The One That Got Away

So here is the latest short fiction piece I wrote for the weekly contest I enter.  The prompt was titled “Get Schooled.”  The story simply had to be set at one of the schools they listed. The options were things like Clown College, College of Renewable Energy, and College of Funeral Services.  I chose funeral services.  I found out yesterday that my story didn’t win so I can now post it here.  Enjoy.  I always love constructive criticism.  Feel free to leave in the comments section.

 

The One That Got Away

Just stick to the rules.  That’s what I told myself when I first got into this business.  Set rules to mitigate the obvious risks and then stick to them. That’s how you survive and don’t get caught.  Rule One: Don’t know too much. With what I did, the less I know, the better. Knowing too much is what gets people caught or killed.  

As a professor of mortuary affairs at the College of Funeral Services, I was in the unique position of having a legitimate means of disposing of human remains.  I taught the Embalming I class and clinical lab to accompany it. Included in this course was cremation services. The school had an older but still effective crematorium that we used as a teaching tool.  We worked with some of the local funeral homes to get deceased bodies to show the students how the process worked. It was my unique position of having these means of disposal that attracted the Russian mob to me in the first place.

Well, to be honest, it was my dumb cousin Ronnie that really attracted them to me.  If he hadn’t come up with the brilliant idea of using me to dispose of the bodies, they would still be burying them or dumping them in lakes or whatever they did before me.  Either way, it was what it was and I now knew more Ivans, Anatolys, Vladimirs, and Pavels then I knew what to do with.

Rule Two: No live ones.  I had made that one absolutely clear at the very beginning.  I was not a killer. I was not an interrogator. I was a disposer, nothing more.  My crematorium was not a threat and not a weapon, it was tool. My job within their organization was very clear and defined and I wanted nothing to do with anything outside of it.  

Ronnie?  Ronnie was just a delivery boy.  But he was a delivery boy that violated Rule One.  His job should have been just as clearly defined as mine.  Pick up a package at Point A and take it to Point B. Leave said package at Point B while retrieving an already agreed upon payment for said package.

However, as I may have mentioned, Ronnie is an idiot.  He was forever trying to meddle in the affairs of the Russians and learn everything there was to know.  As if he had a chance to move up the hierarchy. We shared the last name of Müller which made us about as Russian as sauerkraut.  Odd that after seventeen years of running deliveries for the Russian Mob, Ronald Müller hadn’t climbed the ladder to become a boss.  I had tried to talk to him several times about it and he was somehow still convinced that there was a future in it for him.

I, on the other hand, kept doing what I was doing for the simple fact that I knew the future for me if I ever decided not to.  My motivation was not so much hoping for a positive consequence as it was avoiding a decidedly negative one.

“So why did you get into funeral services?”

The voices of the first year students in my lab shook me back into reality.  We were in the Embalming I Clinical lab and the students chatted aimlessly as they went about their work.  

“Well, I figured it was a solid career choice.  I mean it’s a business everyone is dying to get into.”

I cringed.  There were bad jokes and then there were bad jokes about funeral services.  A whole different level.

“Yeah. I don’t think that the profession is going under anytime soon.”

It just kept getting worse.  I looked at the clock. Fifteen minutes to go.  My cell phone buzzing on my desk next to me was a welcome distraction.  It was a text from Ronnie. “One coming in tonight. Crazy story. Tell you all about it when I get there.”  I replied with a simple. “Rule One. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Ronnie knew my rules but sometimes was so excited about the backstory that he felt he had to tell me.  Most of the time, I put headphones in and worked while he prattled on, not caring that I wasn’t hearing a single word he said.

My phone buzzed again. “No, this is different. You’ll want to hear this.”  His next text included a link to a news article. I went against my better judgement and opened the article. The opening headline read, “Daughter of Russian Diplomat Goes Missing.”  I didn’t read the rest of the article. Better not to know.

Class ended and the students filed quickly out.  They had much better things to do on a Friday than hang about an embalming lab.  It was 6:30 and Ronnie wouldn’t be at the school until after 9. We used a maintenance road and back entrance to get the bodies into the crematorium.  When the buildings on campus had undergone a maintenance and security upgrade back at the turn of the millenium, the cameras that had been planned for the back of the building and entrance had been cut due to budget constraints.  It was convenient but we still had to wait until dark. I decided to head to the Panera right down the road to get dinner while I waited for Ronnie.

As I sat down to my bread bowl with black bean soup, I looked at my phone and, against my better judgement again, reopened the link to the news article.  Irina Stepanov, the 27 year old daughter of Marat Stepanov had been in the States visiting her father when she had gone missing yesterday evening. The news article included a photograph and, I had to say, she was not a woman who was difficult to look at.  She had wavy dark hair and strikingly dark eyes to match. Her features were defined without going so far as being sharp or pointed. In the photo she had a slight smile that hinted of humor and her eyes belied intelligence.

Without thinking, I Googled her name and clicked on her wikipedia bio.  My intuition about her eyes had been correct. She had begun attending St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University at 14 years old.  She had received her undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and then completed a double master’s degree program in informatics and computer science by the time she had turned 20.  Very impressive.

The events and circumstances surrounding her disappearance were both mysterious and questionable according to the newspaper.  She had been seen stumbling toward the bathroom in a restaurant but hadn’t been seen since then. According to Ronnie, I’m sure the events and circumstances were much less mysterious and questionable.  

I looked down at my phone and saw that I had spent nearly an hour and a half reading.  I cleared my tray and headed to my car to go back to the school.

I found Ronnie already waiting for me at the back entrance to the building, a stupid grin spreading across his face.  “This is my shot man. I’m telling you. This is my shot and I killed it. This is big for me. This is my shot.” He had this annoying way of repeating himself when he was excited, which he clearly was.  I just wanted to get out of there and settled onto my couch with a glass of Moscato to binge watch The Office for the third time. I heard him talk without really listening. However, as much as I didn’t want to, I caught parts of how he had been the perfect candidate for the job because he was American and used to be a waiter.  Apparently he had dropped something in her drink. She had gone to the bathroom and the rest was history.

“I’m telling you man, this is”

“Your shot Ronnie.  I know. I heard.”

Really I just wanted him to leave.

“You know, why don’t you just head home.  I’ll finish up here. Go celebrate buddy.”

I didn’t need to repeat myself there.  He was gone quicker than a shot of cheap vodka leaving me with the body of Irina Stepanov; billionaire genius.  

I stepped toward the body to begin the process of moving into the crematorium when I thought for a second I thought I saw the chest move ever so slightly.  My heart stopped. I paused and watched intently. Nothing. Then again, almost undetectably, the chest rose and fell in the faintest hint of a breath.

“Shit.”  Ronnie had now violated rules number one and two in the same day.  I had no idea how to proceed. In over ten years of disposing of bodies for the mob, this had never happened before.  

In a split second I made my decision.  There was no way I could do it. I was simply a disposer, not a killer.  It took me about five minutes to head to the parking lot, pull my car around through the maintenance road to the back entrance, and get back into the lab outside the crematorium.  

By the time I got back inside, Irina’s chest was rising and falling faintly but steadily with an undeniable rhythm that showed she was in fact alive.  Ronnie was even stupider than I thought. Whatever he had used to drug and then kill her was obviously not as effective as he thought or had been administered in a faulty manner.  My instinct told me it was the latter.

I was now faced with the difficulty of how to get her back to my house.  Now that I knew she was alive, I didn’t feel right putting her in the trunk.  I was about to go Weekend at Bernie’s with her either though. However, if I laid her down in the backseat and for some reason was stopped by the police, it would be a hard thing to explain.  However, I decided that was my best option and placed her gently on her side in the fetal position.

The drive was mercifully uneventful.  She stirred slightly once or twice but didn’t wake.  My house has an attached garage so transporting Irina from the car to the house was equally uneventful.  

The next two days were spent caring for her as she drifted in an out of consciousness.  It was not nearly as awkward as I might have thought it to be. There was no screaming and trying to escape as she’d lost most of her motor control.  She seemed to be in much of a dreamlike state. Each time she awoke I spoke calmly and plainly, letting her know who I was, where she was, and what had happened.  I found that as soon as she heard me speak in English, she only communicated that way and did so very well. She had no noticeable accent and was as well spoken as someone who had been drugged mostly to death could be.

By Sunday afternoon, she was fully conscious and beginning to regain control of her nervous system and major muscle groups.  She knew exactly who she was and could recall all of the events leading up to her abduction. This surprised me. I don’t know if I had been watching too many movies and was expecting temporary amnesia or something, but it did.  

I found talking to her easier than with any human I had ever encountered before in my life.  In the space of 5 hours I had told her everything about me. I had told her about how I hadn’t every really had a serious relationship.  I told her how I hated working for the mob. How when my baby teeth had started falling out we had found out that I had something called anodontia, a condition in which the permanent teeth never grow back.  When Monday came around, I was legitimately disappointed to leave my usual lonely domicile and head back to work. When I returned home and found Irina still there, I was ecstatic. Now we simply had to answer the question of what to do now.

“Well they can’t know that I’m alive.” she said. “Then they’ll have me to hold over Papa’s head again.”

“But can he know you’re alive?” I asked.  Her reply took a long time.

“No.” she said sadly. “He can’t. If anyone but you finds out that I didn’t die, we’re both as good as dead.”

“Right.” I said.  “So what do we do?”

“Well that depends.” she said. “Can you live the rest of your life and keep this a secret? Also, what if something somehow does happen and the mob finds out that I’m still alive?  You’d be dead before you realized what was happening.”

“So you’re saying I need to get out too?” I asked.

“Absolutely.” She answered.

“Impossible.  There’s only one way out, and it’s through my crematorium.”

“Well then that’s how we’ll do it.  A crematorium.”

The “crematorium” she had in mind was actually my car.  It was a fairly simple operation. Crash my car hard enough into a pole to make it believable that it would catch fire somehow and then light it on fire.  My anodontia further simplified the matter. The fire from the car would ruin any DNA so the only way to identify a body would be through dental records. After the fifth grade, I had no dental records to speak of.  Just a set of false teeth that would also be destroyed in the fire. As for who we would be after I died, having someone with a master’s degree in informatics and computer technology helped us obtain complete new identities.  I was to become Joshua Thompson and was pleasantly surprised to find that she had given herself the same last name, Nadia Thompson.

After that, it was simply a matter of waiting until Ronnie produced another body that was the same height and relative build that I was.  Luckily, the world is not in short supply of 5’10” males and he texted me two weeks later that he had another delivery.

As Irina and I stood there watching my car and my entire past life burn, she turned to me and asked if I thought I would miss it.

I was truly ashamed of my reply. “Well, teaching at the College of Funeral Services was a great way to urn a living, but I’m ready to move on.”

Her laugh was genuine as she retorted with, “Well then, I think that this will be a very fine undertaking for you then.”

Pure gold.

Secrets Secrets – The Home Life

Sometimes kids tattle on their parents without really understanding what they’re doing.  There are times when students disclose to us serious things that happen in the home but other times it is much more lighthearted and funny.  The best of these stories come when the student has absolutely no idea what they’re actually telling us.  Other times they know what they’re saying and just don’t realize how much their parent doesn’t want us to hear it.  For example…

The Crying Baby

I was doing a reward lunch with a group of students.  These are always great because students just talk.  When they’re allowed to just talk, really funny things come out of their mouth.  This one student was talking about his siblings.  “Mr. Steidl, my little brother cries a lot.  Yesterday, my mom and her boyfriend went in to her bedroom because they had to find something in her closet.  They were in there for a long time looking and I had to watch my baby brother the whole time.  He was just crying and crying.” I didn’t ask if they found what they were looking for.

Those Red Lights Are the Worst

This time was right around Marin Luther King Jr. day.  We were talking about the impact that he had on our nation and how he was instrumental in changing some very unfair laws.  I was trying to explain to a group of first graders what the Jim Crow laws were.  One little girl raised her hand and just started talking.  “Mr. Steidl I know we have laws that are really really bad.  Like red lights.”  “Red lights?”  “Yeah you know like on the roads.”  “Yes.  I know what red lights are.  Why are they so bad?”  “Well my mom always says that the red lights make her late for work.”  “Yep.  Red lights are the worst for that aren’t they.”

Palabras Malas

We’ve had a few students this year that moved here from Puerto Rico after the hurricane.  These students obviously bring a whole set of new challenges with the language barrier and other factors.  It’s fascinating to watch them acclimate socially and begin to learn the language.  It’s funny to see which words they learn first from their peers.  One of the boys simply hardly talks at all even to me in Spanish.  So his teacher was very surprised when she heard him not only speak but say “Holy shit.”  So, we found ourselves having a discussion about language that is appropriate for school.  We usually get some kids say things like, “But my mom says that all the time.”  One time I remember a girl even looking at us and saying, “Um, have you met my step dad Jose?”  Well this particular time, when we were talking about swearing, one student raised her hand and said, “Mr. Steidl, my mom cusses about you all the time.”  “Really?” I replied.  “Yeah, she doesn’t like you very much.  She always calls you the B word and the F word.  She sometimes says the S word too when she talks about you.”  Well thank you.  That is very encouraging.   I’m sure she wants you to let me know.

 

Minor Indiscretions

So I started writing for this weekly short fiction contest.  They email me five prompts on Friday and I have until midnight the following Friday to respond to one of them.  Well, long story short (pun intended), I missed the deadline this week so I am allowed to just post my story on my blog.  So, I guess my lack of responsibility is your gain.

The prompt I chose was to write a story based on a meme.  I chose a meme of Kevin Hart that says “That awkward moment when you’ve already said “What?” three times and still didn’t hear, so you just agree.”  I don’t know why I chose to write my story from the perspective of a 35 year old woman but I did.  You guys can psychoanalyze that all you want lol.  So here is my story. “Minor Indiscretions.”

 

 

“You know. They always say that if you couldn’t go to jail for it, it’s probably not worth doing.”

I looked up from my drink. “No, no one says that.” I replied.  “You’ve been saying that for fifteen years and I’ve never heard anyone say it but you.”

“Maybe so.  But just because I’m the only one who says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”  Olivia flashed her winning smile, giggled, and took a sip of her drink.

Whether or not she was the only one who said it, it was the way that Olivia lived her life.  Ever since she waltzed into my world in the seventh grade, she’d lived life on the edge. Olivia had been a rock star from day one.  As the daughter of a Jamaican father and Irish mother, she had been the only black girl in our little suburban school in northeast Ohio.  When she had transferred into the school in the middle of seventh grade, everyone had been in awe. Not only did her skin tone set her apart, but her personality was positively radiant.  Olivia had the ability to talk to someone for five minutes and make them feel like they had been best friends since birth. She was talented in almost every sense of the word; artistically, musically, athletically.  She absolutely excelled in anything that she tried. Me? Well, I was kind of just there.

Which is why it absolutely blew my mind when she had come up to me on the last day of eighth grade and said, “Listen, I need to know right now are you in or out?  Sisters’ pact.” It had caught me off guard so much that I had replied “in” without having even the slightest notion of what I was committing to. We made a pinky promise, our “sisters’ pact” right then and there.  And that’s how I found myself on a flight to Montego Bay to spend two weeks in the mountains of Jamaica.

I still haven’t the slightest idea why she chose me to be her best friend.  Like I said, I’m just kind of there. I’m not extremely intelligent, not gifted in music or art, definitely not athletically talented, and not really even funny either.  My looks are pretty unremarkable. I’m just kind of your average white girl. I’m a brown hair, brown eyes, some freckles, 5’4” B cup average type deal. If I was a car, I’d be a Honda Civic, the sedan, not even the cute hatchback style.  No one sees a Civic on the road and really thinks it’s an amazing looking car or an ugly car. No one really sees it at all. It’s just kind of there and part of the scenery.

However, whatever reasons she had or didn’t have, we were best friends.  We did everything together. My high school and college years were filled with her calling or texting me, “Tell me now, are you in or out? Sisters’ pact.”  Our sisters’ pacts almost always ended up with me sitting at my kitchen table explaining to my parents “And that’s how I ended up falling into the river.” or “And that’s how I ended up getting caught stealing from Wal-Mart to feed homeless people.”  or something like that.

I had grown wiser over the years and started asking what “it” was first.  Sometimes Olivia told me and sometimes she didn’t. The times that she didn’t were always nerve wracking but rewarding at the same time. “That’s how I ended up backstage at a Backstreet Boys reunion show.”  “That’s how I ended up as an extra in the latest Avengers movie.”

As she spoke to me now though, I couldn’t really hear what she was saying.  I don’t know if it was the drinks, the noise in the bar, or that my mind was elsewhere.  I just couldn’t make out what she was saying. I’d already said “What?” three times and could tell she was getting annoyed.  So I ended up just nodding and taking the sisters’ pact to go through with whatever scheme she had cooked up. And that’s how I ended up on a plane bound for Zimbabwe.   

After graduating from medical school, Olivia had volunteered with Doctors Without Borders and spent a lot of time travelling the world.  As happens with everyone she meets, she made friends with people from Peru to Bangladesh, Vietnam to Somalia. As we boarded the plane, she was chattering on about how this might actually work since she knew a man in Zimbabwe who trains monkeys. She also knew that the leader of the Makunde village had a pet monkey that he carried on his shoulder.  At this point in our lives, I had stopped questioning whether or not she really knew the people she said she knew or how she knew things like the fact that the Makunde village leader carried a monkey everywhere. She just did.

I still hadn’t the slightest idea of what I had signed up to do or why it involved a trained monkey.  

“So all we have to do is switch out his monkey with our trained monkey and we could really pull this off.”  

When we sat down on the plane and she pulled out our estimated travel itinerary, I started to get nervous.

Our meeting with the monkey trainer was generally uneventful.  I could tell immediately that the man, like most men, was absolutely smitten with Olivia.  He glanced at me once when we walked in and then spent the rest of the time fawning over her.  It didn’t bother me. I was used to it. When you’re a Civic driving next to a Ferrari, you don’t expect a lot of attention.  She went into the corner with him and spoke to him in hushed tones about our sordid scheme. His eyes brightened as he seemed to have just the monkey for the job.  And that’s how I ended up on a bus in Zimbabwe with a vervet monkey perched on my lap.

As strange as it may sound, the monkey was really quite pleasant and cute.  It was about a six hour ride to get from Harare International Airport to Bikita, the nearest large city to the Makunde village.  However, Olivia spent the time solidifying the details of our plan. “I know it’s risky, but the payoff is totally worth it.” I totally disagreed but what could I do?  I had made the sisters’ pact.

We got to Bikita and walked from the bus depot to a friend’s house.  She lived only a five minute walk away and as we strolled through the streets, I was once again amazed by the ease with which Olivia both stood out and blended in to her surroundings.  She was obviously not a native Zimbabwean but anyone watching her walk carelessly through the street with such confidence would have thought that she had lived there most of her life. She was as natural in Bikita as a polar bear in the arctic.  

However, when we got to her friend’s house, no one was home.  “Dammit! She said that she would be back by now!” Olivia said as we sat in front of the house.  Night was falling and I was starting to get a little more than uncomfortable. We knocked a few more times then gave up.  I figured that we would try to somehow find a hotel somewhere but Olivia had different plans. “You know. They always say that if you couldn’t go to jail for it, it’s probably not worth doing.”  “Still not true.” I thought. However, that’s how I ended up breaking into a stranger’s home at 11:00 at night in Bikita, Zimbabwe.

Olivia’s friend returned the next morning.  She had stayed late at work and slept at her desk she said.  She came in, showered, and headed back to her place of employment while Olivia and I stayed to finalize our plan.  We needed to hike out to the village under the cover of night to switch the two monkeys. No witnesses to see us come and go and the monkey wasn’t going to say anything.  

We left around midnight to begin our trek to the village.  The going was pretty easy. We followed the road the whole way.  Although I wouldn’t have wanted to drive my Civic from home on it (yes I even drove a Civic), walking along it was not difficult.  The moon was out in a cloudless sky and as we walked, I had a strange calm about what we were about to do. Depending on how they prosecuted us, the penalty could be fairly steep.  The sounds of Zimbabwe were soothing and the lack of traffic along the road was refreshing.

We got to the village leader’s hut and I began looking around for some sort of cage.  “Where does he keep it do you think?” I whispered. “Don’t be silly,” Olivia whispered back. “He sleeps with it.”  And that’s how I ended up breaking into a village leader’s hut and abducting his pet monkey.

If that was the least of our indiscretions that week I would have been fine.  It would have been a nice adventure to play a harmless prank on someone. However, Olivia had something much more devious in mind.  As the sun rose, we had taken up a surveillance post in the wildlife reserve about three miles outside the village. We were close enough to view what was happening with some high resolution binoculars but far enough away that we were out of range of the secret service agents that arrived about six hours before the motorcade.

“What do you think we’re looking at if we get caught?” Olivia asked.  “Lock us up and throw away the key? Ten to fifteen years? Slap on the wrist?”

“When,”  I replied “It’s when we get caught.  There’s no way we get away with this. It all depends though… I honestly don’t know the total illegality of it.”

Our conversation stopped as soon as the motorcade pulled in.  It wasn’t actually any kind of real diplomatic mission. It was really just an overblown publicity stunt.  The president was meeting with the village chief to announce a new initiative of U.S. humanitarian aid. It hadn’t even been officially announced hence the lighter than usual security.  There was just enough press to get a few photos and minutes of footage to air on the evening news that night. Not enough to warrant a live press conference.

We watched as the president stepped out of the black SUV that had made the trek down the road to the Makunde village and approached the hut with the elder standing in front.  Our monkey sat perched on his shoulder. We waited with bated breath as the two men talked. When they reached in to shake hands and the monkey jumped from one shoulder to the next, our breath stopped completely.  

At this point, the secret service personnel were met with a moment of indecision.  They had to take in several factors and answer several questions. First, what real threat did a vervet monkey pose?  Second, if the decision was that it posed a legitimate threat, what is the correct course of action? Do you shoot a monkey just for jumping on the President’s shoulder?  After what seemed like the longest five seconds of my life, one of the security personnel moved in to remove the monkey from the president’s shoulder. The monkey made its move and latched its little fingers onto the presidential scalp.  

And that’s how I ended up running through the jungle in Zimbabwe with Donald Trump’s stolen hairpeace stuffed in my backpack.

Comparatives and Superlatives are the Most Worstest to Teach and Complicateder Than You Think.

So this blog post is where I nerd out and rant on the topic of comparatives and superlatives in the English language.  They’re just so much more complicated then other languages.  For those of you who aren’t as grammar-nerdy as me, comparatives and superlatives are when two or more nouns are compared based solely on their adherence to a single adjective.  For example, comparing to shoes based on their adherence to the adjective “small.”  You could compare two shoes by saying that one shoe is “smaller” than the other.  Or you could compare three or more shoes by saying that one shoe is “the smallest.”  So, smaller and smallest are the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective small.

Now, the simplest form of the rule for comparatives and superlatives for English is that you add -er to the end of the adjective for a comparative and -est to the end for the superlative form.  However, it’s not nearly as simple as all that.  Let me just take you through the journey that I’ve gone on with my students this year.

Day #1 – Adjectives

The first step in teaching comparatives and superlatives was learning what an adjective is.  Simple definition is that adjectives describe nouns.  They tell you something more about a noun.  Back to the shoe example.  What kind of shoe is it?  It is a small shoe.  The adjective simply tells you more about the noun.  Even this step is not as simple as it seems.  If the students coming in don’t have mastery of the concept of what a noun is, well then the whole lesson is shot.

Day #10ish – Intro to Comparatives and Superlatives

After about two weeks (10 school days) of rehashing nouns and then masteringish adjectives, we moved on to introducing comparatives.  Of course, the rule I taught was that you simply add -er or -est to the end of the adjective to make it comparative or superlative.  Pretty easy to check that box.  I put three pictures of trees on the board.  I tell them our adjective is “tall.”  So, the first tree is taller, the second tree is..pause waiting for student to answer..taller.  Exactly.  We simply add -er.  And the third tree is the..pause again..tallest.  Fantastic.  Simply throw a good old -est on it and here we go.

We repeated this exercise with different vehicles and the adjective “fast.”  Again, simple.  Simply add -er or -est.

Day #11ish – Words to double the final consonant

The next day, for our opener, I decided I would go off script a bit and let the students pick their own adjectives for the warm-up practice on comparatives and superlatives.  I gave them a pretty broad theme.  They had to choose three animals and compare them using the same adjectives.  Student A chose an elephant, a lion, and a bear.  He was using the adjective big.  So he wrote. “A lion is big.  A bear is biger.  The elephant is the bigest.”…pause.  Things just got a little complicated.  So we stopped and explained that sometimes, you have to double the last letter in the adjective before adding -er or -est.  The next few days were spent covering adjectives like big, wet, fit, flat, fat, thin, etc where you have to double the final consonant.  I was impressed.  Our students tried to analyze when to or not to double the final consonant.  They came up with words that end with t, n, and g.  I was ok with that until….

Day #14ish – Words that don’t double the final consonant

So on day 14, we were talking about animals again.  We decided to compare animals based on speed.  Student B wrote, “A deer is fast, a bear is fastter, but a cheetah is the fasttest.”….pause.  Things just got more complicated.  Now we have to spend a half hour talking about how if there are two consonants at the end of the word than you don’t double the last consonant anymore even if it’s g or t.  So long doesn’t turn into longger, fast into fastest, etc.  Also, if the final consonant is preceded by two consecutive vowels, you also do not double the last consonant…even if it is a g or t.  So sweet does not turn to sweetter nor does clean become cleannest.  So now, students not only have to look at the last letter of the word to determine whether or not to double the consonant but also have to look at the previous two letters.

Day #? – Words that end in vowels

Up until this point, we’ve only really dealt with adjectives that end in consonants.  So now, what do we do with words that end in vowels.  My students were comparing puppies and kittens and saying that they were cuteer and the cuteest. (Adding -er and -est to the end of words).  Ok. So the rule we had to teach next was that if an adjective already ended in an e, don’t add another e.  We’re good.

Day #LordHelpMe – Words that End in -y…mostly

So then there’s the letter y that is special in that it is sometimes a consonant and sometimes and vowel.  Well the next rule we had to teach was that if a letter ends in a y, you change the y to an i and then add -er or -est….except sometimes.  Like the word shy.  If you wanted to say one boy was more shy than the other you would still write that he was shyer.

So, just to count, we’re now on 5 different possible ways to change an adjective into a comparative or superlative.

Day #pleasemakeitstop – Syllable Counting

At this point I’m just about done with this.  However, now we get into longer adjectives.  As in adjectives that have more syllables.  Usually, if an adjective has either one or two syllables, you follow the above rules and add -er or -est in whatever form is required.  Then, usually, if it has more than two syllables, you simply add the words “more” or “the most” in front of the adjective.  So, if you wanted to to compare how complicated two situations were, you wouldn’t say one was complicateder than the other, you would say it was more complicated.  However, this is not a hard and fast rule.  Some adjectives follow the long adjective rule and some do not.  For example, the correct comparative form of the word sincere is sincerer.  On the other hand, the correct comparative of the word anxious is more anxious….And students are simply expected to know the difference because there is no way that we have time to learn every occurrence of each way.

So now we’re at six and kind of seven rules.

Day #I’mEndingThis

Finally, we got to the irregulars.  Adjectives that follow no rules when used as a comparative or superlative.  Luckily, at least half of the students in my class know these intuitively.  For example the adjective many.  It does not turn into manyer, or manier.  You wouldn’t say, “I made many writing errors but she made manier.” You would say “She made more and he made the most.”  Like I said, by the time students have made it to me, they usually know most of these implicitly…..  However, there are some, like me, that are badder than others at it and really struggle to get gooder at it even in adulthood. Happy grammaring everyone.

What if No One Told the Ostrich

So I was cleaning last night and, as is often want to happen, a poem started formulating in my head while I vacuumed.  So, I wrote it down and here it is.  I think it kinda speaks for itself.

 

What if no one ever told the ostrich that she couldn’t fly?

Would she spread her wings and take off in the bright blue African sky?

And what if no one told the lion that he didn’t like to swim?

Would he still stand by the water’s edge? Or would he dive right in?  

And what if no one told the tree he had to stand in place?  

Would he dare to try and unearth his roots and travel far away?

If we never told those little kids they’d never leave the hood,

That basketball’s the only way and son you’re not that good? 

And what if no one told little boys it was football over art?

That cooking wasn’t manly and it’s weak to share your heart.

When we see a young boy crying what if we didn’t point and snicker?

Would he be as quick to buy a gun, take aim, and pull the trigger?

What if no one ever taught me

Here’s how real men drink their coffee?

Would I still feel insecure to try a soy vanilla latte?  

If we didn’t tell the women beauty only looks one way?

Would teenage girls still starve themselves cuz they think they’re overweight?  

And if we never told them it was beauty over brains?

Would we have a cure for cancer instead of more mascara stains?

And what if Barack had listened when they told him “Learn your place.”

“Only white men can be president. Boy don’t you know your race?”

And what if no one told the children different should be hated?

What if we said diversity was to be celebrated?

Our world could look much different if we didn’t say this stuff.

If we said that being kind meant so much more than being tough.

If we didn’t step in line to just regurgitate the lie

There might come a day when we would finally see an ostrich fly.

Gas Leaks

Students at the elementary level have a lot of gas…like a lot a lot.  Thinking about it, it’s probably not that much more than middle or high school age, they simply don’t have the body control or the social acumen yet to realize when the proper times and where the proper locations are for releasing it.  Gas is something that all elementary teachers deal with on a daily basis, but there are three times I can remember that really stood out to me.

All names have been changed to protect the innocent…except Mr. Peters…that’s his actual name.

Mr. Peters and the Nuclear Fallout

Our janitor at the school is named Mr. Peters.  He is an elderly African American gentleman who quietly goes about the building.  When he is interacting with the students at the school, he is almost always gentle, kind, and patient.  I have really only seen one time in an interaction with a student when this was not the case.

We had a set of twins named Rick and Rob at the school.  I worked with both of them for the year that they were at the school.  However, one time stands out.  I had a group of eight students, Rob among them, working with me in the teachers’ lounge which doubled as my reading intervention room.  Rob was always gassy but today was on a different level.  The problem is that not only is it gross but it is also a huge distraction and time waster.  So finally, I said, “Listen, if you really have to do that, you don’t even have to ask me.  Just get up and walk into the hallway and come back.  Give it ten seconds to clear out before you start walking back though.” About five minutes later, Mr. Peters was walking down the hallway and stepped into the doorway of the lounge to ask me a question.  It just so happened that at that moment, Rob felt the urge.  So he jumped up out of his chair, ran to the doorway, stood right next to Mr. Peters, and let it rip.

The look of shock and horror on Mr. Peters face is something that I will never forget as long as I live.  It was the first, and the last time for that matter, that I ever heard him raise his voice at a student.  “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” The shock on Mr. Peters face was matched by the shock on Rob’s face at hearing Mr. Peter’s shout.  “Well Mr. Steidl told me if I had to fart again that I should go into the hallway!” “WELL YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO STAND RIGHT NEXT TO ME WHEN YOU DID IT!” To this day, whenever the issue of a gassy student comes up in Mr. Peter’s presence, he just looks at me, shakes his head, and says, “There’ll never be one as bad as the twin.”

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages

It always amazes me that so much gas can come out of such small bodies.  I remember working with this tiny little first grade girl.  She probably weighed all of about 35 pounds.  We were working on letters and letter sounds in a group of probably five students.  She at least had the decency to do what she had to do silently.  But they were powerful.  The kind of powerful that leaves your eyes watering.  Every time it happened, the kids would all look around and then pull their shirts over their noses.  Finally, one boy said, “My God who is that?!?!” To which four of the students said, “Not me!!!!” The little girl looked straight at me with a pleading look on her face and said, “I can’t even lie, it’s been me the whole time.  I just can’t keep them in! I feel like I’m gonna float into the ceiling if I do!”

Don’t Drink the Water…well Milk Actually

My first year of teaching, I was working in our second grade classroom with a teacher named Ms. Dworkin.  We were both first year teachers working on figuring this whole teaching thing out.  I got into the classroom second period and stayed for two full periods which was a total of 90 minutes.  The classroom was on the basement floor of the school and for some reason was not equipped with any kind of fan.  The lack of air movement became most apparent right around 9:15 every morning.  The room would simply fill with this horrible stench that enveloped any and all living creatures within its confines.  In the fall, we mitigated it by opening windows and doors but once the Northeast Ohio winter hit, that became impossible.  I should have bought stock in Glade air fresheners in the fall because Ms. Dworkin and I would go through the classroom with one in each hand like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit just spraying fresh linen or lavender freshness on everything.  However the stench remained.  It was the kind of pervasive smell like when people smoke weed.  Like they spray cologne or Axe or Febreeze to try to cover it up but in the end just end up smelling like whatever they sprayed…and weed.

Ms. Dworkin and I simply could not figure out who the culprit was.  Until one day a student came into class with a note.  It read, “Please do not allow student to drink the milk at lunch.  He is very lactose intolerant and it gives him indigestion and gas.”  The light went on.  The next morning at breakfast I walked in to see this student with three empty cartons of chocolate milk in front of him. I said, “Woah woah woah, you can’t drink those! You know what they’ll do to you.”  He looked up at me and said, “I know but they’re sooooooo goooooood!”

 

This is Why Teachers Drink

I know it might be hard for you to picture your old third grade teacher Mrs. Schneider kicking back after school on Friday at the local watering hole with a cold beer, but the truth of the matter is that most teachers do drink.  Don’t judge too harshly.  It’s a stressful job no matter where you teach.  I’ve spoken with teachers in the suburbs, in rural areas, and in urban areas, and most of them agree that kids sometimes drive them to the bottle.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy our jobs or love the kids that we teach.  It’s just that sometimes a bit of the sauce helps to take the edge off at the end of the week.  Or the middle of the week….Or on a Monday night.  Whichever.

I’m not going to even get into the really rough stuff that we deal with such as calling Child Protective Services.  I also won’t talk about the simple day to day like constantly having to argue with 7 year olds.  On a side note, I’ve found that even when I’m at home, I just naturally say everything three times while increasing both the volume of my voice and the articulation of hard consonants with each consecutive repetition.  Just a habit I’ve developed because I assume no one hears and/or listens the first two times I say things.  So, for the purpose of the blog, I’ll just share a few examples of the day to day life that makes us run to the bottle.

Dominoes

Over the past three weeks especially, our first grade students have had several incidents in which one person has pushed another in line and they fell down like dominoes and there are five kids crying and holding their faces.  The mop up duty after these occurrences are particularly annoying because A) there are five kids crying, B) all the kids are angry, and C) there is never a way to definitively get to the initial push.  There’s never an answer to who pushed who first that caused the domino effect…until this past week.

Our first grade teacher and I have been concentrating more heavily on the class’ transition periods in the hall.  Walking to and from PE, music, lunch, etc. is from where half the problems of the day originate.  So Ms. North, the first grade teacher, walks at the front of the line, and I walk at the back.  We had arrived safely and without major incident at our destination and were lined up against the wall waiting for their Reading Enrichment teacher to call them into the classroom.  I was patrolling back and forth and saw one little boy lean forward and whisper into the girl’s ear in front of her.  I said, “Now what could have been so important that you just had to lean forward to talk to her in the hallway?”  Immediately his face dropped and he replied, “Nothing.”

The little girl rolled her eyes, shook her head, and said, “He told me to push him again.”…I paused a moment.  I said, “You’re going to have to repeat that.  I thought you said that he asked you to push him.”  “Yeah,” she said, “He asks people to push him so he can fall into other kids and make everybody fall down.”  I fixed an icy gaze on the boy and immediately the water works started.  “But no one got hurt yet today!” He yelled through tears.  And this is why teachers drink.  These are the things that waste our time.  We have to sort through crying children to find that one kid actually asks others to push him so that he can fall into others and knock everyone down.

Cocooning

So yes, I realize that the root of this word is most commonly used as a noun, as in the pupal casing that envelops most moths and caterpillars or other insect larvae.  However, I have started using it as a verb because of our students.  Our heating system at the school is very old.  It’s a boiler system and not a forced air system so it takes a little while to warm up in the morning.  Usually, I allow my students to keep their jackets on for the first 30-45 minutes of each day.  After that, the rooms are very warm and the students have to put their jackets in their lockers.  This makes it harder for the kleptomaniacs in the room to hide whatever markers, staplers, pencils, coffee mugs, etc. that they’re trying to steal. (Yes, I’ve had students try to steal all those things.  I once found a student with 17 highlighters stuffed into the pockets of his coat. Why?…great question.  I’m glad you asked and I wish I had an answer.)

However warm the classrooms may be, student still do this thing in which they tuck their arms and hands inside their shirts.  All in all, probably not a big deal until they need to write, or turn a page, or move, or do anything other than just sit there.  It then turns into them trying to stick just their hand out of the collar of their shirt and bend down to turn the page, or write, etc and then it is a problem.  It’s also simply a safety hazard when they have to move.  Students in the primary age have not yet mastered the simple art of walking, let alone walking in a line, or walking in a line up and down stairs.  They trip and fall a lot.  If you have never worked with 25 elementary age students in a group, you probably think I’m exaggerating.  Believe me I’m not.  So, if a student is cocooning and trips and falls, rather than using his hands to break his fall, he will use his face to do so.

Getting them to stop cocooning is a constant struggle.  You might think that it’s not a big deal.  However, every year that I’ve taught, I’ve had at least three instances of a student walking with his hands inside his shirt and tripping and falling.  However, from the months of October to May, I have no memory of a day in which I have not had to tell at least three students to get their hands out of their shirts.  And it’s always an argument.  And this is why teachers drink. (On a side note, students are allowed to wear sweaters with their uniforms.  I have actually bought students sweaters that they can wear and they refuse because they don’t like them.)

Target Practice and the Poop Bandit

For some reason, the boys bathroom at the school is always a huge problem.  For about a two year stretch, there was an unknown student that we began referring to as the Poop Bandit.  Although our boys’ bathroom is equipped with five or six perfectly working toilets, this child felt it more comfortable to defecate in the sink.  At least twice a month we would find turds in the sink of the boys bathroom.  We never found out who it was either.  If any other students knew who it was, none of them told us anything.It hasn’t happened at all this year though.  But this is why teachers, and janitors, drink.

Our boys bathroom is also equipped with a drain in the middle of the floor.  And although it also has about five or six perfectly good urinals, the boys find it fun to stand around the drain and see how far away they can get and still get it in the drain.  Obviously it’s a trial and error system so by definition they are going to eventually miss…and they miss a lot.  And this is why teachers drink.

 

 

Parenting

I remember my first parent interaction as a first year teacher in Cleveland.  A large woman who was the mother of two boys at our school approached me at our school’s open house and said, “Mr. Steidl, if you’re going to be working with my boys just know that you have my permission and my blessing to put your hands on them if you feel that they need it.”  I smiled and started laughing.  Then I looked at her and saw that she was not at all joking…not at all what I was expecting.  Over the years, I’ve seen a lot.  I’ll not go into detail about the bad.  I would rather share humorous stories about some of the parenting that I’ve witnessed as I’ve worked here.

The Street Vendor

I will forever remember one of my ESL students named Jimmy.  His mother called him Jimmyto.  For those of you who are not familiar with Spanish, adding -ito or sometimes -cito to the end of a name is a form of endearment.  The official name for it is a diminutive.  For English we turn the end of names into a -y to do this sometimes.  Hence, Daniel becomes Danny, Madelyn can become Maddy, etc.  So when she called him “Mi Jimmyto” she was saying how much she cared for her little Jimmy.  Of course he was embarrassed when she did it in public but we all thought it was really nice.  However, she was a strict disciplinarian at the same time.  If she found Jimmy to be at fault in any way at school, she would let him know.

On one particular occasion, Jimmy had been talking back to one of his teachers all week and she finally came to me and asked me if I could speak with her after school, (she only spoke Spanish) to let her know that if his behavior continued that he would be receiving an after school detention.  It was a like a miracle.  The next day, Jimmy came in, sat quietly in his seat, stood in line silently, and did his work without complaint.  In our small group, I inquired what spurred this change in attitude.   I can still remember the look on his face when he said, “My mom said that if I don’t get it together she’s going to send me to Peru to stand on the streets and sell those little chocolate candies.  She wasn’t joking Mr. Steidl.  I really think she will.”  I thought about telling him she wouldn’t really do that but I didn’t for two reasons.  First, if he actually thought she would then I didn’t want to disrupt any leverage that she had in that.  Secondly, and more importantly, I wasn’t actually sure that she wouldn’t do it and didn’t want to lie to the kid.

Them Rawlings Though

We had another student who was actually in the same class as Jimmy who was just forever getting in trouble.  Disrespectful, defiant, disruptive, you name it.  His mother is one of my favorite persons of all time and I actually really liked him too.  Like many of our parents she was a single mother trying to work and raise a child on her own at the same time.  So we tried not to bother her too much with her son’s behavior and tried to handle things in house as much as possible without involving her.  However, there were times when we simply had to get her involved.  One of those times was her son’s fourth grade year.  He had been simply awful for about two weeks straight and we called her for a conference to brainstorm possible solutions.  As we sat down and talked through it, we found that she was at her whit’s end too when it came to his behavior.  In her words, “I could beat that child every day and his head is so hard it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”  So we tried and tried all year to find a solution to his behavior but nothing seemed to get through to him.  Then one day, she came in with a big grin on her face.  “I got it.  We’re good.  You know how he loves his shoes right?” (It was true, the boy was always fit with the newest KDs or Kyries or LeBrons).  “Well, I took a trip to Payless Shoes and bought some good old fashioned Rawlings.  So, if he acts up again, you know what he’s gonna be wearing for a week?”

I have forever in my mind the look on his face one Wednesday morning after he’d had a particularly bad Tuesday as he walked in with that pair of Rawlings on his feet.  I didn’t make a big deal out of it.  He looked at me mournfully and looked down at his feet.  I looked down at his feet and then back up at him.  “She did it?” “Yep, she did it.”  “All week?” “Yep. All week.”  His behavior for the rest of the week was stellar.  I’d like to say that things changed for the rest of the year, but unfortunately that would be false.  However, for that one week….

Renata’s Revenge

There was one boy who we will call Dan who was actually a really great kid.  He transferred to our school about halfway through the year and didn’t re-enroll for the next year so I didn’t ever really know him or his family that well.  However, I remember about two incidents in which we had to call home for behavior.  Both times, I remember that even I was scared at the look on his mother’s face when she came to get him.  I only met her twice but will forever remember that her name was Renata.  It was nearing the end of the year and I had started to plan out the summer reading program for the school.  We were going to do a treasure hunt theme in which students could read books, take a test, and then move a playing piece on this game board to earn prizes.  The game board was a large table decorated like an island with buried treasure.  I had Dan and a few other students helping me decorate.  I remember Dan’s mother was named Renata because he built the pirate ship that was in the cove of the island.  He named the ship “Renata’s Revenge.”  I still laugh anytime I think of that.

Interview with Doug Hoover

Hey Everyone!  Welcome to my first ever attempt at an interview.  I chose one of my favorite teaching peers of all time to interview, Doug Hoover.  We worked together for three years at Horizon Science Academy Denison Elementary.  The interview was conducted over several days via a Google Doc.  I shared with him the initial questions and he answered them and then I followed up with some more questions to try to give it the feel of a face to face interview even though it was conducted entirely online.  Hope you enjoy getting some insight into the life of another teacher.  If you have any suggestions for questions to ask in future interviews, please leave them in the comments section or via the contact page.  Thanks for reading!

Erik – So, can you start by just giving us a history of your teaching career?

Doug – I am in my 9th year of teaching P.E.! My first 3 years of teaching, I was part-time at two different private elementary schools located on the opposite sides of Parma, Ohio. The next 3 years of teaching I was at a Charter school in Cleveland, Ohio (Horizon Science Academy…with you!). The past 3 years, I have been teaching Elementary P.E. in Lorain City Schools. This is just my official PE teaching. I have been doing summer camps/sports camps for probably close to 12 years.

Erik – So all nine years teaching at the elementary level.  Do you ever envision moving to middle or high school?  Is that something you think you would like to do at some point?

Doug – I’m not sure to be honest…if I HAD to, I definitely would, but I really enjoy the elementary level kids. Most of them are excitable and want to be there. I could see myself being a lifer at the elementary level.

Erik – What led you to be a teacher in the first place?

Doug – I enjoyed being around kids and wanting to help them make good decisions. I liked being able to teach them how to do things. Not saying that I am good at all those things by any means, but I am more skilled than a young child so I feel like I could do some good! Going through school, I enjoyed PE and being able to get my energy out and learn how to do cool things (and ride on scooters and play with the parachute of course). I had pretty good relationships with the teachers I had and liked most of them… I will admit, that most of the time, I was that kid trying to do the right thing and be helpful whenever I could. If I could help leave this world a more positive place because I was able to influence some kids in a good way, than I wanted to do it.

Erik – Have you ever thought about leaving teaching for another vocation?

Doug – There are bits and pieces of me that every once in a while pop up and think about, what if I had gone into a trade or some more construction. I do enjoy the work, but I don’t think it would ever be enough to leave teaching. I work in the summers as a director of a summer camp and if I were to change anything, I would test the water in the summer with something different. I do really like working at the summer camp too though.

Erik – Does it bother you when people call it “Gym Class” and not “Physical Education”?

I’m kind of split…to me, it all depends on the demeanor of the person saying it, and honestly, the age. If it is an older person/teacher, to them, it was “Gym class” and I guess old habits are hard to break. When someone calls it “Gym Class” in a bad way, like it’s just recess, or they think that I just supervise kids playing dodgeball…yes, it does bother me. I have learned to thank and emphasize when teachers and students refer to it as PE, and subtly correct those who call it “Gym.” For example, if a teacher says (and I am around to hear it) “When you’re done with gym, I want to hear a good report.” I would say something (to the kids when the teacher can hear it) like “After PE, I hope that I can give your teacher a good report.” I obviously always use the term PE, or Physical Education/Phys, Ed. but I do not flip out on people when they say “gym class.” It does bother me when PE teachers call it “gym class” though. Have some respect for your own professions. Although, I do believe that the final wave of PE teachers that just roll out the ball, will soon be all the way out the door.

Erik – As a fellow bald man, I catch a lot of flack from kids about my hairline.  Do you get the same?  Does it bother you?

Doug – Initially, I did get some flack, but that was right at the end of college/graduation. I quickly learned to embrace it and I just keep my hair buzzed. It’s second nature now and I am fully willing to put my baldness out there. I make fun of myself for it or when my hair gets a little long, the kids start to notice and they ask why I keep it short all the time. I bend over a little bit and show them the horseshoe pattern on my head and say my hair is thin and non-existent. The soon realize it. Recently over Christmas break, I decided to not shave. I’m personally still undecided on it, but the kids at school are pretty split. I think that the one’s that like it, or say they like it are just being nice. Then there are those kids that almost every day say… “You need to shave. That looks bad.

Erik – I’ve always said that if you want an honest unadulterated opinion of yourself, ask a first grader. Have you ever been seriously offended by something a student said to you?

Doug – Not that I can remember. If a kid insults me or my class, or the school. I know they are just upset about something and don’t know how to truly express it other than by throwing out insults. I usually just ignore it or shrug it off.

Erik – What are some of the best memories you have of teaching?

Doug – Throughout the years, there have been a lot of kids that have impacted my life through teachable moments. Along with that, there have been several events and moments during class that will forever be engraved in my mind. The culture shock of the first few classes of teaching some kids and seeing their behaviors and saying “I gotta use it”…knowing what they meant, I would say…”Use what?!” Eventually, after them saying “IT!” over and over again, I kindly correct them, using correct grammar. Most of the students got it quickly because I wouldn’t let them go if they didn’t ask correctly. Making up handshakes with kids, building relationships with them and joking around with them was really awesome. Knowing that I could see a kid in the hallway and connect with them and help them figure out why they were in trouble and work with them to make better choices was great. Specifically, there was a crazy time that I won’t forget…It wasn’t a best memory, but one that will last. It was the 2nd week of school during my first year at Horizon Science Academy. And for those of you that aren’t aware, the Gym was in a separate building in the lower level…it was big which was great, but it had that musty dungeon type feel to it. We were playing a game where students were working on locomotor skills with music and quickly and quietly finding a hula hoop to go in, or share with a partner, when I stopped the music. 2nd round of playing (Kindergarten I believe…maybe 1st grade), there was a student named Ivrionna. She took of sprinting for a green hula hoop and there was a student standing looking for a hula hoop. Ivrionna saw him and dodged him, but did not see a second student running in a perpendicular path and WHAMMM! She immediately goes down screaming! I knew it was bad, but as always, you have to keep your cool. I went over to her and asked her where she was hurt and she looked up to me holding her hand under her mouth which was full of blood and her upper lip was split wide open and blood was pouring out! I immediately ran to the old kitchen that was connected to the gym where I kept my gloves, etc and ran with paper towels back to her. God bless the kids in the class at the time, because they all stayed away and were calm because they knew I had to handle the bloody mess. I had her hold the paper towel on her lip and I called over to the school to send someone over to get her. A couple minutes passed and no one came, so I sent her with a trusted student to the office. I stayed on the phone with the secretary who was watching them come from the gym to the office until she told me they were with her. It was a crazy moment, but one that I won’t forget! Not sure if that was the kind of “best memory” you were looking for, but for the more traditional “best memory” I would say that there were several of those “Yes, I got it!” moments with kids working on certain skills that would get overly frustrated, but were determined to get it. I even worked with some of them during my lunch to give them extra time because they didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of their classmates. It is pure joy when a student achieves something they didn’t even believe they could do themselves. I have a 4th grade student whom is reserved and timid, English is their second language and they are not very coordinated. It was actually this week that we were working with long jump ropes and jumping in while the rope was spinning. I could tell this student was never going to try it on her own. I watched to see what her groupmates were doing, and they tried encouraging her, but she kept standing quietly away from her group. I came along side of her and said to her, “Pretty scary, huh?” She nodded her head and I assured her that I would come along side of her and help her time it up and I would pat her on the back when it was time to follow the jump rope in and then jump. She hesitantly agreed and God Bless the kids in the group who were so patient with her. The kids started spinning the rope nice and slow and really big so she had a huge window of opportunity. I stood next to her…”1…2…3…Go!” I gave her that pat on the back and she trustingly went for it, and she nailed it! She ran in and jumped over the jump rope twice and was elated! The biggest smile I have ever seen on this girl and her group mates immediately came over and congratulated her…made my day!

Erik – I remember Ivrionna!  She was a kindergartener in Mrs. Turner’s class I believe.  Tiny little girl with a big voice. Do moments like that make it all worth it for you?  Is it hard to get through the stress of the day to day to make it to those times?

Doug – Moments like that do make the more stressful moments worth it. Although, you never know when those moments may come. Sometimes, it takes a while and it gets rough. My family is truly what makes everything worth it. Knowing that I’m providing for my family enables me to really put up with anything.

Erik – What do you do aside from teaching?

Doug – I am a husband of almost 9 years to an amazing wife and mother, and I am a father of two incredible boys (3 &1/2, and 11 months). I have a long commute to work, so during the school year, I pretty much come home and play with my boys then hang out with my bride then go to bed. During breaks or on weekends, I am an occasional runner, and I enjoy working with my hands. Not saying I’m great, but I like to do woodworking and help family members with projects or building things. That takes up most of my time, and I love it. I will also throw out there that I do enjoy spending time with my friends. I don’t keep in contact with friends from High School, but I made the best friends of my life during college (and a couple throughout my working career). I put a strong emphasis on being intentional with those relationships whether it’s through text or phone calls. It’s one of those situations where you haven’t hung out for a long time but never missed a beat sort of thing.

Thank you for interviewing me and including me in your new endeavor!

Unexpected Answers

I remember this old Calvin and Hobbs cartoon in which Calvin is in class chewing gum.  His teacher, with the intention of getting him to spit out the gum, asks him if he has enough for the entire class.  The inferred response is that no, Calvin probably does not have enough for the entire class.  However, the next picture in the cartoon shows Calvin holding a large glob of chewed gum dripping saliva.  His answer to his teacher was “Probably, but do you really think they’d want it?”  They next picture shows him standing in front of his principal’s desk saying, “It was her idea.”

Sometimes, a teacher asks a question with an answer already in mind.  Well, to be truthful, the majority of questions that I ask have an intended response.  However, I’ve found that many times, like Calvin’s teacher, I don’t actually get the answer I was expecting.  So, here are some simple anecdotes of times when I got an answer that I wasn’t expecting.

All the names have been changed to protect the…well not exactly innocent.

The Strongest Man Competition

I was walking down the hallway when I heard yelling coming from one of our first grade rooms. I stopped in front of the door and their teacher asked if I wouldn’t mind sorting out what had happened.  There were two first grade boys involved and both were yelling and crying.  I started by separating the boys and then finding the most truthful student in first grade and asking her what happened.  She said, “I’m not sure Mr. Steidl, all I saw was Shane twisting Paul’s arm.”  Oh boy.  So I called Shane out in the hallway and asked him what happened.  Well, Shane wasn’t about to tell me anything.  He stood there stonefaced and refused to either confirm or deny the twisting of the arm or any events surrounding the alleged incident.  So, at this point I was starting to get annoyed and sent Shane back into class and called Paul out in the hallway.  Paul came out to the hallway all teary eyed with his nose dripping.  I gave him my sternest teacher look (still a work in progress to be sure) and asked him to tell me in his own words what happened.  Through sniffles, he told me how he, Shane, and a boy named Cam had been having an arm wrestling contest during class.  He then shamefully told me how Shane had started winning in their contest so he had used two hands.  Shane got angry since Paul had cheated and twisted his arm.

So the truth comes out but it’s not really a big deal.  It was just a case of first grade boys being first grade boys.  However, I felt at this time that I needed to put my teacher face back on and give him a good talking to about how it’s not ok to arm wrestle in class.  However, the way I went about this was entirely wrong.  I phrased it as a rhetorical question. “Paul, why were you arm wrestling in class?!?! You’re there to learn, not arm wrestle!”  At this point, he looked up at me blinking his teary eyes and said, “But we was just trying to find out who the strongest man was.”  I had to turn around so he didn’t see me laughing.

Running with your eyes closed

As someone in the building with advanced first aid training, I was called to most injuries that occurred; especially those involving blood.  So, one day, as I was teaching my Title One reading group, our school secretary came over the PA system and said, “Mr. Steidl, please report to gym as soon as possible.”  This was the signal for either a student that was injured or needed restraining.  My students in the group new the drill and picked up their work and headed right back to their mainstream class while I took off for the gym.  I walked in to one of our second grade students sitting in a small pool of blood holding his head.  Our P.E. teacher had already gotten the bleeding mostly stopped, so it was just a matter of cleaning him up, calling his parent/guardian, and getting him further medical aid.  He had been running and had hit his head on a pole in the gym that, for one reason or another, is a square shape with 90* corners instead of being circular.  His head had a fairly large bump that was split down the middle.  His grandfather came to get him and we then turned to the arduous process of discovering what really happened.

As is want to happen, the investigation started with volunteers.  A group of second grade boys ran up yelling that another student had pushed the boy into the pole.  That boy of course began vehemently denying that he had.  The P.E. teacher had been turned the other way and had not seen anything.  So I had one group telling me one thing happened and another group saying another.  I thought that, as usual, the truth lay somewhere in between.  Maybe the student had bumped him or tripped him accidentally.  Or maybe they had both been pushing each other.  Or something along those lines.  However, as I was about to leave the room, one little girl quietly came up to me and asked to speak with me in the hall.  I took her out there and she looked around to make sure no one heard and said, “Mr. Steidl, Timothy didn’t push Carl into the pole.  He wasn’t even close to him.”  “Ok,” I said, “What happened then?”  She again looked around and said, “Well, Carl just ran into the pole.”  “That’s all? He was just running and hit the pole?”  “Well…kind of…He had his eyes closed.”  “Why did he have his eyes closed?” “Well, they dared him to run for ten seconds with his eyes closed.”…I had no words.  But I think that nothing better summarizes second grade boys than that exchange of words.  He ran into the pole because he had been, on a dare, running with his eyes closed.

Mrs. Steidl

A few years ago I was working with a group of students for Title One reading.  We were working on how to write a personal letter.  I had the layout of a letter up on the Starboard with date, greeting, body, conclusion, and signature all displayed.  We worked through an example letter that we would write to the school principal.  They then began writing their own letters.  I allowed them to choose to whom they were writing their letter and the topic of their letter.  After they completed the rough draft, they each brought their letter to me to check over.

As I was reading over one little girl’s letter, I noticed that in the signature of the letter she’d written “Mrs. Steidl.”  I assumed that she had the greeting and the signature confused and had intended to address her letter to either me or my wife (the abbreviations of mister, missus, miss, etc. is always an issue).  I explained it to her and said, “See up here is where you write the name of the person receiving the letter.  Down here is where you put your name.  You put Mrs. Steidl down here.”  She looked at me, winked, and said, “Oh I know what I wrote there.” Then grabbed her paper and ran giggling back to her friends.  I’ve never felt more awkward around an 8 year old.