Battle of the Bulge

It’s the post-vacation bulge. My backpack, not my jeans.

Today is the last day of school vacation. The snowstorm killed our return last Thursday, so it’s come twice. It’s the day the bell tolls, the alarm clocks get set, and teens everywhere shake the crumbs off their crumpled hoodies preparing for the death march back to school.

It’s the day that teachers scrutinize the list of inspiration, planning, and work we aspired to bang out over break. We realize it’s not done. Not even close. No little elf has assisted. Sure, there are some enviable people out there who tweet all they accomplished. I feel like a capital “L” loser.  In truth, I call “foul.” I demand an audit. No one can be that productive when staring in the face of a holiday. Cheesecake, or work?

I wanted to plan out the next seven years of teaching, make Prezis that would make Rembrandt cry, and have the grade book polished a week ago. Alas, there’s not a single Prezi to be found.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 6.27.39 AM“Open me!” A voice hisses from the corner. It’s the backpack. The one that comes with a bottle opener in case of emergency. Every compartment’s stuffed with things to do–papers to correct, books I wanted to read, things that would have gotten me pretty far ahead in the stratosphere of preparation.

Alas, procrastination is an art form that must be fine-tuned. I consider it often. I have a book about it, “Overcoming Procrastination.” I’ve had it for two decades, never read it. They say, “never do something today that can be put off till tomorrow.”  And since “tomorrow never comes,” it’s fair to say that the hissing, bubbling, grumbling backpack can remain closed…perhaps indefinitely…

Today is the tomorrow that came. The one that slipped by the guards and snuck in without permission.

“Open me…” cajoles the backpack. “It’s okay. You want to open me…”  A lesson in life. Never answer the call of the sirens. Temptation is deadly. Always ends badly. The hero always opens the closet in a horror movie…Don’t open the closet! For me it’s, “Don’t open the backpack. It’s certain doom!”

I approach the zipper. I put my thumb and finger on it. I begin to tug. The papers rustle around. I hear a maniacal laugh.

It has to be done. I rip open the compartment, reach in, and yank out the stack. Not so bad as I remembered. Seems they procreated only in my dreams. Just a couple sections of a test I didn’t finish correcting, and a half-paper scratched up with ideas. Now I remember where I left off. The ideas begin to flow.

I smile, even without a Prezi. No pile of oppression here. Just a few things to do, some reminders that I miss my students…and a dead candy cane.

I guess I’ll be okay to return.



Glitter, Garbage and Gratitude

Yesterday I made a strategic error in lesson planning.  I wanted some old-school fun that disguised learning. Some “edutainment.”  I needed the quickest of projects that showed mastery of the Bill of Rights, synthesized some research, and didn’t look like it sucked. Since the next item on the agenda is Midterm Review–which isn’t a trip to Disneyland even in Casey’s World–I wanted a lesson guaranteed to make us smile.

I got an idea–I would use glitter.

I haven’t really done any of these old-school crayon, glue, glitter projects lately since I got all tech-drunk. Instead, we do blogs and infographics and tweets and comments.  Certainly technology is productive and fun, but in my day we used glue. I am a history teacher, not to mention a relic thereof, so I decided to take off the tech-gloves and unleash some good old-fashioned old-school paper and glue fun. With glitter.

What a disaster.  First off, I remembered why I love tech in the first place.  You don’t have to say a million times to high-schoolers “Scissor safety! Do NOT pretend to cut her hair.”

This isn’t their fault. Despite my decrees and rules that materials should be used appropriately, kids don’t really get enough art time in schools, so hands on supplies become a novelty. They’re excited. I don’t blame them.

When teaching with technology, you don’t have to say, “You are using the glue on your project. Not making hand gloves.” Secretly, I smile at this one, remembering with nostalgia how many times have I slathered Elmer’s glue on my hand, let it dry, and peeled it off saying, “LOOK, I’m MELTING!”  Maybe that’s a bit of an elementary school thing, but when you break out the glue, we’re all kids at heart.

When using technology in the classroom, you certainly do NOT have to say, “Please don’t waste the paper and supplies. I have to buy these myself and they have to last for eight classes. Use them wisely,” as five thousand confetti pieces of various colors and sizes fly through the air because someone needs red.

But the GLITTER.  That was just a Jeff Foxworthy “Here’s your sign!” teaching moment.  At first, it seemed great. Tons of kids passing around bottles and cups of shiny stuff, gluing words like “Freedom of speech” onto little holiday ornaments, synthesizing their  research into holiday decorations.

But then, the mess crept in.

And I remembered why I don’t use glitter.  Probably half of the educational technology out there was inspired by people who used glitter in class. They said, “I’m gonna make an app for that because I am NOT getting glitter all over my clothes again!” And thus, Silicon Valley ed tech was born.

After about five minutes, the hypnotic spell of the glitter wore off, and a kid got the idea that it would look great in the hair of a girl he probably wanted to date. Guys in the 14 to 16-year-old range aren’t smart enough to realize that chucking stuff in the perfectly arranged hair of a girl they like gets them farther from the end goal of her being impressed with him.  So, I had a couple of cases of “misuse of classroom resources,” to deal with followed up by a student “my bad,” the universally accepted apology.

Behavior corrected, I got the projects I wanted.  Things went well for a couple of classes. Then I got a case of the human  .

“Are you out of your MIND? What possessed you to throw that glitter up in the air?”

“Miss, it’s snowing!” Okay, so it hasn’t snowed here. Truth is, I’m getting worried, though I’m enjoying the pink roses in my front yard. I think the Mayas or Al Gore might be right–this weather is freakish.  I decided to be forgiving. In true Arlo Guthrie style, I made him pick up the garbage and get back to work.  And I managed to get a nice project once again.

By the end of the day, however, the room was destroyed. I had swept, straightened, and arranged all day. My idea of a peaceful holiday-music craft session with kids who never get to do crafts turned into an energetic “constructive chaos” free for all.  Highly productive, tons of fun, but zero of the holiday zen for which I had hoped.

And the glitter.  Glitter, you may not know, is the only inanimate substance capable of reproducing when let out of the container. I bought one container of gold glitter.  It reproduced like a virus until my room was covered three feet thick. It really did look like a snow globe.  I stepped back. I snapped a picture. I froze the moment in my mind and decided if I couldn’t have snow on the ground for December, this would do just fine.

In the end, I was blessed with a senior who came in and took charge of the cleanup. I don’t think she was very happy, because, although she thinks she wants to be a pharmacist, she seems to be headed down the road of becoming a professional organizer.  We have a deal–I help her get into college and look at papers, and she tells me to clean my desk.  She took charge of that cleanup so efficiently that I felt a pang of guilt.  She then issued a proclamation that I will probably obey:

“Mrs. Casey-Rowe,” she said, “There will be no more glitter in this room.” For a moment in time, she held the authority of Commissioner Gist herself. I’m pretty sure I will obey.

But by the time I left school, I was truly overwhelmed, not by the glitter and mess, but by the tragic news feeds from my home state which had been coming in steadily.

I picked up my son from school, and we ran laps around the gazebo, which we do together if he stays “in the green” and has a good day. He did.

“Look, Mommy. It’s your flower.” On the ground, there was a single newly blossomed dandelion. That’s my university’s flower, and Declan knows that. He became a Rochester fan watching the YellowJackets rock “The Singoff.”

He picked the flower and handed it to me. “It’s for you.”

It matched the gold glitter all over my body. At that moment, I knew that my lesson was good. And that life is good, too. I hope that someone went home and told their parents that they got glitter in their hair, or that they got to glue stuff together. I hope it’s one of those lessons that we don’t do often enough but that they never forget.

I’ll clean up the rest on Monday.

This is the single dandelion Declan found.

This is the single dandelion Declan found.