Kid Lit Book Review – Tina Says Opportunity by GL Wolfgang

Teachers and parents especially, the latest book that I had the pleasure of reviewing is tailor made for you.  Tina Says Opportunity, by GL Wolfgang, illustrated by Lillian Kirk, is a book that is chock full of second tier vocabulary, higher order thinking questions, and character building stories.

Overview

Tina Says Opportunity is the title of the entire book, but a book that is really a collection of five shorter stories.  Each of the stories focuses on a specific word.  Those words are opportunity, implement, Persevere, Sagacious, and Gratification.  Each of these focus words has a short, 10ish page story that teaches what that word means.  The stories are based on real life children in real life situations.  The children are guided by a female mentor type character named Tina who explains each word she uses throughout the situation the children are in.

Outstanding Points

As a teacher and parent, I love this book.  Each of the focus words is a second or third tier vocabulary word. (I mean, who has ever heard the word sagacious before?…I would have thought it was a species of tree or something).  That word, throughout the story, is clearly defined with a real life usage of that word played out with the characters.  I appreciate that the stories themselves are usually only about ten pages long.  It sets up very nicely for a discussion or free writing time afterwards.

Speaking of discussion (no pun intended…well that’s not true…kind of pun intended) each story comes with a page that has higher order thinking questions included.  the questions are divided into three categories; Applying, Analyzing, and Abstracting.  Applying is the lowest order thinking, Analyzing the next, and Abstracting the highest.  I absolutely love this part of the book.  Maybe it’s the former teacher in me, but I think that this part of it is just great.  I included the question page from the first book, based on the word, “opportunity.”20190522_213152.jpg I really liked the illustrations in the book.  They were not extremely life like but I did not feel that detracted from the book at all.  I don’t think they were intended to be perfectly life like and realistic.  When children read books, they don’t really care if the pictures look exactly like the real thing.  If they did, authors like Eric Carle would not be successful.  The point is that the pictures engage the children and fit the manuscript.  I believe that these illustrations, by Lillian Kirk, do both of those things very well. They are done in a sort of pastel medium that I found to be perfect for the book.  I included two pages from the books as examples. 20190522_213129.jpg

Another thing I really liked about the books was that they were all done completely in dialogue.  There is no narration of the story, simply illustrations and dialogue.  It is a very unique approach to story telling that I really enjoyed.

Teaching and Discussion Points

Obviously, this book is set up for teaching and discussion.  It literally has teaching/discussion questions included in the book.  I would add a couple ideas if I was teaching and using this book in my classroom.  First, as I said earlier, each book is focused on a specific second or third tier vocabulary word.  If I was teaching, I would make a sort of word web of each word with synonyms and antonyms.  Then, I would use that to discuss subtle differences in both the denotation, and connotation of each word.  For example, sagacious, wise, smart, discerning, and intelligent are all relatively synonymous.  However, each are somewhat different as well.  How is being intelligent different from being wise?  Are there different ways to be intelligent or smart?  Questions like those take the vocabulary introduced in these books to an entirely new level.  After all, vocabulary is one of the five components of literacy.

 

As I said before, I absolutely love this book.  It is especially good for teachers and parents of young children.

 

Mr. Wolfgang was also kind enough to participate in an author interview to accompany the book.  Please keep reading to hear what he has to say about his own book and some other things.

ES – Hi! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.  I really enjoy the author interview portion of my blog. Each other I’ve worked with has just been so unique and extraordinary in his or her own way.  Each one has a different motivation for writing in general and for specifically writing the book(s) that he or she has written.

ES – So let’s start with that.  As a former teacher, I absolutely love the Tina Says Opportunity series because first it is incorporating second and third tier vocabulary for younger readers and then also incorporating deeper level thinking questions into the books themselves.  What is your motivation/inspiration for writing? Are you coming at it from a teaching perspective?

GLW – Unfortunately for me I did not  have a discerning guidance as a child, and as I learn and understand I am driven to share. This is why I started with “Opportunity”. I want to instill the recognition of all the possibilities we have, and understand how to accomplish and experience the gratification of success. I did this as a  children’s book series because I want to instill this at a young age to create a fulfilling life and not have missed opportunities.

I always share, I feel I missed my calling to become a teacher. I knew this upon graduating high school, yet I did not pursue this awareness (missed opportunity). This feeling has never left me.

My illustrator is a teacher and her influence have enhanced this project with a teaching  perspective.

ES – I went to your website, endlessendeavorllc.com and love it.  Can you simply tell me what it’s all about? Why the name endless endeavor?

GLW – Our endeavor is to share and create opportunity, this will never end; thus the company name Endless Endeavor.

ES – When I was a teacher, I actually had several students named Imani?  Are Imani, Leon, and Tina based on real people from your own life?

GLW – Yes, in an accumulated sense. Each character has multiple influences.

ES – The writing style of the book is very interesting and unique as it is completely done in dialogue between the characters.  Why did you choose to do the book like that?

GLW – I believe our greatest asset is our ability to communicate, words are the essence of communication. Leaving the rest up to the imagination allows our audience to be creative.

ES – Can you tell me a little bit more about your writing process?  What does it look like for you? How long does the manuscript take you from first draft to final copy ready for illustration and publication?

GLW – I start with ideas, many of them coming from my journaling. Words are very important to me. As I write, I use the thesaurus to search to find the right word to convey the thought or feeling that I am trying to share, sometimes it is a slow process, sometimes it will flows quickly.

With this particular series, the concept came to me about five years ago, with having to maintain my present occupation progress was challenging. We have five more series planned. I expect we should be able to complete this in less time.

ES – Who is your illustrator and how did you two connect

GLW – Lillian Kirk is my illustrator and orgatrator, her husband is a friend of a friend of my sons. She is a wonderful addition to this endeavor. She is now my partner in the Company.

This is one of my locutions:

“I will not say I cannot do this without you, I will say with you I can”

Lilly has been the fruition of these stories.

ES – How can people get ahold of your books and/or follow you on twitter, facebook, instagram, etc.?

GLW – We do have accounts on these all mediums as well as our website. http://www.endlessendeavorllc.com

 

 

As always, thank you so much for reading.  If you enjoyed this and would like to receive an email notification whenever I post something new, simply click on the link in the lower right hand corner of the screen to follow the blog.

 

 

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.

 

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.

The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

   – Tupac Shakur –

For those of you who don’t know me, Tupac is one of my favorite artists of all time.  I find him to be not only one of the best lyricists and performers of all time but a simply fascinating human being.  Some of his music seems shallow.  It talks about the same stuff that much of the rap music of the time talked about; sex, drugs, women, guns, more women, more sex, liqour, punk police, etc.  But then there are songs like “Dear Mama,” a ballad to his mother, thanking her for all she did for him and telling her that now he can see how hard life was on her, especially because of him.  Songs like “Keep ya Head Up,” and “Changes,” that are honest social commentary of the day.  There are deeply passionate songs like “Life Goes On,” to fallen comrades.  If you explore the person that was and is Tupac Amaru Shakur, you’ll find that even his “thug life” phrase meant much more to him than what it seemed on the outside.

And then on a whole different level, is his book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete.  The poems in it are deeply introspective and full of raw emotion set to word.  As I read through it, each of the poems hits me on an emotional level because when I hear them, I picture my own students.  Their upbringings and home lives are so incredibly different from my own.  I could not possibly describe myself as a rose that grew from concrete but rather a rose that grew from a well fertilized and up-kept garden.

When I read the poem at the top of the page, I feel two different emotions mostly.  First, I feel hope.  I hope that, like that rose, my students all  prove nature’s laws wrong and learn to walk with no feet and breathe fresh air.  I hope that they blossom and escape lives of poverty.  I would like to think that what I am doing here is helping give them a chance to do that.  However, when I read the poem, I also feel a profound sadness knowing that this will not be the case with all of them.  I know that the rose that blossoms from a crack in the concrete is a rarity.  Statistics show that the majority of my students are being dealt a loaded hand.  The odds are not in their favor.

Now, I’ve been teaching long enough that I’ve had enough success stories to keep me going.  Students have come back to me to tell me about some of the things they’re accomplishing.  But I’ve also been teaching long enough to see the opposite as well.  Last year, I went to two students’ parents’ funeral.  It was a homicide/suicide.  Stuff like that tears me apart.  If I’m being honest, I’m much more of an empath than is healthy.  I try to push it aside and keep on, but it sticks with me.  I spend hours at night worrying about them (I haven’t seen either one since the funeral) and where they are now or will be in two years.  And I think how my first class of fifth grade students are soon to be juniors in high school and wonder how many are still in school and how many dropped out.  And then I worry about what their futures hold.

And then I stopped and thought about how to change this.  Like how can I make it less of a rarity to see a rose grow from a crack in the concrete?  It’s something I’ve thought about a lot ever since I first read the poem and I think I’ve got the answer.  The answer is to make more cracks in the concrete.  I need to work harder at breaking down environmental barriers that inhibit my students’ growth.  Provide more emotional support and a stable environment for them to flourish.  Manage my own temperament to provide an example of how to appropriately react in a crisis situation.  Try to remain encouraging in their failures even when it’s the hundredth time.  Be understanding of underlying circumstances that might be causing behaviors.  Be even keeled and fair in discipline.  Be more proactive to teach appropriate social interactions. Above all show them love even in the face of disrespect and defiance.  I know that sounds cheesy as all get out.  However, it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.  If roses will grow in cracks in the concrete, and we want roses to grow, crack the concrete.  So I’ll end this post with another of Tupac’s poems titled “And 2morrow.”  I think that it does a beautiful job of expressing the pain of today along with the hope for tomorrow.

 Today is filled with anger
fueled with hidden hate
scared of being outcast
afraid of common fate

Today is built on tragedies
which no one wants 2 face
nightmares 2 humanities
and morally disgraced

Tonight is filled with rage
violence in the air
children bred with ruthlessness
because no one at home cares

Tonight I lay my head down
but the pressure never stops
knawing at my sanity
content when I am dropped

But 2morrow I c change
a chance 2 build a new
Built on spirit intent of Heart
and ideals
based on truth

and tomorrow I wake with second wind
and strong because of pride
2 know I fought with all my heart 2 keep my
dream alive

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.