Tag Archives: education

Why I Am Blessed to Teach: Three Vignettes from My Montessori Experience

Not long ago I took a job as a teacher.

That being said, I have been a teacher for well over a decade.  But, wishing to expand my portfolio and branch out, I accepted a position in a new school.  Now I can say that I have the following variety of teaching and/or administrative experience: large school, small school, co-ed, single-sex, diocesan, private-independent, mid-sized, teacher, vice principal, secondary, and elementary.  Why not toss Montessori into the mix?  It couldn’t hurt to learn a new way to teach and beside, my own children attend a Montessori school.  This could be both beneficial to my resume and fun!

That entire last paragraph could be rewritten thus:

But, having temporarily walked away from the insanity of working in “industrial” schools I had accepted my new life delivering blood samples and lab mice for a courier company.  One Sunday night the director of the school where my children are students texted to say: “Look, dude, I’m desperate.  Your daughter’s teacher quit.  I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the girl’s fault.  Since it’s nearing the end of the year we’re scraping the barrel, pal.  Can you handle a dozen 1st-3rd grader’s?”  Also, she texted right after I had consumed a few gin and tonics so there’s that.

There is a line in Scripture that says “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from an abundance of corn and new wine.” (Ps.4)  I don’t know who “they” are but I do believe Our Blessed Lord has infused me with a great love for teaching and for the children (and sometimes adults) I get to teach.  It’s twisted, really.  I don’t know many other people who get excited about working with children and teenagers and yet I can’t help myself.  And you know it must be real when it’s a greater love even than wine or an abundance of corn for that matter.  By the way, the New American Bible translation from 1970 sucks.

And since it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t share some of the scenes of this life with you; here now a brief sketch of this past Friday morning and my interactions with three particular students.

Student X, boy, 7 years-old

black bunny

Sure looks like a “Thunderclaw”, doesn’t he?

The morning was off to a smashing start.  One of the families had brought rabbits to school.  As in, they brought actual bunnies.  And the bunnies were to remain at school.  “We’re donating them!” the mom said lovingly.  “It’s a great way for the kids to learn about stuff and it’s very Montessori.”  Perhaps I don’t know enough about this Montessori method.  And “stuff?”  Yes, it’s a fabulous way for them to learn about reproduction.  Come to think of it, my son’s getting to be about that age.  This might be more straightforward then having “the talk” with him.  I’m getting rabbits for the house.  Anyway, one young man rushed me on my way in the door.  “Hey look!  It’s Thunderclaw!” he shouted as he tossed a black dwarf rabbit in my face.  “Ack!” I shouted in return as Thunderclaw almost took a mug full of black coffee to the face.  It’s a good thing I have the patience of a saint – St. Augustine, pre-conversion.

A little while later I found myself sitting at a table that was about two feet off the ground across from Student X.  We had just covered a lesson on honeybees.  X was diligently tracing a hexagon over and over onto a sheet of paper.  He had already composed five sentences about these insects (in cursive) and was now illustrating the hive.  Burning the heck out of a yellow colored pencil he put the pencil down momentarily in order to suck his thumb.  The teacher in me stepped aside and the dad moved in.  “Son, you don’t want to do that,” I said gently yet firmly.  “Um, yeah I do,” came his reply without glancing up.  He was still admiring his honeycomb.  “No, no you don’t.  Do you know what will happen?” I asked.  “Yeah, um, it calms me down.”  I had to fight with everything I had to stop from saying “So will a Xanax” but I managed instead “First, you answered a question I had not asked.  I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  You responded with what is happening now.”  Crickets.  “But I like it,” came X’s reply in the cutest high pitched voice.  “You’ll need braces, son.  It’ll mess your teeth up.”

I thought I had won the argument based on my stellar logic.  Unfortunately I was arguing with a kid.  “I’m already getting braces.  My dad told me so.”  Well, you can’t beat that reasoning, I suppose.  “Plus, um, plus…  Uh… Oh yeah, my orthodontist told me I was a very lucky boy and I would have to get headgear!”  “Sounds like your orthodontist is the lucky one,” I shot back.  I smiled at X and marveled at his certainty and confidence.  He, of course, picked up his pencil in the other hand because apparently he’s ambidextrous and continued his masterpiece.

Student Y, boy, 8 years-old

A short while later I had just stepped out of a tiny bathroom where I had gone to scroll through Instagram and generally catch my breath when Student Y ran up to me.  Where he came from I could not say.  The kid’s a ninja.  He’s about the size of a capuchin monkey and just about as wiry.  And I love this kid.  That’s why I almost didn’t mind when he practically pulled my 200 lb. frame down to the floor by trying to climb up my leg to tell me something.  “HEY!  Can I read to you?”  This is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with little children.  He’s just learned to read in the past year and is still inching toward a milestone they call the “reading explosion” or something like that.  I may have made that term up but the point is he’s teetering on the brink between sounding out some words and racing through a paragraph.  And he’s excited.  And he wants me to be the object of his new-found skill.

We sit on the reading carpet (invented by a Nazi, for no adult ever said “Yay! Let’s get down on the floor for this!”) and he proceeds to a thin, purple-covered book.  It’s a leveled reader.  It is not his level.  His is red.  The purples are for a different stage, like two stages above him.  But, I admire his pluck.  Go for it, kiddo.  The stories in these books all follow a phonetic theme.  Unfortunately that means they sometimes give the characters names that have never been used by real people.  This was the story of a terrier named Sollie.  Y struggles with this.  “Solo was a timid puppy.”  “No, son, not Solo, Sollie,” I correct him.  “Sally was a timid puppy,” he tries again.  “No, son, not Sally, Sollie.”  “Sully was a tim-”  “Oh for God’s sake.  Sully was the Miracle on the Hudson pilot and, you know what?  Yeah, let’s just go with Sully.”

He continues.  I come to learn that Sully was indeed a timid puppy.  His owner Shiela had to carry him around.  He wanted to be brave like his dad.  He liked to eat meat.  Except, Y read that as /mat/.  “Y,” I said gently yet firmly, “in English, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.”  Crickets.  “OK,” he said, “/meet/”.  Good.  This happened a few more times.  The theme here was vowel clusters.  Then Y came to this sentence.  “They went to the pier.”  He read this as /pyre/.  “Y,” I said, “that’s /peer/.”  “But did the first vowel not go walking that day?” he asked most sincerely.  “Damn English,” I thought to myself.

IMG_2322

When two vowels go walking, a terrier eats a toddler.

Finally Y reached the climax of the story.  “When Sollie ran down to the beach, a toddler held out her hand with some cookie pieces.  Sollie ate them.”  First, Y read that as “cookie /pi-cees/” and I did not correct him.  Second, I noticed that Y was looking most confused.  “Why would he eat them?  He must be a mean dog.”  “What are you talking about,” I asked.  It turns out Y thought Sully ate the toddler, that rat bastard.  I clarified the story for my young friend.  And then I laughed at the thought of a terrier eating a toddler who would obviously be three times his size.

Student Z, boy, 6 years-old

I have saved the best for last.  Student Z is a young man who has only recently joined our class.  He had previously been in the “younger division”.  He was starting to outgrow that classroom so I agreed (happily) to let him come over to my class.  I’m friends with his parents and he’s such an awesome kid.  When I’m at their house he’s bouncing off the walls, full of energy, typical little boy.  In school, he is studious, reserved, almost shy.  I can tell he is eager to please and to do a good job.  Z is on the cusp of getting the hang of reading.  And hats off to anyone who has ever taught another person to read.  It is NOT easy.  Sidenote: In complete seriousness, the lady who runs this school is truly gifted.  I watched her sit down with a child last week and, in the most loving and gentle way, teach that child, encourage that child, and celebrate that child’s accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Thunderclaw?!  Who named that bunny?  Crazy Horse?

I extricate myself from the reading carpet and head to a ledge that reminds me of a bar only without alcohol.  Z follows in tow holding onto one of the manipulatives we use in Montessori.  It is a wooden tray containing flash cards with three and four letter words.  Other than the wooden tray I’m not sure how this differs from other schools.  Our goal is to pull six cards and sound them out.  Then Z will write those words in his notebook.  “Z,” I say, “Let’s toss in a few four letter words!”  Then I laugh at what that sounded like to my own ears.  He was game.

First word: “puh… ahh… puh.  POP!”  He smiles broadly.  He got it.  “Great job, Z!  And that was super fast!  Let’s do another one.”

Next word: “luh… ahh… tuh.  LOT!”  Another huge smile.  “Yay!  Amazing!  Ready for the next one?”  He nods excitedly.

Third word: “juh… ahh… muh.”  Only this time I must stop him.  “Sorry, Z,” I say holding my hand up.  “Not every A sounds alike.”  He looks puzzled.  “Let’s try it again.”  I hold the card up.  “juh… ahh…”  “Nope,” I say.  “Um,” he asks, “How does this A sound?”  “I’m glad you asked, Z.”

“Juh…aeyh… muh.  Say it with me.”

And in that moment I realized I was teaching him New Jersey English.

IMG_2320

You gotta’ problem wid dat?  I’ll see you on Bloomfield Ave.

When his mom and dad start wondering why he’s suddenly started speaking like Joe Piscopo (or me for that matter) they need only look at my upbringing.  Garden State’s finest spreadin’ the Jerz.

Proud to be spreading my heritage in this sleepy Texas town, I turned from the bar with no booze, put the cards away, and clocked out for the day.

My work here is done.

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Keep the Prayers Coming

I really enjoyed our online novena last week.  It was nice to know that I was being prayed for and to pray for others, not just my own intentions.  It was also especially gratifying to spread devotion to St. Rita.

cajetan

St. Cajetan (Gaetano) the Theatine, patron of the unemployed and job-seekers.

Things started to move on the job front, if only slightly.  You have to understand that I’ve never been in this position.  I resigned from my job and I am 100% positive this was the right decision.  I know God is asking me to trust Him right now.  I know He will lead me somewhere better.  Tonight I had a meeting with the principal of a phenomenal school.  We spoke openly and honestly and it certainly looks like there might be a job for me there.  Next school year.

So that leaves me with next month…

It will be interesting for sure.  I will probably have to take non-teaching work in the meantime which is not something I was looking for.  So for the sake of humor I will now walk through a few possible scenarios.

 

TSA

Everyone’s favorite government agency is ALWAYS hiring.  Lucky for me I have a MAJOR airport five miles from my house.  The up side?  I love airports.  The down side?  I hate putting my hands on other guys’ legs.  True, I could have some fun with the X-ray machines imagining things that aren’t really there and then calling them in.  Also, I understand that people in these kinds of jobs are generally not altogether there.  With a pinch of ingenuity and a pulse I could be a real standout.  Unfortunately I don’t look good in blue.

RETAIL

nordstrom

Actual Nordstrom where I worked years ago.  Or not.  They all look alike.

When I was in college I worked in a Nordstrom department store.  My customer service skills are top notch.  It also helped that I worked for the only retail outlet on the planet where they say the customer is always right and then actually mean it.  I remember one time I took a return.  It was a $1000 leather jacket that had not been purchased in a Nordstrom.  We know this because we had never sold that jacket.  Furthermore it was 20 years old, frayed, and had a dead rat in the breast pocket.  Apparently Mr. Nordstrom believed it was better to have a satisfied customer in the store with cash in his hand than to upset the delicate flower.  I remembered those words as the customer was quickly exiting the store with a thousands bucks in hand laughing at the security camera.

FAST FOOD

This could work.  I like to eat fast food.  By that logic, though, I should work in a liquor store.  Let’s come back to this one…

TELEVISION

You know I used to work as a writer and producer in this exciting medium.  If I was any good I’d have been the breakout star of 2005.  Still, there are several large media outlets in my neck of the woods.  Unfortunately not only can I not get the Texas drawl down but I can’t seem to shake my Jersey accent.  I’d be a bigger fish out of water than that large fish a friend of mine caught.  Wow that was a really bad literary device.

PUBLIC SAFETY

fire

See… I couldn’t get this huge if I tried.

I’d consider the FBI if I weren’t too old.  I’d consider a police force but my back injuries would probably rule me out.  I’d consider the fire department.  Let’s think about this one.  1) Every fireman I know is ridiculously huge – like GI Joe proportions only taller.  Yes Grady, even you.  There isn’t enough protein in the world to make this frame that size.  2) Having lived through a multiple-fatal house fire as a child the psychological trauma of running into a burning building would make it impossible for me to do my job.  3) I can only imagine the first time an alarm rings and I have to shimmy down the pole.  I would think of a TV segment I produced for a news program in New York.  It was about a new workout called “the stripper workout”.  Seriously.  The mental image of our aging anchor dancing around a pole would make me incontinent with laughter and I would fall through the hole in the floor breaking multiple bones.  Thus I would be rendered incapable of fighting fires that day.

So there you have it.  Looks like I’ll have to get creative.  I’m open to suggestions so let’s hear ’em.  Or you could just continue to pray for me.  Otherwise I’m going to get real familiar with Wendy Williams and Kelly Ripa.  That’s a fate worse than death.

Busy Busy Busy

My day started out with 6:30 mass (AM) at the abbey.  Then I taught straight through the day (had to sub, a lot of teachers have been under the weather lately).  Coming home, I took my little hleper (my four year-old son) and drove off to run some errands.  First we went to the mechanic to fix a loose battery terminal in my car.  Speaking of terminals, our next stop was at the airport!  Clever, huh?  Yes, we visited one of our favorite places.  My boy is as big a fan of airports as his old man.  Go figure, the whole DNA thing.  We were there to book a flight.  Yes, I know these things can be done online.  However, I had the remnants of a travel voucher from the airline.  Actually, the whole process was quite bizarre.  See if you can follow along here.  I’m flying to the upper midwest for my nephew’s confirmation in May.  I’m his sponsor.  I have miles on one airling that are expiring daily.  I also have this voucher on a different airline that, sadly, will also expire soon.  So my travel agent (my wife) reserved a flight online; but because of the voucher, it has to be paid for in person at the ticket counter.  The flight, by the way, is a one-way flight covering the return portion of the trip.  For the “getting there” leg, we used the miles.  The point is that my boy and I had an enormously fun time checking out the arrivals board, going up and down escalators, and generally taking in all the sights.  I had to restrain him from jumping on the baggage carousel.  Who am I kidding, it was the other way around.

After all that, I had to complete my assignments for the week for the courses I’m taking.  One of my assignments involved making a marketing device for a school.  While everyone else was doing a fantastic job with flyers and brochures, I went with what I know — blogging!  That’s right, I added a blog to my existing WP account and made up the coolest looking blog complete with polls, pictures, and posts!  Unfortunately, along with the draft paper that was due in the other class I’m taking, I wasn’t finished until midnight.  Such is life.  I hope this all pays off.

Should we try the prompt and see if I can work it in somehow?  OK!

And they lived happily ever after.” Think about this line for a few minutes. Are you living happily ever after? If not, what will it take for you to get there?

How could I not be living happily ever after?  I have the most awesomely amazing and beautiful wife, the two best kids in the whole world, shelter, food, clothing, a great job that I love, the prospect of future success close at hand, and most importantly, my faith.

Gee, that was easy.

*@$%ing Blank Page

I swear I’m going to stop bitching about the posting every day thing soon.  I just stared at my screen for a good five minutes.  It’s not that I couldn’t think of anything to write.  This time the issue is that I had started a post about a week ago and saved it in my draft files and couldn’t decide if I really wanted to go back to it or not.  Ultimately, I decided to write on a new topic.  At that point I couldn’t decide whether or not to follow the suggested post of the day for postaday2011 which is “writing about a memorable job interview”; or whether I wanted to just go freeform.  I’m still not sure.  I think I’ll live up to yesterday’s resolution to drink more and fix a smart cocktail first…

I’m going to pretend like that didn’t take me forty minutes.  No, I never even made that drink.  I grabbed a Diet Pepsi instead.  I’ve just been watching the TV and marveling at the commercials for an upcoming show about the Alaska State Police on NatGeo.  Transfixed.  Oh well, I’ll fill this page eventually.  So, did you hear there might be some snow next week?  Oh God, I’ve resorted to talking about the weather.  I deserve not to have a blog… Certainly not a “Best New Weblog and Most Humorous Weblog nominee in the 2011 Bloggie Awards” blog.  Oh, I didn’t mention that yet.  Well, I’ll tell you.  One of my earliest subscribers, in fact the woman who first suggested I blog on WordPress, sent me a message today that she had nominated me.  I have no design that I will win either of these honors but it really is an honor just to be nominated.  Thank you!

OK, I’ll get to the job interview story.  When I first started teaching full-time I wasn’t 100% sure it was something I wanted to do.  I saw an ad, sent a resume, got a call back within a half-hour, and had an interview lined up for the next morning.  OK, I saw that maybe this was a positive step in God’s plan for me.  Everything seemed a little too easy.  But, I asked myself, whom should I list as references.  I’ve only ever taught as a substitute teacher and even there I worked specifically in the stead of two of my sisters who worked in the public schools in our city in New Jersey.  Oh well, I’ll just list my sister, Bridget, as a reference.  We have different last names and I’m sure she’ll vouch for me.  Besides, who’s going to ever call all the people on my list.  I’m being honest with them.  They know I’ve never taught full-time before.  Everyone’s gotta’ start somewhere.  They’ll either give me a chance or they won’t but it’s not going to be because of references from people who clearly work in other fields than education.

I walked into the school and went through a string of interviews that morning.  “Gee,” I thought, “This must be going well.  Or perhaps they’re just shuffling me around to get rid of me.”  By about 10AM I was sitting across from the school’s academic dean as we discussed my “educational philosophy”.  I’ve been teaching for several years now and I’m still not sure I know what that means.  Imagine my surprise when he said: “I’m really fascinated by all you’re saying.  Hang tight.  I’m just going to get your references out of the way.”  My heart started racing.  I hadn’t informed my sister that I was even going for this interview, let alone that I had listed her.  He picked up the phone.  Dear God, would she play along?  Would he catch on?  I should just slink out of my chair and slither away before he finishes dialing.  “Is this Ms. Green?”  I could hear my sister’s voice through the phone.  “Mrs. Green, yes, why?”  “I’m calling because you were listed by Mr. Hester who is sitting before me as a reference.  Can you tell me about him?”  I heard a bit of a chuckle from her through the receiver.  Did she possibly now I was actually sitting right there?  Fortunately, she went on at length about how awesome a job I had done when I filled in for her during her maternity leave — so much so that we had become friends and she had been able to really mold and shape me as a teacher.  She was taking it a bit too far.  But; you know what?  I got the job.  Next time I will have to do a better job informing my references ahead of time.

Next time…

Now that was a memorable job interview.