Posted in Children, School, Teaching

Pinball Classes by Ginger Gannaway

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I tell my high school kids that I stopped teaching middle school because I was tired of students falling out of their desks for no apparent reason.  No shoves or outside forces were involved.  I could look up from taking roll and a typical 7th grade boy would suddenly be seized by an unexplainable spasm and be half on the floor, half in his seat as he struggled to hold on to his pencil.

I suppose between the sudden hormonal changes and the powerful mood swings these 11 to 13-year-olds lost control of their own bodies and their minds as well.

While teaching for 15 years in Texas middle schools, every day was like spending time in a Louisiana casino.  Full of annoying sounds and ever-changing emotions!  Each class was a crap shoot or a sudden spin of a roulette wheel.  You never knew what you were gonna get, and at the end of the day you either felt like a lucky winner or a huge loser.

Maybe managing a middle school felt more like being a steel ball in a pinball machine.  As the school bell rang, I’d spin out onto the playing field where I’d bump from one desk to another while a variety of issues and voices would light up the board.  From the front of the class to the middle row and then to the back left corner, the class’s demands and emotions would pop and sling me from one ding to the next ping.  Questions like flippers would hurl me around the room as personalities clashed and kids played slap/ tickle.  At the end of the period, I’d be swept down the machine’s drain, only to have the spring-loaded rod pull back and send me spinning onto the next class’s playing field of slingshots and ramps and bumpers and kickers.

So, so many different kids were part of the pinball machine; however, one student I’ll always remember was Victoria.  What a bold, loud, and commanding presence she was!  Whether  Victoria was trying to get a friend’s attention by throwing a pencil at his head or trying to finish writing a personal narrative by demanding, “Miss!  Make those ‘fruit bowls’ behind me shut up!” she made herself known.

One afternoon another student, Sonya, particularly pissed-off Victoria, and the two girls started yelling at each other from across the room of my rickety portable building.  My feeble efforts to calm the girls down completely failed when Sonya lunged at Victoria after Sonya’s friend Amos urged her to “Get the bitch!”  The noise quickly drew my next door teacher neighbor ( and former Army sergeant) Mr. Samuels into my room.  Mr. Samuels grabbed Sonya while I ushered Victoria to the back corner of the room.  As Sonya proudly displayed  a tangled yard of braided hair in the air the same way Beowulf victoriously held up Grendel’s bloody arm, Victoria grabbed the last word and exclaimed, “Give me my weave back, Bitch!  I paid good money for that!”

Sad to say, I remember another fight that broke out one day when Mr. Samuels had taken his class on a field trip.

This time two boys had decided to take their mutual dislike of one another to the “who’s the alpha dog here?” level.  In a typical 7th grade class two simple words may be all it takes to set off a “throw down.”  On this day during Sustained Silent Reading time, Randy had motioned to Sarah to look over at Josh (the football team’s star tackle) who was moving his lips as he read his Goosebumps novel.  Sarah noticed what Randy wanted her to see, and the mean-spirited boy loudly whispered, “Jumbo Dumbo!” loud enough for several kids AND Josh to hear.  In an instant, Josh was out of his seat and had overturned Randy’s desk. The class erupted into a welcomed frenzy that ended their SRR.  Soon others were moving desks around to create a fighting ring, as my loud demands to “Come on! Cut it out!” were drowned out by, “FIGHT! FIGHT!  FIGHT!”

Now slimy Randy was no fighter , so he actually picked up his desk and held it in front of himself like a shield.  Josh just smiled and swatted the desk out of Randy’s shaking hands.

As much as I wished Randy would get the comeuppance he deserved (He was a habitual liar, cheater, slacker, instigator, and all-around jerk), I knew his blood would ultimately be on my hands, so I frantically used the class landline to call for help.

Even though Randy started to try some ridiculous Tai Kwon Do moves, Josh had a smirk on his lips and hate in his eyes as he moved in for the pummeling.

Then out of nowhere Victoria jumped off the ground and onto Josh’s back! (Did I mention she was a big-boned girl?) She actually had Josh in a headlock.  “Ms. G, don’t worry! I got him!” she exclaimed.  “I got ’em!”  I think the unexpectedness of my rescuer’s actions caught most of the room by surprise.  Two of Josh’s teammates lost their mob mentality and helped Victoria subdue Josh.  I quickly got Sarah to take Randy outside on the portable’s porch, and within minutes the school’s SRO arrived to help contain the situation.

Now, Victoria may not have been an A-student or an eager writer or a lover of literature, but that day she proved a strong asset in my chaotic pinball class.  The moment of that chokehold told me Victoria was ultimately on my side and she became one of my most trusted and respected middle school allies in education!

Posted in Children, Introspection, jobs, School, Teaching

What Teaching Kindergarten Taught Me

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What Teaching Kindergarten Taught Me:

My teaching career spanned seventeen years.  Ten years teaching high school and seven years teaching kindergarten.  The chasm is not as deep or wide between the two as you might think because a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old have similar behaviors and thought processes.

Some of my most fun and also frightening teaching memories came from my precious kinder kiddos.  The first year I made the switch from high school to kindergarten, I was constantly wondering why.  Why do these kids not stay seated when I ask them to?  Why can’t they line up in a straight line?  The answer was easy….those were two skills I needed to teach them.  Who knew?  As I quickly learned, the first month of kindergarten is solely dedicated to learning processes, systems, and procedures.  How to line up, how to make it to the bathroom on time, and how to work together safely and without a meltdown.

Boogers:     Sniffles, picking and blowing are all things done with the nose or let’s just call it like it is…boogers.  Problems occur when you are not prepared for Booger mania!  For example,  the sneeze felt round the room; or when known nose picker runs up and hugs your legs passing who knows what onto your skirt; or how about when above said nose picker is chosen line leader for the day and gets to hold the teacher’s hand?  I’ve been known to hold the wrist instead, feigning a sore finger.  One must always be vigilant to pickers and be prepared for the unplanned grasp of the hand.  Although it’s not PC, it would be so cool if you could wear disposable gloves while teaching.  Is there any wonder why Kleenex is number one on the school supply list?
Potty talk, potty time and potty problems:    For some reason, pee, poop, and fart are the 3 funniest words any five year old knows.  Just say the word ‘fart’ and you will cause a group of kindergarteners to collapse into giggles, jokes or stories.  For example:  Once during an appraisal by my principal, a whole classroom dissolved with one fart.

On this day at story time, I had my 25 five-year-olds sitting perfectly still on the carpet in front of me.  We were reading a story which I was incorporating into a fabulous English Language Arts lesson on Sequencing:  What comes next in the story.  I was sitting smugly in my chair, 25 sets of eyes were all on me, my Principal was sitting at the back of the room taking notes when all of a sudden, in the quiet pause of the story….a precious little girl farted.  I tried to bite my lip, keep on reading and act like nothing happened, but one moment later a little one from the back of the group asked, “Did you hear that air biscuit?  One after another the group popped up with other statements:  “I did!”  “Who did it?”  “What’s an air biscuit?”  “That wasn’t a biscuit, it was a fart and it smells!”

Picture me calmly (I was really starting to sweat) asking the class to put all eyes back on me and putting my finger to my lips, tried the silent shhhhhh.

Chaos ensued when another child pointed out the culprit…I didn’t want to, but I glanced at the back of the room and saw my principal hysterically laughing and trying to hide his face while his shoulders were uncontrollably shaking.  He politely excused himself and said, “Perhaps I can come back later.”

I never really got it back together after that, so we went outside to run and play and return after a bathroom break, and try it again.  Sequencing lesson:  What happens after a child has a loud air biscuit?  Mayhem.

On most days, my classroom was calm and uneventful.  You know, those days when you wish Norman Rockwell was capturing the essence of your teaching career?  Those seven years in kindergarten were sweet, funny and oh so endearing.  I learned a lot about life.  I learned boogers and farts are funny at any age.  I learned to be more inquisitive, laugh more, see the joy in everyday events and love with all my heart!

Hey, sometimes “poop” happens… but it’s how you deal with it that matters.