Friday, May 31, 2013


The last two days were polar opposites. Wednesday was down. Thursday was up.

What goes up must come down. Friday was down. Way down.

It wasn't long after arrival that there was a tantrum marked by yelling, crying, and throwing of items. I positioned myself in a way so that if a projectile was hurled, it shouldn't hit the other children. I guess it worked as the tosses were in directions to either side of me and out of range of the class.

The mounties were called in and we wound up in a special ed room led by two of the school's behavioral therapists. One of these magnificently skilled people talked him off the proverbial ledge. She's helped before in another setting. A marvelous person.

For the rest of the day, the volatility level was mostly low. There were a couple of episodes that were defused fairly quickly but nevertheless he was disruptive and distracting, and the overall experience was anything but great.

The school's main person for establishing action plans for its troubled students has devised a recording plan to get more info on this particular student. I've started logging every note I can regarding actions and things said. In the first 90 minutes today, I was pretty busy.

A certain reality has set in for me, and it's an unpleasant one. I'm resigned to the belief that everyone involved at the school could do everything exactly right. There are three of us in the classroom; there is a team of school professionals working on helping him; and there are teachers doing everything they can to get him engaged and in the right direction.

What good is all of this effort going to be in three weeks when the school year is over? Then, he will go to an unknown environment without the structure or discipline provided during a typical school day.

He's soiled himself twice in the last 24 hours. You can draw your own conclusions if you'd like; I've drawn mine.

He mostly comes to school with a single bag of juice and a minimum of food. Today it was a pack of six small peanut butter snack crackers and a piece of string cheese, which he opened but did not eat. He almost always opens the cheese and almost never eats it.

At lunch he had a bag of goldfish I brought him and a donated carton of milk, which he spilt most of and wound up with perhaps a few ounces in his belly. I brought him a granola bar with chocolate bits in it; no interest.

He isn't properly fed, his academics appear unsupported, he has unpredictable anger issues... and in three weeks, he won't have the order of a school day to work toward keeping him on track.

The colloquial term for this is: "He's doomed."

He's not ready for first grade. But if he goes back to kindergarten, unless there's a significant sea change in the way he approaches learning, he won't get through it. I think he can learn and do the work, but not without a lot of support. If that support disappears at 2:50 p.m., then what happens over the next 18 hours wins.

He's in trouble. Big trouble. I can help a little, but I don't know if it will make a difference. And today, I've gotten a lot closer to accepting that if it doesn't make a difference, I have to get over it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Last night I felt that yesterday's post might be my last for a while.

I was frustrated, and wracked with uncertainty.

What a difference a day can make.

Today was far and away his best day. There were still some issues, but... I was so proud of him today.

He arrived close to on-time, at 9:05. He had some hash browns from Dunkin Donuts and some Gatorade. That was all the food he brought for the day.

His resistance to the assignments was softer, and in every case he wound up at least attempting to do them, and a couple of times even wound up completing them. He wrote his name unprompted on the first one, and did the work without distraction. AND, he got them all correct. This wasn't nuclear physics, but the assignment was the same for everyone in the class, and he did everything right.

M brought me a nice lunch and then I walked her down to peek into the classroom. I think she was delighted by the experience. My charge was not participating in the class work going on at that time, however.

I went in and asked him what was happening, and he said he didn't want to do the work. I encouraged him and said I would help. He didn't want to, but I said "Can we at least try, and if we don't like it we will quit."

So he decided to try. And he did as well as could be expected. At least he put forth the effort, and that's a huge step in the right direction.

After that it was pretty smooth sailing. A huge, huge win and the kind of mental payoff I needed. Can't wait to get back tomorrow. Because you know, MORNING DANCE PARTY!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


There are some things my student could probably benefit from that I simply cannot provide.

  • He needs to get into the routine and rhythm of a proper school day. That means he needs to start when the other kids start, leave when they leave. Today he arrived at 10:05. Unless I pick him up personally, I can't get him to school on time. I'm sure a bus would come by his house but maybe mom just can't get him out of bed and ready by then.
  • He needs proper nutrition. Today he was sent to school with a small container of Pringles and a small Gatorade. That's it. No other snack. Nothing for lunch. No lunch money. The teacher saw to it that he had some crackers and milk for lunch. He could have had an orange, but no fruit appeals to him. Proper parenting might need to rear its head here and see to it that the kid gets enough to eat. Mixing in some non-crap pretend food might be a good idea too.
  • He needs someone to spend time with him working on his academic health. It doesn't appear that the child is getting much devotion to his future at home. I don't know this for a fact, but, I see the other kids getting excited about learning. He isn't. It's truly a teeth-pulling exercise to get him to do the work. Wonder if mom reads to him at home? I sense not.
  • He needs to see responsible adult role models somewhere other than school. My mom wouldn't have considered dragging my ass into school after the first class had begun unless there was some sort of emergency like the car breaking down. You just went to school, and on time. It's not an activity that you "somewhat" commit to. Set an example. Correction: Set the RIGHT example. He's seeing an example, it's just a lousy one.
  • And one other thing I cannot provide is love. Not overtly, anyway. But this kid probably needs a hug. He probably needs someone to spend real time with him, to read with him, to ask him about his schoolwork and to follow up on it at home. School doesn't just happen at school. Well, SCHOOL might, but EDUCATION is around-the-clock. An engaged parent should look at school as a chance for their child to learn and reach their potential. It seems like some people may look at it as babysitting.
Yeah, this probably sounds a little ranty. I got mad at myself today for not being a miracle worker. A lot of my new cohorts offered strategies and support, and I know the best thing is to just try as hard as I can, don't dwell on the tough stuff and hit the reset button so I can come back upbeat again tomorrow. I  believe that carrying myself with a positive attitude pays off. And there's nothing I can do about the kid's life beyond the schoolyard. I've just got to hope for the best there.

But it bugs me. With every day that passes, this boy teeters on a precarious perch that he might not be able to alight from. He has ability, but without reinforcement at home, he will always be fighting this battle. He could always be behind. And if the school system is the ONLY party invested in helping him, he's facing really long odds going forward.

He's six years old. Six.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


It was almost 11:30 a.m. The class was at P.E.; without my guy there, I didn't have much to do, although tossing and catching beanbags looked like a lot of fun.

I strolled down to the office, which wasn't very far. The Conductor had been sick but she was there today. I told her I'd be happy to hang out, but that so far the district was paying me for half a day in which I had merely supported the other students for a morning.

Voila. He showed up less than five minutes later.

I'm not really sure how a mother thinks someone missing half a day of school is OK. Especially when this happens more often than usual. The thing I don't like about education is the idea that it is a form of indoctrination. It is... I don't love saying "Under God" during the pledge. I don't really even love saying the pledge at all. Some things seem to be done "just because."

But be that as it may, learning how to exist in a world of structure can be seen as indoctrination, but it can also be seen as learning life skills that most of us need to have. And one large component of that is being punctual.

In journalism, it was paramount. But really, in most fields, being on time is something that needs to be mastered. It's professional behavior, and it's courteous. We all have an unknown, limited amount of time. Let's respect each other's.

But this boy needs all the help and structure he can get. So it's a good idea for mom to get her ass moving and get the guy to school on time.

He arrived in a boisterous way; it took about half an hour before he toned it down and got with the program.

Overall, though, he was pretty good today. The two major red-flag areas from last week -- hostility on the playground at recess, and a refusal to do work -- didn't really happen today. On the playground he was in good spirits and played well with others.

And the biggest challenge of the day was during centers. The first center involved a game, so that was easy. It was "Bingo" but the spinner landed on one of five senses, and the cards had pictures which the kids matched to individual senses.

The second center involved words, spelling and making sentences. This is something he hasn't particularly warmed to. But today, he participated. Now, he didn't do great at it. He took the random words and didn't make sentences that were really coherent... but, he tried. He did the work. At this point, getting him to give it a try is a major plus. We'll work on the finer points in time.

I've given him a nickname. The other kids in the class are starting to use it for him. I think he likes that.

The time prior to his arrival I did get to spend some time with the other students. It only took me a week but I now know everyone's name. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Brrrmorial Day

The only other time I was cold on Memorial Day weekend was a visit to Montreal to see M back in our courtin' days.

We were at a great breakfast restaurant downtown that had open-air seating. It was a little too frosty for my blood and we had to close the adjacent windows.

My first New England Memorial Day weekend started with rain and temperatures in the 30s. If ever the acronym "WTF" was applicable, it was this weekend. Saturday was absolutely frigid. Northwest of here in upstate New York at a place called Whiteface Mountain, they had 34 inches of snow.

34. Inches. Of. Snow.

Now we're poised for another aberrant weather event late this week, when the weekend will start with highs near 90 on Thursday.

The biting cold and the upcoming roast are not normal. We're talking about a temperature swing of more than 50 degrees in the span of just a few days.

And somehow there are people who scoff at the idea of climate change. "Global warming," they chortle.

Yeah, I've got 90 degrees of your global warming on tap.

The good news, I suppose, is that today is going to be sunny and perfect. Around 70 degrees.


I am always conflicted about this holiday because I find it awful that people have had to fight wars. In the length of human existence, how can it be that we still try and solve differing viewpoints by killing one another?

Many among us proclaim that we are a nation with religious values. If that were really so, would we have been involved in state-sanctioned murder of other humans so many times? Would we have ever believed that we had to send our children to their demise to win an argument?

For those brave soldiers who gave everything, I suppose we owe them a debt of gratitude at the very least. My hope is that one day we can be a nation that looks at this day is a quaint relic of a time when we took crude, savage approaches to conflict resolution.

Friday, May 24, 2013


It happened.

The ugliness I had been warned about arrived Friday.

The day had started in a promising fashion. But before class started I read an incident report from the week prior to my arrival that I couldn't believe. it detailed a litany of almost nonstop disruption whose high points included a warning to another girl that he would put something in her vagina and objects thrown at other students.

I'm told this was the day that led to my ongoing participation.

I would soon get my own taste of it.


But first, we had an assembly of all classes in the gymnasium at a little after 9 a.m. The rednecks and crackers who think of Massachusetts as "librul commies" would probably be shocked to see the beautiful ceremony that honored a dozen military veterans, a few of whom looked like they were WWII or Korean war combatants.

It was respectful and inspiring. The children sang "This Land is Your Land" and I had to smile; the more subversive verses were left out.

There was also a pledge of allegiance and a rendition of "My Country Tis of Thee." No flag-burning, though.

In fact, the pledge and the song are daily occurrences in these classrooms. So much for the idea that New England children are being polluted with anti-Murkan brainwashing.


But then the day went downhill. When we got back to class, he just didn't want to participate at all. At snack he had a juice bag and some cereal. He then wanted some sport drink the teacher had brought for him, but at that time he'd had a lot to drink. Told no, he erupted. He went to a corner of the classroom and started knocking things over, screaming and being destructive.

When he calmed down a bit later, he was still a defiant PITA, saying "blah blah blah" as the teacher tried to lead a lesson. He uttered apparently (fortunately) to no one in particular "I'm going to kill you."


I mean... what the fuck is he seeing and being exposed to that created this monstrous behavior?

I don't believe he is a bad kid, and I don't believe he is capable of doing much damage. But he clearly needs help. This is why I am here, but this was bigger than me.

A bit later he was supposed to go with the rest of the class to music. He said "I hate music" and stopped down in the hallway in an open locker seat. I sat beside him and tried to talk him off the ledge and on to music class.

After more than 15 minutes of coaxing for the 30-minute class, he relented. Once there, he was engaged.

The rest of the day there were very few problems. But those were more than enough to ruin the vibe.


I did come up with an effective strategy toward the end of the day after talking with the teacher. I devised an incentive for this guy that began on Day 2. He and a lot of his classmates like Pokemon. I didn't realize that Pokemon was still a thing; I can't believe that didn't die out 10 years ago.

So he collects, and like many of the kids he has a binder full of Pokemon cards. Starting on Day 2 if he hits his incentives I have given him a card.

After the awful morning, at lunch I told the teacher I didn't know how it would be possible for him to get a "win" for the day.  I told her I felt like I had to find a way to convey to him that behavior that extreme was never going to be acceptable.

She agreed, but understanding how tentative his progress had been and how this card incentive had seemed to have some payoff, could there be a way to incentivize his behavior for the rest of the day?

I suggested having him "own" his behavior and cop to it; What if I could get him to apologize? Not throwing himself on the mercy of the class, but speaking with her?

She agreed.

Later in the day, with about 20 minutes left in the class, I had some isolated time with him to pitch the idea. "This wasn't your best day. I know you can do better. But we all have bad days sometime. I don't think you have earned a card today but if you could apologize to Ms. Teacher I think that might be a way to save the day. What do you think?

He turned and went to her.

A few minutes later I asked her how it went. And she gave me some positive feedback about our plan to let him save face.

Will it work next week? Maybe. But this week he had a reduction in incidents, in their severity, and we started to build some bridges. Ms. Teacher thinks she sees him trusting me more. I hope so.

Without having a clue what the future holds, all I know is that theoretically it holds 19 more days of working with this troubled boy. Coming so late in the year, I worry about pouring so much energy into just five weeks at the end of the academic calendar, and having it all undone by a family group that clearly has issues. The report of the horrible day before I came on reveals that the night before the boy had stayed up as a party raged in his house, arriving at school at 10 a.m.

Note to parents: You're fucking PARENTS. You don't get to have blowouts on a school night, you selfish dickheads. Grow the fuck up and don't ruin the lives of your innocent children just because you have no goddam sense or self-control.

Talk about someone needing a cunt punt.

Rant over.


Let's close with something great.

At lunch, one boy from another class noted that my folder looks like an iPad.

Another instructor who I've hit it off with sidle up a few seconds later and said the student is obsessed with iPads. She told a story of how the boy had broken his mother's iPad.

And had done so on purpose. The educator had asked if it had been an accident. He said it hadn't. He'd broken the iPad in hopes of freeing the Angry Birds. Because, he said, they may be angry because they can't get out of the iPad.

The purity of the young mind...

Thursday, May 23, 2013


More, but less.

There were a few more outbursts today than the other days. But, they were significantly less volatile.

The best example I can think of is when the teacher was leading the class and he wanted to respond to a question. So he just blurted out, talking over everyone. She handled it perfectly by not acknowledging him but briefly making eye contact so that it was clear she knew and he knew.

He raised his hand and fumed, "OK, I raised my stinkin' hand."

It would have been bad form to laugh, but it was kind of funny.


A few times in class he simply refused to do the work. Strangely, however, this may be seen as a sort of progress. When he refused, he just did something else. And he didn't necessarily detract from what the other students were doing.

So the positive is that his resistance is less problematic, and now rather than being actively disruptive in the class, he's pretty much keeping it to himself.

Later we can work on the instruction part of the equation. For now we simply have to get him not throwing an anchor overboard while the class rows toward first grade.


We had huge progress on the playground. Monday and Tuesday had been major problems. Wednesday we stayed inside.

Thursday we let him venture back onto the field. It went extremely well. No outbursts, no fights or f-bombs.

My strategy was to build him up for everything he did and to be loudly proud of his accomplishments. This guy obviously wants some attention; I will provide it if he earns it in a healthy fashion.

For my Arkansas peeps, I drew him a Razorback during the art portion of our class. He dug it. So did some others... I had to make two more for other students.

First week ends tomorrow. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Maybe I'm just stupid. I'm still living the dream we had. For me it's not over.

I feel lucky to have many years ago been labeled as someone who had some Utopian ideas about what humanity was capable of. In a lot of ways I was sold this bill of goods and willingly consumed it. It led me to think that my country was great and noble, that people were kind and compassionate, that American democracy was created to help the whole of human existence move toward a more perfect union. I believed that some day we would have racial and gender equality, that we would serve as an example to the world and have a clean, safe environment, that people would be healthy and fed, that if they were not we as a people and nation would work to lift them up. I believed that we would move to erase poverty and hate and war, that we would allow others to pursue whatever religion or happiness they wanted as long as we all agreed to respect each other.

I believed that our government was created to represent the best of what we were capable of.

I don't know that any of that has happened.

Now, in my life, I have seen tremendous progress. But sometimes it really feels like one step forward, two steps back.

Just be good to people, OK? Just try it. Do one nice thing for someone else today. Just one. Maybe two if you can sum up the enthusiasm. See if it works out.


Half-day today. Just three hours. Everything went swell.

But I'm mentally tired. I am putting a lot of energy into this.

Obviously I want to do a good job, but I feel a lot of responsibility to do so.

Children are innocent. Even if they do things that aren't nice, most of that stuff is either taught to them (hence not their fault) or an inappropriate expression that emerges because they aren't yet sophisticated enough to communicate appropriately. Which would also be not their fault.

So six-year-old kids get a pass.

I'm trying to figure out my own ulterior motives. This is a sick pursuit guaranteed to have no winner.

Yes, of course, it's about the student. That's the right answer, but also the PR answer. You'd damn sure better say that.

But is there anything else?

Am I trying to compensate for the sometimes shitty job I did as a parent? Am I trying with this child I never met before this week to be a better leader and role model than I was to my own children? Is it guilt?

Am I trying to earn karma points?

Am I experimenting with my own capabilities?

Am I just putting on a good show because I want some attention? Wouldn't that make me no different than the children I see who act out to get attention? And therefore wouldn't that make me an awful person to be in this role?

And about that performance: do I realize exactly how important this job is? I've had a lot of confidence placed in me. The mental health and well-being, as well as the potential academic future of a young child, has been entrusted to me for this five-week period. I remember my first teacher. I am in a position to be remembered forever by this youngster. Am I willing to do everything I can to make that memory positive? Because if I am not, I'm a terrible person.

Ah, the beauty of the self mind-fuck!

In fairness to me, I feel like I have done some terrible, stupid things in my life, but I do not feel like I am a terrible, stupid person. I have done some uncaring things but I am not an uncaring person.

Except for the times I hate myself, I really kind of like myself.

These are the things that people kind of hide from one another. At least I think they do. A few months ago when we were about to move up here and were scouting locations, we visited a community that catered to artists. The woman who was showing us around was an artist and we talked about writing. I told her about periods of extreme self-doubt about my writing, and she said something that felt good to hear. Paraphrasing, she said, "Everyone does that. We always think what we do sucks. It doesn't, we just have to keep going."

I know I can craft a phrase and sometimes write things that are clever, and even good. But I also know that there's always a goddamned battle going on in my head, with one side telling me I suck and the other telling me that I have some talent and that I need to express myself.

I think I am capable of making a positive difference in this kid's life. I really do. But it's too important to fuck off or fuck up. And the risk of that makes me think: What if I fuck up?

It's fuel. It has to be. I have to go in every day thinking about being a good thing for this little guy. He could sure use the help. We've had three pretty good days, with a fairly scary incident on the first, a less-volatile incident on the second, and none at all on the third.

Tomorrow we reset the counter and try and string together another good day. I've got to be ready for it. He's counting on me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


On balance I'd call today a good day, but, I've decided that long daily updates might not be easy.

He was on time today, and the mom came to the school. Apparently there was a big pow-wow with the teacher, the parent and several "concerned parties," but that was above my pay grade.

I implemented some incentives today and I think they paid off. The worst moment happened again right at recess; after Monday's troubles, he's not allowed on the field where some of those competitive juices might be being misdirected. He was unhappy about that and had his most significant tirade of the day. But the good news was that it ended in about 10 minutes and we decided to go outside.

I talked him into getting on the swings, and I pushed him and encouraged him to embrace it. He seemed to. Later on the playground equipment we had a good talk. I told him that his teacher wanted him to succeed, that she believed in him and that I believe in him. I got a little emotional and felt tears welling but didn't let it get to that. But I sense he understood my conviction. I don't know if he did or not, only time will tell.

But my approach today was to be gentle. A writing assignment did not jazz him at all. I tried to get him into it for 10 minutes, using everything I could muster. Wasn't happening. He kept saying "I don't have any ideas."

So I tried to turn lemons into lemonade. "Hey, it's OK. You call that 'writer's block.' It's hard sometimes to think of something. Maybe you'll come up with an idea later. Thanks for trying."

He didn't try that much. He was more dug in to the idea that he didn't want to do it than he was to give it a shot. But pressuring him any further was only going to ratchet up the frustration level. I felt it was best to make it a win for him.

Later in the day he let me read some books to him. We sat on adjacent stools near the front of the classroom while the other students worked on different projects.

Midway through the first book, he leaned on me a little bit.

Maybe the wall is coming down a brick or two.

Maybe not. Again, this little boy has volatility, and it's possible he doesn't have much trust or confidence in men. I cannot know this, and even though I cautioned myself in this space yesterday about the potential folly of speculation, it's normal to try and identify a "reason" for things we don't comprehend.

There were still incidents, and it'd be pretty foolish of me to think major changes could come in just two days of work. I've only got 22 more days before the summer break begins. And I'm trying to play it cool.

I asked the class at the end of day if I could come back tomorrow. They said that would be OK. So I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Today was my first of 24 days working one-on-one with a kindergartener with behavioral issues.

I've seen a lot of these kids in the school. Since I'm not clinically trained, any speculation about causes would need a lot more than a grain of Morton's.

I'd met the classroom teacher before and like everyone else I have met at the home school, she's good at what she does. This teacher speaks native, and has a sense of humor. Already a plus. Prior to class she gave me a download, and I also spent about 10 minutes with an administrator who oversees the school's students who need a more personalized approach.

The last thing I am going to do is to presume I know everything. In fact, it's much more helpful to presume I know nothing. I was upfront with her: I take this job seriously enough to know that they are the experts, and that what they prescribe is the course of action I want to implement. The things I can bring to the table to help any of these kids, and especially those who need a little more, are qualities learned in other fields.

I'm a parent. I've been in leadership roles as a coach and mentor to other young people. My background in journalism and other communications roles has given me a foundation for getting to know people. It's in a way (theoretically) easier with young children... they are less trained in the arts of deception. Or at least, they are less skilled.

So I'm not a psychologist or a professional teacher, but I'm human, I know the importance of what's going on, and I have a conscience. This isn't a job you can coast through. If you did, you'd pretty much suck at life. That's not going to be me.


This boy has two siblings and a single mother. He doesn't always show up to school on time. He doesn't eat well. Apparently sometimes he doesn't eat at all. He has focus problems and simply refuses to participate in some aspects of the curriculum. The teacher said that the things he has trouble with, particularly reading and writing, he often just balks at doing the work.

He has a three-page learning plan, with goals established and incentives understood. Some of the incentives amount to "don't disturb others" and the rest amount to "make an honest effort to do the work."

He's in his second classroom. The first didn't work out.

This is absolutely not what I like most about this job. I feel like I have done a good job connecting with the kids. Hell, I'm an overgrown kid myself, we all know it. One thing I think works is to talk to young people on a level they can comprehend. It's not a balanced relationship: kids are there to learn, teachers and aides to instruct and assist. It's not about being friends with the students. But, I think that my strength is to try and speak to them in a way that isn't heavy-handed. As much as I can be, I am the boss in the relationship, but that authority needs to be wielded with a very light hand for the most part.

So in accepting this job and from the information several people provided my going in, I was worried a bit. This kid by all accounts could be quite the little hellion. I braced myself.

Class started, but he didn't get there until about 9.


For each activity, he can earn two "points." In blocks of three, if he earns four of an available six points, he is rewarded with free time and the opportunity to pursue less-structured options that keep him at bay.

These blocks span about a 90-minute period for each. I should have asked what the norm is. But, today he hit six-for-six in each of the first two blocks.

I was feeling pretty good about myself.

So when it came crashing down during, of all things, recess, I was completely thrown.

An earlier recess had been fine. But in the early afternoon, he melted down. He commandeered two soccer balls, hid behind a line of shrubs and lobbed the balls over a fence into an adjacent street. When we tried to reason with him he became belligerent and used some pretty choice words -- words I didn't hear until third grade, or use before fifth. He also grabbed a kid's hoodie and slung him to the ground.

We were on a field perhaps an acre in size; he found his way to a fence that led to a playground area. There he fled and ducked under some playground equipment. It was a while before he calmed down. The principal got involved. Five teachers stood at the perimeter.

It scared me.

Not because of any imminent danger. The scary part is that he just flipped the switch from mostly engaged to completely unreasonable.

And then he flipped back.


Minutes later he came toward me, I opened the gate and he went back to playing on the field as if nothing had happened. And nothing the rest of the day even remotely approached the raging that went on for those 10-12 minutes that seemed like an hour to me.

Where does this come from? What is in this kid's head that makes him so angry and unwilling?

Right now, for kids like this, this is THEIR problem. But some day, if we don't come to understand it, deal with it, and defeat it -- it might become OUR problem.

This is a small boy who is essentially innocent. But something's causing him distress. It could be diet, it could be environment, it could be organic... the only thing for certain is he is trying to process something that he isn't yet capable of handling, and the only outlet for it is a venting of inappropriate language and actions.

It's not fair to just write him off. The responsible, human, caring thing to do is to try and help him beat these demons, whatever they are. And that means giving him a hand --  and a chance.


I've got 23 more days with this little guy and his 21 classmates. I anticipate there could be the occasional rough seas ahead. But we're getting this ship home safely.

Don't Be Nervous

For some reason I've been a little rattled about my short-term steady work that starts in an hour.

I'm choosing to dismiss that now.

It's natural to have butterflies, but when I think about it... they WANTED me for those, I was chosen. I am not "classically" trained but I have common sense and understand that the top ten priorities are some combination of helping kids succeed, being encouraging and supportive, stepping up, setting an example, being reliable... These are all things I can ably do.

You must walk in feeling confident and happy. You're not allowed to be "off."

I remember when I moved to LA early one morning I felt worried that I was in over my head. I probably was, but, I distinctly recall looking at myself in the mirror and "coaching up." I told myself that I was in Hollywood, and it was time to act the role I had taken on.

I did. And I feel I did well. If I didn't, well, then others were even better actors than I.

So, I leave in about 15 minutes. Gonna finish my coffee, let the dogs have one more burst of freedom, then go do this.

Anyone out there checking this out... don't give yourself away. We were not meant to lament, we were born to shine. Let's be the change.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Rant Over There

A rambling post wherein I discuss a new job situation can be found here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Boogie Children

One of the kindergarten class aides at "my" school has had her maternity leave extended through May. Consequently, I've slated four dates in her absence.

The second was to be Monday. But the school's "conductor" -- forget the principal, this is the person who makes sure the trains run on time -- "promoted" me as soon as I came in.


Now, I love music. Always have. I have very diverse musical tastes, a pretty good collection, and I think I can sing, although I am a little shy about it. When I was in grade school, I took violin lessons for a couple of years, trumpet for a couple more. I wasn't really skilled at either.

I'd met the music teacher and sat in on his class once. He's a giant of a young man, can play guitar and keyboards, and has the right temperament. Just last week we had chatted a bit; Sunday, he was running his first marathon in Rhode Island.

Monday, the marathon had apparently been the victor.

So I was teaching eight classes of music: every second grade, a couple of sections of first grade, one section of K, and some fourth graders.


Fortunately I had a little time. I got to the upstairs music room, and searched for substitute plans. There were two books with printed "plans" that in some ways were just a bit of filler. The previous music sub had sat them down and let them screen half an hour of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

So I could have coasted through the day, reading e-mail and making sure I stayed awake for eight 30-minute bursts of the Dick Van Dyke classic.

No effing way.

Instead I looked around the room and found a media player that I could plug my iPhone into. Bingo! Instant Pandora! In one of the books was a list of qualities of music... was the tempo fast or slow, the sounds loud or soft, the mood happy or sad? I could work with that. But one of the problems I was quickly going to run into with Pandora was being unable to jump through different genres.

I texted home: I'd need a few obviously diverse artists, like Hank Williams, Glenn Miller, classical... of course, I'd need some Beatles. And I figured for the younger kids I could do some participatory music. The "woot-woot-woot-woot" chorus of "I Know What I Know" from Paul Simon's "Graceland" could (and would be) a go-to choice for spirited youngsters.


But for the first two classes, I didn't have those CDs yet. I had a classical CD that had some good choices, and that was a good opening segment. All but the 4th grade class, the last of the day, were only 30 minutes long. So I could milk this, I could do this.

I raced down to the library and ran off a bunch of copies of the worksheet to hand out. The first wave of second graders (I'd have four in a row) were due at 8:55 a.m. I just made it.

The first few minutes was getting them settled, introducing myself and explaining the situation. Substitute teachers in 2013 are probably treated pretty much the same as they have always been: kids know that the structure and routine is going to be different, and they instinctively start pushing the envelope. It's not always easy to keep them reined in. And the music class itself lends itself to a little rowdiness. In addition to the singing we'd wind up doing, some of the kids like dancing, too. All that activity tends to start a bit of a fire. I'm still not sure how firm a tone to take to get things back together, although almost all of the teachers seem OK with being authoritative. I had a few moments were I had to "go there" before the day would be out.

I had plugged in my iPhone -- (ENDORSEMENT: this, or an iPad, can be astonishingly useful teaching implements) -- and dialed up Pandora. I had to be at the ready to move along if something objectionable came along. We are, after all, still talking about pre-teen children. If some Peaches came up, I'd be cooked.

I started with the classical, asking them to look at the sheet and consider the music. Then it was on to the Pandora. In the first class several country songs came on, so I had to move through them. It was rocky, but, that did give me the idea for the Hank Williams that was on the way.

The first class ended, the second class came. I switched Pandora stations after the classical interlude and things got kinda fun.

Alice Cooper's "Caught in a Dream." This is music of MY childhood!

"OK, class, anyone know who this is?" One kid guessed Axl Rose. Shoulda sent that guy to the principal.

I told them it was a guy named Alice. Next up: John Lennon... "Imagine." Pandora was doing a fine job.

Still, it was hard to do it this way, because the selections might not work. But soon the class ended, and I'd been notified that my CD courier (Thanks, M!) had arrived.

Down the stairs, a stack of 10. Now it was on.


I had a loose idea of what I wanted to do. I started with the Hank Williams ("Jambalaya") and asked if any students had been born outside of the U.S. Some had, or had family who had. I asked them if they thought those countries, or other countries, had "country" music.

This allowed me to segue to the Marley, the Xavier Rudd and Simon's homage to African music on "Graceland." On a few times when they just weren't into it, I was able to go to the Beatles as a reliable fall-back.

I kept pushing buttons trying to make something connect. I used Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000" as another chance at participatory, where the students could sing the song's only words when prompted by the ringing.

Many of them wanted to dance, so that was allowed as well. Two girls moved to the side of the large room and did some ballet maneuvers. Some kids formed a conga line. Others danced in odd ways; I even saw one guy do the Sprinkler.

It was a little unfocused, but at least they were having some engagement, and hopefully exposure to some new music.


By the time of my lunch break, I had been through five classes. A whirlwind. So I just dimmed the lights and ate some pistachios and tried to catch my breath a bit.

The room looks down a long hallway. A few classes emerged from rooms and headed toward the music room and the adjacent stairs. Some of the kids waved to me. I waved back. That was nice.

A little later, a boy came up the stairs and headed down the hall, skipping.

When do we stop skipping?


The last class was a section of 4th, and I had been looking forward to it. Sometimes it's a little easier to relate to kids who are a little older.

It was a bit of a disaster, really. About half the kids were just happy not to have to watch a movie and interested in a new musical perspective. About a quarter were simply too close to the end of the day and had already checked out as soon as they saw a substitute. The others were just ... obnoxious.

It was the only time all day I had to 'bow up. Two boys in particular seemed to have a beef and were only too happy to use this situation to address their grievances. I had to sentence them to neutral corners.

A few of the kids were decent piano players and took turns going to the keys. At least they weren't otherwise a disturbance.

I had a group of the students come up to me as the class mercifully wound down and apologize. Later, after school, some of them came up to me as I walked outside and expressed the same remorse. That was certainly encouraging. I told them that I understood how a sub as seen as an easy mark, but I felt that I owed it to them to try and bring them something useful.


Just before I had gone outside I touched base with the office and The Conductor. I asked how her day had gone: "Awful. If it's like this tomorrow, I won't be back Wednesday."

She was kidding of course, but there was something about Monday that was just off. I talked to another instructor as I headed out who confirmed that the vibe had been rowdy for a lot of people.

Sometimes you just don't have the best of days.

Still, I enjoyed the day on balance, and I like being there.

Tuesday, I was even specifically requested as a sub for a Thursday class. I'll be there.

Out There

I remember warm summer nights when I would press the radio up close to my ear and turn the dial trying to pick up distant stations. It was like traveling. I could get WOAI out of San Antonio and WLS in Chicago.

Before the dial got so crowded, you could pick up a lot more stations. In Texas most of those seemed to emanate from the south or the midwest. I don't recall picking up much from the west.

Turns out this practice of listening for distant stations actually has a name: DXing.


I guess I thought about this because right now I feel like I'm not picking up all the signals clearly. I'm tuning and tuning and just getting a lot of static.

I have a mean cold, I'm stressed and tired, and broke and frustrated, and feeling a little isolated. My circle has always been small by design, but right now I think I'm feeling particularly far away from everything.

The first time I was ever in Arizona was on a western road trip. On the eastern border after leaving New Mexico via Interstate 40, there's not really much of anything. I remember waking near sunrise to a strange, surreal, spare pink-orange environment. My brother was driving and had a look of wonderment on his face. "Welcome to the moon," he said, and pointed at the radio dial. He had set it to search for a radio station. It cycled endlessly across the dial looking for a signal. Spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning. Where the hell were we?

That's kind of how I feel right now.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

This Too Shall Pass... Right?

Feeling a little blue today.


* It's actually bright and sunny, although by mid-afternoon we'll be getting much-needed rain.
* It's pleasantly cool and has been for several days, with more to come. It's reminded me of my beloved Southern California.
* I got a haircut yesterday, and it makes me feel better. My hair was too floopy. (Yes, floopy.)
* I've been eating more sensibly of late. And I've lost weight.
* The Miami Heat trail in a series.
* My team's goalie is NOT Carey Price.
* I've been able to sub a lot lately.
* M loves me.
* My silly dogs love me.
* My parents are alive, doing well, and I love talking to them. My mom sends me newspaper clippings. Adorbs.
* I got to talk to my daughter yesterday.
* I'm in touch with my emotions.
* I mowed the yard. There can be reward in small accomplishments.
* I found and applied for three good jobs yesterday; one would be super, although in reality, I'm probably a bit overqualified for it.
* This morning, I completed some unfinished business.


* I'm in touch with my emotions. When you get sad about something, it lingers.
* Long-term underemployment causes me agita. I worry about money on a daily basis.
* It pisses me off when I stand all day how tired it makes me sometimes. I need to get stronger.
* For all the progress humanity has made, the things I see in this country right now are shameful. I've never seen us more politically divided.
* People can be really mean. I don't get it. The Earth is our house, but people don't share it. There's a selfishness in our time that breaks my heart. How have we lost our compassion?
* At times my confidence flags, and I hate that feeling.

I'm trying to see the positives and embrace them, use them to battle the discouraging thoughts. A wispy cool breeze wafts through the window just three feet to the right of me. The neighbor's drive is dappled with sunlight and the shadows of the fully blooming tree now shading our yard. They have a narrow flower bed between their house and the driveway; a bright pink flower blooms, a bush has leafed out. Monkey grass augments. Two birds just fought over ... something laying in the drive. Their home is a soft pastel green. A corner of the sky alternates between bright sun and growing clouds.

In the background, M is on a conference call. She's impressive and knowledgeable; it makes me proud. Somewhere nearby, workers chatter and saw on an unknown project.

In a lot of ways... MANY ways... I have things really good. They could be better, and when they are not, it bothers me. I always feel like I am capable of more, and when I underperform, it disturbs me.

Dear readers, if you've made it this far, please know that every kind word you give to me, or to ANYONE, is appreciated, deeply. I think I'm pretty good at projecting a surface appearance of (relative) calm and positivity. But beneath the surface, we all crave and need that encouragement. If you've taken a minute or two to read these thoughts, it helps. It's fuel. You don't even have to say anything... I get totals of site visits, and some of them are spam. But some are not. Thank you.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Today and the next two Mondays I'll be with the same group of kindergarten students.

At the end of the day today, I realized a couple of things. One, that I had worked three consecutive business days. That's the first in a long time.

Two, I am unaccustomed to standing for most of the day. I'm feeling it a little bit. It reinforces the idea that I need to do a better job taking care of myself.

I don't have a lot of lovely anecdotes today. But, the teachers have been very welcoming of me, and that means a lot to me. I've been open about telling them that seeing how hard they work should be required of parents. I think they appreciate that someone "from the outside" finally understands.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Art Class

From the mind of a 4th-grader, May 2, 2013.
Another last-minute invite today: My favorite K-4 needed a teacher.

An art teacher.

I was worried, because while I'm more of a consumer/patron of art than perhaps the average person, I'm not an expert.

And I can't draw a stick figure.

But they needed someone, so I went.

The regular teacher left a substitute plan, and it had variations on what one student told me always happens when there is a substitute in art: "We draw."

OK, Miss Smarty Pants, we're going to draw.


I had a section of fourth and first graders, and two sections each of second and third graders throughout the day.

The good news is that while I'm no expert, I've at least had enough time and observation to learn a little better how to tame the wild ones, or at least manage them. And I'm feeling more comfortable in providing a good atmosphere for the ones who are predisposed to engage.

I had a plan. It seems to me that a good approach is to set the tone right away, so I used today to be a little more bold and leader-y. I think it worked.

The classes were all at least 45 minutes; the fourth graders got a full hour. I started by asking them to "define" art. I got a lot of good feedback. I asked them about other forms, such as performance, music, photography. Some of the kids gave the answer I was really looking for: Art is about expression.

As such, there is no "wrong" art. As long as it comes from the motivation of personal expression, they were golden.

So in that regard, I asked them to draw a "face." I showed them Picasso's "Weeping Woman," a self-portrait by Van Gogh, Munch's "The Scream." Three faces; three very different takes.

I was asked "can I draw a robot/animal/monster" and so forth. Yes. YES! Draw ANYTHING that YOU say is a "face" and you are right.

It took some of them a little work to embrace the idea of that little structure. I had to repeatedly reinforce the idea that it was impossible to fail so long as they put forth an effort.

A couple of the kids totally "got it." One girl began bringing me multiple drawings, each a little more "out there" than the others, culminating in a drawing with different-color lines undulating across the page.


Some of the art, like the example above, was in my mind extraordinary. There's real talent in these developing minds. I hope that they stick with it, and for the dozen or so students who produced truly thoughtful work, I did everything I could to encourage them to continue to pursue their vision.

With 10-15 minutes left in the class, or when a few artists finished quickly, I staged a "gallery showing" where I brought the artist up, introduced them, held their work high and asked them to explain their work. Surprisingly, they were enthusiastic and not as shy as I feared they might be.

As usual, encouragement brings out the best in a child.


My day's highlight: One student told me she "couldn't draw." I sat at the table next to her as two other students scribbled away. In her anxiety she tapped her marker nervously a few times, dotting the empty expanse of paper.

"Have you ever heard of pointillism?"

She had not. I quickly tapped in Seurat's name on Google, calling up a self-portrait and some other works of his to show her about pointillism. I then drew a horrific, simplistic example on a worksheet.

Fifteen minutes later she raised her hand to participate in the gallery show. She had made a girl with long hair in a pointillist style.

I need the money, but real talk: this vivid example of opening a child's mind to something new was worth every penny. It melted me; when I recapped this story to M later in the day, I became very emotional. Whether this girl ever becomes an artist or not -- today, she learned something new. And I was the facilitator of that.


My art teacher at that age was a sweet, tiny white-haired old lady named Mrs. Dollahite. Her classroom was noticeably different... when you walked in, the high walls were filled with paint, crayons, charcoal, clay... imagine the stereotype of a 60s-era elementary school art classroom. That was Mrs. Dollahite's room.

My love of art developed as a concentration on the written or sung word; much later in life did I come to appreciate those who can produce a visual form on canvas or via sculpture. Art is a reflection of humanity, and meant to enrich us and add depth and conscience to our lives.

To see those children explore was a thrill.

Another good day.