Wednesday, May 25, 2011


There are three good things about teaching middle school (I'm convinced there are more - I have a team of researchers coming up with some hypotheses. But for now, I got three):

1. No matter how seriously I botch a math lesson, it could never be more traumatic than being a teenager.

2. The students are as clumsy and awkward at age fourteen as I am as an adult - and being in my element brings out the best in me (see picture below).

3. They are young enough to be entirely self-entertained with a pencil and paper (or whiteboard and marker) and old enough to have moved on from perpetual rainbows and squiggles. This is a story of that phenomenon.

The previously imminent post of my planned 4th blog: "The perils of 'hard' classwork and 'long' problems," has been interrupted by the following piece of artwork:

On Monday, my school administered the 8th grade science MCAS. Now, like many of my charter-school-teaching, the-world-is-our-achievement-gap-affected-oyster peers, I am a proponent of state testing. There will always be a need to hold schools accountable for "successfully" conveying appropriate content and right now, the "ABCD + open response" mechanism is the best we got. And so we go forth.

The less-discussed by-product of this accountability mechanism is what happens to the schools when this VIP testing occurs. Typically (and when I say typically, I am speaking from my vast experience of three charter schools), scheduling and orchestrating the testing logistics falls on one person - usually due to terrible karma. I've been there. And I assure you that this person has 45,000 other responsibilities. The result is that the proctors are tired teachers and the rooms are crowded. It was in these conditions (plus the 16th day of rain and Mondayness in the air) that I entered a room of THIRTY SEVEN TEENAGERS to proctor the science MCAS.

The science test is the third of three core subject tests and students were tiring of the "blah blah MCAS IS SO IMPORTANT blah blah" speech. Clearly I was still going strong. So when they came in on Monday, they entered not a classroom, but what they seemed to believe what the bouncy ball pit at Discovery Zone (not sure if that's only a NorCal thing...insert name of indoor jungle gym your parents refused to take you to other than for some other kid's birthday here). And due to a number of non-blog-relevant factors, I woke up on the wrong side of the planet on Monday morning. 10 out of 10 on the cranky scale.

So I came out guns blazing. Faster than Daeshawn could say, "yo that's a force!" he had 2 demerits for "being an idiot." I was in rare form. And they rose to the occasion. No sooner did each student FINALLY have their own personal answer sheet, a testing booklet, a pencil, a highlighter and a ruler that the first kid FINISHED. They were given 1 hour and 40 minutes to take the test. The first kid finished in 15 minutes. Thanks a lot, Massachussetts. Nothing is worse than a room full of post-MCAS 8th graders. Except maybe post-MCAS 7th graders.

In my infinite wisdom (which I hope is entirely evident by now), I decided to allow the students who had turned in their work to read or draw. While playing drill sergeant with the bathroom list and continuing to dole out demerits like candy, I gave the students their brush and canvas (dull #2 pencil and recycled paper) and they went to work. It was only when I dismissed them (after 6,000 seconds of torture) that the boldest among them brought me their masterpieces. I have chosen to display what I believe to the be the most accurate depiction. But there were others. Ms. Pace as Medusa. Ms. Pace as a cross between a pig and a T-rex. I can't help but be entirely pleased.

Still puzzling over the fact that there's nothing about drawing teacher caricatures as a classroom management tool in Teach Like a Champion. C'mon, Lemov, get with the program.

(Another amazing example of student artwork. Students are magnetically drawn to the white board, to tasting the forbidden fruit of EXPO dryerase. This Jersey Shore Picasso occurred when I stepped out of my room to make copies for about 3.5 minutes after school.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Married until proven single. Pregnant until proven fat - or having eaten a big meal.

The first time a student asked me if I was pregnant, I had been teaching for about 10 days. It was fairly jarring. I mean I have heard of small chidren circa age 4 asking their mothers if the obese woman in supermarket is pregnant - followed by a large "shhhhh-ing" episode and embarrassment all around. But in my case the student was 14 not 4 and I am not obese. I'm not gonna lie, my first thoughts definitely went to how few times I managed to go running since the year had started. But I told said student that they only thing I was pregnant with was knowledge and that he should avoid asking women that question...um...ever. Clearly I waited to cry into my first-year teacher ice cream sundae until later that night.

But this is not an isolated phenonmenon. In two years working in schools, I have been asked if I am pregnant 4 times. Right around that 4th time I decided to do some careful questioning of why, oh why, I am such a baby-carrying mirage. Here's what I learned:

1. The general rate of pregnancy questioning from students to teachers goes up after lunch. No, young teen, I am not pregnant. Just full. And maybe I wouldn't be so full if I didn't have to stuff my face in my 5-minute lunch break because I spent the other 25 minutes helping you learn to divide for the 37th time. (Shockingly, being mistaken for pregnant does not bring out my most patient, nuturing side).

2. I drink a lot of water. And pee a lot. Whether they were just trying to save me from a fat joke or not, 2 out of 4 of the times I was asked this question, it was explained away by referencing the number of times I have had to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom. They're not wrong.

3. "White women like you have skinny bodies and round stomachs." That's a direct quote from an 11th grader. I think what she was trying to explain was a possible difference in anatomy between teenagers and adults, but for some reason she went racial and well, wrong. Not the best theory, but I thought I should include it for the sake thoroughness.

There is a much broader trend represented by this with-child enigma. I am not sure what the equilavent would be for men (perhaps I will extend my careful questioning), but female teachers are presumed to be married and mothers by all students until proven otherwise. Every man I talk to is my husband or at least my boyfriend. Every weekend I go home to my large brood. The idea that I am a single, unbrooded women remains in the entirely inconceivable category. And when it is finally absorbed that I am neither pregnant nor betrothed, this is the result:

Kristal, 8th grader (at the end of class): Ms.Pace, are you going to have kids?

Me: I hope so. I'd really like to have kids someday.

Kristal: So you're going to adopt?


Me: Maybe. But there might still be time for me to find a husband, no?

Kristal: I guess. But you should probably adopt. Just to be safe.

So just as it is jarring for students to imagine their teacher doing something like grocery shopping or sleeping in a bed rather than a coffin or upsidedown from the ceiling, it is also comforting to them to picture me as perpetually middle-aged and entirely settled. And as long as it doesn't mean being pregnant with anything but knowledge, I will indulge them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


"The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part."
— Jack Handey

Just as there are lots of reasons not to start a blog (see only other post I've ever written), there are lots of reasons not to become a teacher. But one of those reasons is not: because it is drab, humorless or in any way part of the mundane. And because I did not create this blog to complain nor to start a revolution amongst those whose plates are too full to be bothered, I will focus on this humor. Although I reserve the right to diverge into the other parts of my general experience/musings that have emerged as a result of my over-exertion as a new mom. I mean new teacher.

Scenario #1: 5/13/11
The hallways outside my classroom are noisy. My 8th grade class awaits me at the door - mostly lined-up, a little askew. I have not yet gone to greet the students yet because I am picking up kleenex, pencils, paper, paper and paper that rain from the sky at the end of every 70-minute teaching block. I see Khadija standing at the front of the line looking disgruntled.

Me: Hey Khadija, why are you so cranky today?
Khadija: Because Ms. Pace, I have CRABS.
Me: (shocked and amused) Well, I guess that would do it to anyone...
Khadija: (unruffled) No I mean I had crabcakes for lunch.
Me: Huh?
Khadija: So I'm CRABBY. Get it?
Me: Of course.

This was a truly exemplary interaction of the sine curve of emotions that comes so naturally in middle-school conversation. While I was primarily entertained, I had no choice but to feel some level of panic and concern - even if it was buried under true enjoyment of said scenario. I mean, crabs? An eighth grader with crabs? An eighth grader yelling about her crabs in the hallway? And eighth grader unruffled by the fact that her crabs make her cranky? All troubling.

But the great part is that no sooner had I reached the moral precipice in which I had to choose between a trip to the nurse and demanding she never enter my class again, that she revealed herself as a confuddled, disgruntled member of the crabby (read: cranky) teenage population.

And no, I did not ever get to find out what was bothering Khadija. But this was the same kiddo that suggested I jump off the Golden Gate Bridge on New Years Day. That's another story for another day.

Inner bloggings

There are lots of reasons not to start a blog:

1. Now not only do your friends have to remember your birthday (thank you, facebook), they have to "follow" you or risk listening to you whine about going unread.

2. You have to return everyone's phone calls. And write thank-you notes. If you have time to write a blog, you have time to call Nana back.

3. Carpal tunnel. Painful. Avoidable, sans blog.

4. You risk uncovering, word by word, the real truth that your life is boring.

5. You risk uncovering, word by word, that your life is entertaining, but that you just cannot write.

6. Despite all your tedious efforts to change "Dan's" name to "Roberto," Dan/Roberto will still find out you wrote about his halitosis for all 3 of your followers to cringe at and Dan/Roberto will never speak to you again. Which in this case, might be a win. But you never know.

7. The self-importance of your own words readily available on the interwebs goes to your head in such a way that if a post were to say get deleted by a clumsy 7th grader who knocked your computer off your desk (5/17/2011), you would feel like some epic piece of literature was lost. Cue writers block and deep depression.

8. Typos. Everyone makes them. Smart people judge you for them. "Whiskey" becomes "wiskey" by one swift miss of the "h" key and the judgement begins. Cue writers block and deep depression.

Lucky for the world of online journalism, I have decided to jump these nearly insurmountable hurdles and go forth. Mostly because the great LEL (initials not changed for the purpose of perpetuating her online celebrity) has recently returned to writing. In addition to chuckling at her entries whilst hard at work during my prep period, I have felt like LEL and I have been hanging out. Like we've spent seriously bonding time together - she writes, I laugh, I talk to the screen to reciprocate the storytelling - it's all very natural. Anyway, I want that. Because maybe, just maybe, someday someone will talk to their computer screen in my honor. A girl can dream.

And the truth of the matter is that even if I fail to capture the constantly available humor and irony in being a mostly awkward, clumsy twenty-something engaged in numerous online-dating mishaps, cooking disasters and blooming gym-instigated friendships, the humor in teaching is undeniable. If nothing else, I could make whole entries of student quotes - not a change a word - and this would be humor enough. I cannot promise I will always keep my creative license holstered, but it's a solid fall-back plan.

Mostly I am starting a blog because I really like the sound my keyboard makes and I love creating hyphenated adjectives. Seriously.

Here goes nothing but time and potentially-hindered typing dexterity...