed to play with G.I.Joes, Transformers, Power Rangers (I'm clearly dating myself with all these references) and either be future sports heroes/astronauts/etc or skilled-laborer-in-training. They like anything other than pink and purple.

What happens to kids who deviate from the norm?

I have a huge problem with the idea that girls are supposed to like one thing and boys have to like another. I'm a lesbian, yeah, but I played with Barbies and My Little Ponies and I was a girly little girly girl. I conformed to all the societal norms, I loved pink and purple. It's not about being gay or straight, weird or normal. What I've noticed in teaching is that boys and girls are trained from birth to believe that "this is for you, and this is not for you, and it's not acceptable for you to cross the line." A girl gets teased for liking robots. A boy gets teased for wanting to play with My Little Ponies.

Read the last two sentences again. I bet you probably giggled a little, or thought about giggling, at the bit about My Little Ponies. Why? There's something in the way we were raised that separates boys from girls, and it follows us our whole lives. And while it's semi-acceptable for a girl to like a boy's things, it's completely unacceptable for a boy to like a girl's things. This continues on through adulthood, these adults have children, and the cycle continues. The media perpetuates it. We see it all the time, particularly in this idea that boys are completely resistant to anything that girls like. Whether it's the color pink, Barbies, Hannah Montana, or any book featuring a girl as a main character, it's just not cool for boys to like it. It's gay. It singles out the boy as an object of ridicule.

I don't like this trend and I don't know what can be done about it. It's too ingrained in our culture. There will always be boys who complain about take-home toys being "girl colors," who whine whenever something is pink, who find it necessary to make loud noises of disapproval at the mention of anything feminine. It's part of our hypermasculine male culture and it's perpetuated by parents who ... what? Are they afraid of their sons being gay? I don't know. Are they completely controlled by media images of Male and Female? I don't know. It bugs me, this idea that boys and girls are trained that they're different. It keeps them from identifying with one another at a really young age... and most boys are taught a disdain for all things feminine from the time they're toddlers.

And for those boys who like "girl" things ...

I once did a birthday party for a child where the final event was teaching the kids how to make homemade slime. There were color choices: I had green, and I had pink. As an example, I made pink slime. When I went around to give kids colors, all of the boys chose green. For the girls, it was mixed. One little boy, the birthday child's younger brother, fidgeted and mumbled and eventually said "green." I gave him his green slime and thought nothing of it until his mother came and asked me if I still had the example slime I made. I stared at her and asked why. Slightly suspicious----though honestly, what the hell do I care if someone takes my example slime? The mother then proceeds to explain to me that the little boy (age four) liked the pink slime and really, really wanted pink slime... until he saw that all the other boys were making green slime. He was afraid that the other boys would tease him.

Just breaks my heart.

Why can't we like what we like without fear of peer pressure telling us we are less male or less female? A married, heterosexual friend of mine is completely open about the fact that he freaking collects My Little Ponies. Why? Dunno. Don't care. Does there need to be a reason? There needs to be more of that in this world. World peace starts with gender neutrality. Real men like pink.

Seriously. Don't touch my shit.


Dear 13-year-old:

I don't care if you're older than the other kids at camp. This does not make you exempt from the rules. When one of the rules is "Please don't touch the stuff I have laid out on the table," I expect you, as an older kid, to be a good kid and follow this rule. You are not special. You are not my assistant. I don't care if my stuff is on a stage instead of technically on a table, you little smartass. You do not have the right to go through my boxes of materials while my back is turned. When I say you get to have two balloons, and you pop one because you're dicking around with it, you don't get to go into my box of materials and get a third one when I'm not looking.

When I say something to you, I expect you to listen. I don't care if you're older than everyone else. If anything, you ought to be setting a good example, instead of encouraging the little ones into bad behavior. When I ask you to stop sitting on the stage and sit in your chair, do it. When I tell you to put your shirt back on, that doesn't mean you can take your shirt off again an hour later. I don't care if you're hot! It's air conditioned and it's your choice to run around during break. You don't strip down, dude. Not cool.

Lastly, what the fuck are you doing here? The age cap is 12 and even that's too old.

No love,

the Professor.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Teacher in the Closet

Today I received a rather direct question involving something I've been uncomfortable addressing in my classes.

(After me asking kids to introduce themselves, including ages.)
Supernerd: How old are you?
Me: I'm 24.
Clown: Are you married?
Me: No.
Clown: Are you dating anybody?
Me: (smiling sweetly) That's none of your business.

And it isn't their business. When I was trained back in 2007 to teach drama camp at an inner city YMCA, I was taught that kids are always going to ask about your personal life, and that you shouldn't ever answer. You're a teacher, not a friend. I'm of two minds about this. First, it's an innocuous question and there's nothing sinister behind it. The YMCA also wanted to teach me that giving a hug was bad, and how to properly touch a child so they can't go back and say you sexually abused them. That's stuck with me for a long, long time, particularly because I come from a theatrical background where hugging and physical contact is a huge part of the environment. I'm always careful with how I touch kids at my science job because of it. Kids come up to hug me and I wonder what their parents would say. I'm always hesitant; there's such a brouhaha over child abuse and what is (inappropriately) construed as sexual. I think our culture of lawsuits and media-fearmongering has made parents hyperaware of the idea that everyone is out to get their kids, and they're teaching their children to be hyperaware and afraid, too. Being aware is one thing. Being obsessed is another.

Along the same vein is the relationship question.

It's an innocent question. Sometimes it comes up indirectly with parents, sometimes it's asked directly by a student. I'm not comfortable answering. First of all, it really isn't their business. It's not relevant, no matter how innocent. But more importantly, here's the deal: I'm a lesbian. I'm in a two-year monogamous relationship with my partner. We live together. We have three cats. No matter how boring this is, no matter how un-sordid this is, I don't feel comfortable telling this to children. I don't want their parents calling my company, asking how they can allow a lesbian to teach their children, or how I brought up sexually inappropriate conversation. If I casually mention that I have a boyfriend or a husband, that's normal. If I say I have a girlfriend, it's inappropriate.

I'm not saying I have to bring it up. I don't want to. My life isn't their business. The answer to "Do you have a boyfriend?" is "No." The answer to "Are you dating anyone?" is either "Yes" (which brings up more questions) or a cheeky "That's not your business" (which doesn't).

It isn't that I have a hankering to discuss my personal life with kids or with parents. My problem is that I don't feel comfortable mentioning it. Mentioning one's homosexuality in front of a child carries a negative stigma. It's sexual, it's inappropriate, instead of an offhand mention that doesn't need to be brought up again. It suggests that there's something wrong with it. It makes me feel ashamed and secretive.

I feel particularly bothered by this incident: I was teaching acting class for a summer youth theatre, where my students are between the ages of 13 and 15. A slightly older crowd than my science-class fare, where budding sexuality is coming out.

Me: (Giving opening spiel)
The Weird One: (Somewhat out of the blue, I don't remember the leadup. Finger raised in proclamation!) I'm pretty sure that one of the kids in here is gay.
Kids: (Giggle, look toward me! OMG! How will I respond to that, how outlandish!)
Me: That's not necessary. That's not your place to say. It's nobody's business but theirs. (Etc.)

I stand by what I said. It isn't his business, and nobody has the right to "out" anyone else, especially at such a young age ... and particularly when "gay" isn't really understood and carries such a negative connotation, particularly to middle-schoolers. However, it really bothered me. This was weeks ago and it's still nagging at me. I said all of that and I stand by it, but I also know that one of the kids in my class might very well actually be gay. I don't know this; I don't know if he knows this or even thinks about this. And yet ... if he is gay, if he is questioning his sexuality in any way, or if any of them have questions ... what does that say to him, or any of them, that I treat it like some kind of taboo and secret issue? It's not my business to out a child. That's private. However, it's bothering me that I didn't say that being gay is an okay thing. It's bothering me that I didn't say, "Hey, who cares? I'm a lesbian, so what? Does it make a difference? Does it matter to you?"

But I was too scared that it would matter. I was too scared that it would be deemed inappropriate or invite giggles and discomfort and scrutiny, even with this group of kids. At this youth theatre, I know these kids. Half of them have me friended on Facebook. If they've read my profile at all they know I'm gay. And even in that environment I felt affected by this sociological stigma that any mention of homosexuality, even when it has nothing to do with sex itself, is somehow inappropriate for children.

I might not believe this, but I know that plenty of other people do. It keeps me scared. It keeps me feeling like I'm hiding something from parents, something that some of them might want to know, something that might affect their opinion of my ability to teach children. What would they do if they knew a dyke was teaching their kids? Would it make a difference? Would they care?

I like to think they wouldn't, but the fact that I don't know keeps me from the most casual mention of my partner. Sure, it's none of their business, but why does it have to feel like my dirty little secret?

New Crop of Kids

I started a new camp today. No, we can't actually call them camps, because of legal regulations that make a "camp" a "camp." Instead, we call them "awesome activity weeks," which to me just conveys the super-duper happy funtime of it all, and if it's not awesome, then... well, you're fucked with claims of false advertising.

Anyway, I have a 75-minute commute to work this time around. (ASIDE: With the AAWs, you train in one theme (we have several) and then you go wherever that particular theme was scheduled. I'm trained in three different themes and my shortest commute has been 40 minutes.) It's really very difficult to wake up at 6 AM when you're dealing with the tail end of a flea infestation and some aggressively cuddly cats who leap up to snuggle in bed and don't know the meaning of the word "No" and a toss onto the floor. I took one of my kittens off the bed thirty times (I counted) between the hours of 4 and 5 AM. Exhausted, I showered, woke up the girlfriend so she could call the vet (she sleeps until noon much of the time and wanted to call at 8). I dragged a 50-pound bin out of my third-story apartment and set it into my car, then made a quickie drive to CVS for pretzels and apple juice and cups for the kids to snack on in case they didn't have the fortitude to bring a snack (something I don't get reimbursed for because it's my personal choice to do this). For myself, I grab my bottle of No-Doz and a Starbucks Doubleshot for the drive there. I have a real problem with nearly falling asleep while taking a nice cozy drive through the boondocks. Unfortunately, caffeine seems to have no effect on me. You'd think after popping a couple of caffeine pills and drinking a coffee-flavored energy drink, I might be a little bit buzzed. You'd also think that after learning that despite doing this, my eyelids still droop a little, I'd learn to quit the useless caffeine habit, but to no avail.

But I digress.

By the time I arrive at my destination, I am totally awake (because I am no longer driving----it's driving that triggers it, which quite frankly terrifies me and makes me go to bed early). I arrive early, but the building is locked. I call the Parks & Rec Dept, my contact number for the AAW, which... is at another location. The girl on the phone hears a man with a leaf blower over on my end and tells me to ask him for keys. He does, in fact, have keys, and I'm allowed in. Room is set up, A/C is put on, all crises and panics over "OMG WHAT IF I AM NOT ABLE TO GET INSIDE" have subsided.

For this AAW I have seven kids----seven boys, ages 7-13. Now, the AAWs I do are marketed to ages 7-12. Normally, I do AAWs for ages 5-10. A lot of the material is way too complicated to kids under 7, but that's my normal age bracket. Once you get up to age 10, they get a little too jaded and a little too Know-It-All for my tastes. Surly, above-it-all, and fucking obnoxious. So you can imagine that a thirteen-year-old is just the epitome of all of this. I'm stuck with the challenge of keeping things grown-up and complicated enough for a thirteen-year-old boy who needs to be impressed, and making things fun and simple and magical for a seven- or eight-year-old.

Seven boys. I'm imagining boys climbing on walls, screaming and playing shoot-em-up tag with imaginary guns. Rolling on the floor, stacking Crayola markers end on end and having sword fights with them. I'm imagining having to curtail escaped monkeys at the zoo.

Weirdly enough, they're well-behaved. They're scarily well-behaved, to the point where I'm convinced their bored out of their minds. Boredom, however, tends to have the opposite effect: kids get restless and all hell breaks loose. And yet, the kids don't seem all that interested in what I'm saying or what they're doing. They're complacent and quiet and calm and though I've often dreamed of a group like this, I quite honestly don't know how to handle it. It makes me nervous. If I'm not spending 30+ total minutes of a three-hour day disciplining wild summer children, I run out of stuff to do! I specifically plan my lessons with the idea that a massive chunk of time will be spent on reeling people in! Thankfully, this is a truncated AAW (three days instead of five) and I can afford to cram in as much activity as I can.

The only trouble comes from the thirteen-year-old, who thinks he can touch my things on the table, roam around, and be generally obnoxious. But despite that he's quiet. I hope things are noisier tomorrow or else I'm going to explode from all of the nervous tension. It's like they're plotting my demise.


I grew up with the Traditional American Family. Mom and Dad married thirty-one years, younger brother, suburbs, white middle-class. Dad worked for an insurance company, mom stopped work to stay at home. My upbringing had its snags and grows less traditional as we all grow older, but as a kid, I lived that American Dream that's mostly nonexistent in reality. I tend to assume that other kids, particularly those growing up in the nice WASPy scenic-farm-and-town area, do too. And for the most part, they do. Most of the kids that I teach are kids who grow up with two parents and siblings and dogs and a lot of Stuff, which was why I was so jarred by one kid's storytelling session.

Billy (name changed) is eleven years old. He's a Supernerd in the most adorable sense. Tall, lanky, hair like straw, big eyes behind bigger bifocals. Wearing really badass temporary tattoos on both arms (adorable). He has siblings who are jocks and he's the nerdy kid who loves science, and he did nothing but profess his love of this AAW for the whole day. I was making conversation, asking if everyone lived in this town. Billy lives in the next town over and says the town was a lot better when it was all farm country, but there's been a lot of development. He then says he has two dogs and seven fish, and proceeds to list all of the pets he had while living on a farm (chickens, dogs, a super awesome goat), and says he wishes his house hadn't burned down (killing one of his dogs). He then proceeds to talk about his dad and the things his dad used to do with him, and then mentions that his dad doesn't live with him anymore and his parents are getting a divorce----but for "good reasons," he says with a sage nod. I say that it's probably best if it's for good reasons, not prying. Billy then tells me his parents are getting a divorce because his father was "very violent" toward his mother and "seriously injured her, and so they're getting a divorce." And that his father was into drugs and he and his mom both ended up in jail for a while (if they're still in jail, I don't know). He now lives with his grandmother.

Totally casual and sweet and nonchalant, perfectly willing to share this information like it flowed naturally from "I have two dogs and seven fish."

I just... holy shit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Usual Suspects

The Bad Boy. The Funny One. The Cute One. The Hot One. The Gay One. Just like a boy band, any group of children has a set number of character types. After teaching numerous sessions at numerous schools and doing birthday parties all over the place, I've come to accept that there are really only about twelve children out there; they just multiply and put on different faces so as to seem like different children.

The Angel
Essentially, this is the elusive perfect child. Takes in information and remembers it. Raises her hand when speaking. Is inquisitive but only talks when permitted. Follows the rules and doesn't try to enforce the rules herself. Unfortunately, she tends to get lost among kids who are infinitely more annoying. She often disappears with the Wallflower.

The Wallflower
Super-shy child. You get the impression she doesn't want to be there, or she really does but can't express it. Doesn't like to talk, doesn't like to make decisions. If you don't keep an eye on her, you'll forget she's even there.

The Princess
Easily identifiable by Disney gear, the Princess is the embodiment of all things "girl." There is not enough Hannah Montana merchandise in the world to satisfy her craving. She is usually in the possession of an iPod and a cell phone, which she will whip out and show off at all times. Prone to talking back, she's been raised to believe that kids are hip and cool and that adults just don't understand her world and are therefore idiots. She believes she's an exception to all rules and that her dazzling (sickening) smile will get her out of any jam.

The Jock

You can spot him from a mile away in his sports jersey with his hair buzzed. It's a wonder he's with you instead of out playing football or wrestling grizzly bears with his bare hands. He tends to be a kid of few words, with a voice deeper than normal, like someone injected him with a shot of Manliness that morning. The Jock's mood can swing either way: from super enthusiastic to not giving a shit. Enjoyment of material is not the trademark of the Jack----it's the parents' sheer fear of their son being viewed as anything other than a meat-eating, football-throwing, deer-hunting, flirting-with-the-ladies Man's Man.

The Artist
You might as well ignore this kid, because she's going to ignore you and draw the whole time.

The Know-It-All
The Know-It-All starts our lineup of Smart Kids, though he's not necessarily smart. He likes to shout answers, touch things he's not supposed to touch, and not follow directions, all under the guise that He Knows Things. The Know-It-All is therefore the most likely person to break things. This trait is often combined with the Princess for a doubly deadly concoction.

The Supernerd

Contrary to the Know-It-All, the Supernerd really does know it all. These are the nerds, the geeks, the pint-sized supergeniuses who have nothing better to do than gain a spooky amount of knowledge in any given subject. Don't even try to outsmart her. You might as well let her teach the class, because you can't top her.

The Skeptic
Often combined with the Supernerd and the Know-It-All, the Skeptic is jaded and miserable. He's seen everything there is to see. Nothing is magical or impressive. He's prone to eye-rolling and cutting down your self-confidence at every turn. Favorite phrases include: "I have that," and "That's stupid," and "I know how that works already." Even better phrases include: "When are we going to have fun?" and "I'm bored," and "When do we get to go home?" I also like to call this child The Asshole.

The Comedian
Along with the Skeptic, the Comedian is the most likely to draw attention from you. The Comedian talks back, cracks jokes, throws things, doesn't follow directions, and generally gets everyone in the class (except for kids like the Supernerd) to think he's hilarious. The Comedian almost always has The Sidekick, who eggs him on but wouldn't actually contribute to anything himself were he alone.

The Invalid
You don't need to watch out for the Invalid. The parents will let you know. They will make it abundantly clear that their child is going to die and you're going to somehow kill them. These are kids with diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, peanut allergies, latex allergies... anything the parent will mark on the "health concerns" sheet. I once had a class where I wasn't told there was a kid with Asperger's but I WAS told there was a child with a "fear of monkeys." Go figure.

The Hypochondriac
This child doesn't suffer from any real threat. However, he or she will cry and sob and make you think he's dying until you realize he has a papercut, or he stubbed his toe. A subcategory of this is the Emotional Hypochondriac (the Crybaby). If something doesn't go his way, the waterworks are sure to follow.

The Weird One
This is essentially a wildcard category. The Weird One is someone who defies explanation. S/he is often somewhere along the Autism spectrum. (With how often I handle autistic children, "The Autistic One" ought to be a category.) The Weird One may not be autistic. S/he might be socially awkward, suffering from some other kind of issue, or just plain strange. They could be behavioral challenges but could also just be charmingly quirky. Their weirdness tends to draw the attention of other kids, whether or not there's a medical explanation of it. To kids, weird behavior is weird behavior, no matter what wacky name you give it. Remember a time when we used to think that way, too?

Monday, August 10, 2009


My name is Kait.

I work with children.

I am not a parent. I am not a teacher. I don't have a degree in education or child psychology. I never set out to work with kids but that's just the way things in my post-college world turned out. You take what you can get, and in my case, it involved answering a newspaper advertisement for "instructors/performers." My degree is in Theatre Arts and I thought this would be better when it comes to using my degree than working in a bank (again). I assumed I would be dressed up as a celery stalk and sing and dance in school assemblies about healthy eating choices.

That's not what I do, but it's not that far off the mark. I teach simple science to kids through after-school programs, camp-like summer programs, birthday party shows, booths at science fairs, and school assemblies. I don a labcoat and an alias and I teach your kids. Additionally, I have another job involving kids: I am a coach for youth actors during the summer. I take your shy children and turn them into actors with discipline not unlike boot camp. I train your kids.

I also watch your kids. I go into elementary schools and watch them, too. I watch parents.

Let's get this straight: I am not part of The Circle. I don't have kids, I haven't devoted my life to kids, and I don't want kids. This doesn't translate to "I hate kids." I don't hate kids. Saying you hate kids is like saying you hate old people. There are some cool ones in the bunch. It's a blanket statement. Sure, I hate some kids, but everybody hates those kids (except their parents). There are good days and there are bad days, there are good kids and there as bad kids. There are good kids who do bad things, and some bad kids who just do things so fucking cute you regret ever wanting to put their heads on spikes.

This blog is for the good days and the bad days, the good kids and the bad kids. It's for the weird shit elementary schools do (and the people that work there, oh my god); it's for the overprotective/mean/weird parents and the really cool parents. When I need to vent about my life with kids, it goes here.